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

Posted in Equipment, Marketing, Motorcycles | Leave a comment

How to Cope with Your Motorcycle Dealer

How to Cope with Your Motorcycle Dealer

Twenty years ago, it was common for people to refer to motorcycle “stealerships” (so clever), and gloat about how they purchased products for less on the Internet. Many people felt they were smart to go to the dealership to try on  a jacket or helmet, and then go home and order it for less from a discount outlet. After 2008, motorcycle dealerships began to disappear, and are now somewhat of an endangered species. Could there be a connection? There’s a lengthy book’s worth of reasons for this of course, but let us move on rather than endure a textbook on the economics of the motorcycle business.

Let’s say you have a dealership near you that sells motorcycles you own, and/or like.  Let us posit further that you have spent money at this dealership and have developed a good relationship with the people there.  You wish to spend money there again.  Today’s topic:  what to do when something goes wrong.

Motorcycles are built of materials and put together by people and robots, and even the robots are programmed by people. They are sold and serviced by people, and function in environments that cause wear and tear.  Eventually, something is going to go wrong.

I worked for two different dealerships over the span of thirteen years in various forms of what could be termed “customer support.”  One of many tasks given me was dealing with customer complaints that came to the dealership, usually by e-mail.  The e-mails came directly to me or were forwarded by a manager who was happy to pass on the problem.  There were good reasons for this also, because I was unlikely to be the source of the problem, and could approach it without ego interference.

In some case, as chaos theory would tell us, it was clear that the dealership had gone off track and crashed. In my experience, when it was obvious where the fault lay, the dealership would try very hard to make things right. (Disclaimer: I worked for two very good dealerships. This attitude is not universal, alas)

One very effective technique was to simply ask the customer what we could do to make he or she satisfied.  The answer was usually easier and less expensive than what the dealership might have offered.  But not always.

One I recall with fondness was a very nice man who brought in a Honda sport bike for a major service. He was going to be out of the country for at least a month, so assured the service department that they could work on it whenever time allowed.  Several weeks later, he came by to pick up his bike, and problems ensued.

The Service Manager came to me with a red face and told me we had a real problem. I.E., the customer’s bike was missing!  Thinking very rapidly, he told the customer that at times long-term projects were moved to our warehouse (that was true), and that if he came back on Tuesday, we would have his bike for him. Customer said that was fine.

As the manager suspected, the motorcycle was not in the warehouse.  A brief investigation, helped by security camera evidence, showed that the motorcycle had actually been stolen by a not very intelligent employee.  When the customer returned this was explained, and he was offered a jaw-dropping deal on a trade-in for a new model, which he was thrilled to accept.

But sometimes, customers were…wrong.  There was the man who was irate because the Service Department was not prepared for the appointment he had made.  While he ranted, questions were asked.  His appointment was actually at the competing dealer down the street.  Or the customer who was upset because his front tire had been installed backwards.  He was complaining at length while the counter guy spooled up the computer.  Pointing out to the customer that his front tire had been replaced 5 years and 20,000 miles ago allowed to customer to remember and then apologize profusely; he had forgotten the flat tire on his trip last year that caused the front tire to be replaced by a dealer 1,000 miles away.

Mistakes happen on both sides, but how you handle them makes a huge difference.  I had a customer who was active in the HOG chapter who sent me an e-mail asking why the charge to remove a tire and mount and balance a new one was less at a competing dealer.  I explained that dealerships offer thousands of products, and prices can and do vary for many reasons, and if the other dealer was willing to do it for less, he could consider having them do it.  Done.  Or so I thought.

Not by a long shot. He wrote again the next day, and the day after, and each time I tried to answer his questions reasonably.  It got worse.  His e-mails got more and more hostile, and became personally antagonistic.   I did stop responding, but I was flummoxed.  I had no idea what was going on, and not a clue as to what I should do.  Fortunately, I saved all of his e-mails. Eventually, the owner got wind of this and summoned me to his office to ask what in the world was going on.  I had no idea, I explained, but forwarded the file of e-mails to him,

At our second meeting the owner was furious, but not at me.  He directed me to find out what was required to boot someone out of the HOG chapter.  I protested that this was a customer who had purchased a new Harley every year for 5 years.  I received a cold stare and the words “What’s your point?”

Lesson #1:  I learned that in the case of the two dealerships I worked for (admittedly a limited data base), complaints were to be dealt with, but any customer who was abusive to a staff member was to be cut off immediately.

