Nov 24, 2009

Riding Down the Tubes

This is just a depressed observation on the state of the motorcycle industry, media, and the economy that was inspired by this month's Cycle World. The first inkling that this might not be an issue I’d put in my archives came at the end of the gushing review of the $15,000 H-D Wide Glide. I skipped the article because I have no more interest in what anyone thinks of another Hardly hippobike than I have in the terrified whining wisdom of the ClusterFox characters. For some reason, I did skim over the “Editors’ Notes” and Edward’s comments reminded me of why I try not to read this stuff. The Wide Glide wasn’t noisy enough for him he wanted it to have “Louder pipes, too, though not obnoxiously so.”

Douche. Anything louder than legal is “obnoxiously so.” These damn things already get a welfare noise check from the EPA to keep them in business. If you need more noise than that, you’re suffering from 15-year-old girl insecurities. Rubrubrub, to you too dude.

CW followed that up with a “customizing” of the $14,000 Honda Fury that took a geek bike and turned it into a really noisy over-weight piece of crap that only a character like Dave Edwards would think is “cool.” This silly-assed customization job removed the license plate (completely, now you can only ride your bike in your own driveway), replaced the legal pipes with straight pipes, polished up the aluminum so that every weekend will need to be spent removing oxidation from the unprotected aluminum pieces, and shortened the fenders so that the bike will splatter crap all over the motor and rider. Of course, no one would ever consider riding something as silly as this in the rain, on a gravel road, or away from their manicured gated yuppie communities.

The only good thing about the article was the hilarious picture of Mr. Edwards posing on the Fury, looking as dorky as a stock broker on his way to the Hollywood Hard Rock CafĂ© for a designer beer and a plate full of Santa Fe spring rolls. All those shiny bits, including Dave’s half-helmet, reflecting Hollywood’s asphalt glory and the desiccated palm trees reminded me why I wanted out of California so badly. If I was dreading winter before, now I’m looking forward to the weather that “gets rid of the riffraff.” We don’t have a day mild enough to allow someone to ride a bike as useless as the Fury. As Dave says, "The $600 the polisher charges is us money well-spent." Holy crap. If that's well-spent money, I should be looking for the next Bernie Madoff to take care of my retirement funds.

Not that I like any part of the Fury, but the page 60 before-and-after picture left me with a little more respect for Honda's stylists. The finished "customized" Fury is a cluster of crap stuck together with lots of cash and Tijuana velvet painting taste. Another example of more money than sense.

It took me a lot longer than usual to read Kevin’s TDC column because of the ad for the Cycle World Vintage Memories Calendar on the adjacent page. I couldn’t get over the picture of the side-hack monkey with his chin a couple of inches off of the asphalt and his shoulder dragging on the ground. I’ve never seen anything like that. I’m not sure I’d want to see it as it happened. However, my eyes kept wandering to that picture as I tried to read about “twitchy monsters” and electronic throttle control circuitry. That is one sick picture.

Those were the good old days of motorcyclists and giant huevos (or little tiny brains). Today, the American motorcycle market is all about rich guys and their useless toys. If you aren't Jay Leno and don't want to own a barn full of bikes that you touch once a year, you aren't worth considering in this Timid New World. I guess this is all a prelude to turning motorcycles into dedicated recreational vehicles unfit for highway use and illegal on public roads outside of the occasional parade. It's hard for me to find a reason to be glad I'm old, but this gets close.


Anonymous said...

I'm sure you know this, but most magazines these days basically care only about their advertisers, which are fewer and fewer. Readership numbers are so fungible that everyone knows they are close to pure fiction. The mags are designed to attract more advertisers, pure and simple. Unfortunately, this means that things like editorial content have mostly fallen by the wayside. I'm a longtime writer for another industry and I have had articles rejected because the magazine's advertisers got to review them and didn't like something I said. I was fired from another magazine because I refused to write puff pieces about advertisers.

Anonymous said...

Thomas, you are absolutely right as usual. But it isn't just Hardleys and other custom bikes. Have a look at the vestigal bits of plastic that pass for mudguards on most bikes, style rather than function rules the day.

Consider too how sensible things like a spare key or a tool kit are now an optional extra even when you fork out loads of cash for a bike like a new BMW. If anyone actually considers using a new bike as transport these days they have first to start by buying things like fender extenders, realistic seats, stainless fasteners etc, etc.

Bikes, as they leave the factory just don't make sense any more. Mind you, once customised like the one you describe, they don't even rate as bikes in my book.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this one. It deserves wide readership. The key for me was not Cycle World and David Edwards (Most MC media could be similarly tarred...*) but your closing thought:

"Today, the American motorcycle market is all about rich guys and their useless toys." and "I guess this is all a prelude to turning motorcycles into dedicated recreational vehicles unfit for highway use and illegal on public roads outside of the occasional parade.

The skies are dark right now for the motorcycling cultures and values we both appreciate. And it is a "Timid New World" in many ways. The current 'rich guy' emphasis of the motorcycle industry in the USA, and around much of the richer advanced world, is dominant. But there are pockets with a different awareness. The flash-and-fizzle presented in Cycle World (and much of the MC media) may be like the extra-brightness which sometimes occurs just before light bulb dims. Maybe a new era with some different kinds of moto-values is just about to begin.**

T.W. Day said...

I know what you mean. A good friend wrote for a live sound magazine and told me about spending a year in writer-purgatory after mentioning something clearly negative and downright stupid in a major advertiser's product review. After that, he told me the truth in his reviews could be found "between the lines." I could never figure out what that meant. There is only white between the lines.

Honest magazines, at least on one level of honesty, no longer charge subscription prices for magazines. Since the purpose of the magazine is to expose readers to advertisers, those customers should be paying the whole tab. Or, as in MCN, there are no advertisements and the magazine struggles to survive on subscriptions alone. We may be right at the cusp of the "death of print." Magazines are expensive to produce and resource-intensive. Both of which seem to be obsolete in this on-line modern world.

Andy, I hope you're right. There are signs that the motorcycle manufacturers are refocusing on different markets than the US hippobike and monster-liter-plus "sportbikes." Little, high-efficiency bikes rule the world. When we quit substidizing fuel and SUV highways, maybe we'll join that world. I hope so.

Anonymous said...

I know exactly the type of bike you describe from CW. A few years ago I met a guy who was having trouble building his dream chop. He asked me to finish it for him, and although I am loathe to work on other peoples bikes I went to have a look at the bike.

It was an old single cam CB750, to which he planned to fit the world’s smallest peanut tank, barely holding enough to go from gas station to gas station in a populated town let alone get anywhere out in the sticks. He also showed me the ridiculous shocks with which he planned to lower the rear end. The spring on them looked more like a valve spring than one suitable for a shock, and worse yet, there was no damping. The shock was simply a top and bottom frame mount with the short spring in between, and a rod down the centre to centre the whole mess.

I tried to tell him that these shocks were not suitable for road use, and that they would fall apart the first time he went over even a medium sized bump in the road, that the barely padded seat would add to his woes and lead to a life time of back pain and doctors bills, that ape hangers only drained the blood from your arms, and that his plans for an easy rider type tour would see him more stuck on the verge than finding the freedom of the open road. The dream was too strong though, so I left his mind to slumber. He must have spent a fortune on the poorly chromed tat that he had bought. If our ideals could be easily put together in this pick and mix fashion then surely everyone would do it? The fact that they don’t, and that those foolhardy enough to build something like this invariable prefer to pose rather than ride only proves the point you make in this piece. Well said Geezer.