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Harley-Davidson accelerates overseas

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Tess Vigeland: Harley-Davidson, the company behind one of America’s most famous brands, unveiled its latest profit figures today. Sales of the iconic motorcycle are roaring ahead overseas. But here in the U.S., they’ve slipped into reverse. Why?

Well, donning his leathers in London, Stephen Beard tries to find out.

Stephen Beard: The boys who saw the movie “Easy Rider” and lusted after the machine are middle-aged now. And at last, they have the money to live their adolescent dreams.

That’s why Harley-Davidson’s profits jumped 19 percent in the last quarter, says fund manager — and biker — Justin Urquart-Stewart.

Justin Urquart-Stewart: This, the baby boomers searching for their long-lost youth, have been buying high-quality, expensive bikes. Not just Harleys, but Harleys are seen as a particular symbol.

Dozens of Harley dealerships have opened in Europe in recent years to feed the nostalgia boom. But while Harley’s sales rose almost 13 percent here in the last quarter, they fell 5 percent in the U.S.

David Brown, biker and former Marketplace host, says the nostalgia boom’s gone too far in America. The Harley’s attracted the wrong sort of crowd.

David Brown: An inordinate number of doctors and accountants and lawyers are putting on fringe leather and a bandana and pretending to be Peter Fonda every weekend.

The ultimate symbol of the open road has lost its street cred, he says:

Brown: For people who are passionate about motorcycles, that whole faux Easy Rider thing, it just doesn’t wash anymore.

Not on Harley’s home turf, perhaps. But here in Europe, where the very idea of an open road is itself a fantasy, the Harley Dream is kicking into a higher gear.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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