How to Save Harley-Davidson

How to Save Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson is important to all motorcyclists.  Even if you’ve never owned one, or ridden one, or wanted to do either, H-D is still important.  As the owner of a competing dealership shared with me, the end of Harley as a company would be a disaster for all brands and all motorcycle enthusiasts.

And yet, following a decades long compilation of unforced errors and organizational deafness, that may occur.  What can be done?  Here is an idea.

I’ve never owned a Harley, but in the ten years I worked for a Harley dealer in customer relations I rode about 80 of them – several of every model.  I particularly liked the Road King, and rode one every time I had an excuse.

The roots of the current debacle go back well over 35 years.  Following the purchase of the company by its own management from AMF in 1983, Harley blossomed into a must-have lifestyle accessory for a booming class of the newly monied. Soon, Harleys were selling for over MSRP.  Eager customers put down a healthy deposit and were called when a model came in. If they did not like the color, on to the next in line.  Most customers added expensive trinkets to their new bike before delivery, and it was common for customers to brag about how much they had paid. It was a different world.

From the late 1980’s until past 2000 Harley profits were enormous. Cracks began to appear in the early years of this century.  The bikes received small improvements each year, but most of the changes were what was termed “BNG,” which stood for Bold New Graphics.

An aside that is completely off the topic, but that I find fascinating. Do you know the difference between an acronym and an initialism?  An initialism is a series of letters that pronounced as a word, with each letter pronounced separately.  Examples would be FBI, STP, CIA, and BNG.  An acronym is a series of letters pronounced as a word where each letter stands for a complete word. Examples would include NASCAR, NASA, WHO, etc.  Ignore for a second that NASCAR stands for North American Stock Car Auto Racing, and that NASCAR has not raced anything remotely close to stock for 50 years.

Harleys were all, in those days, heavier and slower than most of the competition. They did not handle or brake as well, and were not as reliable, and yet were more to far more expensive than rivals.

The handwriting was on the wall, and Harley management chose to not look up. They were warned of what was coming by scores of people, from amateurs like the high school marketing students I worked with in 2003 who had a video conference with the Harley marketing people, to semi-professionals and enthusiasts like me, to all sorts of media and motorcycle experts of long standing. Harley chose to ignore all of those not ensconced in their snug bunker.

They did make some grudging attempts to modernize, but did not really commit to any of them.  The purchased the talent and company of Eric Buell, and then never gave him the resources to develop the “real” engine his design, chassis, and suspension acumen deserved. He was forced to carry on with mostly Harley Sportster engines, which were designed literally a half a century before.  After 20 years, Harley folded the Buell tent they had never fully erected, without every making a profit.

The introduced the V-Rod, a modern power cruiser. The engine, reportedly designed with assistance from Porsche, was fabulous, albeit heavy.  However, most customers were not informed it was not a traditional Harley engine and tootled around at under 3,000 rpm, never unleashing the performance and enjoyment to be had above 5,000rpm. I thought it to be on the verge of awesome, although dragging my left heel in the first corner was a first, and a warning. They made a sport bike, which had tremendous potential, and then failed to tell anyone about it and stopped after one year.

They made a sort of adventure bike under the auspices of Buell, and the Ulysses was pretty impressive in the 1200 miles I put on one, particularly on rough and rutted pavement.

In recent years, things have gotten worse. Much worse. They trotted out at least two concept “adventure bikes,” and have produced neither.  They purchased a leading company in the burgeoning field of electric bikes, and sold it within a year.  Most recently they introduced the “Live Wire,” their own completely electric model. A friend who is an early adopter of all technologies was ready to buy, expecting a $20,000 price and 300 miles of range.  Harley reversed those numbers, and he was out, as were, evidently, almost everyone else.

With their stock price crashing due to political back-stabbing by the Trump administration, their traditional customer base “aging out,” (politically correct way to say ‘becoming dead’), and a line of bikes that are beautiful but woefully out of date,  things are rapidly turning from bad to much worse.

What to do?  Take a lesson from the car industry, and do some corporate raiding!   Have you noticed that the reliable and economical cars and trucks flooding our shores from Korea have suddenly begun to be much better looking?  That is because Hyundai saw a weakness and solved it – by throwing a lot of money at exalted designers from Europe and putting them in charge of handling and, most importantly, styling.  When Ford purchased Jaguar a couple of decades or more ago, they also got access to Ian Callum, famed designer of many Aston Martins and Jaguars.  That is why the nose of my 2016 Ford Focus, and many other Ford models, looks like it took a detour through a factory in England.

I received in the mail the other day a full color many pages brochure from Indian, touting seven different Indian motorcycle models.  As I looked through it, I wanted to ride all of them!   The new BMW 1200 roadster, with the nose now taking styling cues from the S1000RR sport bike, is lust provoking. 

The suite of high-tech fripperies on both the BMWs and my Triumph Rocket 3 were designed by men and women.   Cannibalizing the design talent from a competitor is a long-established path to success in many industries.  It is time for Harley to abandon the old guard who refuse to change or listen, and go get some fresh talent.

If you were a talented designer, would you want to take on the challenge of making Harley relevant again?  It would be the opportunity of a career. IF you were given the authority to make real change.

Here’s hoping, that in their desperation they reach out and snag a bright designer or two and save the motor company. For all of us.

Ride safe, ride fast, and ride often!

Copyright 2020                     David Preston

For more, please visit www.davidpreston.biz

Posted in Marketing, Motorcycles, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

Motorcycle Safety Is in Your Head

Motorcycle Safety Is in Your Head

Not all of it, of course. Or even most of it. Still, here are three ideas you might consider adding to your riding equipment.  It won’t cost you anything to read about them, or to implement them, because they are all inside your brain.

Concept One:    To be used every time you don your helmet.  For this to work, or course, you must be a motorcyclist who wears a helmet.  If you don’t, you’re probably not reading this anyway.

The phrase that pays is “when the helmet drops, the bullshit stops.” I began using this about thirty years ago, and I must have repeated it often to many people, because one kind soul (not me) added it to the Wikipedia section on motorcycle safety.  So, it must be important!

What it means is that when you ride your motorcycle, you ride your motorcycle. Period.  You do not assign parts of your brain the task of worrying about the bills, or what to say when you finally decide to tell off that person who so surely needs a talking to, what chores await you, when you will find the time to mow the lawn or paint the house, etc.  You just focus on – riding the motorcycle.