In any case, we both learned that any member of a HOG chapter is such at the pleasure of the owner of the dealership, and can be removed by a simple letter.  I wrote the letter (irony) and the customer went away.  Of course, many members of the HOG chapter blamed me for this, and I could hardly explain things.

Not to pick on Harley owners or HOG members, because there are plentiful examples from riders and owners of all brands.  When I worked at a BMW dealership, I’d occasionally receive complaints from older owners of older BMWs who were upset that parts and service cost a lot more than when they had purchased their bikes – 20 years earlier.

A Kawasaki customer crashed a bike on a test ride, in the parking lot. Brought it back a few months later with crash damage to the fairing on the other side for a crash settlement as part of an insurance claim, and was angry the dealership would not lie on his behalf, even when it was explained that insurance fraud was a serious crime the dealership would not commit.

On rare occasions the dealership decided to “fire the customer,” as he or she was such a pain that it was not worth the business.  One of my favorite tasks was to be asked to write a letter that was polite, professional, and calm in tone, that upon being read would result in the customer not returning. This was a very delicate task, and I really enjoyed the challenge.

Hundreds of examples, but let us move on.  What to do when something goes wrong?

First of all, let the dealership know something is wrong. They cannot fix a problem they are not aware of.  Do not go storming off to social media land or Yelp or whatever without first letting the dealer know there a snafu has occurred.  You may think that there is a problem when in fact there is not. If a problem does exist, it is much more productive to give them a chance to fix it. If you blow your stack on the Internet the damage is done, and the hot air you blew will be returned by a cold blast from the dealership.

Case in point. Last week I decided I should give myself a new helmet for Christmas.  Do I need a new helmet?  What’s your point?

At the Triumph Best of Britain gala in Seattle the other night I chatted with my favorite Triumph of Seattle employee.  Do they have my chosen brand of helmets – Arai – in stock?  Pfff – of course.  Would it be less expensive now or after the New Year?  Actually, for a few reasons – now.  If I came in and drove a hard bargain with my favorite employee, I could get a deal.

The next day I called and asked about a couple of models.  No response.  Second try.  He said he would have another employee call or text me with what they had.  No response.  No response all day.

Nothing is worse than waiting for a response that never comes.  By the next morning I was – disappointed.  Instead of giving way to my inner child (who is not very inner), and going off on a rant about what a good customer I had been for many years (true), how my last three motorcycles have all been Triumphs from this dealer (true), and how I have purchased all my gear from this dealer for years (almost true), I stifled myself.   With difficulty.  Instead I sent a simple e-mail expressing disappointment.

My phone rang about the time I finished typing. He had received my message and called immediately.  A bit of research revealed that he had made a typo when forwarding my e-mail address to the employee.  Stuff happens.

The second employee sent me a list in a few minutes with the model and color of every XL Arai they had in stock, with excellent sale prices, and some information about what would be coming in early 2020, albeit at higher prices.

Job done, even though I chose not to purchase one of the helmets on hand, as I did not like the colors offered.  But I will.  Eventually.

If you want to do business with your friendly dealer, give them the same chance you would give a friend who you thought had screwed up.  A good friend is hard to find, and worth the effort.  These days, so is a good dealer.

Copyright 2019                      David Preston

Posted in Equipment, Marketing, Motorcycles | 1 Comment

Minnesota vs. Iowa Football Memories

Minnesota vs. Iowa Football memories

In high school, the Explorer Post I belonged to “worked” University of Minnesota football games.  Our particular group had two tasks.  Before the game, we were in charge of raising the flag during the playing of the national anthem. This was trickier than it might seem, because there was a knack to raising the flag so it would not snag on a protrusion from the stadium structure. The experienced among us taught the newbies.  At the end of the game we were stationed along one sideline, holding a rope to keep fans from rushing the field.

Now when I think about it, I realize that must have been more of a visual deterrent for rejoicing fans than a practical one.  Are some teen-age boys holding a rope going to be successful in holding back an onrush of fans?  Really – no.

