Aug 7, 2017

#151 Looks Cool, but It's Not

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

Fashion is one of the many human ideas that is sometimes described as something you can identify with "common sense." One of my personal heroes, Bertrand Russell, called common sense "the metaphysics of savages" and fashion proves him right, repeatedly. Nothing about fashion follows the fundamental (and grossly oversimplified) concept of economic supply and demand, for example. For practically everything fashionable, there is no demand at all until some marketing wizard convinces a fair collection of fools that they desperately need some useless product that will pretend to enhance their lifestyle but will add nothing more than one more pile of crap to put in the hoard of useless crap. All you have to do is look around you at the clothes people are wearing, the cars they are driving, and the silly junk they think is essential to their survival and you'll know how idiotic fashion really is. 
The grossly misnamed "smart phones," for example, regularly costing $75-100 per month are one of the silliest products that anyone ever flushed cash into. Unless you have a business that requires constant communication with customers or employees (a dope dealer, for instance), a cell phone is a mindless distraction at least 99.999% of the time. A cell phone doubles as a low resolution camera, a fuzzy, shaky video camera with crap audio, a GPS loaded with distracting advertisements, and the easiest way to allow hackers access to your personal finances (next to stringing your life's savings into a belt and wearing it everywhere you go). Possessing a product this flawed is at least 30 IQ points below retarded. Paying a monthly rate for this "service" proves that "nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public" or any other nation's marching morons.
looks_coolThere are a multitude of similarly idiotic products, but this rant is really about how fashion and engineering can not occupy the same space. An obvious example would be the waddle-inducing pants-on-the-ground hip hop costume fad. The geniuses who came up with this sales pitch must have had stock in for-profit-prisons. If you've ever seen a gangbanger try to run from the cops while trying to hold his pants up, you know what I'm talking about. Serious comedy. Look under "stupid" in the dictionary and you'll see a picture of some kid wearing his jeans wrapped around his knees.
[For that matter, what kind of macho rock and roller or R&B artist would get anywhere near something as lame sounding as "hip hop?" Is there a hip hop group called "Peter Rabbit" or "Easter Bunny?" Don't get me started.]

When I bought my WR250X, I didn't notice that the previous owner was one of the robot children who follows fashion wherever that pack of fools might lead. My wife spotted and commented on the droopy pants aspect of his appearance, but I was too occupied with the motorcycle to register that valuable piece of buyer-beware information. I did notice the hacked up exhaust pipe and priced the bike accordingly. I missed the butchered front and rear fenders. The baggy Cut me a break, I was sick and it was January. My reasons for wanting to own a WR250X was as close to totally functional as my limited mental resources allows: fuel injection so the bike will start under all weather and altitude conditions, fuel economy, light and maneuverable for city traffic, versatile, and long suspension for the future state of decay that our road maintenance promises. What the bike looked like was not in my buying equation. It should have been, but it wasn't.  
There can be a mathematical value system to judging products by their functional properties. You can apply quantitative measure to fuel efficiency, weight, height, suspension travel, and almost every performance-based value. You can add up the pluses and minuses and use some sort of logic to pit one motorcycle against another. In ever purchase, there is some emotion involved but if function is what is driving your purchase you can suppress those emotional misdirectors until the decision is made. 
Fashion is the polar opposite of the elegance of mathematical analysis. If you're buying a motorcycle on the low standards of fashion, you're using the kind of touchy-feely decision making process women use when they buy shoes that are unfit for walking. I would hesitate to say this if I gave a damn about political correctness, but if fashion is what drives you to a particular motorcycle it's not a "guy thing" that is putting you on two wheels. At best, you're making the same kind of statement on your motorcycle that you probably make with your golfing attire.

In the United States, most motorcyclists and the rest of our fellow citizens regard motorcycles as recreational vehicles. We don't commute on our motorcycles. We don't use them for daily transportation. We don't even use the most mobile, quickest vehicles on the road for messenger delivery service. We're humiliated into toy status by bicycles, even in that obvious application.

As toys, motorcycles have a huge collection of disadvantages, culturally and practically. The most apparent is risk vs. reward. The risk of being a marginally-skilled hobby motorcyclist is huge, with our consistent overrepresentation in highway fatalities being a giant red flag waved to everyone involved in highway safety. The reward for the rider who puts on 100 to 1,000 miles a year is microscopic and grossly out of proportion to the risk.
I have seriously suggested that the people I've known who ride that seldom that they pull the fluids from their bike and build a nice stand for it in their living room or den (if they are rich enough to have a den).

