Another Brick in the Crumbling Wall?

cycleworldCycle World Magazine, probably the most popular motorcycle rag in the USA went to a quarterly “coffee table format” as of the latest issue of the magazine. “To respond to the changes in consumer and advertiser media needs, Cycle World is moving to a captivating, quarterly, coffee-table sized journal focusing on the art of the motorcycle.” A friend handed off the first issue from this format, with an expression of general disgust and disinterest in what the magazine might do next. He was clearly neither captivated or entertained by the magazine format. In an act of insane desperation and cluelessness, Peter Egan is back; no less. If the rag’s goal is to appeal to the over-70-crowd, they are nailing it.

CW’s readers are less than impressed on the magazine’s reader forum. One particularly not-too-bright “reader” wrote, “Look, there will always be motorcycles and there will always be motorcycle publications, whether Print or Digital. It’s not THAT critical which, although I do like a paper magazine, personally.

“And despite whatever Twenty Sumpthings are doing or not doing… there will always be Thirty and Forty and Fifty Sumpthings who want to ride bikes and will pay Sumpthing for good moto journalism.. even that payment means just enduring a barrage of digital advertising.”

I have to suspect he is unclear on the meaning of the word “always.” Another far smarter reader said, “Younger people just stopped buying printed materials, the advertising dollars to support 130-page, content-rich magazines left, and our ‘Buggy Whips Monthly’ started evaporating.” Regardless of your take on where motorcycling and motorcycle journalism is going, this seems like a pretty big deal in the overall scheme of motorcycling’s future.

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Where Is This Going?

Bloomberg Press just published an article claiming “Americans Are Prioritizing Phone Payments Over Car Loans.” The article says, “As cars grow relatively less important, borrowers struggling to pay back their loans on time are increasingly prioritizing payments on the latest iPhone instead of making sure they hold on to their pickup or coupe.”

“So what?” You might say . . . and rightfully so.

The reason Bloomberg was interested in this phenomenon is investments. In particular, good old derivatives. Remember them? Those unsecured, gambling vehicles that were used to bankrupt the entire world economy in 2007? Yeah, that’s the way we’re going to look at the future of motorcycling, cars, and cell phones. “The shift is increasing the attractiveness of bonds generated from mobile-phone loans, a small but growing portion of the asset-backed securities market. While just $7.7 billion of bonds backed by phone purchases have been issued since 2016 — and all by Verizon Communications Inc. — the number may increase over coming years.”

So, not only are Americans more interested in staring at their tiny screens, tapping away with their thumbs at the speed of mentally deficient secretaries, and double-checking their “likes” while walking into traffic without a clue or a care in the world. And they are walking because their car has been repossessed and they probably didn’t even notice.

If that’s the direction we’re going, you damn well better get whatever you can get out of your vintage bikes while you can. In another generation, you’ll be selling those wheels for scrap metal prices.

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Last One of the Year? Or Ever?

October 7 & 8, 2017, I taught my last MSF Basic Rider Course (I) of the year. This coming summer, I’ll officially be 70 (although I’ve called myself “70 years old” since I passed 68 1/2) and I’m having a hard time imagining myself teaching kids and middle-aged students motorcycling at that age. 70 is REALLY OLD and I’m feelin’ it. After one of those half-day classes, I can barely move. Guys younger than me say that their day is finished after a morning or afternoon hiking around the BRC range. I’d still be up for the old 2PM to 7PM classes, but we don’t run those often anymore: not enough students. Getting up at 5AM to get to a Cities’ range at 7AM isn’t my idea of a fun way to spend a weekend. Early in the season or late, driving or riding in the dark is far from my comfort zone.

Teaching motorcycle classes was a terrific income-filler when I first left the medical device industry in 2001; before my consulting and repair businesses took off and the college teaching gig became an actual income-producer. Yeah, I enjoyed teaching people about motorcycling and getting to ride the state’s motorcycles for money, but it was always close enough to “work” that I wouldn’t have done it without the money. It’s actually a lot of work. In the early years, 2002-2010 or so, I did 20-something courses a summer; pretty much every weekend of my whole summer for a lot of years.

From 2007 to 2011 I made space for at least one several week long trip every season: Alaska in 2007, Nova Scotia in 2008, the Rockies with my grandson in 2009,. North Dakota ghost towns in 2010, the Lake Superior loop with my brother in 2011. I decided on different excitement at the end of 2011: a hip replacement. I followed that up with a heart attack and a stent implant in 2012. I retired my businesses and from my college instructor gig after the spring semester of 2013 and turned a simple RV retirement trip into a miserable VW repair extravaganza. We moved to Red Wing later that year, sold our house in the Cities in early 2014, and . . . that’s about it. The only trip left on my bucket list would be a run down South America’s Pacific Coast Highway. That’s not gonna happen.

