When John speaks, I listen…

“MO Puts up a Paywall, and people actually pay. It only happens because we work out a deal that allows subscribers streaming access to all episodes of Green Acres and Petticoat Junction, but that $2.99 a year from our Ten Million subscribers finally allows us to move out of our yurts and erect permanent structures – widely regarded as the first step toward civilization.” —J. Burns, Soothsayer

Civilization ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Clairvoyant John went into Ultra-John mode here recently to show us the future as revealed to him in a Kerosun-heater fumes-in-the-enclosed garage moment. But I’m not quite ready to leave the yurt, not just yet anyway. I prefer the view from here. A man can think, and listen to his wife go on for hours, and contemplate current events. You can see clearly from out here.

Besides, only Californians and hipsters on “eco-tours” in the Cascades can afford yurts; the rest of us have gers. In fact, “yurt” is a Russian word for ger. It figures; is there anything the Russians haven’t got their nose in these days? Cultural misappropriation! Let them riot in Berkeley over that. But I digress, this is, after all, a no “fake news” zone, and the view from the ger is just fine, all bullish in fact. So, let’s get to it.

I want to dispense with this quickly if we can; motorcycles are more fun than economic figures. Let’s put this current motorcycle sales “crisis” in perspective. Earlier, John had posted a chart that illustrated the effects of the ’08 financial crash on the motorcycle market. One could surmise that a rise in motorcycle sales would have a positive effect on aftermarket sales, service, parts, etc. Likewise, a deleterious decline would have a ripple effect throughout the industry.

This is the working definition of a deleterious decline. This is the kind of chart that would have people hoarding gold, canned food, and ammunition in preparation for the anticipated zombie apocalypse.

However, it would not be surprising if, after a period of fake economic growth based upon specious property value gains, we see an adjustment in all the markets that benefited from the easy money. In short, we are still unwinding from the crash of ’08, and it is a necessary and unavoidable adjustment. People can only use their houses as ATMs for so long when the money is of the Monopoly variety. Those who over-extended themselves, businesses included, are among those hurt the worst, and that holds true for the motorcycling world as well.

Perspective is a wonderful thing. Stepping back, motorcycle sales may not be quite on the precipice it had seemed at first glance. We have reverted to form.

Viewed from afar, though, we can see that motorcycle sales today have resumed where we left off in the ’90s before the world went on the Magic Bubble Ride, the bubble popped, and we subsequently returned to earth along with motorcycles sales figures. That pop and the unwinding it entailed took time, and we are still seeing the effects of that crash today. That said, taking the big view makes it evident that we have returned to a stasis of sorts regarding bike sales. Not great, small gains, but not the end of the world, either.

So, assuming the world of motorcycling is not going to spin off its axis tomorrow, let’s look at some of the reasons to be optimistic.

The variety of motorcycling offerings is today better than it has been since the late ’60s and the ’70s, and you don’t have to be sitting in, dropping out, or having your father refer to you as a “dirty hippie,” and you don’t have to be burning your draft card either. Nor do you have to go hunting Victor Charlie in the Mekong delta, you merely have to get off your wallet and pick from the largest variety of motorcycles from intro-variant to anything you can imagine ever offered in the history of the world. The ’90s weren’t this good, and neither were the ‘aughts. Today is the good old days. I say this for several reasons:

There’s no excuse to not buy a bike because:

1) There’s no cool intro-bikes! Oh yes there are, by the bushel load. It is no longer a “You can have a Ninja 250 or a Honda Rebel” world. The variety today looks like the showrooms from the Johnson/Nixon era.

2) They’re too expensive! Open the good eye. Consider the offerings from India and Korea with more in the future (and don’t scoff, remember what “Made in Japan” used to mean? Cripes, even H-D is building bikes in South Central Asia now, and Americans are buying them). Also, increasingly affordable electric bikes are on the horizon, low-priced factory offerings and financing. We left the years of 22% HFC loans back in the early ’80s. Trust me, my Ed Lemco-educated ass was there on the showroom floor.