For me this also means not listening to music, or wiring my helmet to accept e-mails or calls. I think the actual idea may have been spurred by my (now) ex-wife. When the first two-way helmet communicator devices came out, I asked if she wanted me to get a set.  She replied in the negative, reasoning that she did not want me to be concentrating on anything but riding. Made sense.

Some of you will insist on listening to music anyway.  I used to have a colleague who’d been a major league baseball player.  He liked to listen to music in his helmet when riding.  One day I asked him if he ever wore ear buds when going up to bat against a pro baseball pitcher. He did not, of course.  So, if you need all of your faculties working well to hit a baseball, are your needs less when riding a motorcycle?  I am a reasonably good athlete, but I am not willing to give away any sensory input that could help.

A corollary to this concept is used if I find myself, no matter my best intentions, wandering off into thoughts of other things.  I try to yank myself back to attention by stating out loud “Just ride the motorcycle,” sometimes with an inappropriate word added for spice.

Concept Two:  Dealing with deer.  Deer are now a serious threat to motorcycles and cars in many parts of the world. Increasing human density, wildlife legislation, and development have reduced the number of natural predators for deer, and one of things that now keeps their population in check is – cars, trucks, and motorcycles. It used to be that you were most likely to see deer in the early morning daylight hours or in the evening.  Not now. The other day three of them trotted across the road in front of me… at noon.

To help with this, any time you are in an area where there might be deer present, say the word “deer!” inside your helmet. This will cause you to focus, even for just a second, at the road ahead on either side. On several occasions this little tidbit has helped spot a deer or two sooner than otherwise.  There is no guarantee with this, for sure, as deer are extremely unpredictable.

Concept Three:  Where is the threat? A number of years ago I was assisting in the development of an on-street rider safety course. One rider reaction was discovered by viewing a slide on a screen showing the road ahead from the rider’s perspective on a motorcycle. Pretty much with every slide displayed, experienced riders and safety instructors could point out six to eight things that might prove to be a problem, while new riders often could not see any.

For example, imagine that the slide shows a sunny day and an asphalt road curving up ahead to the left.  What threats could there be?  If you look carefully, there is a dirt road coming in from the right. There could be gravel or sand from that road on your highway, where you are turning.  There is a car waiting there that might pull out in front of you because the driver “didn’t see you.”  There is a car coming toward you just visible around the corner, and it looks to be close to the centerline.  Up ahead around the curve it looks like the trees end, which probably means an intersection, which might mean there is a stop sign on the far side of the curve you are about to enjoy.  That sort of thing.

I just thought of this third concept month ago, and it is rapidly becoming my favorite.  As I scan the road ahead, I look for anything that looks a little off, like the clues in the paragraph above, or a car that looks to be in bad repair or is being badly driven, etc.

When I say anything that looks “off,” I say the word “threat” out loud in my helmet.   Because the word is not specific, this provided a subtle push for me to study the potential threat to see if it is actually a threat and if so, make a plan to avoid the threat and execute the plan.

Decades ago, there was an acronym mentioned often in safe riding materials that was SIPDE.  It stood for See, Identify, Predict, Decide, Execute.  I believe it has now been replaced by other acronyms used for the same purpose by various safety classes.  The verbal word in your helmet is merely a simple, and effective, call to action,

I hope these concepts help a few people. They work for me.

Ride safe, ride fast, and ride often!

Copyright 2020           David Preston

For more stuff like this, please visit www.davidpreston.biz

Posted in Education, Motorcycles | 1 Comment

How People React to Triumph Motorcycles

How People React to Triumph Motorcycles

I have been interested in the reactions of people to motorcycles in general, and mine specifically, since I started riding in 1967.  Resplendent on my pristine 1965 Yamaha YDS-3 250cc two-stroke, I was astonished to be asked if I were a Hell’s Angel or how I was doing on my “murdercycle, etc.”  For a time, I was determined to single-handedly improve the image of motorcyclists, and that of course, was impossible.  It was not all bad, as people who felt that way about motorcycles would react in fear when they came across one, and strive to get out of the way.  Not bad. Except for the drunk who tried to side-swipe me “for fun,” but that is a different story.

The first really negative reaction came when I was student teaching in the fall of 1968. At the University of Minnesota in those days you did your student teaching in two halves.  Each half was in a different school, and you would teach for half the day and then return to campus for afternoon classes.  One nice fall day I decided to return to West High School for a faculty meeting. I was not required or expected to attend faculty meetings, but I was eager!  I took the Yamaha, and when I walked into the library carrying my white Bell 500 helmet, I had that sense you do when you know something is wrong and have no idea what it might be.  Turns out the Principal HATED motorcycles, and everyone knew it, except me. 

He did not speak to me about it, but called the University and told them he wanted that “dirty long-haired hippy” off his campus, immediately and permanently.  He was evidently talked out of it when it was pointed out that I was not dirty and did not have long hair, but he glared at me every time he saw me after that.

Over the course of 31 years and especially with 14 years in the motorcycle business, I have been able to ride 508 motorcycles, pretty much every model made by every manufacture. I have owned over a dozen paid for with my own money, but the last five, over a span of 18 years, have been Triumphs.  Each of them has garnered different reactions from others.

2002 Triumph Sprint ST.  Beautiful dark green, with hard saddlebags. As I always rode solo, I added the optional seat cowl on the back, which I thought made it truly beautiful.  I never saw anyone else do that.

Motorcyclists knew what it was, and admired it for both it’s appearance and performance.  The older gentleman who purchased it from me came back a week later to exclaim that I had not told him how smooth and composed it was cruising at 120mph!

 Non-motorcyclists ignored it.

2005 Triumph Speed Triple.  I spent three days working the Cycle Barn display at the Seattle Motorcycle Show at the end of 2004, and most of that time I was leaning on, looking at, or talking about the Speed Triple, resplendent in Scorched Yellow.  I fell in love with it and bought it.  Over the years it gained the fly screen, a tank bag, heated grips, Triumph TOR pipes, and for longer trips a Venture rack system on the back, which was essentially a large dual-back pack that slipped over a removeable vertical rack.  I put close to 50,000 enjoyable miles on it, including multiple longer rides to California and one to Minnesota and back to Seattle.  It was often used as a display bike for Cycle Barn off-site events and shows. Fabulous motorcycle.