Since 2014, more than half of my classes scheduled at Red Wing’s site, Southeast Technical College, have cancelled. Most of the classes I’ve taught have been at Century College in White Bear, about 50 minutes from our home. I have spent a lot of my life arranging my work and home to minimize commuting time and distance (in that order). I’m not going to stop now. I compulsively calculate my actual hourly rate, after 50 years of billing customers for work, and I’m making about $18/hour in real dollars, pre-tax, with the motorcycle classes. Not awful, but certainly not great.

That last October weekend, I worked with one of my favorite co-instructors: John Wright. If anything will convince me to put in another year or two at this gig, working with John would do it. One of the unexpected benefits of the motorcycle teaching gig has been the people I’ve taught with over the years. The list is long and memorable: motorcyclists and instructors who have not just taught me about motorcycling and teaching, but a whole list of subjects have been explored and appreciated. My first year teaching was not that much fun. For a while, that first year, I wouldn’t have bet much on my lasting another year. Oddly, a guy who ended up getting fired a few years ago was the first decent, experienced instructor I worked with: Steve Lane. He taught, mostly, at Dakota County Technical College which is often referred to as “the Wild West” by instructors from other locations. It’s a little more controlled now, but for a lot of years DCTC was where motorcycle instructors went if they wanted to blow off the rules. It was a wild and crazy place to work and I didn’t like it that much. Since then, I’ve worked with several experienced coaches who are not only a lot of fun, but educational, interesting, skilled, and good people.

Now, after 16 years, I’m in a similar place. I don’t need the money. I don’t like the early morning travel. The work is hard on me and will only get harder. I don’t like scheduling my spring and summer seven to eight months in advance; instructor course sign-up occurs in November and December, depending on the school where you work. I’m in no hurry to make a decision. At least until the course sign-up meetings begin, I can put the decision off for a while. For that matter, I can just do fill-in work next year and put off the decision until the new BRC 2 kicks in.

We’re training for the new program, the BRC 2, this coming summer. That is a two-weekend commitment and I suspect it will be a make-or-break event for me; and lots of other trainers. The rumor was that about half of Wisconsin’s trainers quit during and after their BRC 2 training (Transitional RiderCoach Prep or TRCP). If history repeats itself, it could be hard to find a Minnesota motorcycle course after mid-summer.

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Vanishing Slowly

This past few years has steadily seen Minnesota MSF class enrollment diminish, every year. The 2017 program had about 5700 Basic Rider Course (BRC) students enrolled and about 3900 passed, about the same as 2016. In 2012 MMSC trained 7,437 students and 6,754 in 2011, 7,580 in 2010, 8,240 in 2009, 9,543 in 2008, and 8,403 in 2007. The numbers don’t lie, new motorcyclists are in decline. Injuries and fatalities are doing pretty well, though. Seems like every year there is some early warning that fatalities and crashes are up.

Harley is doing some desperate things to attract under-70 buyers (Who cares if they are riders, too?), but there is a ton of used Harleys out there to compete with. Call it a generational shift, if that makes you feel better, but it’s more than that. For starters, the recovery from every recession in my lifetime has been weaker than the previous crash and 2007 was a huge economic hit for almost everyone. Motorcycles, in the USA, are almost purely recreational vehicles with little practical applicaton.

Women-MotorcyclistsWhat’s left of the US industry is targeting women, particularly stupid women, with their “lifestyle imaging” tactics. (It worked for Trump, but we’ll see for how long.) How well it will work for Harley and Polaris remains to be seen, also. It’s not like there is some kind of surge in women riders, taking over from the bucket-list men from a decade SkullKandySBCback. Sadly, many of the women I’ve taught in the MSF program are trying to regain their bar-hopping glory days when they could jump on the back of any Harley and get a “ride home” without much effort. The miles and years have taken their toll and, now, they’re forced to buy their own bike for that ride. I have to wonder if they are hoping a mechanic wants a ride home. Outside of electric bikes, motorcycles are far from low-maintenance transportation. I suspect that most new women riders will sour on the whole experience once their bit of garage candy needs tires, belts or chains, or even an oil change not to mention the high price of all that lost skin the first time they dump a bike at highway speeds. That whole “Sex in the City” thing takes a big hit when you grind off a chunk of your face, ass, or whoknowswhat.

