Archive for June, 2009

Buddy Miller

Buddy Miller

Conventional wisdom is you build a star through hits.  Be it “hits” with motorcycle models or music songs.

These days the media is busy parading the faces of barely pubescent “artists” in front of the non-caring public while true musicians are doing what they’ve always done.  Play!

Hey, there’s a concept… perfecting your craft until their so great people become “infected” when they listen to that magical concoction of musical sound which penetrates your body.  We can debate through the night what’s good intellectually, but when someone starts to play and they wring out a good feeling from their guitar, like being in a bar way past midnight wanting the evening to never end because tomorrow is drudgery…. you get a feel good smile on our face.

That’s what Buddy Miller’s music is about.  Defined by the music “machine” as country, yet that’s not the only format his music belongs.  He isn’t good-looking enough for a fashion spread in “GQ” or a multi-page foldout in “Rolling Stone”.  Buddy Miller is 56 years old.  He’s a heart attack survivor and like many people in their mid-life he’s viewed as being on the downhill slide, but he’s just starting to hit his stride!  He didn’t give up or quit and go into his daddy’s business.  Instead he focused on the music.  Recording it and playing it live.  As a craftsman he goes into the studio when inspired vs. when label’s want to sell more and lay’s down something truly great.  I’m a fan.

What’s my point, you ask?   It involves motorcycles and is specific to Buddy Miller’s aluminum neck electric guitar.  Made in Italy it’s a 1960’s vintage called a “Davoli.” You can see/hear about his guitar HERE or read more information at Vintage Guitar.

wandreBriefly it all started with Wandré Pioli who began designing and building guitars in the mid-50’s.  At some point during those early years, Wandré hooked up with Athos Davoli, whose company at the time was part of a conglomerate known as Radio Elettromeccanica Krundaal, located in Parma, Italy. The two worked on developing the electronics that eventually appeared in Wandré guitars.  As a pioneering guitar designer, Wandré was attracted early on to aluminum and it’s structural material.   As a motorcycle enthusiast he restored motorcycles and was often seen riding the Italian countryside.  His interest in motorcycles was reflected in the design and workmanship of his guitar vibrato system. Either a triangular or diamond-shaped affair was attached to the aluminum core and faced outward with a cast metal “W”… it looked very much like a motorcycle medallion of the day.  However, most of the guitar production used pickups made by the Athos Davoli company. These were large, trapezoid-shaped pickups with stamped metal covers that said “Davoli/Made In Italy.” The Davoli pickup cover imprint was often the only identification found on Wandré guitars, contributing to the misinformation that they are “Davoli” guitars.

It seems much of life is drudgery.  We worry too much and it’s why we’re searching for gems to get us through.  And when we find one, we tell everybody we know.  So, here is a shout out to the motorcycle loving master craftsman Wandré and his eccentric guitar design.  And to finding a real gem playing that guitar is Buddy Miller and a brilliant song.

Photo courtesy of Michael Wilson.

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mil_mile_certToday is the Million Mile Monday ride.

H.O.G. members around the world ride together for the purpose of logging 5 million miles in a 24 hour period.

Why?  Because they can!!

So, to support the ride call I took some extra time today and rode beyond any normal commute to work.  The weather at lunch was a perfect clear-blue-sky,  in the mid 70’s with a light on-shore breeze from the pacific ocean.  It doesn’t get any better than this…unless it’s a day off and work issues are a distant memory.  And I sure thought about a sick day…

I think the reality of the second anniversary of the Million Mile Monday will be how many miles beyond the 5M target will H.O.G. members go?  I registered my 57 miles and got the certificate.

Photo courtesy of H-D/H.O.G

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MJacksonHe wanted acceptance and to be so incredibly good that he couldn’t be denied.

Of course I’m talking about Michael Jackson.  A child star turned “King of Pop” who with Quincy Jones released a dance floor epic when disco was supposedly dead.  Together they concocted a synthesis of rock and beats that would not be denied.  Then there was the MTV television “Thriller” moment.  There’s only before and after.  Michael Jackson’s moonwalk was one of those events.  Like the moon landing of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

And speaking of the moonscapes, I remember many years ago thinking how odd while watching a clay-mation video which included a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and a MJ moon-walking rabbit called Speed Demon.  Clearly a head of its time.   Then last April the cash-strapped artist tried to have an array of treasures from his Neverland Ranch get auctioned, including his 2001 Harley-Davidson Touring Motorcycle which was outfitted as a police cruiser complete with lights and siren.