Motorcyclists noticed it because of its reputation as a “hooligan bike” (not in my hands), although many preferred a less in your face color.

Non-motorcyclists ignored it.

2016 Triumph Bonneville T 120.  Beset by what I thought were permanent issues with my right leg and back (turns out I was wrong), I traded in the Speed Triple for the brand new and just out Bonneville T120. Gorgeous in cranberry red and silver, I added the fly screen in matching cranberry and Cortech saddle bags and rear top bag for longer trips. In four years, I put on 22, 500 miles of great riding.

Motorcyclists knew what it was and appreciated it for its beauty, but most of my friends rode bikes that were faster and more capable, and thus were not all that impressed with it beyond its successful integration of classical looks with modern technology.  A lot of motorcyclists had stories of the Bonneville they owned years ago, or a dad, or an uncle, and how much they had wanted one.

Non-motorcyclists – oh my!  Everyone stopped and stared. At first, people at stop lights or when it was parked would ask what year it was and who did the immaculate restoration, unaware it was brand new. They were consistently gob smacked, and even more so when they found out the reasonable price.  As time went by friends I ride with got used to a several minute delay whenever we stopped somewhere or got ready to leave.  Everybody who saw it had a comment or story or memory to share, and all were positive.

2016 Triumph Thruxton 1200.  This was an ill-fated adventure that took five months and is included only for the sake of being complete.  The plan was that my brother-in-law, who was moving here, would pay for half of it and ride it when he wanted, while it was stored in my garage.  The one I found (long story) received uprated rear shocks, and was immediately impressive, with appreciably less weight, more power, and better sound than my Bonneville due to single wall pipes and more free-flowing mufflers.  Lovely in black.

Alas, due to family politics and some notable cowardice on the part of the brother-in-law, he backed out of his half of the deal, and I sold it, as I could not afford to keep both of them.  Five months of ownership cost me $500, which is not bad for what amounted to an extended test ride.

Motorcyclists and non-motorcyclists: too little data to reach any conclusions.

2020 Triumph Rocket 3.  Earlier this year video reviews of the new Rocket 3 began to surface, and caught my attention.  I had ridden the prior version (known as the Rocket III for you anoraks) and it was certainly impressive. It was also huge, and gave me the impression that if you had an incident you might wipe out a few small trees and perhaps a small house.  I even had a small part to play in a Cycle Barn project that saw a Cycle Barn Rocket III go to the Bonneville Salt Flats and set a world land speed record, two years in a row.

When I learned that the new model was lighter by a lot (70 plus pounds), narrower, lower, and boasted more horsepower and the most torque of any motorcycle produced by a major manufacturer – ever – I was intrigued.

I traded in the Bonneville (a great bike available for a limited time at Triumph of Seattle) for a GT model in the smoke grey and silver, with the optional saddle bags.

Motorcyclists:  massive curiosity and respect.  It is interesting that my riding friends, most of whom are astride large sport tourers or adventure bikes, are all fascinated by the Rocket and think it is very cool.  The two, so far, I have allowed to sit on it, were both shocked at how much lighter and more tossable it appears from the saddle than expected.  The 165-horsepower ranking is somewhat impressive, but the 163-foot pounds of torque is almost beyond belief to the knowledgeable.

Non-motorcyclists.  Wow!  Back to a pause whenever stopping or leaving anywhere. Lots of comments at stoplights, from a police officer who said “That is an awesome bike. Neat!”, to people commenting on how fast it must be.  (They are correct). When parked, people love to have a several minute tour of the specs and features, and to be all agog if I light up the instrument panel, run through some of the configurations and displays, and point out technologies they did not know existed on motorcycles. In their defense, many of them have not previously been seen on motorcycles.

It is a lot of fun and adds a bit to the ownership experience, but it helps to not mind talking to people if you own a Bonneville or Rocket!

Ride safe, ride fast, and ride often!

Copyright 2020                     David Preston

PS: For more essays on all manner of topics, please visit my web site at www.davidpreston.biz

Posted in Motorcycles | 2 Comments

Trading a Triumph Bonneville T 120 for a Rocket 3

Trading my Bonneville T 120 for a Rocket 3 GT

On the face of it, trading in a beautiful 2016 Triumph Bonneville T120 for a new 2020 Triumph Rocket 3 GT does not seem to make much sense. It appears comparable to trading in your beautiful classic Cessna airplane for a Boeing 737. Who would do that? 

On the other hand, some of the decisions we make regarding motorcycles in general look pretty sketchy when common sense is applied. 

Here’s how I got to this point, and my personal findings of the strengths and weaknesses of both motorcycles.

Background:

I’ve ridden a lot of motorcycles, and by that, I mean more than 500.  I have owned 13 of them, but I also worked for two different motorcycle dealerships for a total of almost 14 years, and at both of them I needed to, and was encouraged to, ride everything in sight. And I did. Leading customer rides, breaking in new motorcycles destined for rental use, testing new models a distributor wanted the dealership to sell, various promo and video shot events, trying to assist the service department in locating the cause of a problem, attending club meetings and rides; it all adds up.  Yes, it was a wonderful job.

I purchased my first motorcycle in 1967, having never operated one.  Rider education in those days meant the person you bought the bike from handed you the keys.  You were on your own in a trial and error situation that many did not survive.

Here are the bikes I’ve paid my own money for:

  1. 1965 Yamaha YDS-3                     250cc        1967-69
  2. 1969 Honda CL 450 SS                 450cc        1969-71
  3. 1972 Honda 4                                500cc        1971-72
  4. 1972? Honda CB 450                    450cc        1976-77
  5. 1977 Yamaha XS 750D                 750cc        1977-99
  6. 1982 Norton JPS replica              850cc        1982?-84?
  7. 1999 Kawasaki ZRX 1100             1100cc      1999-2001
  8. 2000 Kawasaki ZX1200R            1200cc      2001-2003
  9. 1996 Muzzy Raptor                        750cc        2002-2003

10. 2003 Triumph ST                          995cc        2003-2005

11. Triumph Speed Triple        1055cc      2005-2016 

12. 2016 Triumph Bonneville T 120 1200cc      2016-2020

13. 2020 Triumph Rocket 3 GT         2500cc      2020

You’ll notice that for the past 17 years my personal bike has been a Triumph. Seems to be a trend there.  I am not a zealot, but I really like the products they have designed and produced.

