Nov 17, 2015

Where We’re Going

2013-MotoGuzzi-V7Stone3A friend sent me a link to his next dream bike: a Moto Guzzi V9. His comment was “I like the idea of bigger motor w/ more hp to replace the V7.” If you haven’t seen the V7, there’s a reason for that: it is a kinda silly Euro-trash product that can only be spotted in US major urban centers. At $10,000 for an underpowered, barely unsupported Sportster-style 750, you have to be a fairly committed hipster to even consider owning one of these things. As a motorcycle, it’s a fashion statement that totally evades me. When I mentioned it to a friend who is a daily rider, but who isn’t particularly connected to the motorcycle culture or a moto-journalism reader his comment was, “Is Moto Guzzi still around?” They are and the next obvious question is “Why?”

bikers-379983Of course, I’ve been asking that question about the myriad of US cruiser manufacturers and Japanese clones for the last three decades. More accurately, my question has been,“Why the hell are these people making these stupid bikes and why are people buying them?” Believe it or not, I think there is an answer. It’s not an answer I like, but it appears to be as close to the truth as a short essay can describe.

bikers1In an email conversation about the motorcycling economy (or lack of one) Andy Goldfine explained this stuff to me a couple of weeks ago in a way that makes demented sense. His take is that US motorcycling has become a “reenactment activity,” like Civil War reenactments or Renaissance Festivals. Like it or not, that explains the desperation from the biker bunch and their pitiful rebels without a cause group angst. It more than explains the cobbled-up Eurotrash-revival of hipster cafe racers and scramblers. It even goes a ways toward explaining the whole vintage Japan nuttiness. While riding for transportation appears to be a vanishing habit, dressing up like a 1910-55 motorcyclist is a "thing."

ww14-benoit-guerry-018-1024x682In his book, “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” Thomas Frank points to the abundance of secondhand stores as evidence of economic and cultural decay. After reading his book, you can’t help but see the incredible collection of junk stores in the smoking, dead hulk of what used to be the Midwestern “Mainstreet USA.” Likewise, sunny-day recreational riders dressing up like pirates or bankrobbers or 1960’s mods is evidence of the decay of motorcycling. All this posing means there is no real purpose for motorcycles. Like those abandoned Midwestern towns whose only purpose is to house the remaining seven ancient characters who don’t have the motivation, courage, or competence to move to a decent place, these people are saying the only reason to own a motorcycle is as an excuse to play dress-up. The unfortunate fact is that this opinion is the majority motorcycling attitude.

Leader of the Pack.They are, of course, wrong. I’m not going to list all of the should-be-obvious advantages two-wheel vehicles have over cages, but the fact is that we can fill the spaces in any sort of traffic; auto-piloted or otherwise. On a typical American urban street, more space is wasted than used. That is taxpayer money being foolishly spent out of tradition and if anything on this earth has proved to be useless it is tradition.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Tom:

Really enjoy your site and have liked most all of your articles. But this one is one of your rare stinkers! You guessed it--I own a 2013 Guzzi V7 Stone, which looks exactly like the one you have in the picture. And it's my all time favorite bike in my 35 year riding career, and I've owned many, many bikes.

Frankly, I'm surprised you blew this one. What you don't grasp is that this little small block Guzzi is basically a brand new BMW airhead. Light-weight, easy to maintain, air-cooled, shaft drive. Everything you need, and nothing you don't. Now tell me, were BMW airheads only for hipster, wannabe poser types?

What also surprises me is that you so often rail against overweight, hippo bikes. Well, this little Guzzi is a 750cc bike that weighs a bit over 400 pounds. The opposite of a hippo bike--another reason I like it.

You often rail about the mindless obsession of so many motorcyclists with insane amounts of horsepower. Well, this V7 has about 50 crank HP, which is plenty enough for me in the real world. Pretty strange to hear you complain about "underpowered" bikes!

A recurring theme you have is poor engineering of modern machines, excess complexity, and inability of owner to maintain the machine. Look at this Guzzi--it's dead simple, well thought out, easy to maintain. I adjust valves in 30 minutes--other than that, it's just changing tires and fluids.

You think it compares to a Harley? Perish the thought. Unlike a Harley, this Guzzi is light, handles very well, and has an enormous amount of cornering clearance. And it has a 5.2 gallon gas tank, so at 50 mpg you have real world utility. The opposite of peanut tank, Harley cruiser bike that scrapes hard parts at 20 degree lean angle.

And just so you know. I'm not a hipster poser. I practically live in my Aerostich. Commute 100 miles per day; average more than 22,000 miles per year on bikes. Do cross country tours. And I do this on that little Guzzi.

So give that little small block Guzzi a closer, less biased look--it's hardly "silly Euro-trash."

Thomas Day said...

My friend is a pretty serious motorcyclist, too. However, I do think the Guzzi (and cruisers and Triumph/Ducati's scramblers) are appealing to an impractical aspect of American riders that is pretty well described by the "reenactment" title. Since you really go places in the Guzzi, as in far from the beaten path and anything resembling dealer support, I'm impressed. Having done an Alaska trip with a Triumph owner and witnessed the hassle that comes with riding something that isn't even recognized outside of 2 million-or-greater urban areas, it's a little too arty for my tastes. The reason the V7 inspired this rant was because I'd bet 90% of US motorcyclists wouldn't recognize one if they saw it in person. I've never seen (or noticed) one and I go to the International Motorcycle Show most years.

I do think the V7's styling is seriously retro, which just sorta leaves me flat. I'm plenty retro without having to buy stuff to reinforce my age.

The point of this essay was, however, the fact that American motorcycling has gone from a mode of transportation to being a "dress-up" activity. I kinda like the look of the scramblers, but I'm 67. Scramblers were the first half-decent motorcycles I ever rode 50+ years ago. Cruiser styles were around 40 years before I was born.