Sidebar:  My Eagle Scout uniform was a little bit special.  I had never been a cub scout or boy scout.  I joined the Explorer Scouts because some of my friends asked me, and I was attracted to their summer camping forays into Canada and other activities. Actually, I was invited to join because they were attracted to my girlfriend (Sandy Nelson), and hoped I would bring here along on co-ed activities.  Then I broke up with her…

Anyway, because of my late start, I did not have any merit badges. To earn a merit badge, you had to attain the lowest rank, which was Tenderfoot.  Most people took care of this in Cub scouts.  I was not attracted to the tasks required, feeling that I was too old and mature (!) to make a drum out of an oatmeal container, among others.   I took part in some classes that led to a merit badge (the firefighting one was awesome), but I could not ever get the actual badge reward.

Most of my friends had been active in scouting for years, and their uniforms weighed pounds more than mine, especially those that were Eagle Scouts.  If he was also an Order of the Arrow, there was even a white sash with even more stuff.

I liked mine in its pure state. Dark green, with the post number on the left shoulder, and that was it.  Kind of like being an unintentional rebel in a para-military organization.

I remember the end of a Minnesota-Iowa football game very well.  The two teams play each year for a trophy called “Floyd of Rosedale.” This goes back to 1935, when the trophy was a live pig by that name. Presumably eaten by the winners, he was replaced by a heavy bronze trophy in 1936. The winner gets to display the trophy all year, and show it off at the game.

Near the end we were standing on the Iowa sideline, the rope in readiness lying at our feet.  The game was almost over, and Minnesota had the lead.  And the ball. The Gophers were running out the clock with simple running plays, as you would, and Iowa was out of timeouts.

The Iowa players were all on their feet in front of us, filled with frustration and rage.  Floyd sat on a table behind them. These huge men were screaming obscenities at the top of their lungs, wanting Minnesota to do something that would give them back the ball. I was terrified.  I had played football for two years on both offense and defense, and I had hit people and been hit by people, but this was different.  I had never been around such a mass of really large men who were so terrifyingly angry.  I was afraid one or two of them would turn around and just stomp some of us into the ground.

Then it got worse.

The game ended.  Now the entire Minnesota team was charging across the field en masse, to retrieve the trophy they’d won.  I felt like a peasant facing a charge by a Viking army.   Would a mass riot break out? Would I be involved?

Of course, nothing happened. The Gophers got their trophy, and we all went home.   If there’d been a merit badge for experiencing sheer terror, I would have earned it.’

Copyright 2019                      David Preston

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Harley-Davidson’s problems, and how to fix them. 2019 Version

Harley’s problems, and how to fix them. (2019 version)

Not the first essay on this topic, for sure, and a frequent subject flogged by many for the past twenty years or so.  But now, with the promised release in late 2020 of two new models with actual new and technologically current engines, it’s time to revisit the topic. 

Where it all went wrong; the back story.  Harley saved itself, or rather the board of directors did, by purchasing itself back from AMF in the early 1980’s.  What seemed to be a function of fiscal insanity happened, with incredibly good fortune, to coincide with a major shift in the demographic – lots of successful yuppie types coming into all sorts of income.  In short time Harley’s became the favorite toy of all manner of adult s (mostly men), who wanted to flaunt their apparent wealth with a nice shiny chromed-out Harley.

The new Harleys were, at last, reliable.  They had always been attractive.  They were still (relatively) slow, did not stop or handle all that well, and required more frequent maintenance. This mattered not a jot to the new buyers, who were for the most part purchasing the equivalent of a flashy ring to strut their bling.  Real Harley riders did benefit, as the profits brought more and better models with more features, at the cost of increased price.

Obviously, I’m taking grotesque short cuts here to avoid turning this into a book. Apologies.

For about twenty years Harley salespeople did not really “sell” motorcycles.  They wrote up sales orders and kept track of waiting lists. For a time, customers did not get to select a favorite color!  When a new bike arrived, they’d be called and asked if they wanted that color. If not, they went to the bottom of the list.  Plus, it became a thing to add a lot of expensive options, preferably Harley options, to the bike before it was delivered.

When I went to work for a Harley-Davidson and other lines dealership in 2000, I was appalled to see dozens of brand-new stock exhaust systems simply tossed into the dumpster. There was simply no market for them.  At times Harley was selling pretty much two exhaust systems with every bike – the stock pipes were thrown away and replaced with Harley’s “Screaming Eagle” pipes, which flowed better but, more importantly, were louder. Where I worked there was one highly skilled mechanic who spent 100% of his time adding accessories to brand new bikes.