Process:

In 2016 I was having a lot of problems with my right knee and leg, to the point that I was afraid I would throw my leg over my Speed Triple, have my right knee collapse, and land on the ground.  Then the new T 120 came out, and I decided a lower seat height would help. The Speed Triple had almost 50,000 miles, and for most of the time I owned it I was riding bikes that belonged to the dealership, so it did get used a lot. Several 1,000 miles or more trips were terrific. I loved the Speed Triple, and later the problems with my knee were solved, so maybe I did not need to sell it.

But the Bonneville T120, in cranberry and silver, was so spectacular to look at and great fun to ride. I added the factory fly screen in matching cranberry and purchased Cortech saddlebags and top bags for longer trips.  In four years, I put 22,500 miles on it, and it was reliable, fun to ride, and gorgeous.

Things I loved about the Bonneville:

  1. Never got tired of people telling me how great it looked.
  2. Seat was comfy for me.  Others may disagree.
  3. Liked the heated grips, which are sort of a must here in the Seattle area.
  4. Loved the chrome spoke wheels, the center stand, ABS brakes, and the black tank pads.
  5. So easy to ride it felt like a magic carpet.
  6. Usually 50mpg or more.
  7. 10,000-mile oil change, although I never let it go that long.

Things I did not like about the Bonneville:

  1. Tube tires.  I never had a flat, but still…
  2. Exhaust note was OK, but uninspiring.
  3. Compared to the Speed Triple, handling was a bit “lazy.”  Turn-in to a corner was a little more laid back than I prefer.
  4. Brakes were adequate, but I prefer brakes that are immediate and in your face.
  5. On long rides of 400 miles a day or more, the itsy windshield left my arms and shoulders a bit tired.
  6. Chain drive may have been necessary for appearance, but I did not like the mess of the chain lube or the need for adjustment, so matter how seldom.

Overall, a wonderful bike.  The friends I ride with got used to a delay whenever we stopped or got ready to leave, as everyone in the world loves the appearance of a Bonneville, and wanted to ask what year mine was, or when it was restored if they did not notice the radiator, tell me stories of their past, etc.  It was reliable, fun to ride, fast enough to any sane person, and met all my needs.  It could have kept me happy for years to come.

And then along came the 2020 Rocket 3. 

I’d ridden the previous model a couple of times, and was impressed.  One of those rides came after a customer suffered a crash on some gravel on a downhill turn.  I needed to ride his bike about 15 miles with the handlebars a bit bent and the gear shift stuck in 3rd gear.  You can ride a Rocket III using only 3rd gear quite easily, as it turns out.  From a dead stop to whatever speed you need.

I was also a small part of a campaign by Cycle Barn to take a Rocket III to Bonneville and set a world land speed record. This was successful, twice, but the project died three times for various reasons and I was the one who figured out how to revive it as a viable promo – three times.

So, I did like the original Rocket, but I always felt when riding it that if it got away from me it would take out three trees and a small house.  It was huge.  So is a Harley Ultra Classic, but a Rocket III is also very fast.

When the new one was announced I was idly curious, but not rabid.  Intriguing details began to emerge.  70 or 80 pounds lighter than the original.  Lower.  Narrower.  More power.  The most torque of any major manufacturer motorcycle made – ever.  Hmmmm.

My interest grew when I watched several twenty-minute long videos, all shot on the island of Tenerife at the press launch.  Each was done by a different video journalist and each of them had slightly different reactions.  All of them were in shock and awe at how great the bike was, and their individually different responses to this and that made for great study.  The one that added the most to my knowledge was a fellow who started the day thinking he would prefer the R model, which has more aggressive bars and the foot pegs set further back.  As a sport bike guy, he gravitated to that.  By the end of the day he had changed his mind, won over by the increased technology of the GT model, larger screen (although still small), and the fact that he’d not dragged anything on a long day’s aggressive riding. 

It should be noted that you can “mix and match” between the two models with seats and screens and pegs, etc., although I have not heard of anyone doing that.

Buying:

I sat on a GT model at Triumph of Seattle, and like almost everyone else was stunned by how “light” it felt and how easy it was to lean back and forth.  Time to think.

Then the world pandemic virus hit, and everything stopped for a while. Eventually I could purchase the bike, but not enter the dealership.  I met in the back alley with Andy, the superior salesman who had sold me the Bonneville.  The Bonneville was pushed in to the shop to be checked over, while I waited outside.  There was another rider there, waiting for a new tire to be mounted on his Rocket III, so we enjoyed sharing notes and swapping stories – while staying several feet apart.  Andy went back and forth with various pieces of paper, clad in his stylish mask and plastic gloves two sizes too small for him.  We negotiated a bit, but since I had worked for this dealership when it was part of Cycle Barn, I knew the drill pretty well, and Triumph of Seattle has always been fair to me, in my opinion.

I did not bother with a test ride, because why?  For experienced riders I think test rides are a waste of time.  Your new bike will be much different than your old one, and comparisons in a ten-minute ride will be of little use. If it is your first or third bike, maybe.

So, the deal was done, and Andy spent a long time going over how the various systems on the bike worked.  You would really need a day to take it all in, if you have my intelligence, and I tried to hang in as best as I could.  Most of the learning has to do with the myriad of configurations of the instrument panel.

Riding it home was hilarious.  Not having ridden a cruiser in years, every time I left a stop light both feet would wobble around in the air until I remembered the pegs were so much further forward. The instrument panel was set on “dim” and there was a lot of sun, so I could not read the tach or the speedometer or much of anything else.  Not that the motorcycle cared, as I was not doing anything that would cause it any concern.

So now a bit more than a week has passed.  When the optional saddlebags that had to be ordered come in, I will go in for the 500mile oil change at the same time.  Right now, I am at a bit over 300 miles and learning more each time I read the 176-page owner’s manual – again.

What have I learned?  Direct comparisons between these two bikes are an exercise in folly.  In fact, it is a stretch to compare the Rocket 3 to any other bike.  It has the most torque of any motorcycle on the market, by quite a bit, for one thing, and the largest engine in any production motorcycle – ever.  So, what do I like and not like so far?

