Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG) has big plans, but talk is cheap and investors undoubtedly want to see it actually sell some bikes before building on the grandiose plans it has laid out.

The motorcycle maker recently said it was adding another component to its "More Roads to Harley-Davidson" road map for the future. Along with new products, broader access, and stronger dealers, it is now including "amplify brand" as a means of "enhancing the Harley-Davidson experience to inspire interest in riding, foster moto-culture, and build an even bigger, more passionate community of Harley-Davidson riders."

It's a nice sentiment, but results -- and not flowery language -- are what investors need to see.

Harley-Davidson logo on motorcycle gas tank

Image source: Harley-Davidson.

Counting on electrics to save the day

Analysts are expecting a dismal third quarter as channel checks suggest sales are down between 5% and 10%, which would be on top of a horrendous double-digit decline a year ago.

Harley does have its new LiveWire electric motorcycle hitting showroom floors this month, but it's hardly a development holding back customers from buying a new bike. This isn't like someone not buying an iPhone because a new model will soon be available. And at $30,000, it's been priced out of the range of many potential buyers.

The company has also admitted it views the pricey, high-performance motorcycle as more of a halo product bringing attention to the rest of the electric vehicle lineup to come.

But Harley still needs to prove it can succeed with its existing road map before charting new paths. 

Where will new riders come from?

It made a couple of changes to its goals. Previously, it said it wanted to add 2 million new riders in the U.S. by 2027, but by the end of 2018, analysts estimate it had only added a net 52,000, suggesting it would only reach half of its goal by the deadline.

It now says because the number of riders entering and exiting the market was greater than it expected, its goal now is to account for all riders coming and going (before, it was just those coming to the brand), and it wants to have 4 million Harley riders by 2027.

Harley hopes to have a net gain of 1 million riders compared with 2017, and despite the slow start, it expects the gains to ramp up. Considering the severe lack of demand for motorcycles, exactly how that will happen is unclear.

Looking overseas for help

Harley also changed its international sales goal from having foreign markets account for 50% of its unit volume to now accounting for half its total revenue. That will actually be much easier to achieve. U.S. sales are spiraling down so fast that international revenue can't help but make up 50% of the total. 

Obviously, Harley hopes to reach that by growing both parts of the business, and the previous plan didn't include its new IRONe electric two-wheeler for kids or its planned e-bikes. That said, it is still hoping that the market buys into Harley being a credible electric vehicle producer.

Next year it will also be introducing middleweight motorcycles that will presumably be both lighter and cheaper than its lineup of heavyweight bikes. And eventually it plans small bikes with engines of 250 to 500 cubic centimeters, but only for the Asian market, primarily China.

More earnings hits to come

Harley is counting on all these changes to add $1 billion to $1.5 billion in incremental revenue, but analysts remain worried the $200 million to $250 million in capital spending each year through 2022, along with an "operating investment" of $450 million to $550 million, will deeply impact cash flow and earnings.

Ultimately, for all the verbiage, there's nothing to prove any of this will work. A company certainly needs a plan if it wants to turn itself around, but right now this is all supposition.

Gaining more riders and retaining them, introducing a broad portfolio of electric two-wheelers, and a spending plan that could dig a big hole in its finances mean investors should sit on the sidelines. Even though Harley's shares are depressed and lost 21% of their value over the last year, don't throw a leg over the stock and ride off.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.