Archive for August, 2008

As thousands of motorcycles depart from 105 starting points and follow the 25 national routes to Milwaukee I’ll be among the many riders roaring across the heart land to the Milwaukee area.  I’m looking forward to doing my small part in contributing toward the economic impact of the Harley-Davidson 105th Anniversary Celebration.

As a serious blogger, I try to provide consistent and valuable content, but I’ll be taking a break over the next several days while enjoying the “Ride Home“.  No, the blog doesn’t necessarily take much time, but it’s one less thing to think about along with less electronics and chargers to pack in the saddle bags.   Also I’ve learned that an odd thing happens when you’re not blogging: you come up with lots of blog ideas!   There is something about riding in the wind which generates plenty of ideas.

I’ve appreciated the cooler temperatures we’ve had in the Northwest these past few days, but soon it will feel like someone has a blow dryer in our face because warmer temperatures are on the way.

The journey begins tomorrow…

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I was at the Laughlin River Run a few years ago and one of my riding buddies had his motorcycle (‘98 Fatboy) stolen right out of the security patrolled Hilton Flamingo Hotel (now the renovated Aquarius) parking garage.  This reminded me of not only the painful several hour process in the police station filling out forms, interviews etc., but got me thinking about how chop shops pull off the VIN/Title changes on these “re-manufactured” bikes/engines.

You read about chop shops all the time from the couple running an operation out of a garage to more sophisticated operations that include Outlaw Biker “Club” members.

The Harley-Davidson factory has highly capable and a most legit remanufacturing process for your original power-plant and will retain your original VIN.  It starts with a dealer removing your engine and shipping it to the Factory’s Capitol Drive Facility in Milwaukee. When it reaches the factory, they will unpack and prep it for disassembly and after a couple weeks and couple thousand dollars your “new” motor arrives on your door step.  Specifically related to registration is the VIN on the old crankcase is destroyed, and the customer’s original VIN will be stamped on a new crankcase when they engine is assembled.

The term “rebirthing” covers a range of illegal activities that have one thing in common: to allow a stolen motorcycle, or a motorcycle that has parts that have been stolen, to be passed off and registered as a legitimate vehicle. Organized motorcycle thieves and their accomplices perform a wide range of activities in order to rebirth vehicles.  Under current law, a LEO may seize and take possession of a motorcycle or motorcycle part if the officer has probable cause to believe that the vehicle identification number (VIN) has been removed or damaged in such a way that the motorcycle cannot be identified. 

When buying a used Harley-Davidson, checking the VIN numbers against the title is mandatory. If they don’t match exactly you should think about looking elsewhere. If you have a Harley engine with matching title taken from a crashed or salvaged motorcycle, and put that engine into a new frame, the title might be invalid.

This site has an extensive post on VIN numbers and how not to leave yourself open to unscrupulous people.

For the curious…the Fatboy was never recovered!

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It’s unfortunate, but also a fact that the number of motorcyclists killed on highways has increased.  It’s also a fact that some of these fatalities are the result of drinking and riding.

Motorcycles are about riding in the wind and a sense of freedom.  No one likes a “drink-and-drive” lecture, especially me.  But I suggest we take a moment of pause and reflect on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics.  Recently released information tells a very compelling and sad story.

Motorcycle fatalities now account for 13 percent of all traffic fatalities and, in 2007 alone, the number of motorcycle riders or passengers killed on the nation’s roads increased 6.6 percent over the previous year.   In 2006 twenty-seven (27) percent of all motorcycle operators killed in crashes had BAC levels of .08 or higher.  In the same year an additional seven (7) percent of motorcycle operators who had lower BAC (.01 to .07) also died in traffic crashes.  That’s 34% folks!  Even more concerning is that the target demographic for Harley-Davidson motorcycle sales (30 to 49 years old) have the highest rates of alcohol involvement in fatal crashes.

Houston, we have a problem!  Clearly too many people are riding impaired.  To bring more attention to the issue the NHTSA announced a new advertisement series focused on motorcycle safety and drunken RIDING. They can be viewed here.  NHTSA collects crash statistics annually from 50 states and you can click here to view the 2007 report in its entirety.

Please ride smart and sober!

Poster photo courtesy of NHTSA.

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News flash.  Harley-Davidson announced it is recalling nearly 47,500 vehicles of its 2008 Touring models, because of a fuel-filter shell issue.