Likes:

  1. Sound.  I had forgotten how much I love the sound of a three-cylinder engine. The Yamaha 750 I rode for 21 years, the Sprint ST, and the Speed Triple all had three-cylinder engines.  Two of them had mildly louder exhaust systems, and made (to me) sheer music.  The Rocket 3 brings that back, with overtones of, say, a steam engine.
  2. Seat.  The GT model has a cupped seat which is very comfortable, which is good.  I was used to standing on the pegs of the Bonneville T120 to get some air flow under my bottom, and the Rocket 3 GT is not amenable to standing on the pegs.
  3. Appearance.  You cannot look at a Rocket 3 and not be drawn into hundreds of tiny detail design elements that are amazing.  The headlights are so cool, and of course the hydro-formed exhaust draws you in.  Even the rear LED turn signals look like jewelry.
  4. Color. Jay Leno says he prefers the black, and he is wrong. The silver and metallic gray with a narrow red stripe of mine is clearly better looking.
  5. Turn-in and brakes.  To my surprise, the Rocket 3 is more eager to dive into a turn than the Bonneville was, and this I like very much.  Also, the brakes are right now WHOA!, which I prefer. Best brakes (to me) in my experience were those on my Kawasaki ZX 12R.  These are that good.  Comforting, since they are tasked with retarding a lot of mass.
  6. Instrument configurations.  Early days here, but eventually you can decide what information you want to display, in what configuration. I am still playing with this.
  7. Shaft drive.
  8. Uses regular fuel – a pleasant surprise.
  9. Passenger back rest.  I hope to have a use for this in time!
  10. “What else could you want” games.  Let’s see – ABS brakes.  Tubeless tires with tire pressure monitoring.  Braided steel lines. Turn signals that shut off after three blinks with a light tap, or after a set distance and time.  Ambient temperature gauge and clock.  Braided steel lines everywhere. Cruise control. Four-way flashers.  LED lights.  The Rocket 3 is loaded with every bit of technology I can think of, so far, which partially explains the enormous cost. (Unless you are used to purchasing Harleys, in which case the cost is amazingly low.)

Dislikes:

  1. Well, of course it would be nice if it weighed less.
  2. No center stand, but adding one would really hurt the lean angle and might require a weight-lifter pro to use.
  3. Gas mileage is never going to come close to that of the Bonneville. Probably mid-30s compared to mid-50’s for the Bonneville.
  4. I am sure the rear tire will not last all that long, a result of both weight and power.  I am also sure I will wince at the cost of both tires, which may need to be special ordered from a tractor company.

Fun facts:

  1. The odometer reads to 999,000 miles.  That is a statement of product confidence.  Wonder if it rolls over when you pass a million miles?
  2. The first of many warning sections of the Owner’s Manual warns you that a Rocket 3 is not suitable for off-road use!  I am sure someone out there will shoot a video showing this is not true, and equally sure that person will not be the owner of the bike.

And away I go toward that million-mile odometer.  Everyone should have a goal.

Copyright 2020    David Preston

Note:  If you are reading this on your phone, your screen may not show the full page of my web site, meaning you are missing out on a chance to purchase my e-reader and paperback books from Amazon.  You can rectify this tragic situation by finding the web site on your computer and clicking on the links listed on the right side.

Posted in Marketing, Motorcycles | 3 Comments

Choices in a pandemic; Ride or Not?

Choices in a Pandemic:  Ride or Not?

It should be noted that hidden in the word “pandemic” is the word “panic.”  We all make choices about all sorts of things, and panic is not a useful baseline stance for making them.

Of all the choices we make each day, one of the lesser ones is whether or not to ride our motorcycles. I’ve read many fine pieces by people I like and respect outlining why our motorcycles should be left “side stand down” until this is over.

I respectfully disagree.

Back in 1981 a USC professor by the apt name of Harry Hurt published the Hurt Report, the most (and pretty much only) comprehensive and widely publicized study of fatal motorcycle accidents done to that time, and barely challenged since.  It makes fascinating reading. 

I once “proved” to my wife that I could not be killed on a motorcycle, because if you studied the report and added the percentages together of riders that died who were a.) drunk, b.) fleeing from the police  c.) had less than 6 months riding experience,  d.) did not have an endorsement and e.) were on a stolen bike, the total exceeded 100%!  It was impossible for me to be in several of those categories, and highly unlikely I would ever fit the others.

Alas, my wife had enough understanding of statistics to point out that many of the deceased occupied more than one of those categories. In fact, most of them did, and a few, all of the categories.  Still…

You can play games with statistics.  More people in the United States die every year playing golf than come to their end riding motorcycles.  The trick is, of course, that the number of people playing golf is exponentially higher.  By a lot.

If I stay home, what then?  I could check the stats for the number of senior citizens (I’m 73) who are injured or die by falling in their own homes.  Since I do not ride my motorcycle in the house, I can subtract that percentage from the risk factor of riding my motorcycle.  At some point you can dig so deeply into various statistics that it becomes silly.

On my motorcycle I’m covered from head to toe in excellent riding gear, and I’m not (hopefully) within 6 feet of anyone. I can fill the fuel tank with helmet and gloves on.

Breathing involves risk.  Living involves risk.

Probably best to honestly assess your own situation, the weather, your health (which I hope is excellent), and any other factors that apply to you as an individual, and make a choice based on current conditions. Is this the day to go out and try to set a “lap record” on your favorite back road? Probably not.  A gentle ride on roads you know well and that have little traffic?   Maybe.   Your choice.

That is probably safer and more sensible than allowing your thoughts and feelings to swing wildly based on what you just read on the Internet.

Including this.

Copyright 2020    David Preston

Posted in Motorcycles, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

Make It Happen

Make It Happen!

This is a scary time, and things are likely to get worse before they get better.  You’re probably dealing with a myriad of problems: self-isolation, kids home from school, fear of contagion, loss of your job for an unknown period of time that may end up as permanent, fear of infection for yourself and family, worries about parents and friends, financial trauma, and more. The list goes on and on and seems overwhelming. Because it is. However, there is always hope.

I’ve experienced a much less traumatic time, to the point of triviality, but it taught me a valuable life lesson that may apply.

