A big ride for Harley's 100th

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 August, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 August, 2003, 12:00am

Raymond Leung's eyes glow with the anticipation of a road trip. In a few days the Hong Kong native, 39, will join two dozen motorcycle enthusiasts at Bozeman, Montana, for the start of a 10-day journey across 3,200km of open highway to a concrete parking lot in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Their destination is the corporate headquarters of Harley Davidson, where they will join a four-day celebration beginning on August 28 to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the world-famous motorcycle brand.

The road trip, one of several being organised by Harley enthusiasts to mark the centenary, will bring together representatives from Harley Davidson dealerships across Asia, including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Korea.

Mr Leung, the sole proprietor of Hong Kong's only Harley dealership, also hopes to be the first to break in to the potentially lucrative mainland market.

Hong Kong's community of Harley Davidson owners might be small (about 300) when compared to its neighbours, but it is one of the fastest growing. Sales at Techno Harley's Hing Fat Street showroom near Victoria park beat the first-half target by 150 per cent.

Declining to reveal exact figures, Mr Leung says about 50 new and used motorcycles wheeled their way out of his showroom and on to Hong Kong streets, including seven special edition V-Rods, each of which retail for $216,000.

Sales of T-shirts, leather jackets and other assorted Harley-emblazoned merchandise declined during the Sars crisis, but Mr Leung says his regular clientele did not waver. 'I guess people are still getting successful,' he says of the steady stream of lawyers, doctors and other professionals visiting his showroom. 'They wear a suit all the time and want to get into a different environment where they can meet other people, other professionals.'

In the late 1990s about seven out of every 10 motorcycles were purchased by Westerners, but that ratio has reversed in recent times as awareness of the brand increases, not to mention interest in club events and touring.

A touch of celebrity glamour has been added to the local Harley membership, with legislator David Chu Yu-lin, business magnate Chow Yei-ching and actress Cecilia Yip Tung said to be enthusiasts.

While a new Harley might be the latest plaything for Hong Kong's super-rich, Mr Leung began his own road to success on the shop floor.

He was bitten by the motorcycle bug at the age of 20. Legend has it he used to tear around Kowloon streets on his Kawasaki dirt bike, until his father forced him to make a career out of his passion. At 26 he joined a motorcycle dealership specialising in the import of used bikes, including Harleys, Japanese bikes, and European brands such as Ducati and BMW.

When the number of Harleys passing through the showroom increased, Mr Leung stepped up his training, taking additional courses in Australia and Malaysia. That training paid off in the mid-1990s when the bike shop closed down for financial reasons, giving Mr Leung the chance to set up his own repair shop.

Relying on the customer base built up over the years, in 1997 he opened a tiny, 250 sqft service centre on the back streets of Tin Hau. Initially it was a service-only operation, but that changed in 2000 when he moved to an 800 sqft site - large enough to fit two motorcycles into the showroom.

At the time, Mr Leung decided to simplify his business plan, focusing on selling and servicing only Harleys. Two years later booming sales drove him into a glitzy 1,600 sqft showroom near Victoria Park - and a new business plan: focus on selling only new motorcycles.

Mr Leung says selling and servicing used motorcycles take up too much time and resources. Techno Harley still sells a large number of used bikes, but these are mostly trade-ins.

Mr Leung rides a Harley FLSTC Heritage Classic, but is searching for his dream bike, a 1964 Pan Head, built the same year he was born.

He says he hopes he can open the first Harley dealership in the mainland - 'but it looks quite difficult,' he says. 'We will try step by step, because I believe a lot of American products are based in Hong Kong and then after a certain time they expand into China.'