How the BSA Compares to Harley-Davidson

How the BSA Compares to Harley-Davidson

What do The Boy Scouts of America and Harley-Davidson – two iconic American brands – have in common?  More than you might think – as incoming Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh explained last Friday at the annual meeting of Scouting professionals, Top Hands.

Chief Surbaugh reved up the crowed when he discussed the parallels between the BSA and Harley-Davidson. Not immediately seeing the similarities? We’ve got you covered.

How the Boy Scouts of America and Harley-Davidson Share Legacies

Both Harley-Davidson and the BSA were born around the turn of the last century. Harley-Davidson represented basic transportation for riders. The BSA  represented basic values and character-building for boys.

As the years passed, Harley-Davidson’s brand evolved beyond basic transportation. In fact, during World War I and World War II, Harleys were used by soldiers on the battlefields. When servicemen returned home, they brought with them new enthusiasm for Harleys and an appetite for freedom and rebellion.  This new generation of Harley loyalists created the biker culture we’re familiar with.

Boy Scouts also intersected with young American servicemen, but in a much different way. Scouts emerged from the 1940s with a wholesome, picturesque (think: Norman Rockwell) image of what young men should strive to become. Basically, every parent’s dream was to have a Scout in the house (not a Biker).

Both brands grew distinct public perceptions and iconic branding. Harley-Davidson boasted tons of memorabilia: leather jackets, hats, hog stuffed animals, and a memorable logo – the bar and shield – emblazoned in American culture. Some Harley-Davidson fans went as far as to get the logo etched on themselves in the form of tattoos. 

Similarly, Scouts became synonymous with campaign hats, an unmistakable uniform, and a logo most citizens can describe without prompting. And tattoos? Yes, some Scouts and Scouters even get tributes to Scouting tattooed on them (after they’re 18, of course, but still, don’t tell their parents).

As both brands matured and adjusted to cultural, economic, and technological changes in American society, they maintained their iconic nature, but worked hard to garner interest from new generations, too, as they faced increasing competition.

In the face of surging international competitors manufacturing motorcycles, Harley-Davidson reinvented their V-twin engine while retaining its distinct look and appeal loyal fans. The company also created sporting bikes to draw urban riders to the brand. 

Surbaugh explained, “They were able to successfully merge these two populations and say, ‘We’re taking what we have, but we’re also positioning for the future.'”

The Boy Scouts brand is similarly tied to design. But in our case, it’s program design. Throughout its history, the BSA has been bringing youth the programs and training kids crave, from camping to robotics. The values and program structure have stayed the same. But like the youth we serve, the ways we deliver engaging content is always evolving.

As Surbaugh noted, the BSA must continue to “take pieces of past and make them relevant for the future.”

Racing Forward While Remembering Where We Began

Harley-Davidson dominates the biker market today, as it did at the beginning. Competitors attempt to mimic the company’s time-tested designs – it’s the highest form of flattery.

Likewise, the BSA is the market leader in its own right. Continued innovation, like the STEM pilot program and extreme-sport merit badges, help ensure we reach today’s kids in the same values-shaping organization that has been at work for more than a hundred years.

What other ways do you see similarities? Let us know below!

Gina Circelli

Gina Circelli is the Digital Editor for Boys' Life. She loves sharing news about Scouts who shake up pop culture or contribute to their communities in a big way. If you have story ideas, reach out to the team at


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How the BSA Compares to Harley-Davidson
How the BSA Compares to Harley-Davidson
How the BSA Compares to Harley-Davidson