Obviously, this created massive profits, but was also the seed of the problems that haunt them today. For one, a lot of the wealthy buyers wanted to go further and actually become a dealership owner.  Harley responded to this by ramping up the cost of entry, and adding an ever-growing list of requirements including the décor, the Harley diagnostic computers to be used in the service department, and much more.  In a way, the company was doing to prospective dealers what they had been doing to customers – charging every penny they could.  By 2005 it was estimated that opening a new Harley dealership would cost at least $10,000,000 before the doors were opened.  There were people who jumped at this “opportunity.”  All of them had money, but many had not the slightest knowledge of running a motorcycle business, or even interest.  They could hire people for that.

An even worse problem infected the people in Milwaukee and at many of the dealerships. They had made great piles of money selling air-cooled V-Twins in small and large sizes, all with gorgeous paint, as Harley had the best paint infrastructure in the business. They also made substantial profits by licensing every imaginable product. Every dealer sold t-shirts with their name and Harley’s proudly displayed. Since Harley was such a hot brand, enthusiasts flocked to the dealer in any city they were in to add to their collection.

And some of the models really were attractive.  The Road King is one of my favorite rides of all time, for example.

There was little motivation to change, as surely all of this would go on forever.  …Until it didn’t.

In 2003 or so I advised some high school marketing students on a research project.  They received over a thousand responses from across the country to a survey they’d sent out to young people aged 16-25 concerning what they thought of when they heard “Harley-Davidson.”

Of the available responses, two dominated: a.) Their grandparents and b.) thugs.

The students were surprised by this, but the data was overwhelming. A video conference was arranged with the Harley marketing folks in Milwaukee (very cutting edge at the time) and the students’ efforts were politely but abruptly and completely snubbed.  Harley’s marketing minds preferred to ignore information they did not like.  A valuable lesson for the students in how corporate minds “think.”

Then came the stock market crash. For years people had been purchasing motorcycles, boats, sports cars, etc. with equity loans, some of them demonstrable shaky.  You could get a loan for a new motorcycle with a credit score of less than 400.  Try that today!

Suddenly dealers had motorcycles of all brands that people could not purchase. Where I worked – 600 of them.   Some of the new and expensive dealerships went away, flushing away a lot of money and the jobs of devoted staff.

A large and expensive motorcycle with outdated technology was no longer a must have, no matter how gorgeous.  New technology and new machines with a lower price point were needed, and this is where the real problems began to set in.

Harley decided to offer an “American” sport bike, and purchased the assets and talents of Erik Buell. But they could not bring themselves to commit to the concept to the extent of providing Buell with a real engine, and he was forced to soldier on with a modified Sportster engine, which had been hot stuff – in 1958.  They made the Blast!, a small single cylinder entry bike with half of a Sportster engine, but dealers did not know how to sell such a bike and were not much interested. Buell fell apart after 20 years of near neglect, having never shown a profit.

Harley did have the financial resources and engineering talent to create what was needed, and in many cases did, but then left it to dealer personnel who were wedded to low rpm and heavy cruisers to sell, which they failed to do with consistency.

Consider the V-Rod. A “performance cruiser” with a terrific engine.  But – an engine that needed to get to 4,000 rpm before things got serious.  This was sold by people who felt, 3,000 rpm should be plenty. They made a sport bike version of the V-Rod for one year, and it was really attractive and went like stink.  There were niggles, like hard frame tubes that contacted your thighs when riding, an engine that was too heavy, and a price that was not competitive.  No matter, as many dealers hated sport bikes and did not order the model or did not try very hard to sell it.  The sport bike version that had so much potential was dropped after only one year, and the V-Rod soldiered on for years as a cruiser. Each year brought new colors and “bold new graphics.”

At the same time – things got worse.  Advancing noise and emissions standards made it harder for large air-cooled V-twin engines to compete, and made them even more expensive. And, the students had been correct years earlier.  Thugs were rare, and the grandparents were rapidly leaving the highways for a higher plane.

Which brings us more or less to today.  For the past few years Harley has taken a “pasta” approach to marketing and design. Throw something at the wall to see if it is done, and go with it.  Unfortunately, they have often missed the wall.

They invested heavily in an electric motorcycle company, then sold out less than a year later.  They eventually produced their own electric bike, which would have been terrific if it could offer 300 miles of range for $20,000.  Instead it offered 200 miles of range for $30,000, which cost them a lot of customers, including a friend of mine.  They responded to early criticism, which was rife, to explain that the bike was meant as a “starter” bike, and customers would eventually move on to a gas Harley. A $30,000 starter bike!  Can we say hubris?  Sales have been… a challenge.