Now it’s over and the circus begins.  It’s been like a sad movie unspooling on the floor.  We can all debate the low points.  For me it started with plastic surgery and it ended with court cases.  And when Michael tried to explain, when he showed up in court in his pajamas, I tuned out and didn’t want to listen.   I didn’t give him much of a break.  The public no longer treats you human, as an equal, once you break through to stardom-phere.  I’m sure it got confusing and we watched his retreat.

I think we’ve lost something with the passing of Michael Jackson.  May he RIP.

Photo courtesy of Julien Auctions and MJ Productions.

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Butt Rider Award

Butt Rider Award

Before the final rider had packed up the saddlebags and rumbled out of Hells Canyon a couple weeks ago the local press were reporting on the arrests and accident stats.

Fortunately there were no fatalities, but several riders were severely injured and a few have a long recovery ahead of them.  I hope for the best!

As background, there were about 5,000 riders who converged on the surrounding area of Baker City.  I’ve already reported how there were widespread thunderstorms with heavy rain alternated with sunshine throughout the weekend.  There were two rally-related arrests which resulted from an intoxicated rider trying to move his motorcycle from the street lineup and crashed into 3 other motorcycles.  Yeah, that would aggravate me too!  George Twardus (Portland) was arrested for drunk driving.  Compounding that situation was one of his new friends from Baker City who decided to sneak off with the motorcycle and was arrested for unlawful use of a motorcycle and tampering with evidence. According to the reports police showed significant restraint as the riding group with Mr. Tawardus were acting out and expressing their freedom of speech.  I have dedicated a “Butt Rider” award to them!  In addition, there were a couple of other local residents arrested over the weekend for fighting outside a bar, but it was described by Police Chief Lohner as just part of a typical Saturday night in Baker City, and had nothing to do with the rally.

Baker City had 13 calls related to the rally, including eight motorcycle crashes.  The weather likely contributed to some of the motorcycle crashes, but rider skills certainly had a part too.  Four of the injured were flown out either by helicopter or plane.  In addition, there were a couple of motorcycle accidents reported in the Richland area including the hit and run accident with Rick Meigs which I reported on previously.  It turns out that this year’s rally was comparable to the number of accidents in 2007, but much worse than 2008.

And speaking of “Butt Rider” awards… as a visitor to eastern Oregon, I have a couple observations to pass along:

  1. Uninvited Guests — If a group of 4-6 riders are clearly in a group together then other riders not part of that group shouldn’t cut in to ride as if you’ve found your long lost riding buddies.  Often without warning we saw people dart/cut into our group vs. go on around – even with plenty of passing space.  Sure some riders were looking to pass and wanted to make sure there was clearance, but others cut in and behaved as if they planned to join the group?!  I know the skills of our riding group, but I wouldn’t know if the “cutter” has been riding motorcycles for 30 years, or 13 minutes — who knows and that concerns me.  I’m more than okay in sharing the roadways, but there was some stupidity being displayed and on several occasions we were forced to brake heavy to make way.
  2. Secret Motorcycle Wave — To me it is amazing to see folks waving or trying to wave at all the fellow riders when there is a big rally in an area.  And I’m not talking about the two-finger flip or the helmet nod, but the left hand high in the air “Hi Mom, I’m so excited to be out here and one of the gang” type waves!  Great way to avoid accidents on wet S-curves with 100’s of participants on the road.  Not!
  3. Hunting Season – is it me or is it you?  It must have been the time of year as I observed several riders (namely Idaho plates) displaying holstered firearms for all to see.  Sure, Oregon has a rich hunting heritage, but packing “heat” at a motorcycle rally should not be encouraged and certainly does nothing to promote conversation or relationship building.  I’m not anti-gun and own firearms like many of you.  I treat all firearms as if they are loaded and these guys were twitchy.  I don’t know these characters or what the potential target was and felt as though I should put on a blaze orange vest so as to not be confused with any live animal!

