Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The secular erosion of motorcycling

I started very small. When it came, I remember it sitting on the driveway in a kind of box, remember taking it out carefully, trying to get everything right in the set up, then pressing the starter and hearing that little buzz-saw whine. What a joy.

Only on a long hill could I hit 50 mph with that little Bridgestone scooter. Only with a tailwind. No matter. I loved it, and it took me where I wanted to go around town. Occasionally, I took it farther, all the way to Sheboygan down Nine-Mile road, humming along at forty mph tops.

Once upon a time it tossed me. I hit both brakes, and that tiny little cycle stopped but I soared up over the handlebars, somehow curled myself into a ball, and hit the pavement with my right arm up over my head. From wrist to shoulder, I got burned. Hid all of that pain from my parents, who didn't really like that Bridgestone from day 1.

A 350 Honda, an old orange bike bedecked in a For Sale Sign stood on the sidewalk outside a used car dealership just two blocks west of our place. A quarter-century had passed. I was married, with two kids, grade-school age. Every time I went by, lust awoke in my eyes and my heart. The woman I married, the woman I love, was not at all keen on a motorcycle, so I didn't stop down the block to look, didn't stop and didn't stop and didn't stop. I gave in to her unstated disapproval, which was, nonetheless, perfectly clear.

Finally, I told myself that if I wouldn't buy it, I'd resent her having the last word, so I did. On warm summer afternoons, I'd make that little engine whine out in the country on half-hour rides through pockets of air you could feel in ways you couldn't in any other way. Loved it.

A friend thought it hilarious that a guy my size rode around on an orange 350 Honda, but he mocked me because he really wanted me to buy his Yamaha--a 750. He was leaving the college where we both taught. I thought about it, but figured my little half-hour rides west to the river weren't worth the bucks he wanted me to pay for that bike.

After he left, I put a bid on a 750 Honda Nighthawk repossessed from a local bank, and I won. I had that cycle for another decade maybe, but never went any farther than a half-hour away. Still, riding that bike was a joy.

My short life with motorcycles ended on a windy hike out west when I swore I could feel my own sense of balance declining. I told myself since I didn't have a licence--never did get one--it was time to clean out the garage. I haven't been on a bike since.

Yesterday I read that my home state's pride-and-joy industry, Harley-Davidson, isn't doing well. For years they were riding high. There's barely a city in the States that doesn't have a dealership, and it's not hard to understand why: boomers like me, for reasons that are likely unexplainable, love motorcycles, and real motorcycles are Harleys.

But the sad truth is that there's fewer of us every day, and some who are still around likely start to feel what I once did on that Nighthawk--that maybe biking through the country was for young bucks. Harley-Davidson cut its full-year shipping forecast and announced the necessity of cutting workforce in its beloved plants. Sadly, sales are slipping.

The language of the market goes like this: "We are downgrading Harley-Davidson to 'market-perform' based on increased conviction that motorcycle demand in the United States is in the throes of secular erosion."

Secular erosion? Think of it this way. Generation Y's are not hopping on Hoggs the way Boomers once did; and millennials--well, no one understands millennials. Business outlook is not good for Harley-Davidson; i
f they ship between 39 and 44 thousand bikes this year, that's a decline of twenty percent. Wall Street calls it "secular erosion." To a boomer with a past, it's just all very, very sad. 

A couple nights ago we followed an old couple on a big Honda three-wheeler, and I mentioned to my lovely wife that any problem I thought I might have had with balance on a bike would be taken care of on a big, fancy trike like that one.

She said nothing, and I didn't need to look to see her roll her eyes.

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