Mar 28, 2018

A Generation of . . . What?

26LONGMAN7-master675Not long ago, an acquaintance in the motorcycle business said that “Millennials are a bunch of coddled wimps and that’s why they don’t ride motorcycles. It’s too dangerous.” Of course, riding a motorcycle is insanely dangerous, but I see Millennials doing dangerous things all the time; on bicycles, skates and skateboards, skis, a variety of surfing toys, rocks and mountains, boats, and even motorcycles in the X-Games. I don’t think the danger is the issue. There is something else going on here.

boomersThat is a good thing, too, because my generation has gone bananas. Between the idiocy of handing billionaires billion-dollar sports stadiums paid with taxpayers money and stupid crap like universities handing out football scholarships to 9-year-olds, it’s clear that the “adults” in our society need to grow up. Obviously, the whole Boomers and Bikers silliness was not a sign that my generation had a lick of sense. They parade their senility through towns like Red Wing as if they imagine nobody would ever think about laughing at their pirate outfits and godawful motorcycling skills. But they are very, very wrong. I’ve been hanging out with under-30 kids everywhere from Red Wing to downtown St. Paul to Pacific Coast Highway and they consistently think these folks and the activity/sport they represent are comedic, at best, and despicable on average. For the last thirty years, Boomers and the industry has done their best to make motorcycling look as ridiculous as possible. The reward for all that silliness is the current non-cool status of motorcycling. Add to it the fact that most small cars are more fuel and cost efficient that motorcycles and you have a perfect storm of obsolescence.

An interesting parallel is the music business, at one end electric guitar sales and at the other the old fashioned record labels and music distribution. The Washington Post published an article titled “The Death of the Electric Guitar” that explained a lot of the reasons why the electric guitar may be an old guy’s instrument. This story should sound familiar, Richard Ash, the CEO of Sam Ash, the largest chain of family-owned music stores in the country, said, “Our customers are getting older, and they’re going to be gone soon.” Or how about this fact, “Over the past three years, Gibson’s annual revenue has fallen from $2.1 billion to $1.7 billion, according to data gathered by Music Trades magazine. The company’s 2014 purchase of Philips’s audio division for $135 million led to debt — how much, the company won’t say — and a Moody’s downgrading last year. Fender, which had to abandon a public offering in 2012, has fallen from $675 million in revenue to $545 million. It has cut its debt in recent years, but it remains at $100 million.” Fender’s weird defense of its business model includes the odd statement, “Ukulele sales are exploding.” Ukes were a brief fad, but not a meaningful shift in popular music. Scooter sales were doing pretty well, for a while, but that didn’t mean much for the motorcycle industry, either.

IFPI_global_fullAt the label end of the music music industry, the business has been so deformed from the gatekeeper format of the previous century that “Gotye created his song ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ in his parents' house near Melbourne, Australia. The self-produced track reached number one on more than 23 national charts and charted inside the top 10 in more than 30 countries around the world. By the end of 2012, the song became the best-selling song of that year with 11.8 million copies sold, ranking it among the best-selling digital singles of all time,” according to an Elite Daily article titled “How One Generation Was Single-Handedly Able to Kill the Music Industry.” Wimps don’t whip international corporations at their own game. These kids have totally changed the damn game. There has been some yip-yap about the music industry “recovery,” but that is a funny term for seven years of stable gross sales with dramatically changing income sources (see the chart above). Sales of physicial media are about a quarter of their 1999 peak while digital distribution, including direct sales, is growing exponentially.

5-Luxurious-Designer-Electric-Bicycles-Bicicletto-electric-bicycle-2-600x388How does all that relate to disappearing motorcycle sales and declining motorcycle use? I’m not sure, but I think there is a connection. The times and the tools are changin’. My grandson has repeatedly said he would get a motorcycle license before he’d be interested in a car. He would, also, rather have an electric motorcycle than a gas-burner. He’s not alone. Since electric motorcycles are barely making a dent in that market, electric bicycles have really stepped up and are crossing the line between bicycles, scooters, and motorcycles; filling every motorcycle niche from vintage to cafe racer to competitive sports with 50-100 mile ranges and 20-to-40-and more-mph top speeds. Like the early years of the motorcycle, there are dozens of electric bicycle brands and you can buy them everywhere from dedicted high-end botique stores like Pedago to low-end offerings from Walmart.

The music business didn’t die. It moved to streaming media, movie and television soundtracks, and on-line digital purchases. Motorcycles won’t die out, but they will change radically. The brand names we recognize today may be as obscure in 20 years as Whippet, Stutz, Red Bug, Nash and Rambler and Nash-Rambler, Packer, and Oldsmobile. At one time there were thousands of auto manufacturers and there have been at least half that many motorcycle brands in the not-so-ancient history. As this electric vehicle revolution plays out, it’s going to be a survival of the fittest environment and there appears to be little evidence that the current brand names are in any way fit; especially the two prominent suck-squeeze-bang-blow US brands. With some luck, minimal incompetence from both Zero’s managment and the US government, and a few changes to motorcycling’s image and purpose, the US could still be a world player in the future market.

