Saturday, December 20, 2008

Give me what I want and nobody gets hurt

Not only do I make my living writing about motorcycles, but over the last 40 years I’ve returned a considerable chunk of that living to the motorcycle industry by buying bikes and accessories. Having stuck with the sport through good times and bad, through the boom years and the tariff years, I feel like I'm entitled to ask for—no, demand some changes.

Ban the black

It's not the 1950s any more. Black leather was fine back then because motorcycles were so rare that car drivers actually noticed them. These days bikes are practically invisible on crowded highways and surface streets, especially in overcast or rainy weather. Wearing predominantly black riding gear under these circumstances makes as much sense as wearing a steak suit in a lion's den.

But try to find really colorful, conspicuous riding gear. Aside from a few exceptions like the hi-viz yellow offered by Aerostich, you won't have much luck. And yet the most common car-bike accident usually ends with the motorcyclist taking an ambulance ride, and the car driver saying, "I didn’t see him."

Any other industry, recognizing that a significant number of its customers are biting the dust because they aren't visible in traffic, would begin thinking hard about making its products easier to see. Why hasn't the motorcycle industry?

And while I'm a roll, let's talk luggage, both soft and hard. Ever try to find something inside a black tank bag on a cloudy day, or at night? What's so hard about lining soft bags with a light-colored fabric, or painting the inside of hard bags white? And how about zipper pulls big enough to grab while wearing gloves?

Cogitate ergos some

Rodney Dangerfield wasn't the only one who couldn’t get any respect. Older motorcyclists—the ones who've stuck by the sport through thick and thin—are getting short-changed by manufacturers who are putting the bulk of their engineering efforts into sportbikes and cruisers, the former having ergonomics not unlike the fetal position, and the latter enforcing the heels-forward stance of a rodeo cowboy bulldogging a steer.

If you want a rational seating position—one the puts your feet under your spine and lets you sit more or less upright, without weighting or yanking on your shoulders—you can try touring bikes, or dual-sports. But what if neither of those lights your fire?

I want somebody to set aside a fraction of the time, effort, and money that goes into making this year's 185 mph hyperbike go 187 next year, or adding 50 pounds of chrome junk to a cruiser that already weighs twice what it ought to, and use it to make a motorcycle that accelerates, stops, and handles about 80 percent as well as a sportbike, and has the low-end grunt of a big-inch cruiser, but doesn't leave me feeling like I've been mugged after an hour in the saddle.

Put a quick-disconnect windscreen on it, and some detachable hard bags, and while you're at it use some supercomputer time to figure out how to make the pegs and handlebar adjustable, just like the seats in the cheapest, nastiest four-wheeler on the road. And sell it for a reasonable price, say under 10 grand. C'mon, manufacturers, do it for me. After all, I stuck with you all these years. It's time to repay my loyalty.

Clear out the deadwood

You know who I mean. The dealers whose names seem to pop up over and over in customer complaints, the ones who don't stock common service parts, or hire competent mechanics, or treat their customers fairly. Shape these clowns up or ship 'em out. They're bad for business. They piss off enthusiasts and scare off potential motorcyclists, and they'll kill off the sport in time if they're not weeded out.

Here's a hint—when customers ride a hundred miles to get an oil change at an out-of-town dealer rather than have it done by the local guy, that's a red flag. Sure, some customers are whiners and malcontents. But where there's smoke, there's usually fire. And there are plenty of dealers out there ready to burst into flame.

Sweat the small stuff

Don't manufacture a chain-drive bike with tube-type tires, and then make a centerstand an extra-cost option. You can't easily lube the chain or fix a flat without one. Don't equip a $10,000 motorcycle with a horn that wouldn't wake a sleeping baby. That sucker ought to raise the hair on a truck driver's neck at 50 yards. Either make gas gauges accurate, or stop making them. Build accurate speedometers. The speedos on many bikes read high, some as much as 7 mph at highway speeds. Why?

Offer a decent range of usable accessories for your motorcycles—and by usable I don't mean logo ball caps and chrome axle-nut covers. I'm talking about things like dedicated hard luggage, and different seats and handlebars. Otherwise just admit right up front you're going to obsolete the bike next year anyway, so why bother to support it with accessories in the first place?

Finally, three words.

Mirrors that work.

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Daryl P said...

Great post Jerry. I haven't ridden in years and I remember most of these issues from then. The only one that surprised me is the high vis apparel. It is interesting that the bicycling community has the opposite problem - try finding a shirt designed for riding a bicycle that doesn't make me look like an Italian with corporate sponsorship.

Anonymous said...

Black - it goes with everything. If, after weeks of searching, you find a pair of riding jeans that will fit after alteration (don't get me started about finding leather or textiles that might be able to fit) then they will match the black leather jacket you searched another week for. and black helmet. And the outfit's colors work on virtually every bike.

Unless you're dropping the money to have a set of leathers custom made, black separates is the safe route.

A plan I like is to offer a good discount on a single set of semi-custom leathers to graduates of an intermediate course. The leathers would be unfinished, but easily completed by a local expert. It would also introduce him to someone local who could provide more information and assistance about protective gear moving forward.

Personally, I think a black jacket, with a well-fitting reflective vest in the same copper as my '03 SV-650 would be awesome. Matching velcro for the lower leathers would complete to look nicely.