I've been having a conversation with Andy Goldfine about this since I posted the excellent RideApart lane-splitting video about 10 days ago. He's an incurable optimist and his terrific organization, Ride to Work Day, does quite a bit to try to popularize motorcycle commuting and motorcycles as a "social good." I must have pissed him off, because in his last note he wrote "I disagree that the consumption of motorcycling in wealthy and advanced countries like the United States inevitably must decline and that MC's are a 'dying market'. That's your hubris talking."
I thought a bit about that comment and decided to look up a formal definition of "hubris." To put it simply and clearly, it means "exaggerated pride or self-confidence." I don't see it. I have nothing invested in the failure of motorcycling as a means of transportation. I ride my bike to work, grocery shopping, and for all-around transportation every day I can. I don't have a clue where the "self-confidence" bit would come from or relate to this discussion. I, simply, don't believe that motorcycling and motorcyclists have created enough value to society to exist much longer in public transportation. Like horsey-owners, recreational motorcycles might last into the next century, but I see us going the way of the horse-and-buggy and buggy whips.
Here's my argument, as put to Andy:
I don't see motorcycles and bicycles in any part of the same transportation solution. Bicycles require barely any resources. Motorcycles demand the same or more regulations (policing, infrastructure, and environmental testing) as cars. Bicycle use is, and has been, on the increase for decades. Motorcycles are, and have been, in decline since the early 80's. Bicycles have huge popular approval while motorcycles (and their manufacturers) have created a gangster image that most parents reinforce.
A few years back, I had a long and technical conversation with Kevin Cameron who has thought a lot about alternative motorcycle technologies and efficiency; what both of us believe is the future of transportation as we leave the Oil Century. Aerodynamics is a grossly limiting factor for traditional motorcycles and solving that problem creates a vehicle that is as fun to ride as a bus (enclosed, low profile, two-wheel streamliners). Electric motors are already in the 99-something-% efficiency territory, so we're desperately hoping for better battery technology to solve the electric motorcycle problem. Unfortunately, physics and nature are conspiring against us. If for no other reason, compacting more energy in smaller batteries creates considerably more volatile battery storage systems. Talk about having a tiger between your legs; this is a lot like having dynamite between your legs. This goofy "science writer" sort of knows what he's talking about (http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo.com/2013/01/boeing-787-batteries-same-as-those-in-electric-cars-umm-no.php), except for the fact that the chemistry he's claiming isn't and won't be used in electric cars is only true because we've been there and discovered how dangerous going for truly high-capacity lithium-ion is (in the pacemaker and ICD business, for example) and we can't do that or any other method of compacting large capacity cells in small spaces without creating large firebombs.
I love the Honda NC700 and NC700X, but it's the motorcycle that we should have had a decade ago. My wife and I rented a small Kia in Portland last week and drove it to San Francisco. It was my first experience with a modern, reasonably high efficiency car in years. The Kia got 52 mpg on two of the best tanks and the worst mileage we "suffered" was 48mpg. That was with two bodies and a fair amount of luggage, with comfort, entertainment, and a butt-load of safety equipment. If I squeeze efficiency, Best case, I get 55mpg out of my 650 V-Strom and most of the time I get 42-45mpg. My WR250X does no better, holding it under 60mph. Operation-cost-wise, we both know a motorcycle is a money-losing proposition. Fuel, maintenance and reliability, tires, chains and sprockets, and insurance are all in the same (or more expensive) territory than a cage. Hoping that kids riding beater 1970's standards rigged as cafe racers will save the transportation mode makes no sense. If that happens, the last of the manufacturers will go broke waiting for those kids to buy something new.
Maybe your mileage was different, but there aren't a lot of Gen-XYZ'ers who are poorer than I was in 1966-73. I worked two-three jobs for $1.60-3.20 an hour, for an average 70-something hours a week, through my young adult years and I rode and raced for most of that period and supported my family. I don't see that kind of work ethic, physicality, risk-taking, or a bunch of other characteristics that I thought were pretty common in 1966-73. I see a lot of kids. In fact, I've had 2400 of them in my classes over the last decade. Of that bunch, one woman was a rider (exactly the 1970's cafe racer you described). Outside of her, the closest thing to a rider I've met was a video game "motocrosser" who imagined that playing a video game was exactly the same as actually riding a motorcycle. Teaching MSF classes has given me the same expectations, too. Most "students" are just knocking off bucket list crap and damn few are intending to do anything practical on a motorcycle.
Say what you want, but the dearth of motorcyclists in Portland and San Francisco on beautiful weekdays doesn't seem encouraging to me.