They brought out a new prototype for a new use every few months or so, which generated the obligatory barrels of enthusiast ink, and then the bike would be seemingly erased.

But now – finally!  We see the touted introduction of two new models for late 2020.  The Bronx will be a street fighter style bike with a 975cc twin with 105hp, and the Pan American will offer 1250cc and 145hp.  Both look like very attractive and capable bikes.

But – here is the fear.  They will be sold by the same dealers who have managed to bungle the sale of everything that was not a large and heavy cruiser for the past two decades.  Will Harley commit to training and education of dealer staff to get them to understand and actually love the riding experience of these types of bikes?

There has never been anything wrong with the motorcycles. The engineers are competent, and the line workers who put the bikes together do an excellent job.

The problem lies with the moribund mind set and world view of top management, the sales department, and many of the dealers and their staffs.  IF Harley can change the view from the top, and then invest in the training required to get dealer and sales staff to embrace electronic technology, the joys of off-road dual sport bikes, and the simple pleasures to be found in motorcycles with light weight, horsepower, handling, and excellent brakes, the bikes will sell and Harley will survive. And, they can and should continue to produce their traditional models.

Can they do this?  I hope so. I really do.  History argues against that hope, but let’s be positive!  The motorcycle world needs a healthy Harley-Davidson.

Copyright 2019                      David Preston

You can read more of my work – a lot more of it – at www.davidpreston.biz.

Posted in Equipment, Marketing, Motorcycles | Leave a comment

Ride to Carbonado Saturday!

Carbonado Ride –  October 26th, 2019

  1. 10am at the I-405 and 160th Park ‘N Ride
  2. SOUTH on I-405 to I-90
  3. EAST on I-90 well past Issaquah
  4. Right – SOUTH on Highway 18 over Tiger Mountain.
  5. LEFT at Issaquah –Hobart Road
  6. LEFT at Kent Kangley Road
  7. RIGHT at “Retreat-Kenasket Road”
  8. RIGHT at “Cumberland-Kenasket Road
  9. RIGHT on 410 to fuel (Texaco?)
  10. Continue on to and through Buckley
  11. LEFT and immediate/RIGHT to get to 165
  12. Left at STOP  (Y) to Carbonado
  13. Lunch in Carbonado at the saloon?
  14. Reverse
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The Best 4 Day Motorcycle Ride. Ever

The Best 4 Day Motorcycle Ride in Northwest America

A strong claim, so I’d best offer some credentials. I’ve been a motorcyclist since 1967. In that time, I’ve covered several hundred thousand miles. Many of them have been commuting to work and back home, or one day rides, but I’ve also undertaken longer rides, such as Seattle to Minneapolis, a few times, Seattle to Florida once, Seattle to Northern California several times, Seattle to Salt Lake City and back, and on and on.  These rides have lasted from a week to three weeks.

If you rate a motorcycle adventure by the quantity of curved roads, the quality of the roads, the variety of the roads, and the scenery along the way, the four-day adventure I savored a couple of weeks ago is the best ride I’ve ever enjoyed. In 52 years.

Since there’s little reason to keep it secret, here it is.  Or, you can wait until next summer and join me. This ride is so spectacular I intend to repeat it following the same route. If I am feeling wildly creative, I might reverse the route for days two and three. All distances are approximate, but close to spot on, and begin and end in Snohomish County.

We begin on a Friday with breakfast.  Then a 30-mile slog up Highway 5, mindful of frequent state troopers eager to give out performance riding awards. A short stop at the Smokey Point rest stop allows for the discard of all that coffee, and then the real fun begins.

Two miles north of the rest area we turn right on SR 530 to Arlington, and through that and on to Darrington – a pleasant meandering stroll to the East. More of that North to SR 20, and East 12 miles to Marblemount.  We are now about 90 miles in and fuel is not really necessary, but we stop anyway to be on the safe side. Besides, you drank a lot of coffee.

