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Archive for September, 2007

MDA LogoThe MDA Hope Ride was held September 16th in Portland. It was sponsored by MDA, Columbia Harley-Davidson, Paradise Harley-Davidson and Salem Harley Davidson. The event was also supported by Harley Owner Groups (HOG). Riders arrived at Alderbrook Park, where the Duffy Bishop Band played and a bike show, barbeque, and other activities where held.

This MDA event helps fight against neuromuscular disease. A great charitable cause!

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Ever since watching the 1989 Ridley Scott directed movie Black Rain with Michael Douglas, I’ve been intrigued by the Japanese Yakuza. And after watching the recently released hi-def version of The Yakuza, a 1975 movie starring Robert Mitchum who takes on gangsters during Japan’s post-war occupation…I became intrigued how Japan biker gangs seem to imitate the U.S. clubs.

The Japanese word bōsōzoku is typically applied to biker gangs who share interest in modifications (often illegal) for motorcycles, such as removing the mufflers and engaging in dangerous street racing or reckless driving, such as weaving in traffic, running red lights or not wearing motorcycle helmets. There are bōsōzoku clubs throughout Japan, including female bike gangs (レディース, “ladies”), identified more by fashion statements and customized motorcycles. The club members take part in mass rallies and have run ins with the police. Having just returned from Sturgis this sounds very familiar.

Descended from medieval gamblers and outlaws, yakuza have been portrayed as latter-day samurai, bound by traditions of honor and duty and living extravagant lives. The Japanese Police estimate that full-fledged membership in yakuza groups fell to 41,500 last year, down from 43,000 in 2005, a decline they attribute to tighter laws against organized crime. However, the number of yakuza hangers-on, including thugs and members of motorcycle gangs, who are willing to do their dirty work, rose to 43,200.

The author of Yakuza Moon,” a best-selling memoir just out in English, written by the 39-year-old, Shoko Tendo writes about her father who was the leader of the Yamaguchi-gumi gang, the largest yakuza group, and how he led a “classic” life with Italian suits, imported cars and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Shoko was raised with strict ideas of honor, and was both spoiled and scolded by the tattooed men who frequented her home.

I plan to get/read the book and learn if this is a reflection of or an imitation of the U.S.

The Shoko Tendo photo above is from REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

UPDATE: Read the book and while interesting background on Tendo it doesn’t really explore the Japan motorcycle/gang element as much as you would have thought possible. Mostly about Shoko Tendo overcoming adversity in her life. It was a tough life and she has done well just to be alive! An easy read.

UPDATE: February 10, 2009 – the Mainichi Daily News reports Japan biker gangs (bosozoku) decline.

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I’m not one to gloat, but I’m happy that the runaway freight train of motorcycle sales has finally slowed. During the last 10 years, sales of Harley-Davidsons have roared along with double-digit annual increases, defying nationwide economic slowdowns and stock market dips.

Harley has made butt loads of money as the rise in popularity of motorcycles went mainstream in the 1990s.

But wait, for the first 6 months of this year, sales of Harley were actually — GASP – down! Sure it was only 1.2% worldwide and sales in Europe were up 17%, offsetting a 5% drop in U.S. sales. Sales of all street bikes nationwide were off 5% for the first 6 months of 2007, with 389,765 units sold, compared to 410,421 sold during the first 6 months of 2006.

Well I for one am tired of dealership arrogance. It’s not just local dealers in the NW, but you “feel” it from Rapid City to Reno. Dealers have this attitude that Harley growth rates would defy logic, continue forever and demand could never catch up…the words “market saturation” and MSRP were not in the sales vocabulary! For the first time though I’m hearing “We see the market’s changing a little. We have to be more aggressive.” That’s music to my ears. You’d think Harley’s are made out of solid Palladium given the prices the dealer’s demand and I hope the sales decline makes them a bit more humble and focused on customer relationships.

The sub-prime market has created economic worries, and high fuel prices always create issues, but dealers are seeing an increase in sales of big touring bikes. Touring models, which at least partly accounts for Harley’s continued increase in revenue (4 percent up for the first six months of 2007), despite the flat to slightly down numbers sold. It seems the graying of America crowd are buying those $23,000 Ultra (Electra Glide) rather than the $15,000 Dyna Low Rider.

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