In 2000 I changed careers to go to work for Cycle Barn. It was a job I created in a five page letter that I sent to owner Jim Boltz, who was the only owner of a motorcycle dealership that I thought had the creativity to see the potential of what I proposed, and the financial ability to take a shot at something new.

I envisioned dozens of tasks for myself, most of which had never been done by any dealership, and most of which I’d never done myself.  That was not a problem, as I had the faith of the truly naïve ad enthusiastic that I could perform all of the tasks.   After all, as most of the “guerilla marketing” (a phrase I learned later) concepts I proposed had never been done by anyone, whatever I did achieve would be the best ever!

I was correct.  What I did not see was that once I was an employee, various managers would think up things for me to attempt that I had not done before.   That was a problem.

The sales manager was Scott McMillan, now the owner of Adventure Motorsports in Monroe. One of his pet phrases was “Make it happen.”  Every time he used that phrase my tension level soared and small flecks of tooth enamel began to gather on my lips.  There were times I wanted to kill him, but he was always kind to me and now I consider him a friend and a great resource.

The incident I remember best was the idea that I should drive a company pickup towing a trailer loaded with several Buell Blast! motorcycles to an event in Pierce County. This was an autocross type of deal where people would try to set a fast time, one at a time, around a course marked off by orange cones in a parking lot. People would be encouraged to have a blast on a Blast!.

For those who have not heard of or don’t remember the Blast!  (the exclamation point was part of the model name), it was a small entry- level motorcycle powered by half of a Sportster engine.  With a 500cc single engine, light weight, belt drive, and nimble handling, it was a great starter motorcycle or short errand bike. although I took one on a 200-mile ride and had a great time.

It was dealt the same fate as every other Harley bike that strayed from the norm of a large and heavy V-twin.  The engineers did a good job, but the marketing department, and dealers, and the sales staff, turned up their noses, or worse, and the bike had little chance of success.

Anyway, for me the problems started early and then escalated. I had never driven a truck towing a trailer.  I did not know how to attach the trailer. I had never loaded or strapped down a motorcycle on a trailer, or unloaded same. When I looked at the trailer I was to use, the taillight was broken and the wires disconnected. The bed of the trailer had broken in places.  It was a piece of junk that had not been used since the Carter administration, and it had no license plate.

Concluding that this was not possible, I called Scott to give him the bad news, and all he said was “Make it happen.”   I protested, probably several times, and he just repeated his answer.  I think I slammed the phone down.  He probably laughed.

So, I turned to a couple of the technicians who had been friendly to the new guy (not all of them were), and in short order the taillight had been repaired and made operable and the trailer bed sort of repaired. A couple of the lot techs loaded the bikes for me, and when they were done there was about a quarter of an inch or clearance between the trailer bed and the tires.  Should work!

I managed the 100 miles or so drive with no disasters.  The truck had a full fuel tank, so I would not have to get in an out of a gas station, or (horrors) back up.

When I got to the event I was very warmly welcomed. The providing of free test rides on a bike, any bike, will do that.  I did not even ask people to sign a waiver or any of that sensible sort of thing.

I asked if some folks would help me unload the bikes, and so many eager hands leapt in to help that I did nothing but watch.  The event was the first time I got to see what an experienced motor officer could do with a loaded police bike on a short course. It was incredible. The bikes in use at that time were Kawasaki 1000cc cop bikes, and the officer explained that he had the floorboards exchanged every six months as they were scraped through to his boots.  Wow.

At the end of the day helpful souls loaded the bikes for me, again without any help from me, and I drove back to the dealership.

At the end of the day, Scott was right.  An attitude of “Make it happen” will free up your thinking so you can get things done. Maybe not in the way you envisioned, and perhaps in a different way, but it will get done.

As you face all of these truly difficult problems, keep your head up and concentrate on one problem at a time if you can.

Make it happen!

And wash your hands.

Copyright 2020   David Preston

PS: If you are reading this on your phone, the entirety of my web page may not show.  You’ll need a computer to show the list of links on the right side to purchase any on my eight books. All are available as e-readers and now six of them are available as paperbacks.  A fifth Harrison Thomas novel will be available later this year – I hope.

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Why Your Favorite Motorcycle Brand Was Not at the Show

Why Your Motorcycle Brand Was Not at the Show

As the motorcycle show and Expo season winds down, I read many comments from enthusiasts that were dismayed or appalled or extremely angry that their favorite manufacturer chose not to attend and display a cornucopia of new models.

This has gradually become more of a problem in the last decade, and there are reasons for it.

First of all, what is the purpose of an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) that produces motorcycles?

Create machines that people will purchase; you might say. 

And you would be wrong.

The purpose of an OEM, in any business, is to stay in business.  This is much more complicated than creating products that people want to buy, which is a huge challenge all by itself.       To stay in business, you must have a good product, market it correctly, hire, train, and retain the right people and… control costs. Bingo!

Consider what it takes for an OEM to put on a display at a show.  You might have a fleet of “show bikes” that are shipped to each show by a semi or several, plus the display for those bikes, which can vary from mild to (expensive) wild, and probably a product expert or six.  Or you can call on local dealers to display products that they have ordered for sale, but there are pitfalls there as well.

Bikes on display live a hard life, even if not ridden at all.  People sit on them, and some people are careless or mindless.  Paint gets scratched, rubber heels leave black streaks or scratches, small parts might be stolen (why?) and all sorts of mayhem, accidental or not, can occur.

Most shows or expos are held in large population areas.  These can make getting to the show venue in a large semi or several, at the same time everyone else is, a hassle and expensive.  Most large urban areas have agreements with various unions, so if you need an extension cord brought in from the truck, it must be carried in and plugged in by a licensed electrician, for example. As the former president of a union, I am not complaining about this, but it and other examples can add significantly to the cost.  Your displays can be damaged during shipment or set up or tear down activities.

Of course, you need staff on hand to “person” your display.  The most knowledgeable people in the area are probably local dealer sales staff, if there is a local dealer.  Those folks are usually paid on commission, and very few sales actually occur at the site of the show, so you may need to pay them extra, plus parking, food, perhaps a motel room, etc.

Keep in mind that the organization putting on the show is also a business, and also needs to make money.  The cost of your display space will vary not only by size but by location within the show.  This expense will vary from large to exorbitant.