I’m of the viewpoint that a motorcycle rally has a couple of purposes beyond vendor booths and the camaraderie of enjoying wind in your face with friends  I’m sure there are others, but one is to raise awareness with the general public, that they are sharing the roadways with motorcycles.  Another might be to promote motorcycle safe riding practices and that as a large loosely aligned group of motorcycle enthusiasts, we can and are well behaved.  Some more than others I suppose…

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve most likely heard of Twitter.

Several of the major news organizations like CNN, ABC etc., are using social media tools and if you’ve followed updates over the last week on the Iran election, Twitter has been singled out as a major cyber-sympathizer source to help dodge government censorship.

I’ve had a number of people ask me about Twitter, why it matters and why use it.  To be candid I was slow in adopting the technology for the blog, because I wasn’t sure of the time commitment and the whole “life casting” gig wasn’t all that interesting to me.  However, over the last 6 months I have put some energy into understanding the technology and have been somewhat consistent in updating.  I find it curious that for all of its social media self-promotion and skills, Harley-Davidson corporate doesn’t effectively use the Twitter tool.   A few dealers are trying it and I’ve provided a few thoughts/suggestions below on how bloggers or H-D can leverage and improve relationships with their core audience.

First the what:  Twitter is a “microblogging” tool (it’s technical infrastructure is sometimes referred to as a “platform”) that lets people post short (140 character) messages, called “tweets” to the Web. Twitter exists somewhere in the space between RSS, chat, e-mail (publically viewable), blogs, and forums.

Next is to make sure you’re current on the vernacular of the technology or Twitter “language” — a “tweet” is a Twitter post.  Once you post your “tweet” onto the Twittersphere, users who elect to “follow” you will be updated with your new pearl of wisdom that you just posted.  The best way to really understand Twitter is to sign up for it and just start playing with it. Go to Twitter and create a twitter account.  If you run a blog my suggestion is to make sure and take the time to create a customized or branded profile. Include links to your site or let’s say if you’re a motorcycle dealer include links to your e-commerce or dealership website. Twitter’s help site, will provide an understanding of all that you can do with it.

For example one AZ-based motorcycle dealer has tasked the community relationship manager with the job of posting and managing followers.  Next is to publicize your Twitter ID (mine is macrant) and encourage people who visit your blog or your motorcycle shop/web site to sign up for Twitter and follow you.   I’ve seen folks put Twitter ID on printed receipts and business cards as well as have a “Follow Us” link to their website or in e-mail marketing.  The point is that Twitter is a tool through which subscribers can further reach their audiences, real-time.  Your followers can hear and express thought leadership, broadcast their messages, connect to influencers in the industry both on their desktop and via mobile devices.

As you surf Twitter you’ll note the @ symbol in tweets. This is a method for referencing or replying to another Twitter user.  Mine is @macrant.  Another symbol you will see is #.   This is a trick that folks use to tag or categorize post content. Example: #harley, #motorcycle or #harley-davidson.   Another convention you’ll see is RT or ReTweet. If you’ve read something interesting and want others to view it, you RT it.  For example this would look like: RT @macrant “Posted a great article for #harley fans on how to leverage #twitter.”

Is Twitter for everyone?  No.  There’s a lot of crap people need to wade through on the internet.  But, as an emerging platform with a lot of technical infrastructure it’s another opportunity to build relationships and build a media-savvy blog or brand. To get more out of it I suggest you use some of the Twitter clients. I use Nambu, but two other widely used Twitter clients are Twhirl and Tweetdeck.  These apps allow you to view or analyze what is called real-time twit-streams.  These are the Twitter posts in real time.  A couple other apps you may want to investigate is Twist to track trends or keywords and Twitscoop to see which terms are getting more views or being reference in the Twittersphere.  In addition there is an easy-to-use image tool: Twitpic that lets you post pictures through Twitter.

Because you are limited to 140 characters in a post, it’s hard to enter long urls when you want to direct people to a certain site or page. The solution is to use a URL-shortening service. One service is TinyURL which is popular, but there are many more which you can view at: http://tinyurl.com/yp8cba/ There’s even a user-generated directory at WeFollow where you simply tweet to @wefollow with 3 different categories to get listed.