The high fuel costs of the early 2000’s aren’t going to save motorcycling, either. Not only do many cars get better fuel economy than motorcycles, but the cost of EVs and used EVs is dropping fast. Nobody in their right mind would buy a $30,000 motorcycle claiming they are doing it for economy or the environment. The industry is going to have to get 1960’s creative, if survival is in the cards. It’s not like motorcycles are going away any time soon, but they sure as hell could end up being as marginalized as horses and horse-drawn carriages. It won’t happen soon, but it might be sooner than you think. Cultural evolution happens inversely porportional with diminishing resources. The rate of human knowedge doubling is now once every 12 months and soon to be much faster. That may not be quick enough to save us from being the cause of the 6th extinction, but it will certainly change the way EVERYTHING works in a big hurry. Motorcycles included.

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Another Tipping Point

“According to the Department of Energy, there are now over 500,000 EVs driven in the U.S.” Xcel Energy is even noticing the speed of EV adoption, “State of the Electric Vehicle 2017: Adoption keeps accelerating.” Used EV’s are littered all over Craig’s List, many for less than $6k with insanely low miles. If I didn’t have a small garage already double-parked with two motorcycles and a bunch of motorcycle equipment, I’d be seriously looking at a used Nissan Leaf. The new Leaf 2.0 has a 150 mile range, more than enough for any typical day trip I’m likely to take. The ads for most of the older EVs are more like 70-90 miles at highway speeds, which isn’t much of a problem as long as we still have the pickup for long hauls and pulling the camper.

electric-cars-ukI think we’ve hit the official deadend for suck-bang-blow. From here out, I expect to see EV’s capabilities increase exponentially and IC sales sag. Even dinky little Red Wing Minnesota has a downtown refueling station. EVs are particularly suited for autonomous operation, especially because it will be so easy to include electrical auto-fueling over the safety hazards of gas or diesel. The pressure is on for motorcycles to either get on the bus or get out of the way.

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Barbarians at the Gate

home-full-width-1-imagePaul Young sent me this link, “Will this electric bicycle disrupt the motorcycle industry?” from Revzilla. The Suru is made in Canada (Nova Scotia) and costs about $3k. The critical specs are listed in the website’s photo at right. The tires and wheels are more motorcycle than bicycle hardware, as is the suspension. Unlike a lot of electric bicycles, the bicycle part is single-speed and basic. The article quotes Suru designer, Michael Uhlarik, for a lot of its assumptions and the author, Clayton Christensen, is a Harvard prof and self-proclaimed manufacturing and techology historian. Some of their “manufacturing history” is not particularly well informed. Still their premise has been the same as my own for a while.

radroverI’m not convinced the Suru is the right direction, but I’m no fortune teller. My grandson’s RadRover is more in line with both the features and price point I think will attract people to electric two-wheelers. Everything about Wolf’s bike is similar to the Suru, except it is $1,500 cheaper and more versitile as a bicycle: “Intelligent 5 Level Pedal Assist with 12 Magnet Cadence Sensor” and a 7-speed derailier opposed to single-speed peddling, key-removable battery pack, full-coverage fenders, and less weight. My grandson has had his RadRover for about three months and is using it to commute 7-miles, one-way, throughout the Minneapolis winter. So far, he’s more than happy with his bike.

The article’s constant reference is to the 1966 Honda Cub which the author claims was “the last real disruption in the moto industry.” I’d say there have been quite a few disruptions in the last two decades, but often when you are trying to prove a point it’s easy to put the blinders on. Regardless, the electric bicycle and scooter movement is about to kick into high gear with everyone from botique dealerships to Walmart and Target offering products and services. BMW, Honda, Yamaha, and a collection of new comers are all making a variety of products available. Amazon has a showroom floor full of electric bikes and scooters with 36V models as cheap as $400. I think the tipping point has been passed.

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Horsemeat for Bikers?

121317-Worst-Motorcycle-Trends-2017-image10Some local guys were jawing on-line about the NY Times article, “No easy ride: Motorcycle industry is in deep trouble and needs help fast, panel agrees.” Like the industry, they blamed the usual suspects for the death of their favorite noise-makers: “the bubble-wrapped Millennials,” “the ultra-liberal lefties,” “tree huggers,” blah, blah, etc. Mirrors are tough on old guys. We look in them, see an accurate reflection and desperate want something else. The problem is, pretty much, us. We’re old, we’re irrelevant, and most of two generations wants to have nothing to do with imitating us.