Now the greatest ride begins. You take Highway 20 to Newhalem, being careful not to be too aggressive, as this road is well patrolled and often heavily trafficked – which is why it is well patrolled.  Once clear of Newhalem the road rises for a few miles up a canyon, wonderful casual curves, spectacular scenery, and a tunnel or two.  At the top is a metal grate bridge, which can alarm if you’re not expecting it, especially since it ends with a 90-degree right corner.  Then down for miles of more curves and scenery to the level of a gorgeous glacier-fed lake, and then up, and then down… you get the idea.  You must stop at the Lake Diablo rest area, which offers spectacular views of the turquoise-green waters… and a handy rest room. 

From here you have about 60 miles or so of what most people will tell you is the best riding road in the state, if not the country/world/universe.  You can pause for a stroll and views and pictures at Washington Pass, but you may find it hard to tear yourself away from the riding bliss.

When you arrive in Winthrop most people turn right at the stop sign and join the line of RVs and assorted transportation effluvia ambling through town, but not you!  You go straight at the stop and turn to the right up the hill.  This takes you past an amazing outdoor museum that is well worth your time (when was the last time you saw a Rickenbacker car?) and on to a little backroad that eventually rejoins Highway 20 a few interesting miles later.

A right turn at the stop sign in Twisp will take you back in the direction you came for about a mile, until you reach a Chevron station and a family Mexican restaurant on your right.  Both are highly recommended.

With body and bike refueled, you head East again on Highway 20, being careful to note the left turn a few miles out of town.  Now you’re riding up a small mountain, and will be fascinated by tracing the remains of a serious forest fire a few years ago.  Which areas burned, which did not, and why?

Highway 20 runs north to Okanogan, and you will want to take the short cut across the bridge to avoid a lot of heavy traffic.  North past Omak, where you can marvel at the horrendously steep hill down to the river used for the stampede races every year (no thanks) and eventually you will arrive at the Camaray Motel in Oroville. After a casual but stunning 265 miles or so, your ride for the day is done.

The Camaray is one of my favorite motels, featuring nice people, reasonable rates, a pool, and several restaurants and a pub within easy walking distance.

In the morning you will probably fuel up body and bike and then cruise to the US/Canada border.  Hope you brought a passport.  A new toy for the border patrol folks this year is a “density scanner” played over your tires to see if you have tubes of drugs in them.  Clever.

The first town you come to in Canada is Osoyoos, which has to be one of the prettiest cities anywhere.   You’ll want to watch for the signs for Canada 3 east, which are not difficult to spot.  A few minutes through a bustling tourist town and the road begins to climb a spectacular series of wide sweeping 180-degree switchbacks, a great many of them.  If it’s a hot summer day “tar snakes” in the corners will make you think if you are pressing on a bit.  Handily, a scenic overlook at the top allows for pictures of Osoyoos laid out far below.

Next comes about 30 miles of open and scenic highway.  Repeat the word “deer!” in your helmet every 30 seconds (all day) to stay vigilant and you will be fine.

After a downhill switchback that is marked at 10mph, with good reason, you will trundle on to a left turn onto Highway 33.  The find of the summer – what a road!   About 75 miles of open sweeping corners with spectacular scenery, and a rest area of two so you can sit down for a bit and calm down, because yes, that was an RCMP fellow back there where we happened to be not speeding.  There will be more of them as well but really, this road has so many spectacular sights that excessive speed seems to waste it.

Kelowna is a huge and bustling city, and it will take you some time to get through it.  Good time for refueling. You keep going all the way through town until you reach Highway 97 to the right, and in a few miles, at Vernon, you turn on Highway 6 to the South.

Another find! The other half of a great pair of roads.  Now the road goes up and down and right and left, and has plenty of frost heaves and bumps to keep you focused.  Much more technical than Highway 33, and just as enjoyable in a different way.  And deer!  I saw three of them sauntering across the road in front of me, one of several sightings but this one close enough to alarm.  I was not worried about the three of them as I approached, but looked intently for a fourth that might be lagging and hurrying to catch up.

Eventually Highway 6 will deliver you to something I have never seen before – a free ferry!  A small open craft that pulls itself back and forth on cables across the bottom of the lake that rise to run through pulleys on the sides of the hull.

Across the ferry and North a few miles gets you to Nakusp, a very small town trying hard to make it on tourist revenue, and the jury verdict is mixed. The Canyon Court motel was just fine for our simple needs, and a short walk to the gas station/deli provided a picnic dinner.