The problem with the fuel-filter shells on 2008 models (FLHP, FLHPE, FLHR, FLHRC, FLHRSE4, FLHT, FLHTC, FLHTCU, FLHTCUSE3, FLHTP, FLHX, and FLTR) may lead to cracking of the shell, resulting in loss of fuel pressure and will stall the bike or fail to start.  Harley will replace the defective parts with fuel-filters from Delphi’s powertrain systems division, for free.

Recall photo courtesy of ACC.TV

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Sons of Anarchy 

Sons of Anarchy

I previously blogged about media darlings back in May and wanted to provide an update about FX Networks attempt to immortalize outlaw motorcycle “clubs.”  The “Sons of Anarchy” web site is now live and the FX Network TV show debut’s September 3rd. 

In big budget “Hollywood” fashion the FX Network marketing folks have gone all out on this site.  John Landgraf (President and GM FX, FX HD, Fox Movie Channel and FX Productions) pulled out all the stops to fund this series.  The site is jam packed with information on the show with background on cast & crew, a bike gallery, videos and trailer clips.  They’ve added elements of social media in that viewers can participate via mobile or in a community discussion.  The “board” already has a bunch of comments weighing in on the right to wear colors.  I especially liked how they took liberties with and provided a “Biker Terms” section…I guess to help those who are unfamiliar with the biker culture or vernacular and help out any hang-arounds?!

The show was originally called “Forever Sam Crow”,  however, the litigation folks at Hells Angels caught wind of the pilot from Kurt Sutter (writer & director) who was in a Variety interview and noticed there were references to a specific Northern CA. motorcycle “club”…shortly after the interview hit the newswire they received a cease and desist notice from the same “club”.  Something about copyright infringement so, the name of the TV show and club was changed.

Even the club slogan “Live Sons of Anarchy, Die Sons of Anarchy” rings 1%…

Production poster courtesy FX Networks.

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I’m a week away and unfortunately missed the return of happier days and the “Bronze Fonz” dedication

This week Henry Winkler was in Milwaukee to dedicate a Fonzie statue (located on the west side of the river at the Rock Bottom Brewery) along with Anson Williams (Potsie) who toured the Harley-Davidson museum and even Cindy Williams from Laverne & Shirley stopped by the Miller brewery.  I guess to reminisce about Schotz Brewery, a fictitious analogy to “the beer that made Milwaukee famous”… the Joseph Schlitz brewing company.

The show Happy Days ran for 11 seasons on ABC starting in 1974 and was cancelled in 1984.  It was inspired by the real-life experiences of Thomas Miller who served as exec producer on the series and grew up in Milwaukee.  

A lot has changed in Milwaukee in the past 25 years  The positive aspects of TV for one and the good nature and optimism of life. The Milky Way Drive-In which was the original inspiration of Arnolds Drive-In has long since been demolished and clearly Joanie no longer loves Chachi (Erin Moran and Scott Baio) a testament to how life is now much tougher to live.

For those of you who are too young to remember or too old and can’t get enough of the show here is an online tribute site.

Oh yeah, for those of you curious about which type motorcycle “The Fonz” rode during the 11 seasons…in the early days he rode a custom Harley Knucklehead then drove a variety of other bikes like a Triumph (TR6 Trophy), Triumph 500 cc twin and a BSA.  In real life Henry Winkler was afraid of motorcycles.  In the only scene he was ever taped riding a Triumph he didn’t know how to stop the bike and crashed into two production assistants.

Poster courtesy of the web site.

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S&S Cycle celebrated its 50 year anniversary in June.  Sadly the company announced this week that it would “release” 60 employees through a combination of voluntary separation and layoffs, most of which were made at the engine company’s plant in Viola, Wis., but a couple positions were eliminated at the La Crosse, Wis., location too.  Two weeks ago the company offered up voluntary separation packages that 33 employees accepted, but even that couldn’t stop the decline. 

Much has been written of late on the motorcycle parts business, it’s health and the difficulties facing aftermarket manufactures and their distribution networks.  Clearly motorcycle sales are down and the reduced discretionary spending on parts has Drag Specialties, Bikers Choice, and Custom Chrome all singing the blues while more consumers head to the internet for bargains.  I wonder if it’s really lack of sales or a  deeper industry problem caused by lack of differentiation?  Pick up any parts catalog and everything looks similar with price and availability being the main difference. 

S&S started out with one goal in mind, the vision of founder George Smith-to make all motorcycles go faster.  With that mantra in mind the second and third generations of Smith family have steered the company as a leader in high-performance v-twin components and engines.  The S&S core business of bolt-on, high-performance motors remains strong, but with the bankruptcy asset sale of Global Motorsport Group to Dae-Li USA (a Korean group) and makers of RevTech engines I wonder if this is an early prediction of aftermarket directions?  Nace Panzica (founder of Custom Chrome) is the president of Dae-Li USA.

