American motorcyclists have a drinking problem. We drink too much Haterade and not enough Kool-Aid.
Haterade is a heady brew that makes you feel so good bashing away at your keyboard, but, like an actual sports drink, the rush quickly wears off and leaves you feeling sad and empty inside. Kool-Aid, at least the allegorical kind, just makes you feel better and better. The longer you believe something is true, patterns form in your brain to reinforce those beliefs. And faith is comforting, we all know.
The problem is that Kool-Aid sometimes tastes bitter, especially at first. I, like many of you, was once dismissive of the powered two-wheelers that often garner online ire. And then I got to ride them around a lot for free. Since the number-one rule of American motojournalism is to work from the positive, I had to make my own Kool-Aid for each one and drink it copiously. But I’m glad I did.
The MoCo is the motorcycling equivalent of the Dallas Cowboys — almost universally hated outside groups of the faithful, yet somehow monstrously successful. Hating successful and popular things is a certain road to frustration and sorrow. If McDonalds wants to move in next to your house, it will, so learn to love the smell of French fries and overcooked meat. Though the Internet peanut gallery has been singing songs of Harley-Davidson’s imminent doom for decades, the company is about as healthy as a big corporation can be.
Yes, it’s true. The Haterade-swillers love to type stuff like “When the brain-washed Baby-Boomers die off, nobody will buy Harleys anymore.” Yet, here we are, with Boomer ranks shrinking and Harley still outselling any other brand by at least two to one in the USA. And when it comes to the under-35 market, H-D claims it’s numero uno. No, it isn’t doing as well as it was in the cheap-credit frenzy of 2000-2008, but other brands have seen much sharper declines.
So, are you ready for some tasty black-and-orange Kool-Aid? I wasn’t either. But then I went on some extended trips and learned that, given the right conditions, Harleys really do provide a unique, yet practical and reliable experience. That’s because these motorcycles now offer the reliability and performance of their cruiser competition. They don’t leak oil, they don’t break down, they’re cheap to service and repair and take to performance upgrades like a duck (no, not that kind of duck) to water. Some of the models are actually fun to ride, and the touring bikes offer class-leading comfort, luggage capacity and range. Really.
But the best part of Harley ownership is the almost-guaranteed positive social experience. To the general public, “Harley” is to “Motorcycle” as “Microsoft” is to “aneurysm-inducing frustration.” People smile and nod at you and give you envious glances and cheery thumbs-ups. You can join in almost any of the thousands of organized Harley-only rides and events that happen around the country each weekend, and be eligible to join one of the hundreds of Harley-only clubs. If you crave scraping knees and footpegs, just wash some Paxils down with that Kool-Aid, and you’ll live a happy, crash-and-ticket-free life with your new friends. And what’s wrong with that?
The anti-scooter Haterade is harder to understand than the anti-Harley stuff. Americans like practical yet unsexy things — pickup trucks, jeans, Rachel Maddow — so it’s hard to understand why scooters draw so much ire. Usually, the comments are something like, “I don’t care how great that scooter is, I could just never ride one and keep my manhood.” Did I miss the chapter of The Kinsey Report where the researchers gauged sexuality by vehicle type? “Though the subject only has sex with women, we categorized him as homosexual because of his light-blue Mazda Miata.”
Still, I get it. I started out on scooters and even did a cross-country trip on an old Vespa, but after that stuck to motorcycles and never looked back — until we bought a Derbi Atlantis 50 for my wife to ride to work. That flavor of Kool-Aid was particularly refreshing and delicious.
For a dense urban jungle, a small scooter is not just a good way to get around, it’s the absolute best way to get around short of a jet pack. In a big city, speed limits are almost never over 30 mph and there are stop signs or traffic lights practically every block. That means you’ll shift a motorcycle about 60 times on a 3-mile trip. A scooter? You just twist and go. You can ride, text and drink a cup of coffee at the same time, if you want.* And they’re so light that even 5 or 6 horsepower is enough to beat most traffic off the line, so long as they don’t know you’re racing them. Oh, and how are you going to fit two six-packs, a bag of pork rinds, a watermelon, a large deep-dish pizza and a jumbo bottle of Maalox on your Panigale? Good luck with that — I’ll be at home pretending I’m heterosexual enough to care about the football game, eating pork rinds.
