Day Nine: Rolling with Harley-Davidson in China

Kai Ryssdal and a Harley-Davidson enthusiast at a Shanghai Harley dealership.

Once you get past mom and apple pie, there's almost nothing as iconically American as a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Whether you're partial to Fat Tails or Softails, there's a certain something about a Harley that just says... United States. And increasingly, Chinese buyers want it.

We got rained out this weekend when we tried to go for a ride with the Shanghai H.O.G -- that would be the Harley Owners Group. Setting aside for just a moment the taking-one's-life-in-one's-hands aspect of a motorcycle ride in China in the best of weather, rain and slippery pavements and big heavy motorcycles don't mix. So instead we hung around the Shanghai Harley dealership and talked with the handful of hard-cores who came out, rain or no rain.

They were an interesting bunch, a half a dozen guys or so -- and yes they were all men -- split about evenly between Chinese and Westerners. The Chinese were obviously in the far upper reaches of Chinese economic society -- a new Harley here can cost $45,000 once you add in all the government import duties. So price obviously wasn't a factor. But the interesting thing was the mom and apple pie part. Not only were they OK with riding around on a classic symbol of American culture, they welcomed it. Heads turn, they said, when they rumble by on their Harleys. And that's just fine with them.

It's a small socioeconomic slice of the aspirational Chinese consumer, but an interesting one. And, to top if off, if it doesn't rain next week, I'll get to go on a Harley ride in Shanghai.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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