Now the question is how can I use this to promote my blog or make more $$$ in my motorcycle shop? You can post tweets to your blog or other relevant information which may help drive traffic.  On the dealer e-commerce side, you can tweet to your followers when you add new, cool products to your website which will help drive traffic and potentially sales.   As a motorcycle dealer you could run RT-based contests. Tell people that if they re-tweet a product detail page or blog post they have a chance to win a prize.  You can follow this link http://tinyurl.com/cg8euq/ for a Google search on “re-tweet contests” to get some ideas. You can publicize Web discounts or in-store specials that are good with a code that you tweet. This gives people motivation to follow you.

As a blogger you’ll want to build a social media ecosystem with Twitter that points people to your blog posts, and a blog link pointing people to your Twitter ID.  When people follow or RT you, it’s protocol to thank them via a direct message or publicly via an @reply. If relevant, don’t forget to follow them back.  It’s important to do frequent searches on Twitter for your blog or company name to keep track of what people are saying about you or the company.  Here are 10 key points to help get you started:

  1. Pushy sales can make people avoid you. You’re using Twitter to build relationships with an audience, so be personal and genuine.
  2. Try a personal account and get familiar with it before jumping in on your blog or for a business.
  3. Select a Twitter username/ID that is catchy and matches your blog “brand” or company.
  4. Twitter needs to be used regularly to maintain interest across the community.
  5. Profile customization will support your blog brand or company.
  6. Note to H-D Dealer’s  — try enticing people to follow you with Twitter-only deals.
  7. Stay up-to-date with blog/website analytics to measure traffic from Twitter and gauge its effectiveness.
  8. Publicize your Twitter ID everywhere: On posters, flyers, business cards, e-mails, forum signatures, etc.
  9. Make sure you follow the manufactures, motorcycle racers and other personalities that matter to your blog/business and your audience.
  10. Post tweets to products and categories to help build traffic.

There you have it.  I hope the information was helpful.

If you’re the type of person who feel great “tweets” only come from birds after motorcycle riding and camping in the great outdoors then you’re an unlikely candidate for Twitter.  However, if you’re curious about driving blog or dealer traffic then I invite you to follow me on twitter @macrant and/or try it.

Finally it’s memo to H-D time:  step up the Twitter activity to reach out to your core audience and engage people in a deeper conversation.

Photo courtesy of Twitter.

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BarometerMy how things change.

A year ago with gas prices jacked to the $4.00 a gallon level scooter sales exploded.  Especially the 51 cc-to-155cc category as it was a break out year.  Dealers over ordered and now inventories are high.  2009 predictions seem to indicated the scooter party is over.

And speaking of party over… That “hissing sound” from UBS analyst, Robin M. Farley was the air deflating the motorcycle maker’s tires… i.e. earnings and stock price when she stated that Harley-Davidson’s spring sales have hit a wall.  Sales plummeted 35% in April/May compared to a year ago in this critical time of the year.  UBS isn’t without its own set of issues though.  Late last year Sr. Executive Raoul Weil, head of wealth management division was indicted for helping 20,000 clients conceal assets and avoid paying taxes so, one has to keep a wary eye on these so-called banking/finance veterans!

I’m sure the skillful press and public relation folks at H-D are digesting all of this and taking some of Robert S. McNamara (Secretary of Defense during Vietnam War) advice… “Never answer the question they ask; only answer the question you want to talk about.” It’s the language of sales and selling on message.  It feels like we’ve been mugged and drugged by marketing to the point we should question any manufactures trustworthiness.  But, that’s me.

Adding insult to injury, Harley along with other motorcycle manufactures can’t catch a break by the feds and were excluded from the ‘Cash for Clunkers’ bill.  The bill looks to favor owners of pickups and SUVs…just what Detroit needs to unload those overstuffed lots.  Of course the new vehicle needs to be more fuel-efficient (2 MPG) than their old guzzler to receive the $3500 credit/coupon and if you can find something that is 5 MPG higher you’ll get $4500 credit.