Anti-electric Haterade is a particularly popular flavor right now, but the weird thing is that when you mix it with anti-Harley Haterade, it turns into a weird kind of pro-electric-Harley Kool Aid. Anyway, before the Live Wire came along, any electric motorcycle story was sure to elicit Haterade-fuelled rants that often mentioned Al Gore.
I never drank any anti-electric Haterade, though. I was keenly interested in driving or owning an electric vehicle, as my downstairs neighbor pays for the power outlet in my garage. The problem was, I wanted to drink some electric Kool-Aid, but the ridiculously short range and low performance of e-motos made it too thin and weak to be interesting.
And then Zero and Brammo came out with some very tasty flavors. Suddenly, I could ride an e-moto the way I ride my gas bikes (like an a-hole, if you’re wondering) without range anxiety. Most of my trips are less than 20 miles, and what I started to realize is that electric motorcycles shouldn’t be judged by gas-motorcycle standards because they offer things — silent operation, perfect throttle response, total lack of vibration and very low maintenance requirements, to name a few — no gas moto will be able to offer. Ever.
Remember when the delicious Ducati Desmosedici RR came out? Here was a motorcycle with a very short range, solo seat, race-focused riding position and maintenance costs more appropriate for an F-16. Oh, and it was over $70,000. Did anybody say, “Ducati won’t ever sell a single one,” or “Only Tom Cruise would buy that?” No way. You wanted one, you dreamed of riding one just one lap around a racetrack and if you’ve seen one in person, you know you considered licking it. Ducati sold 1500 of these, and probably could have sold many more. You will go thirsty if you’re looking for a glass of Desmosedici Haterade.
So why do most Internet forums offer unlimited electric-moto Haterade on tap? After all, an e-moto is a lot like an exotic sportbike — impractical, narrowly focused, technically fascinating and available in small quantities. But like a D16RR, it offers a unique riding experience you can’t get anywhere else. Book a test ride on a Zero or a Brammo and you’ll find a tasty drink indeed.
Finally, Standards. Every time a factory releases a standard motorcycle, the Haterade-swiggers start beating their poor keyboards to death. “Give me FULL PERFORMANCE!” some of them might yell, not noticing the caps lock key is on. They think moto-nirvana is a souped-up literbike, but made more comfy for our creaky middle-aged bodies. Such bikes exist, but since they have the same running gear as a sportbike, they’re just as expensive, which enrages the All-Caps brigade. I guess they think deleting bodywork and a few brackets should cut the MSRP in half, not realizing sportbike plastic is expensive because it’s usually insurance companies who pay to replace it.
So they look to the budget-priced standard bikes and complain about the measures the OEMs take to keep the price down. Steel frames, non-radial-mount calipers and shocks seemingly sourced at Pep Boys keep the hangtags to four digits, and offer ample performance for 99% of just about anybody’s daily ride, but you can’t see that when you’re drunk on Haterade.
Try the standard-bike Kool-Aid. I’m rolling on a new CBR650F. Sure, it’s pretty much like paying $8,499 for a brand-new CBR600F2 (almost exactly the F2’s price in 2014 dollars), but is that a bad thing? It’s fast, nimble, comfortable and gets almost 50 mpg. It’s well-suspended and good-handling enough for a fast B-group trackday pace, but also has bungee hooks and a comfy seat if you want to tour or commute. It seems like almost every Japanese factory offers something similar (or better).
You starting to get it? Pour out your Haterade. We’re pretty much in the best of times for motorcycling. You just have to drink a little Kool-Aid to appreciate it.
*Yes, I know that’s a bad idea, BMW guy. Now go back to ADV rider to post engine-oil recommendations and stop bothering me. Oops! Someone must have spiked my coffee with anti-BMW Haterade. Sean!