The point is that these shows are expensive.  If you’re an OEM that is going to commit to the full national tour the cost can be…something to ponder deeply.

Some of that can be attributed to marketing or public relations or advertising, but no matter how clever the accountant for the OEM or the dealer, it is still going to be a cost.

To be offset by sales?   Hmmmmmm. Who goes to shows? In my fourteen years of experience working at shows and decades of experiencing them, there are several separate groups.  The largest are, of course, motorcycle enthusiasts, who often come in groups of friends or as club members.  They enjoy the camaraderie and walking around checking out “stuff,” that they may want to buy.  But – almost all of them already own a motorcycle, and maybe more than one, and they have some gear or, more often, a lot of gear.  How many of them are seriously shopping for a new motorcycle?  Few.

The second largest group are people who have never owned a motorcycle and probably never will. They are attending the show because it was in town this weekend and looked interesting.   They are there to look at all the shiny things and maybe the special attractions like stunt riders, etc.  How many of them are looking for a bike to purchase?  Almost none.

The smallest group will be people who want to get into motorcycling. They are there to soak up a lot of information and learn a great deal.  They will spend a lot of time talking to sales people for OEMs and gear vendors, and their time will be very well spent.  How many will make a purchase decision at the show?  Almost none.

Now consider the size of the market.  KIA, for example, will sell more cars in America this year, exponentially, than all of the motorcycle OEMs added together.  The motorcycle industry is currently much smaller than twenty years or so, partly due to the collapse of the availability of home equity loans. There are far fewer “units” (I hate that word!) to spread out the cost.

Efficiency of scale is a huge factor. When I was a boy, my father was working on the Apollo project.  There were very few things he could tell me about it, since it was all classified, but one conversational snippet has stayed with me all these years.  If you wanted to design and manufacture one door for a space capsule, he explained, it would cost several million dollars.  If you wanted to make 100,000 of them, each would cost $29.95.

All in all, for any OEM considering putting on a display at a major show or a national series of them, the numbers do not work.  “Doesn’t pencil,” as they say.  You can send a demo truck to many dealers, or help defray the cost of special events at your dealer network, or a host of other promotional ideas and events, and save an enormous pile of money.

Which helps you survive.

I wouldn’t do it either.

Copyright 2020              David Preston

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Potential motorcycle adventures for summer 2020

Three Potential Summer Trips 2020:

  1. East to Tour the Olympic Peninsula – 4 days  (June 12-14)

Friday

7am Brekkie and then leave at 8:15am

I-405 to I-5 to Smokey Point Rest stop            30 miles

I-5 to 530 to Arlington to Rockport                   70 miles

SR 20 to Marblemount (fuel)                               15 miles

SR 20 to Winthrop, Twisp, (fuel, lunch)          100 miles

SR 20 to 153 to 97 to US 2                                   73 miles                    288 miles

Waterville Hotel  102 E Park St   (509) 745 – 8695

Saturday

South to Cashmere, East to 97 South (Blewitt Pass)

82 South to Yakima

West on 410 to Mt. Rainier

South on 410 and West on 12 to Chehalis

West on 6 to Raymond

Sunday

North on 101 to Sappho

113 and 112 to Neah Bay

Monday

East to Hurricane Ridge and then home

  • Return to Elk City     –   4 days  (July 10th – 13th)

Friday:

Leave from Brekkie

South on 405 and then East on I-90 to Vantage (fuel)

Right and then left to Washtucna  (lunch at Sonny’s)

South on SR 261 and LEFT (still SR 261) to Starbuck (fuel)

Through Starbuck to US 12-  LEFT on US 12 (East) to Lewiston

Saturday Lewiston to Elk City to Lewiston 

6am brekkie – leave 7am?

Right to 12

US-12 E.                                                                    72.3 miles

Right on ID 13

Pause for fuel. 

RIGHT on ID 13                                                       15.1 miles

LIGHT LEFT onto ID-14.                                       49.6 miles

End at Elk City, ID  (fuel)                                                 

Return on ID-14.                                                                 41.0 miles

Slight LEFT on MT IDAHO GRADE ROAD                  9.6 miles      

LEFT at STOP on Main Street

Grangeville, ID  Bishop’s Bistro  (food / fuel)            51.41 miles

Through Grangeville to  US-95 N.                                 37.2 miles or so

LEFT at “Winchester” sign –  gas station also                      (fuel)              

Continue WINCHESTER GRADE

LEFT at STOP (T) on US 95

LEFT at US 12

Return to Lewiston

Sunday

South from SR 129 through Anatone

Pause at Bogan’s Run for ice cream

Into Oregon on Oregon 3

RIGHT on 82 at ENTERPRISE  (fuel)

LEFT on I 84 at LA GRANDE

RIGHT on 7 at BAKER CITY

RIGHT on 26 at BATES

LEFT on 126 at PRINEVILLE

LEFT on 97 at REDMOND

RIGHT to Sisters

Monday

West on Highway 126, McKenzie Highway. 

RIGHT on 22

DETROIT – right on BREITENBUSH ROAD

become NFS 46 – becomes 224

224 to Estacada

to I-205 to I-5 to home

Best 4 Day Ride Ever II       4 days   (August 21-24)

Friday

7am Brekkie and then leave at 8:15am

I-405 to I-5 to Smokey Point Rest stop            30 miles

I-5 to 530 to Arlington to Rockport                   70 miles

SR 20 to Marblemount (fuel)                               15 miles

SR 20 to Winthrop, Twisp, (fuel, lunch)          100 miles

20 to Okanogan. 97 to Oroville

Saturday

North to Canada

East on 3, North on 33 to Kelowna

North on 97 to Kelowna

East and South on 6 to Naksup

Sunday

Reverse Saturday or…

South on 3 to 3A

West on 3A to 3

West to Osoyoos

South to Oroville

Monday

Reverse Friday to home

Others to be added.  The dates have been selected with respect to the schedules of those who go on these often, and are very tentative.

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The Seahawks and Last Gasp Failure

Seahawks at the Goal Line – Been There, Done That

Today the Northwest is full of angst as the great public opines on the Seahawk’s failure to score from the one-yard line at the end of a game. 

Again. 