3) They all look the same and boring! (Insert semi-well-founded disparaging category here: Transformer bikes, Steampunk nightmares, the engines look too “busy” on naked bikes, too, and this, that, or the other thing, etc.) Okay, now just hold your rear-wheel horses there for a second. Let’s take the last first, as this is low-hanging fruit.

If at first you don’t quite succeed… Oh so close, but a little, errr, porky, like Eddie had raced a KZ1300.

Think about early Japanese cruisers: The Big Four sold plenty of them basically by pushing them out the door on the cheap, but they were all just faint expressions of the original Milwaukee iron they were trying to emulate. Right down to the “potato-potato” exhaust note of Honda Shadow litigation fame, when Harley sued Honda over alleged copyright infringement based on an exhaust note. As time went on, what came to be known as “Metric Cruisers” could stand apart as worthy entries in the cruiser genre all on their own. It took some time, but the Japanese got it right, as they weren’t attempting to build Harley clones anymore, they used the “cruiser” template to go their own way. The result was a much more attractive and functional bike.

In the same fashion, some of their earlier retro-attempts just seemed to miss the mark. The early ELR waterpumper is a great example. Like almost everyone of my generation who wore kneepucks in anger, I swooned at the sight of the original air-cooled, two-valve ELR, and when the replica-version was released in the late ’90s I wanted to buy one if for no other reason than to support Kawasaki’s building it. It was tribute to the pinnacle of achievement of the first-generation Superbikes.

But, when looking at it, something was amiss, just not right. Sure, it paid tribute to the original ELR, no one could miss that, but squint as you might you couldn’t escape the fact that it looked like Eddie’s bike with dad-bod. It was chunky, not in a lithe, big, and mean, young George Foreman sort of way, but more like the “Have another burger off my grill,” old George Foreman kind of way. For a retro attempt, it just wasn’t quite there yet. A couple decades pass and Kawasaki takes another run at retro. Enter this year’s Z900RS.

Retro perfection, all the aesthetic perfection of the old, all of the technological goodness of the new. A spot-on effort from Team Green!

The Z900RS flat out nails it right down to the pipe that somehow conceals that insidious catalytic converter and evokes the lines of the classic 4-into-1 exhaust of the era. It is positively lithe. They made the radiator visually disappear and provided enough engine highlights to break up the mass of what makes up most of today’s water pumps. It is thoroughly thought out and completely updated – suspension, brakes, motor – and you could rightfully look at it and say, “That is a 2017 Z1.” That is the kind of thing that evokes moto-lust just like the original, and moto-lust sells. Kawasaki is not alone in finding the right balance between old and new, but that will have to wait.

I’ve blabbed myself plumb out of space here so we will continue this next time, but take hope for this New Year and the next few years to come. It is not as bad as it seems, and there are good reasons to be optimistic about the future of the single-track world. And we are just the single-minded MOrons to figure it out. In the immortal words of Bachman Turner Overdrive, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

A big dog and a freshly painted crapper, what more could a man desire? Well, okay, a Triumph Scrambler would be about perfect.

Yup, the view from the “yurt” is pretty good to my eye, you can see forever out here.

Ride hard, hold your dog if I come by*, and look where you want to go.

*Traditional Mongolian greeting – Hold your dog! – if approaching someone’s ger (or “yurt” if you are a hipster on an eco-vacation or deep cover Russian spy.)

 

  • Starmag

    “A man can think, and listen to his wife go on for hours”. If you’ve got Wi-Fi in your ger, I’ve found that getting my wife hooked on Words With Friends and Facebook greatly increases the quiet in the abode and my resulting peace-of-mind.

    Oh, and I talked to my ZRX and it was very triggered by your fat-shaming.

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      To this day, I almost arrive in my trousers whenever I see a ZRX.

      • Ian Christopher

        A Z-Rex is still near the top of my want list.

