Jul 11, 2017

Social Engineering & Motorcycling

One of my favorite things about Mount Rushmore is the statements the Park Service selected from each of those Presidents. George Washington’s words are, probably, my favorite, “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” Life and democracy are just a series of experiments, some successful and some not so much. Anyone who has ever worked in a lab of any sort knows that you just move on when an experiment fails.

So, with that background in mind, I think the MIC has been clueless in its sudden approach to find new customers. I’ve been saying, for almost 20 years, that new riders will not be the same people as the old riders. The Hardly/biker/gangbanger crowd are old, clip_image002white, poor, and stupid. They are, literally, on the way out; and good riddance. Their redneck replacements will be even more poor, dumber, and will satisfy themselves with the old stock easily found on practically every block in the country. Harley stock-piled bikes in warehouses, dealers’ lots, and in the garages of wanna-be yuppies who are so underwater on their chrome toys that they’ll never see dry land again. In the meantime, those “nicest people” Honda once convinced to buy motorcycles have moved on to other things. In Sound Familiar?, my last post, I ridiculed the traditional approach the MIC is taking to try to cling to the biker business in spite of the fact that bikers are about as trendy and hip as Disco Dan. A local Red Wing motorcyclists’ Google group I sometimes follow was on a similar subject, based on that Bloomberg article and the fact that internal combustion powered vehicles are losing ground faster than expected.

One member seemed to think electric motorcycles are a joke and that my suggestion that motorcycling advocates try to seperate motorcycle licensing from cage licenses was ridiculous. “I'm envisioning an electric moped running the ironbutt rally. Pulling a trailer full of batteries. Picking up fresh batteries every 100 miles.

“Not to mention that a driver's license is much more than a license to drive, but also establishes residency, personal identification and even implied nationality. 

“In my opinion, it makes sense to learn to drive in a car. Protected by a cage, one can learn traffic patterns etc without the undue risk associated with a bad/inexperienced decision on an MC.”

Since the Iron Butt is probably the ultimate motorcycling conspicuous consumption event, 1000 miles a day for no reason other than to burn fuel and attempt suicide-by-deer, I don't think many motorcyclists or motorcycle manufacturers take it into account in their product planning. I suspect there are more motorcyclists who don't know about the IBR than who do. I'd never heard of it until I moved to MN in 1996 and I'd been on two wheels for 40 years at that point. People who might commute by motorcycle are, or should be, a far bigger concern of the industry than the 12 guys who spend as small fortune on their once-a-year IBR extravaganza and the rest of the year recovering from that crippling event.

However, you might envision the ass-kicking suck-pow-blow bikes are getting at Pike’s Peak. Like horse-and-buggy owners at the turn of the last century, electric vehicles are coming on a lot faster than the old guard thinks and the speed of that change is only going to get quicker.

clip_image004In fact, a drivers’ licenses is exactly nothing “more than a license to drive.” There are identification cards that serve the identity purpose of a drivers' license and you get them at the same DMV office or, in civilized states, at the post office or your local library. Red state voter suppression politicos try to make ID cards as difficult and expensive to obtain as cage licenses, but those folks are fighting a losing battle. Demographics and economics are going to be driving this bus and no matter how much voter repression goes on in the red states, those two things will be driven by forces outside of political control.

That last argument is what I think of as the ultimate helicopter parent whine, “I’m gonna put my half-witted offspring in the largest SUV possible, in case little Douchebag gets distracted by his cell phone, video game, and in-dash movies and loses control of his vehicle and kills your kid; who was responsibly walking, bicycling, or motorcycling.” If you think young drivers are learning traffic patterns, you haven’t been on the road in any sort of state of consciousness. You don’t learn patterns or good habits from being inside a well-protected, smarter-than-you vehicle. You learn by immersing yourself in the environment where you will sink or swim. That’s why walking, bicycling, and motorcycling are better educators than cages, but it’s also why we’ve become a nation of pampered, lazy, uneducated spoiled brats who are non-competitive, trailing-edge, and have traded democracy for idiocracy.

hondaad2I’m not convinced motorcycles have a future in the industrialized world. When the only people who can afford the average motorcycle are the 1%, the market has shrivelled to unsustainable. There was a reason Henry Ford paid his workers enough that they could buy the products they built. There was an even better reason Honda tried to market their 1960’s motorcycles to “the nicest people.” Today, a reasonably practical new motorcycle costs at least $5,000 and that same money will buy a decent used car that will get the same or better fuel mileage, last longer with less maintenance, and be useable year-around.

