Brad Richards, Harley-Davidson’s VP of design, knows he needs to keep an ear to the ground about what’s happening in the custom and culture scenes so Harley’s products stay relevant in an ever-evolving landscape. 

We saw Richards (and his stunning Panhead custom) at the 2021 Born Free show, and he popped up again at Mama Tried in December. He was also at the 2022 Paradise Road Show, where he discussed the new generation of Harley fans and their aspirations with MoCo products. 

Brad Richards Harley-Davidson VP of design
Although he is an executive at a billion-dollar company, this is about as corporate as Richards gets.

“I go to nearly all of these types of events – Born Free, Mama Tried – but none of them have the unique atmosphere that the Paradise Road Show makes possible,” he told us while the party was in full swing at the Saguaro Hotel in Palm Springs. “Here, people come to show motorcycles in a very unique setting. The choice of bikes and cars, the vendors, and the music by the organizers is very thoughtfully done – great curation.”

Related: Born Free 12: SoCal’s Open-Air Bike Show

Richards was in his element at this event, where organizers strive to reinvent the classic American motorcycle/car show for the new generation. Richards said he was surprised by the younger crowd at Paradise. 

Paradise Road Show
Between the handlebars of the Best in Show winner is Brad Richards immersing himself in Paradise.

“I have been attending motorcycle shows for years,” he related about usually seeing lots of familiar faces at bike shows. “But here, I don’t recognize anyone! They come from another generation – completely new. 

“This is obviously a great thing,” Richards continued, “to see the next generation embrace the brand, our lifestyle, and the bikes like this. It’s inspiring, and that’s why we come to these shows. Each new generation discovers and identifies with Harley-Davidson in their own unique way. The Paradise Road Show is evidence of this. In that respect, and as evident at other well-curated regional shows, the brand is extremely healthy and will be here for generations to come.”

Richards observed that traditional custom shows mostly feature bikes that are built in exaggerated dimensions and totally extreme. He says the new generation rebels against that mindset and prefers bikes that are more usable.

Harleys at Paradise Road Show
Harleys old and young.

“That is why we have come to Palm Springs,” Richards continued. “It’s very important to understand what the upcoming generation is passionate about, how younger customers are identifying with the brand – what is relevant in their eyes and what they are looking for. We see the seeds of future trends appear at these shows.” 

Richards notes that H-D’s customers come from a variety of backgrounds, from geezer graybeards to Millennials and younger.

“We always strive to keep the brand and its products relevant,” Richards elaborated. “That’s why we create things like LiveWire, Pan America, and Low Rider S. Creating desirability is a cornerstone of our Hardwire plan, and we have many different customers who use the MoCo’s bikes in many different ways. So, balance within the product portfolio is key. Electra Glide Revival, from our new Icons Collection, is evidence of this. It proves our continued commitment to the core products that made this company so great – creating balance within our product range.”

Brad Richards Lucki-Pan
Richards’ Lucki-Pan at the Born Free show in 2021, one of our favorite bikes at the event. Photo by Kevin Duke.

Richards is a hands-on designer as well as a collector with more than a dozen bikes in his stable, and he is particularly fond of Harleys from the 1930s through the 1960s. In addition to his 1962 Lucki-Pan FL mentioned above, he also has a 1946 FL Knucklehead that took him six years to restore, so he readily understands the allure of the vintage Harley experience.

“Although very different designs, all the bikes I mentioned are created with the same ethos – look, sound, and feel – with much time spent making sure the emotional connection between rider and bike is strong. We at the company spend so much time riding next to our customers, if you will. Attending events like this, getting as close to our customers as possible, we are able to understand them, and therefore create desirable products for them.” 

Brad Richards King Of The Baggers Wyman Brothers
Richards with King Of The Baggers racers the Wyman brothers. Kyle, on the right, brought home the 2021 championship title for Harley.

Harley-Davidson had a large footprint at the Paradise event, and the Bar-and-Shield logo was seen on the various advertising banners around the showgrounds. A collection of vintage Harley clothing was displayed, and H-D’s 2021 lineup was available for viewing and seat-bounce testing. Their extensive presence at the showcase – where vehicles date back 50 years or more, and many attendees are half that age – was a way to reach a new generation of customers.

“That is where we need to spot what our clients want and to then develop models along those lines,” Richards summarized. “It’s in that way that we picked up on the appeal of more refined motorcycles that possess enhanced performance features. We see the trends appear at these shows. We see trends that are developing, accessories that reappear, which are inspired by the original models.

“In a few days,” Richards continued, “there will be even more exciting things to talk about that ultimately came from attending shows just like this one. The conversation that happens between customer and company via the ‘language’ of the bikes that we create, and our enthusiasts customize, is a very important one – one that we at the company pay very close attention to.”

Ten days after Paradise, H-D unveiled the 2022 Low Rider ST, a bridge between the FXRT of the past and the contemporary Milwaukee-Eight platform. It appears to be perfectly timed for today’s riders.


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