That sort of rider is exactly the kind of person who is likely to be influenced by fashion when selecting his motorcycle and exactly the kind of person who is likely to be killed by the many serious functional flaws in a fashionable motorcycle. For that matter, this category of rider is likely to select (or avoid) protective gear that is fashionable but useless, too. Literally, everything about fashionable motorcycling contributes to our crap safety statistics and heads us all down the path of becoming true recreational vehicles and illegal on public roads. And this is where I suggest to you that your silly-assed hippoboke or your shade-tree-mechanic-mangled modifications to a perfectly useful motorcycle only looks cool to the uninformed and incompetent. In other words, you think it looks cool, but it's not. The only good thing about fashion is that it is always temporary. Droopy pants may be cool today, but they are going to look a whole lot dumber than bell-bottoms tomorrow. Your gangster-wannabe buddies might think your 800 pound hippo-relic is cool today, but nobody is going to want that useless piece of crap tomorrow because it is functionless and as silly looking as droopy pants.

Published in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly #182 April 2017 


  1. I suppose I have succumbed to some sort of fashion drivers despite telling myself otherwise. I've been wearing jeans and flannel shirts as my daily go-to style for nearly 50 years thinking the choice was cheap and functional. But LL Bean and others have been marketing the hell out of that look the entire time so who knows.

    I do know that my fluorescent green riding jacket doesn't fit any fashion style for my Vespa scooter. I think.

    Cell phones. I hate paying so much for them. When I retired at the end of June I cut my data plan way back since I would be required to transmit so much stuff. But the cost is still salty. And if I didn't have a chronically ill spouse that I need to stay connected with I would probably have an old flip phone.

    Maybe. The iPhone 6S camera is outstanding. For stills and video. That video camera beats the pants off the $60K Sony Betacam we had in 1990. And the still shot files are far superior to the $8K Nikon D1 we had. Quality is relative and always changing.

    You're spot on with your assessment of the hobby/fashion motorcycle owner/sometime riders. I hope we don't start outlawing motorcycles and scooters on the road until after I can't ride anymore...

    1. The whole phone necessity thing baffles me. When I was a kid, my father made a huge deal out of paying any sort of long distance charges on our home phone. He was also one of the only people I ever knew who "owned his home" from when he was in his 30's on. No mortgage, for 60 years. I have a pay-as-you-go phone that costs me $100/year for 1,000 minutes and I rollover about 500 minutes every year, on average. For emergency stuff, I don't need a "smart phone," I just need 911 calls to go to the right location.

      Funny. As cameras and phone/tablet cameras get better, my eyes get worse. So, the overall resolution appears to be pretty stable from my perspective.

    2. I shivered when I read your annual phone cost. Just got the bill from AT&T for this month's robbery for the two iPhones -- my wife and I. $180. Ugh. Geez.

      I could probably live without it but I use it now to track so much stuff including blood pressure reports for my cardiologist and the calendar that manages my life. In terms of making calls, I don't use it much at all.

      I wish I had never read your post...

    3. Steve,
      I wonder if you couldn't do all of those things with a tablet and wifi? Of course, those $180 phone bills might be partially responsible for that blood pressure problem. I do the calendar thing with my tablet and computers, too. Before I retired, Outlook was my secretary, 2nd wife, and time manager. Now, a little less so, but I still use it to keep track of my commitments.

  2. If I mod my bike and it makes me happy, what do you care? I certainly didn't do it to impress anyone but myself. As far as anyone wanting my "functionless and silly looking" bike, I've never considered resale value an important factor. Use it, enjoy it, make it go away when done with it. As long as the only "hurt" I've caused anyone is just their opinion of how I look, then we're ok.

    1. Hopefully, you know I don't care in any way. Coming from the low-to-low-mid income bracket, I always have to care about resale value. I can't afford to toss money into a trashcan, but I don't have a trust fund, either. Or even an inheritance that you couldn't easily blow on a vacation weekend in Duluth.

  3. I know. For me, working on bikes is sometimes more fun than riding them. That means a lot of times they wont be close to original and value goes down. I don't care. Not because I'm rich, I'm not. I just feel I'm getting value from the joy and relaxation it brings me. Think my health insurance provider will cover the cost of my next bike if I claim it provides stress therapy?

    1. That's funny, in an odd polar opposite-personality way. I buy used bikes, often they've had a lot of "work" done to them and when they do I offer significantly less because of that. I don't discount my offer because of custom seats, luggage, bashplates, or stuff that actually makes the bike more comfortable or useful. Intake or exhaust modifications, paint or decals, electronics, and stuff that is actual "engineering" modifications can take a lot away from a potential offer from me. As a retired OEM-pro audio equipment engineer, I've seen the stupid shit amateurs do to "improve" audio gear and I always assume the manufacturer hires far more competent engineers than the sheet metal benders involve in their pipe "designs." Likewise, the dyno work required to make a Power Commander actually improve the performance of a modern motorcycle is beyond the investment capacity of most hobbyists. So, I assume those alterations are just down-grades on the original.

      I'm with you on the therapy value of working on the bike, though. Although in my creaky geezerdom, it's often more painful than relaxing. But it didn't used to be. I've used that energy and time to check valve clearances, change oil and fluids regularly, change and balance my own tires, do my drive line maintenance (all chains), etc.


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