Friday, October 3, 2008

Two Days

It's interesting, the motorcycle thing.

In cars, most of the technology is driven by the needs of common, boring street use. Motorcycle technology, on the other hand, seems to be driven primarily by racing, secondarily by nostalgia or physical beauty.

There was a point back in the 1970's or even late '60's where motorcycle technology matched automotive technology in every measurable way. From that point on, bikes took the lead and now there's no comparison.

So with the practical transportation aspirations of automobiles behind them, bikes went down this bizarre road where the only reason to get excited about a new bike is either numerical gains on the dyno or aesthetic (specifically, visual) beauty. Marketing has honed this to an extent that to the general public, motorcycling is these two things and all of the subtle nuances which make riding great are lost (or at best, ignored).

To summarize, every motorcycle made today from the cheapest beginner bike to the most expensive luxury liner is capable of performance exceeding anyone's "needs", so if you're going to continue to sell new motorcycles you have to focus on things that change over time even though they are irrelevant to what motorcyclists know it's all about.

The sad thing is that we (the people who buy motorcycles) are responsible for this. The evidence is that, throughout the history of the motorcycle (in particular, the last two decades) when manufacturers dared to come out with a model that circumvents this one-upmanship approach to sales, these models go unsold. Often these models become appreciated only long after the manufacturer has dropped them from production due to poor sales (the Hawk GT being an excellent example, but there are many more).

I see electric bikes as a potential cure for this problem. This has nothing to do with efficiency or performance but with the fact that they are different enough from people's expectations that we have a chance to reset the image of what makes bikes sell (out of necessity really, because in the near term electric bikes can't compete with gasoline models on all measureable performance fronts simultaneously). Honda did something like this back in the 1950's when they first brought their bikes to the states ("You meet the nicest people on a Honda"), the bikes were so different as to be perceived as a different class of vehicle from the large hooligan-machines driven only by the violent and the unwashed.

It would be an interesting intellectual experiment, to design a motorcycle company to produce a product like this and tweak the variables until it becomes sustainable (i.e., profitable). Similar things have been done before, Saturn did something like this in automobiles (until their short-sighted parent company pulled the plug on the philosophy and "burned the brand"). I have something nice to think about this morning...

As you may have noticed, I don't have any good news to share about the project. With no title in hand the odds are not in favor of getting the bike to the fall run. That's all I'm going to say for now as the whole situation is distressing and I'd rather change the topic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

did you make it to the run?