    • Chris Kallfelz

      Facebook? Not a problem, throw that scissor switch over there next to the goat…

      http://www.bluepeak.net/mongolia/assets/photos/ger-satellite-dish.jpg

      • Starmag

        Wow, how seductive is conectiveness?

        I figure men growing hair in their ears is nature’s way of blocking the chatter of their wives, so that man probably doesn’t need to visit a Mongolian metro-sexual grooming center to have it removed if he’s got her hooked on Words With Friends with his wind-powered, satellite-connected ger.

        • Chris Kallfelz

          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAA…I always wondered what that hair was for…

    • Alaskan18724

      “Ger” is the noise you make when someone goes on for hours.

    • Alaskan18724

      And Candy Crush is the response to fat shaming.

  • Andrew Capone

    Finally. Someone replaced the skinny Elvis/ fat Elvis with a newer, better analogy…the fighter/ grill George Foreman. Beautiful.

    • Born to Ride

      The only problem with it is that old George Foreman still knocked out enough sumbitches to regain the heavyweight title at age 45. So I’d hardly call the man soft.

  • Rocky Stonepebble

    “In fact, “yurt” is a Russian word for ger.”

    Wrong. A ger is a member of the greatest football club ever.
    The ‘Gers!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rangers_F.C.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    Chris. thank you for that uplifting New Year’s message. You are right: 1998 to 2008 was the financial bubble which raised all ships (including motorcycle sales) and we got used to it. Now bike sales are back on the 1990 to 1997 trend line, but to us it seems like the sky is falling. We are living in the best of times as far as the variety, quality and performance of bikes available for sale. Even Harley updated their entire line (except for Sportsters). There are adventure bikes, naked street fighters, scramblers, retros, sport tourers and dual sports, not to mention Nikens, Monkeys, Groms and Zeros. New rider training will go a long way to introduce more people to motorcycling. And as the community grows, motorcyclists will have more clout to bend laws their way, just like the NRA.

  • John B.

    Excellent points well made Chris.

    A challenge in life is being able to distinguish between a bubble and a new normal. It’s easy to do in hindsight, but when you’re floating on a rising tide you want to believe prosperity is the new normal, and not a bubble about to burst.

  • Gruf Rude

    Years ago in the dawn of MOhistory, I paid a yearly fee for access to this site – and it was worth it. Back to the future?

  • Mad4TheCrest

    Ok, so we are spoilt for choice today, and the Z900RS is a good ride. But do you have to make your point by calling the ZRX, ‘porky’? ‘Gerrrr!

    • Chris Kallfelz

      Well…Chunky not, “porky,” big-boned from some angles…We’re not talking ’84 Kawasaki Voyager here…

    • Alaskan18724

      Yeah. That was a bad move. Lots of bad feelings over that one.

  • Larry Kahn

    Looking for stats back to the 70’s to date, found this site…https://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_01_12.html
    According to this chart, the 70’s to about early 80’s sales in the USA were @ 1 million per year, late 80’s & 90’s @ half that or a bit lower. Back up to 1 mil 2000’s, and back down to half that again 2009-14. Just FYI.

    • Mad4TheCrest

      Hmm … many boomers were still very young and looking for adventure in the 70’s and early ’80s. Marriage and responsibility in the form of kids and a mortgage took over from adventure in the late 80’s through at least half of the 90’s. The early oughts saw many returning to adventure in their lives, right up until the recession and the bucks were no longer plentiful. Now, maybe an influx of new riders and boomers on one last big fling are fueling the sales.

      • hipsabad

        Observing motorcyclists on the road confirms this hypothesis for me

  • Shamus Rider

    I may go out and get me the new Kawasaki Z900rs… (I didn’t kill myself on the original back in the day 😉 ) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/66d556b10b7e63a4d08b491e803261336a05995b472ba5b38e0e9781d53f874d.jpg

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      You should have gotten the Mopars in the background! lol

      • Shamus Rider

        That was my room mates ’73 CUDA… (I could eat it alive with my Cow) lol

  • Gary

    Is someone trying to break out of your yurt or are you just really happy to see me?