Harley-Davidson puts safety (and diversity) first

The "Tough Turban" was designed to let Sikh riders hit the road safely while still honouring their faith.

In 2018, Ontario government amended the Highway Traffic Act to allow those of the Sikh faith to ride motorcycles without helmets, joining three other Canadian provinces in making this exemption.

But for those who want to ride safely while still honouring their faith – or anyone for whom not being able to wear a helmet has been holding them back from buying a motorcycle – Pfaff Harley-Davidson worked with agency Zulu Alpha Kilo to create the “Tough Turban,” protective headgear made to protect Sikh riders.

Creative for the project features Sikh motorcycle enthusiasts talking about their faith, camaraderie and love for the open road – long-time brand pillars for Harley-Davidson – along with a brand design tech talking about the technical aspects of the helmet. According to the agency, the design features emerging tech in protective gear like non-Newtonian foam that hardens on impact, 3D-printed chainmail and a composite fabric used in bullet-proof clothing.

Zulu Alpha Kilo partnered with Spark Innovations to construct the preliminary design of the Tough Turban, and consulted with the Sikh Motorcycle Club of Ontario to test and improve on the initial concept. The full design considerations for the prototype have been open-sourced and released online, enabling any manufacturer in the world access to the virtual blueprint to make their version of a reinforced turban for riders in their region. Details are available on a specially created microsite.

The idea was spurred by two of Zulu’s ACDs, Dan Cummings and Vic Bath, that later of which has a Sikh background, and whose father grew up in rural India and dreamed of owning a Harley-Davidson. To him, a Harley was the ultimate symbol of freedom.

“It is our goal to celebrate the diversity within the motorcycle community,” says Brandon Durmann, brand marketing specialist at Pfaff Harley-Davidson, a dealership located in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Diversity is something the brand has spoken to in the past, part of an effort to attract younger people and new Canadians by showing them that they don’t have to look like the typical Harley rider they are used to seeing portrayed in the media.

“It’s imperative to us that our customers are heard and seen,” Durmann says. “This is why the ‘Tough Turban’ project means so much to us, this is more than just a tangible product, this is a way to help celebrate freedom of expression and diversity.”

Another goal of the campaign is that it will allow for more freedom to ride in provinces that have not yet adopted exemptions for people who wear turbans. Even though there haven’t been any fatalities associated with riders wearing a turban since Manitoba and British Columbia became the first provinces to offer exemptions in 1999, safety concerns are still the most commonly cited reason for the exemption not spreading to all provinces.

The CCO and founder of Zulu Alpha Kilo, Zak Mroueh, tells strategy the initiative combines a lot of things the shop is glad to focus on, namely inclusion and innovation. He says with the help of the Sikh Motorcycle Club, the product has the potential to go global. To that end, the agency is primarily using digital channels to make sure the message can spread widely, including Pfaff’s social media platforms and a PR push, and it seems to be paying off so far: in the 24 hours since launch, Zulu has been fielding numerous inquires for partnership from global manufacturers, the Sikh community globally and international scientists to test and bring the Tough Turban to life outside of Canada.