I really believe it’s time to experiment with the whole motorcycle paradigm. I know of more than a few young people who could be tempted to obtain a motorcycle license before they mess with a car license. They might not ever bother with the car license, given mass transportation access and automous cars. While some people imagine that “drivers’ education courses” in high school or privately provides some level of competence, that would just be more of that silly idealizing-high-school crap. Drivers’ Ed courses are notoriously taught by the guy who couldn’t clear the lowest bar in teachers’ education, worse than phys-ed, and the classes are barely a joke, academically or practically. Currently, all licensing testing is designed to put butts in seats as efficiently as possible. Safety and competence isn’t any significant part of either drivers or motorcyclists training. That could and should be changed. Completely decoupling the cage license from motorcycle licensing could provide an opportunity to enhance all aspects of motorcycle training, which would make both motorcycle and car licensing more productive. Obviously, tiered licensing only makes sense. I can’t think of a single good reason to put a new motorcyclist on a liter bike; or a new driver in a 2,400 kilo SUV.

Electric motorcycles might make even more sense than electric cars, given the fact that most motorcycles don’t travel more than 1,500 miles a year and the advantage motorcycles could have in parking, lane-sharing, and storage. An electric motorcycle with a 150 mile range would more than do the transportation job for most people and a $0.06 fillup would just be icing on the cake.


Norskie said...

I'm happy my statements provided enough material for another blog entry but I would like to point out that in most cases when I wrote "A" you responded as if I had written "B". Some may see through that but others may not, and here's my opportunity to clarify.

For example - you claimed that I believe "Electric motorcycles are a joke". I did not make such a generalization. My (admittedly failed) satirical comment was reflecting the reality that electric motorcycles do not (yet) have the battery technology to ride long distances without lengthy charging times. Zero and Brammo lead the pack and have a range of about 115 miles ridden conservatively, and then require an hour or two of charging (depending on the voltage etc). There is a tour company in Germany who does multi-day tours on electric motorcycles, but the distances are short and the stops are at cafe's and restaurants where the riders can have a meal or a coffee while waiting for their motorcycles to charge. Electric motorcycles certainly have the performance, economy and eco-numbers, but as long they require as much time parked as they do moving, it is ridiculous to attempt an IBR on one. If Musk and the rest of the transportation industry can agree on a standardized battery model that will allow quickly swapping out for previously charged ones, and the infrastructure to do so at gas stations or equivalent, there wouldn't be much argument for buying internal combustion engines.

Consider also my statement regarding learning to drive a car before a motorcycle. You managed to amplify my words to " half-witted offspring in the largest SUV possible, in case little Douchebag gets distracted by his cell phone, video game, and in-dash movies and loses control of his vehicle" for use as a target whining about a number of other things. I think this is pretty obvious so I'm not going to delve too much into it, except to agree that I believe most drivers would benefit from experiencing the exposure of riding a motorcycle and we should definitely have a tiered licensing system for MC's. And I'd like to point out that most drivers do learn traffic patterns sufficiently well enough from inside a cage. Overwhelmingly, most drivers obey stop lights, right of way and drive on the proper side of the road, etc. There's always room for improvement and (especially where I'm writing this .. Florida ...) there's no lack of inconsiderate jackasses on the roads, and I'm we've seen enough examples where being on two or four wheels is clearly not going to make up for serious personality flaws.

