In order to answer your question I’m going to give you a brief history of the Harley-Davidson brand.
Up until the late 1950s there were essentially two brands of American motorcycles: Harley-Davidson and Indian. Indian’s quality and performance were far superior. However, they went bankrupt because they insisted on building their bikes with hand and foot controls swapped around so that people used to riding other bikes couldn’t get the hang of riding an Indian. That left Harley as the only surviving brand of American motorcycles, and their quality was very poor. At the time, all of their bikes were outfitted with a type of engine called the “panhead” that had a reputation for puking oil all over the road. Triumph, whose bikes were not much better, but offered superior performance, replaced Harley-Davidson as the “bad boy” bikes in the 60s as a result of this. Harley’s sales slumped and they virtually went bankrupt and the brand ended up being bought out by AMF (the bowling equipment manufacturer).
In the early 70s, while under the control of AMF, Harley finally came out with a new engine for their bikes since the introduction of the “panhead” decades earlier. This engine was called the “evolution” engine and was a major step up from the “panhead.” Build quality improved but there were still numerious reliability issues that were never resolved; most notably oil leaks and parts that would shake themselves off of the bike. During this time, Japanese motorcycles were skyrocketing in popularity because a motorcycle Honda came out with in 1969 (The CB750) completely changed the face of motorcycling. It handled better, was faster, and more reliable than anything that had come out before it without sacrificing comfort and practicality. The rest of the Japanese manufacturers followed Honda’s path and began coming out with their own bikes based off of the CB750 design that essentially blew Harley completely off the map. During this time period, Harley-Davidson and it’s “evolution” engine for all intents and purposes may not have existed. Near the end of the ’70s, Harley’s original owners bought it back from AMF using a government loan.
In the 1980s, Harley simply could not compete with the Japanese because, on top of their bikes being more more powerful, more reliable, cheaper, and more refined, they were starting to come out with cruiser-style bikes that were taking away what little market share Harley had left. The US government stepped in and imposed a huge tariff on all imported bikes 750cc and over. This tariff was referred to as the “save Harley tax”. Prices of larger displacement Japanese motorcycles during this time skyrocketed to higher than the prices of even full size Harleys due to the tariff, however many Japanese manufacturers found ways to beat it (sleeve the cylinders on their 750s and market them as 700s). Harley used this time to try to make their bikes more reliable, however, it wasn’t until years later that they made their first giant leap forward since the introduction of the “evolution” engine.
In 1999, Harley came out with an engine called the Twin Cam 88 that replaced the “evolution” engine in all of their bikes except for the sportster series, which are still powered by “evolution” engines. The Twin Cam 88 bikes are Harley’s first truly “reliable” engine (although they say that the variant of the evolution in sportsters has been relatively problem-free). It is on par with the Japanese competitors quality-wise, power-wise, and refinement-wise, but is by no means superior. You could say it still trails behind bikes like Yamaha’s Road Star simply because of the fact that you don’t get anything more by spending double the price on the Harley.
Summarized: Harleys pre-1999 are unreliable and overpriced save for the Sportster series, and newer Harleys are still overpriced compared to Japanese competitors because you’re not getting anything more for your money. If respect matters to you then understand that anyone who looks down on you for not being willing to pay more for just a name is an idiot who doesn’t deserve YOUR respect. Also, I do get waves from Harley riders who wear helmets on my Suzuki SV650. It seems like the guys who are in it because they want to be Henry Fonda in Easy Rider and don’t wear helmets and look like Willie Nelson are the only ones who will be giving you problems. Harleys redesign their engines/bikes once every 30 years or so because that’s how often they feel the need to do some R&D. Japanese bikes are redesigned every 3-4 years because of technological breakthroughs constantly being discovered. I choose not to give money to a company that does things that lazily.
People who are loyal to the Harley brand and scoff at others feel the need to make up for, with their own attitudes, the fact that Harley did nothing to try and win back the people when Triumph stole their thunder in the ’60s and the Japanese bikes did in the ’70s and ’80s. They did not come out with new models. They did not try to build better bikes. They did not come out with new engines or new leaps in technology. They did not offer sales promotions. It was only while under the ownership of AMF that they came out with the only technological leap forward between the ’50s and the introduction of the Twin Cam 88 engine in 1999. They simply rolled over and let whatever was going to walk all over them do it. In the ’80s when they were nearly brankrupt they did nothing aside from let the US government try to bail them out. No new engines, no new models, no new technology, nothing. Harley’s lineup has been virtually unchanged since before I was born.