It’s all about the bottom line numbers…and the register is not ringing.

Register photo courtesy of Flickr/Zizzy.

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MV Agusta - 1078RR

MV Agusta - 1078RR

You’re an executive at Harley-Davidson.  Gas prices are up, rally attendance is down, product costs are increasing, product sales are in free-fall, you’re customer demographic is aging, the economy is stalled and the housing bubble prevents people from fun-filled-equity-financing.

You dig deep into the Harvard Business School memories and determine what to do?  Buy an Italian motorcycle company (MV Agusta Group) for $108M of course!  WTF?  Harley completed the acquisition of MV Agusta in July,  but until recently I couldn’t wrap my head around this or understand the complimentary connection to the beer drinking Milwaukee company vs. the high-flying invitation-only cocktail soiree that MV Agusta typically entertains.

MV Agusta Factory - Varese, Italy

MV Agusta Factory - Varese, Italy

But, I get it now!   It’s about wine and Harley execs jet setting to Milan for private VIP parties to swap race stories with makers of high-end Italian brands in what can only be described as a marketing orgy to portray the ultimate in luxury and style.

Let’s break it down.  Fly into Varese on a direct international flight and land in northern Italy…about an hour from Milan.  Grab a room at the Palace Grand Hotel and catch a glance out the window to see a spectacular view of Lake Varese below.  The Palace Grand Hotel was built on top of a hill overlooking the town and lake below. Built over 100 years ago the structure is magnificent, and also happened to be owned by Claudio Castiglioni who was once president of Cagiva and MV Agusta.

MV Agusta is the Italian national symbol of motorcycling prestige and technology, and represents the ultimate in terms of engineering.  They must have held candlelight vigils after hearing about the Harley merger?   I learned the secret to this merger is the approximately 195 wineries located near the factory!  The Corso di Porta Ticinese is a popular place for young people to hang out and is home to many notable churches.  During the day the Harley execs can do long lunches drinking world-class wine and then visit the many boutiques, ateliers, craftsmen workshops and when the sun goes down the canal area transforms into a colorful nightlife where the Milwaukee “jetsetters” hang-out to be seen in the various clubs.

In my view this acquisition is a train wreck.  The concepts of cross-engineering or having a modern product that is consistent with an aristocratic past…is like walking around with a Girard-Perreguax watch, Trussardi jacket and camo-print cargo shorts that show off cotton white socks in tan nubuck boots.  This unusual sense of cool as a “Trussardi-wearing hipster” will not inject soul into the Harley brand or bring about positive word-of-mouth buzz for either party.  There is significant engineering/product overlap with Buell and someone needs to rehabilitate the overexposed, wine drinking executive staff.

This is a magazine shoot – not real life.


Photo courtesy of MV Agusta web site.

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For those of you not “riding home” the AHDRA Northwest National’s kick-off on August 23rd at the Woodburn Dragstrip.  This is exactly what riders of any championship series are anxiously waiting for…turning up the volume in the valley!

AHDRA is celebrating its 31st year of drag racing.  With 16 different classes ranging from 224-mph Top Fuel bikes to the highly competitive ET class.  AHDRA began as a club racing organization in the late seventies and continued over the years under many different names. All Harley Drag Racing Association (AHDRA) became the official licensed name for the sanction in 1991.

For the second consecutive year Salem Harley-Davidson is sponsoring the event.  The Woodburn dragstrip is located at I-5 to exit 271, then 1.6 miles west on SR219

Poster courtesy of AHDRA web site.

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It’s a major anniversary year and the Northwest started the 105th Anniversary celebration today at Paradise HD in the form of a Luau!

As Portland’s only starting point for the “Ride Home”, Paradise HD combined a 105th celebration with their annual Luau party.  A luau is a Hawaiian feast and it typically features food, poi, kalua pig, poke, beer and some entertainment.

I did a drive-by and enjoyed the “HOG”, the luau show, the beer garden and watching bikers (mostly male) compete to be first in line for the bikini bike wash.  In talking with one of the staff they estimated more than 1500 people managed to cycle through the place for some food.  The day wouldn’t be complete without “colors” and a number of Brother Speed M/C members spent much of the afternoon milling around and enjoying the celebration.

Most notible was the high 80’s and Florida like humidity which is not often seen in the Northwest, but the aroma of food, the hula dancers and Ukulele sounds brought back memories of being in the islands rather than Oregon.  

Hat’s off to the crew at Paradise HD for pulling together a great afternoon!

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