Mar 26, 2018

Until You Can Ride, I Don't Care What You Think

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

This essay title is one of the crafty sayings on the GwAG tee-shirts. In fact, this is the phrase I picked for my personal prototype shirt, the first and possibly only GWAG shirt owned by anyone on the planet. When I debuted the shirt on my Facebook page, all sorts of folks took offense. Good. I'm not in this life to make fools feel good about themselves. In fact, the older I get the less I care what anyone thinks about anything I do, say, or think. One of my other favorite shirts says, "Hermits don't have peer pressure" (Steven Wright). I might have peers, but I don't often listen to anything they have to say and I pretty much never change my opinion or revise my lifestyle because they are uncomfortable or disapprove.
Designed by New Mexico artist, Jeff Ducatt, the tie-dye GWAG shirt sets a new standard for "HiViz."

 I went for a bicycle ride with my wife back in March, 2013 (while we were camping at Palo Duro Canyon, Texas). She hasn't put many miles on a bicycle for a long time and wasn't a particularly technical rider when she did ride. She "rides" a stationary bike some, but that's not real bicycling and not much of that exercise translates into bicycling competence. Shifting, for example, or balancing or watching for traffic or stopping or turning. On her stationary bike, she pedals continuously against a fixed resistance. On her mountain bike, she can not get a handle on matching her pedal speed and resistance to the road speed. She wants to randomly twist her Grip-Shifters and desperately hopes something good will come from that activity. What she does not want to do is think about how the front and back derailleur shifters work. Like the stereotypical man'splainer I am, I tried to help her figure out pedaling, shifting, and maintaining a constant load on her legs in the insane hope that she would learn to like bicycling. As you probably already guessed, what I got for my effort was a blast of feminine anger and a long, unpleasant ride with lots of stops, extended periods of silence punctuated with lots of what passes for cursing from the "gentler sex." If "helping" with shifting gets that kind of response, imagine how talking about watching for erratic drivers and road-hogging truckers and staying in her lane went.

One of the hardest things many teachers have to learn is to find a way to care about the opinions, as uninformed and foolish as they are, of their students. If you try to fake it, you'll just sound patronizing. You really need to care on some fairly honest level. Many students, of any subject, labor under the delusion that they actually know something that would be interesting or useful to their instructors. Trust me, kiddies, you do not know anything anyone ever wants to hear about. Nothing. Not one thing. When you are stumbling along, failing to maneuver the bicycle or motorcycle competently, the last thing the person who is trying to help you needs to hear is what you think may be wrong with the vehicle or the advice you are given.

A typical attempt to bypass that foolishness is when the instructor takes your vehicle to demonstrate the technique. If the student is reasonably sentient, that demonstration of vehicle competence should end the conversation. Usually, it has no effect whatsoever. If that doesn't work, what would? Oddly, disdain seems to have a powerful effect. Contrary to modern, touchy-feely "everyone is a winner" educational philosophy, I've found that a sarcastic response to stupid assertions is a pretty quick route to the unused portions of a student's brain. As politically incorrect as they may be, ridicule, silence, and pretending the noisy brat isn't there are all fairly functional tactics, when it comes to conducting a group learning environment. The problem with these tactics is that occasionally a brilliant student will correctly challenge an instructor and if those moments are wrongly interpreted, the whole classroom comes unglued. The line between being an edgy teacher and being burned out is tiny.

As I cruise on toward the big Seven-Oh, I can clearly see moments in my near future where I will begin to give up more stuff. For the past two years, I've been getting rid of all sorts of possessions that I once believed would be with me to the bitter end. Turns out the end isn't all that bitter and it came up on me a lot faster than I'd anticipated. I've sold tens of thousands of dollars worth of audio equipment and I'm still getting rid of stuff from that portion of my life's history. My wife and I have purged furniture, pictures, kitchen appliances and utensils, books, records and CDs, artwork, and about 2/3rds of a household worth of stuff and we still seem to have a house full of stuff. By the end of that discard-period, I expected us to be down to a pretty small possession pile and ready to move or hit the road, whichever came first. And we were. With mobility comes flexibility. With flexibility comes less dependence on external income and tolerating the bullshit that working for a living usually requires. I am beginning to suspect that the "cranky old people" reputation is mostly generated by this cycle. Now that I have no aspirations to get richer, own more stuff, or live larger, I also have less tolerance for stupidity.

Since the two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and human stupidity, I'm developing an appreciation for hydrogen. People, not so much. 

That growing intolerance clearly signals the end of my teaching career, unless you can suggest a less stubbornly stupid species in need of motorcycle, music, electronics, or English instruction? Oddly, being a teacher was once at the dead-bottom of my list of career aspirations; since my father was a high school math and business teacher and my step-mother taught piano and neither of their careers looked like any fun at all. In the past few years, my original perspective on teaching as a career choice has been making a comeback. After a 30+ year career that included industrial training of everyone from electronic assembly workers to cardiologists and a 13 year career as a college instructor in a music school, I decided to quit while I was ahead. After almost 20 years of putting butts on seats and pointing out the brakes, clutch, and handlebars to newbies on dirt and street bikes, I find myself completely uninterested in the judgment of rookies who have strong opinions about subjects they will never master. Regardless of what happens to my motorcycle instruction career, until you can ride, I don't care what you think about motorcycle brands, styles, or politics.