The Upside of High Gas Prices?

For the last 8 years or so I have been making business trips to the UK and have enjoyed a motorcycle culture there that is very different than the motorcycle as a "toy" culture that we have here. In the UK, there are many more motorcycle activities and events, as well as a weekly motorcycle newspaper bringing all the global news right down to complete lists of all UK local bike event's. I think it's widely accepted that here in the US, the advent of the cheap automobile led to the American relegation of the motorcycle to hobby of a fringe of our society.

Here in Ohio, the motorcycle is even further marginalized by it's seasonal nature. Riding to work regularly or when the weather is less than nice, has been considered by most to be the activity of the eccentric.

About the time I started going to England, I was the only employee of around 250 where I work that rode to work. I rode to work in all weather other than when there was snow and ice on the road and the temperatures were greater than 20F. This resulted in quite a few comments and peculiar looks from my fellow engineers.

On the first business trip to a vendor near London, I was astonished by how many motorcycle helmets where strewn throughout the offices. Infront of the building, a covered motorcycle parking lot. This wasn't a bright sunny day, it was mid-November and relatively cold and damp. It was great!It's not like motorcycles were considered as they say "safe as houses" but it was far more accepted. Their fuel prices where something like 5 times what we paid so it was somewhat understandable but it was more than that too. The car did not so rapidly displace the motorcycle as practical transportation like it did here, especially with the lower middle class, and so, it never completely left it's place even after it became easier and easier to own a car.

Now it's been eight years. The fuel prices are about three times what they were then. In the last two years quite a few more folks show up on bikes where I work but still mostly when the weather is nice. With Katrina and Rita, it seems that a corner has been turned. The fuel prices rose up here over $3.00 for the first time. You could see less people out at restaurants, less 80mph driving on I-75, less pickup trucks, less traffic, lower paid workers calling in sick towards the end of a pay period to keep from filling the tank to get to work. The prices dropped a bit back towards $2.60 and then back up towards $2.90.

Today as I went with my wife so that she could take the motorcycle skills test for her endorsement, I counted around 35 bikes on the road. Not so unusual except that is was a Saturday and it was about 45F outside. It was the second day of the first cold we've gotten here in Ohio.

In this state, if you take the MSF course, you can take the skills test during the class. I tried for the last three weeks to get her into these classes but they were full. We then decided to get an appointment at an exam station. Even this took some phone work to find a station with open slots. These were mostly full as well.

She passed the test which was great. She did it to participate with me in an interest that I love. The testing location was full of middle aged and older men. Their bikes were and assortment of a couple of new sportbikes, and the rest were old cruisers, one old hagard Sportster and several early and mid-eighties UJCs. Several had the look of bikes that were going to be used and not as toys ( milkcrate bungeed on topbox, faded paint, torn seats).

It was the first time in 24 years of riding here that I have seen this many bikes on such a cold day. In fact, there are more bikes out there than I have ever seen here. Even the scooter is not so uncommon anymore.

We have always known that bikes and scooters get better mileage than most cars. It was an interesting fact in the past but now it's bringing more of the general public to see their value.

I remember reading an editorial in around 1982 about someday having to spend $20 to fill a motorcycle gas tank and how then maybe motorcycles would get more consideration as practical transportation.

I think I am witnessing this come to pass. I think more folks are going to into our ranks because they have to. As they learn to become motorcyclists, maybe some of them will take a development path similiar to the culture in the UK as practical first and hobby second.

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George Obradovich
George Obradovich

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