Whatever: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Everything

John Burns
by John Burns
Most things I worry about, never happen anyway.
–Tom Petty

I’m a little worried about the valve deal that causes the dishwasher to flood under the sink whenever I use it, but Thanksgiving’s done so that can wait. The Ranger’s AC is out, but now it’s winter (and 72 degrees on my Kalifornia patio). There’s a clunk under the Jaguar that might be a ball joint or something, but no wheels are obviously falling off. My child is having GF problems, but he’s 23 and suddenly self-supporting. I think there are a few other items; luckily I’ve forgotten them.

Things are going swimmingly, in other words, but everybody around me seemed to be in a tizzy regarding the State of the Motorcycle Industry last week at the IMS Show in Long Beach. That show is always more of a schmooze-fest for me, since we’d already been to the big show in Italy the week before.

The giant distributor that is MAG (Motorcycle Aftermarket Group) filed for bankruptcy right before the show, dragging down a bunch of its brands along with it, including Renthal, Tucker Rocky, Performance Machines/ Roland Sands, Vance & Hines, J&P Cycles, Motorcycle Superstore, Motorcycle USA (say, aren’t they already defunct?), Mustang Motorcycle Products, etc. In a debt-for-equity swap, MAG says it’ll be taking on $300 million more debt to rescue itself, and not to worry because it’ll be business as usual and everything will be better. It’s only a flesh wound.

(CORRECTION from Jennifer at MAG, and I quote: “The Company is exchanging its approximately $300 million debt with its prepetition first lien secured lenders and its asset-backed lenders for equity. In other words, these current debt holders will have equity in the reorganized MAG in exchange for the debt, so upon emergence the Company will have new owners. Monomoy Capital Partners, BlueMountain Capital and Contrarian Partners will lead the new owners group, and have deep experience in
consumer products and lifestyle companies including distribution, retail and manufacturing.”)

Yet another pesky chart…

Basically, bike sales are in the toilet again. A group of industry luminaries convened the night before the show opened to brainstorm what the problem might be in order to solve it. Wait a minute: Since we’re already luminaries and we’re already in the industry, how was this huge problem with declining motorcycle sales ever able to develop in the first place? Why wasn’t this downturn nipped in the bud? Everyone fall in for the circular firing squad. (One self-proclaimed luminary was miffed on Facebook the week after the meeting at not being included, claiming that he’s uniquely positioned as an accomplished influencer with his finger on the pulse of the industry. Weirdly, he was probably the only guy in the industry who hadn’t heard about the roundtable beforehand. Better in that case to campaign as an “Outsider” next time – and use the year off to figure out why your “brand” is tanking.)

Draining the motorcycle-industry swamp, probably any industry, would be a difficult thing to accomplish. I’ve read that Lake Okeechobee, the giant shallow one in Florida, doesn’t drain so much as it rotates in big circles much like the water in a huge, common plumbing fixture, carrying its contents along with it. That’s a lot like how my beloved industry treats its people. When somebody’s moto-empire sinks and you’re sad that all hands are lost, sure enough there you’ll be back at the Long Beach show the next November, and there your old pals will be, wearing the same shirts with different logos over slightly larger bellies. Ahoy, mateys!

Every year there’s Ken, who broke me in at Cycle magazine too many years ago and who’s been Vreeke and Associates ever since. There’s Corey, who I’ve known since I “borrowed” a WP shock from him when he was the new kid at White Brothers and WP was still White Power (no white supremacy ever intended!). There’s Marty, who my Canadian owners just hired to sell ads, and who sold ads for Petersen Publishing when I worked at Motorcyclist in the ’90s. There’s Michael and the whole crew from Yamaha’s ad agency I worked with for five years in the ’Aughts. My apologies to the 300 people I’m leaving out, but you get the idea. Not many people ever really get, ahh, flushed; they just submerge, make another orbit, and bob to the surface in a different spot.

Hello, my old advertising agency peoples! Four of eight of us in this pic now work for different companies in the motorcycle industry. Why not call Adrianne now, and buy a lovely and highly effective VerticalScope ad?

I already made my case about what’s wrong with the industry, and it’s not the people – 90% of whom are serious motorcycle enthusiasts and generally good humans as far as you know. Many of them will give you the shirt off their back, and sometimes even a nice Dainese jacket, all for the Cause of Motorcycling.

And who are you going to get to replace the MAG execs who may have made an unhealthy business decision or two anyway? Bankers? Ohoho, I just cracked myself up! Google says the 2008 TARP banking bailout is costing us taxpayers $16.8 trillion, with a t. Compared to that, MAG’s $300 million is a grain of sand on a beach. Speaking of resurfacing, all those poor bankers also re-bobbed: After making billions foreclosing on people a decade ago, Steve Mnuchin’s now Secretary of the Treasury. Ahoy matey! (Not that he ever actually submerged.)

I stand by my theory that the problem of youngsters buying fewer motorcycles is simply a lack of leisure time and money, both of them lingering after-effects of the Great Recession and the extreme wealth inequality it exacerbated. But I could be wrong; it’s possible the downturn in the motorcycle industry and the shocking increase in the number of people living in tents down by the Santa Ana River is just a coincidence.

As for the manufacturers not making good little cheap motorcycles and millennials not wanting to ride them, you could’ve fooled me on the two days I spent last week dual-sporting around in the mountains on a CSC RXR ($3500), Kawasaki Versys-X 300 ($5400) and Honda CRF250L Rally ($5800) with MO’s new talent, Ryan and Brent. One’s 26 and one’s 28, and both have already somehow managed to accrue far better off-road skills than mine, in spite of the fact I had a 20-year head start. Fine, 30 years.

My own 23-year old spawn wants a new Ducati Supersport now that he’s employed. He can have one if he stays under my roof. If he moves into a 250-square foot studio with no kitchen close to his job for $1800, maybe not. Tough choice. I’ve become quite the little cook.

All systems are self-righting until they’re not. The motorcycle gene will always out; to think otherwise is to think there’s been a sudden change in human nature. (Letter writers to the Orange County Register are 99% convinced the recent “homeless crisis” is all down to a sudden unexplained spike in sloth and Bohemian-ness.) Young people will always crave adventure. Heck, old people too. Motorcycles are still one of the lowest, most accessible rungs on the adventure ladder.

Why worry?

John Burns
John Burns

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  • Ducatirdr Ducatirdr on Dec 04, 2017

    What about the places on earth that the motorcycle industry is growing? Why is there no recent forbidden fruit? (Still lusting after a 30 year old 400?) What about HERO sponsoring Golf on US TV this past weekend? Do we all learn Hindi and Mandarin? Final Statement - I was the part of the greatest motorcycling generation. Now we watch as bikes being marketed become modern copies of what we used to ride... (I ride a 16 Tuono Factory love those "Superbike" bars)

  • Roger Roger on Dec 06, 2017

    Too many words.