Regarding driver's licenses being nothing more than a license to drive ... you're flat out wrong. It is more than just a "license to drive" and the existence of other forms of identification (either state- or federally issued) which don't confer driving privileges doesn't change the fact that I regularly use my driver's license to prove who I am so that the TSA will let me board flying machines, check into hotels, etc. When I was younger it was also sufficient proof of identification to cross into Canada and back, establish that I was old enough to buy beer (and before that, that I wasn't old enough.... doh!) and that my organs may be harvested after I die. If a driver's license were just a license to drive and if it wasn't also accepted as form of ID, and if it were possible to get a driver's license of a state without also proving you are a legal resident of that state, then I would agree with you that it's nothing more than a license to drive. That would have interesting impacts on the debate of whether illegal immigrants can earn driver's licenses, and the availability of free or subsidized state ID cards somewhat deflates the opposition of voter ID laws.

T.W. Day said...

All of the non-drivers' license things you claim for a drivers' license are true for a state ID, which also is used "to prove who I am so that the TSA will let me board flying machines, check into hotels, etc. When I was younger it was also sufficient proof of identification to cross into Canada and back, establish that I was old enough to buy beer (and before that, that I wasn't old enough.... doh!) and that my organs may be harvested after I die." The drivers' license portion of the license only allows you to drive, the other bits are available in a non-drivers' form. So, when you buy a drivers' license, you are buying two things: an identify card and a drivers' license. The ID card costs $17.50 and the drivers' license costs $29.25. The difference is the driving bit. Maybe we're arguing semantics, but my point is that linking a motorcycle license to a cage license is nonsense and destructive to the future of motorcycling; which is seriously in doubt.

I don't see anything in your rebuttal that disproves my point that there are many ways to learn the rules of the road without having to strap a dumbass kid into a 2.5kilo cage and aim them at all of the other victims on the road.

Of course, I think the whole IBR thing is a joke and doesn't reflect any normal human or motorcyclists' reason for owning a motorcycle. What most motorcyclists do can easily be done with a 100-150 mile range about 99% of the time. The 1500 mile average annual motorcycle mileage bit proves that. The 2-3 hour charge time for current Zero bikes is a mild inconvenience, but not a deal-breaker. The $13k price tag is a total deal breaker. Of course, at my age practically anything is enough to convince me I don't need a new toy. I turned down a killer deal on a guitar this week because I have too many already. I need to be selling shit, not buying. My kids are going to hate having to paw through our crap when we croak.

Good luck with the camper. Our current rig is about as simple as it can get: a manual transmission Nissan Frontier and a 20' R-Pod camper. A normal person wouldn't blink at hooking up and going somewhere. I'm not even a little bit motivated to "camp" this way (still happy with my bike and camping gear) and it turned out my wife isn't as driven as she'd dreamed, too.

I don't know if any of this would actually improve motorcycle sales, reduce motorcycle mortality and morbidity costs, or even do anything useful. I do believe in experimentation and monitoring the results and, so far, we're doing neither. I could be, and often am, wrong.

Thanks for your comments.

Cas said...

Hi Thomas,

I agree with most of your comments (as usual). Having spent the last few weeks looking for a 'sensible' commuter here in Ireland, I can confirm that we too buy too many cubes and too much chrome for our needs. There are loads of large capacity, very low mileage bikes for sale locally. The owners of these seem to have been compelled to spend even more on their bikes to buy non standard exhausts, custom paint and the usual plethora of useless extras. They still appear not to have ridden them though! Light weight, fuel efficient bikes are by contrast, very thin on the ground.

I've been using a Honda Innova (the modern version of the Cub)for my commute for the last few months, and have now put up a few thousand miles on it. It would be the ideal solution for this 26 miles each day, except it has really harsh suspension that is literally a pain on our ill kept roads, and the tiny 3.6 litre fuel tank keeps me looking at the fuel gauge rather than the road for too much of the time. There will be a better compromise but I haven't found it yet. Perhaps the 106mpg average consumption and really cheap parts are biasing my search. If the manufacturers promoted bikes as transport rather than a hobby, I too believe that we would be much better off.

Keep up the rants,


R. Elvy Day said...

"106mpg average consumption" would be enough to crush any motivation I might have to look for an ideal solution. I really need to relook at scooters, at least I'd "need" to do that if I were driving any serious distance these days. Tom bought me a scooter a few years back and I never even gave it a try.