This day’s ride was so spectacular that my first plan was simply to reverse it the next day, but the weather had other ideas.  Severe storms were predicted for most of the route, so with some cell phone weather searching a new plan was devised. After breakfast at a small place in Nakusp, we headed East and then South on Highway 6, and wow- another great road!  Scenic, with rolling curves, little traffic, and a nice rest area on the way to Highway 3.  Turning East on Highway 3 took us all the way back to Osoyoos, and along the way we did hit the rain. A lot of it.

South to the border and back in the USA, we stayed again at the Camaray Motel in Oroville.   On our last day we simply retraced the route of the first day in the opposite direction.

Four days, less than 300 miles a day, and spectacular scenery and roads.  Highly recommended!

Copyright 2019                                      David Preston

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My First Bumble Date – or Bumbler Date

My First Bumble Date – or Bumbler Date

Having lived on my own for a year, and the divorce declared final over 7 months ago, I decided I was ready to jump back into the dating pool.  By “dating” I mean a social encounter with a woman I do not know well. The last time I did that, if you don’t count my ex-wife (let’s not), was almost a half a century ago!

I peeked at some of the dating sites, of which there appear to be an infinite number, and was not impressed. Most of them feature a come-on ad with a picture of a woman who looks like she would have as much difficulty getting a date as I do making a pun.  However, Bumble appealed to me.

As I understand it from the interview I watched a couple of years ago, Bumble is an app created by a woman who was one of the developers of Tinder.  Although Tinder has been very successful, she was not all that happy with it.  Tinder seems to be used by people looking for casual sex. To me, if the sex is casual you are not really understanding the concept. Although she had no moral qualms about the sex, she thought there could be a better solution.  Thus cameth Bumble.

Like Tinder, Bumble is free in the basic version. You fill out a profile and get sent pictures of people with the characteristics you specify and within a range of age and distance you specify.  You then swipe the picture right if you are interested and left if you are not. The difference is that with Bumble, when it comes to men and women, only the women can make the first texted response.  I liked that concept for a couple of reasons, so opted in.

What ensued was so tragicomic and farcical it sounds like a chapter from one of my novels, and it surely will be a chapter in the next one!

A “Cathy” responded to my swipe and we agreed to meet for coffee at 4:30pm Sunday at a coffee spot near her home somewhere in the Ravenna area.  How low stress can this be?  She can’t decide which place to go to (there are dozens in the area) so I suggest one Google shows me. I’ve never been there.  Super.

I texted her what my car looks like in case she got there before me, which was unlikely because I am early for everything – all the time.  (Hint: foreshadowing).  I texted what I would be wearing sitting inside if she got there after me.  I was an Explorer scout – be prepared.

I get ready for my first date since about 1971 with some trepidation.  This is like teen dating minus the acne and having to meet the parents!  I made myself look reasonably nice (all I can do, really), and set off.

First error:  I arrived at 4:30 and then noticed, to my horror, that the place I wanted is not on Ravenna Avenue but Ravenna Boulevard.  I got the correct directions and set off. 

Now I am late.  I make a wrong turn.  In this area of Seattle, the streets are narrow, and there is heavy traffic and lots of parked cars.  And stop lights.  If you make a wrong turn it can be 5 minutes to get back on track.  Now I am even later.  I pull over and text her to apologize and say I’m almost there.

Which I think is true.

Inexplicably, I make another wrong turn!  Now I am sweating bullets. I pull over and text her again. The horror continues like a really bad romcom movie. 

I finally find the place – and of course there is no place to park.  By the time I park the car and enter the coffee shop, I am 30 minutes late. 

She is not there.

I text her again and she replies that she got tired of waiting and left because I am 30 minutes late.   I tell her I am there now and ask her to come back.  I wait outside, and when I check my phone again, she has deleted the conversation!  There is no way for me to contact her. 

Game over.

Not only did I not get into the game, I never got on the field!

As I drove home, I had two thoughts:  

Here is a woman who has no empathy for someone who has driven 20 miles into a densely populated area he has never been in before.  A woman who has trouble selecting a place to meet for coffee in an area she lives in that is awash in choices. A woman who seems to have little patience, and even less of a sense of humor.  A woman who could have written back and said “No – forget it,” but chose instead to simply erase me. That was simply rude.

Or:   Here is a woman who has been down this road before and has been on dates with men who were very late or jerks in a myriad of other ways, and has simply had it up to here.

Either way, what are the odds we would have meshed together well, even if I’d been on time?  All said, I am probably ahead.

Next!

To be continued…probably.

Copyright 2019                              David Preston

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