When John speaks, I listen…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.)