I’ve been mulling over my own experience with this – for 58 years…

Set the time machine to the fall of 1961.  I was in 9th grade, the co-captain of a not very good Deephaven Junior High football team.  Oddly, we were unbeaten at 6-0 in 8th grade and went 0-6 in 9th grade. All of the 9th grade games were very close, which was scant comfort.

Back in those pre-historic days football players played both offense and defense, at least the starters did.  As well as kickoffs and punts.  You were on the field the entire game.  On offense I was the center, and on defense the center linebacker.

On this occasion we were playing at Mound Junior High (home of Tonka Toys!) on a cold and misty Minnesota fall day.

The team from Mound was not that good either. Their offense consisted almost entirely of handing the ball off to their monstrous fullback, who would crash into the line for a few yards and some slopped up mud.

That fullback terrified me. He seemed this hulking presence of horrific might and power.  I referred to him as “Bronko,” in honor of famed University of Minnesota running back Bronko Nagurski from decades before. The real one went on to play for the Chicago Bears and then spent a productive life running a gas station in International Falls, Minnesota.  That town is often mentioned as the coldest spot in the nation.  Bronko was a tough guy.

Anyway, on almost every play their quarterback would hand the ball off and my nemesis would crash into a small hole in the line. I had two choices. I could run away screaming like a sensible person, or put my head down and crash into him. That is what I did – play after play.

At some point Mound scored a touchdown but failed on the extra point. As the game neared the end, we were driving down the field, at last, and reached the two-yard line with time for one last play. Sound familiar? 

The play called for my neighbor Joel Peterson, the right guard, to perform a “cross-block” with me. I would hike the ball and drive their left guard to the right, and Joel would drive their nose tackle to the left.  Somewhat surprisingly, we did this perfectly, and opened a hole about 6 yards wide.  Our halfback, for reasons I’ve never understood, went to the right and ran smack into a pile of three Mound players I had created. 

Game over.  Joel and I stood there in the rain, speechless, the swath of open ground right there between us. Our coach was so mad he did not even ride back on the bus with us, and I could not blame him.  It was a quiet ride.

One small ray of sunshine did occur. After the game Bronko walked up to me.  With his helmet off, his face was as intimidating as the rest of him. A small trickle of blood ran from his lip down his chin. “Nice game,” he mumbled, shook my hand, and walked away.  I have seldom felt so honored.

David Preston                                         Copyright 2019

P.S.  A few weeks after the season ended, fall grades came home and my parents informed me that my days as a football player were now ended.  Probably for the best.

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Calculating the Cost of a Motorcycle (or anything else)

What is the Actual Cost of a Motorcycle (or anything else)?

After receiving hundreds of responses from all over the world to my essay on coping with your motorcycle dealer (thank you), almost all of them positive (thank you!), I thought it might be useful to add some thoughts on cost.

A few people let me know that money is money, and they wish to spend as little of it as possible. This is a determinant in whether they use the products and services of their motorcycle dealer or ride the information highway. Fair enough.  Retired and (currently) unemployed, spending as little as possible is pretty much an imperative for me.

But – what is the actual cost if you are purchasing niche products?

Consider toilet paper, a product that almost everyone purchases.  Unless, of course, you have a strange predilection to relive the origin of the phrase “rough as a corn cob.”  I can purchase toilet paper from dozens of outlets (pun!) near my home.  There is little to be gained by Internet shopping.  You go for price vs. quantity, with possibly an assessment of quality.

Motorcycles are not sold in quantities anything like toilet paper.  They comprise, as do many things, a much smaller market.  Let’s say you enjoy your involvement in motorcycles, radio-controlled ship models, and scuba diving.   My, aren’t you interesting!

For products like this you may or may not have a store near you, or you have to turn to the wonders of the Internet.  However, if it is scale model replicas of cannons for the radio-controlled warship you are building, or a new weight belt or fins, or motorcycle gear, you may want to have the product in your hands for a close inspection before parting with your funds.

So, what is the total cost of an item, with all factors considered? There is the purchase price, or course, but also the cost of your transport and time to and from the store, plus any hassles involved.  Some of that cost may be offset in a way if you enjoy simply being in the store.

The cost of an item is influenced by the size of the market, the number of items produced, and consumer demand.  Plus, the regrettable historic tendency of humans for greed.  When the 2005 Ford GT came out, the list price was $150,000, but most dealers added a “market adjustment,” which might have been as much as $100,000. Examples abound throughout history.  To test this, run out to your local Chevy dealer and attempt to order the new mid-engine Corvette, which magazines have been touting for, literally, 50 years. Tell the salesperson you want a base Corvette, with no options, at the MSRP listed.  Let me know how you do.

As a teen ager, I had a conversation with my father, who was working on the design of the Apollo spacecraft at the time. He explained that if you wanted to build one door for the Apollo craft, it would cost $16,000,000 dollars.  If you wanted to make 100,000 of those doors, the price would drop to $99.95.

Apply that to your hobbies.  Replica scale cannons for your model ship will be relatively expensive for their size and weight, because the market is small. Motorcycle tires are going to be more expensive than car tires, even though they are much smaller, because the market is miniscule compared to car tires.

Another factor to consider is your own mechanical ability and the tools at your disposal. If you own a tire changer and balancer, perhaps it makes sense to order tires and do the change yourself.  You may also have the requisite skills and find enjoyment in doing your own maintenance and repair, or even custom work and restorations. You have to consider the investment in the tools, of course, but if you enjoy the tasks, it is probably worth it.

Let’s go back to the store, in this case a local store that sells the niche items you need/want for your hobby.  But you can find them at less cost on the Internet.  So can everyone else. If enough people choose the Internet option (I am simplifying), the local store goes out of business.

Now calculate your cost again. I have two Triumph dealerships in my area. What happens if they close?  There will be a delay of months, years, or forever, before another Triumph dealer is nearby.  What are my costs now?

For Triumph motorcycles, I would need to travel over 200 miles south to Oregon, or 140 miles north and across the border into Canada.  Shopping for the items I want to hold in my hands before purchase just got exponentially more expensive in time, hassle, and cost. 

By this reasoning, it is in my own best interest to make a reasonable effort to make sure my local dealers are healthy and profitable.  That may mean I pay a little more here and there, or not, but what I am actually doing is investing in the dealers who support my hobby. For my own benefit.

Or, I can choose to only purchase mainstream products. Like toilet paper.

Copyright 2019                              David Preston

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