Mostly, I read the Times article as a pretty accurate accounting of the lazy and braindead folks who represent US motorcyclists and the industry. The AMA and ABATE are just fronts for the butt-pirates who have turned off every sentient person possible with their noise, totally overrepresented crash, mortality and morbidity statistics, and general hooliganism. Nobody represents motorcycle commuters, the only motorcycle group that isn’t about conspicuous consumption. The AMA is almost proud of how few actual motorcyclists are regular riders and ABATE is just a drinking club that dabbles in politics and writes sympathy/love letters to gangbanging “brothers behind bars.”

no-motorcycles-sign-k-6938_thumbAs for off-road access, it’s not “liberals” who are shutting down access to public land; it’s ranchers, conservationists, residents near the parks, and the people who have to provide unfunded rescue services to the nitwits who go off trail, terrorize livestock, wreak property, and end up tangled in barbed wire somewhere it will take a helicopter to bail out mommy’s special little douchebag who has no insurance, no money, and suddenly believes in national health insurance. I’ve run a couple of events and watched dozens of off-road facilities go down in idealistic flames when their customers do everything possible to piss off anyone in the vicinity of the event, park, or private property. Motorcycles attract anti-social types and it’s harder than hell to cope with all of the forces that aren’t interested in putting up with spoiled children. I suspect if everyone were being honest, that would turn out to be a big part of the reason trials got bumped from Spirit Mountain and trials is the least obnoxious of all motorcycle sports. I KNOW that was why there was only one Merrick County enduro.

I freakin’ love the argument promoted in the Times article that, since the motorcycle companies don’t know how to sell to anyone who isn’t already a motorcyclist, it’s the job of motorcyclists to keep their business alive. That pretty much wraps up my argument in a Trump-quality gold plated ribbon. The industry is so obsolete it doesn’t even know how to sell its own products. How dumb is that?

Motorcyclists owe the industry their time and energy? For what reason? It’s just a vehicle or, worse, a rich kid’s toy. If no one wants to play with them, they should disappear. There is no good reason for motorcycles to be the noisiest, most polluting, most dangerous, least efficient vehicle on the road and not even have to pay their own way with motorcycle license taxes (You know they don’t in Minnesota, right?). You gotta provide some social value or you are just a welfare deadbeat if you still expect the public to foot your bill. By now, motorcycles should be knocking out at least 100mpg, emitting puffs of exhaust water and nothing more, and be bicycle-quiet. Instead, the stuff we get is barely 1980’s technology and most of it is from the 50’s.

As for the Millennial bulllshit, you guys are just fuckin’ old. You need to visit one of the boxing clubs, martial arts clubs, wall climbing clubs, bicycle racing clubs (off road, long distance, closed course, etc), and packing maker’s groups. Those places are all about Millennials. Sure, there are lots of pampered Millennials. There are also lots of pampered, overpaid, underworked, barely-skilled X-gens and Boomers. My parent’s’ generation paid a pittance for Social Security and jacked up the benefits until the system was almost broke before they elected Reagan who stripped that fund for his military-industrial buddies. Change just happens. Characters like Max Biaggi whined that all of that stuff crippled MotoGP riders while Rossi and the next generation just cranked ‘em up faster and leaned ‘em over further. Old people always complain about the next generation. “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise,” said Socrates. One of the fastest riders/coaches I know is just raving about Honda’s auto-transmission. I love well-implemented ABS and throttle mapping, even though I don’t own a bike that has either.

Face it, 90% of everything humans do is always crap. You don’t think millennials packed Washington with a bunch of superstitious, anti-science, spoiled trustfunders do you? If humans touch it, it will be screwed up. If humans deregulate something critial, it will be a disaster. Always. We’re just a braindead species desperately trying to fire off the 6th Extinction just to see which nutty death cult got it right.

That “wimp” label is nothing new, either. I have heard horse owners making the same “you are a bunch of wimps” arguments about motorcyclists since I was a kid. That is sort of valid, too. Keeping track of two empty skulls is twice as hard as managing one. That’s why I don’t ride horses. Your hippobike might seem “really big” compared to a dirt bike, but it is a twig compared to a 15-hand, 2,200 pound horse. Try laying one of those babies down in an intersection. On the other hand, try going faster than 20mph for more than a mile on a horse. Talk about limited range between extended fuel stops, horses are barely better tranportation than shoes.

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