Now about McNamara…

Photo courtesy Wikispaces.  Full Disclosure: Editor has no investment in H-D stock.

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Carl (CJ) Hanlon

Carl (CJ) Hanlon

I’m talking motorcycles not the sought-out customizers that make – “grills” – you know it as mouth bling or Rapper Grillz…i.e. gold teeth!   Sometimes referred to as plates, shines or caps that glitter with diamonds on a person’s upper teeth.

But I’ve digressed… a couple weeks ago I posted an article about Hispanic Trends at H-D and received several comments.  One in particular which was well written and concise came from Carl (CJ) Hanlon of Orlando, FL-based Guilty Customs.  I made a mental note to do more research when I had time on the company and the person behind the custom choppers.

Previously an ex-banker and marketing exec at Disney, CJ spends time these days building affordable custom bikes .  I like their work which is artistic yet not overdone and functional everywhere you look.  CJ doesn’t describe himself as a “master builder” or does he make comparisons with the industry icons, but claims to be just a “Joe builder” with a lot of passion for the industry, a skillful team and a ‘dab’ of talent.

Similar to how music sounds different in everyone’s ears, I’m of the viewpoint that bike style – design, colors and proportions – the overall looks — is a personal matter and is what influenced the custom scene in the first place.  I’m not a fan of $100K+ “theme” bikes from OCC that the corporate world can’t seem to buy enough.  But, good for them as I need something to watch during summer re-runs.  Personally I like old school bobbers that are not overweight or over-hyped, but to each his own.

According to the Motorcycle Industry Council the top 7 commercial bike builders accounted for 91% of all cycles sold in the U.S.  It’s no wonder that today’s custom builders either suffer the fate of a dying breed on one end of the spectrum or go the corporate empire of cookie cutter “choppers” who try and saturate the market on the other end.  Maintaining a profitable middle-ground looks to be a challenge which few seem to achieve.  However, in spite of the economy, Guilty Customs has increased their bike builds.  No assembly line here and the customs are meant to be ridden, not sit in a showroom.

I can only wish for a custom at this point since I’m heavily invested in the Road King, but if and when I make a chopper commit I’ll be considering Guilty Customs.  Keep up the great work CJ.

Photo courtesy of PRWeb and CJ Hanlon.

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xtreme-pacsFor some there are not many things that get better than a scenic motorcycle ride with the added enjoyment of pulling off the tarmac to overnight under the stars.

I received several emails in regards to my outdoor experience during a recent trip to the Hells Canyon Rally.  I’m talking camping here and getting back to nature.  Touring motorcycles offer a lot in the way of storage because you’ll need a good tent, a better sleeping bag, an air-mat and a “butt buddy” i.e. chair!  But before you embark on that next camping trip you’ll have to decide what is or isn’t important to take because space is always a premium.

As I noted in the Hells Canyon post I went down the path of piece parting over a few years to fulfill the requirements of camping.   But, I came across an all-in-one system that looks like a good alternative for those looking for a one-stop complete package.  Made by Napier, it’s called the Sportz X-Treme PAC. It’s a complete camping package designed with everything you need (except air-mat) for a “comfortable” stay in the outdoors. A very compact 3 season package which includes tent, full rain fly, 2 stools, 2 sleeping bags and a carrying bag which can be easily attached to a motorcycle.  For about $250.00 it features a 7.5’ x 6.5’ tent which sleeps two people; a full tape seamed rain fly with side extensions; 2 heavy duty stools and 2 mummy sleeping bags. All of the items pack into the carrying bag.  They also make a one-person version which will save you $100.00 when you heed the call of the open road and nature.  The product has been shipping more than 3 years and there are a number of product reviews and blogs that have covered the usage.  You’ll be hard pressed to find anything other than positive ratings.

Another bit of advice from your motor-camper extraordinaire… before entering your portable nylon estate I suggest having a plan.  Are you taking all your stuff and storing it in the tent or just the items you’ll need for the morning.  For example storing your helmet in the tent will avoid moisture and critters accumulating.

Photo courtesy of Napier.

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Honda_LALast week the 50th celebration of American Honda Motor Company went largely unnoticed.

It was fifty years ago in a small storefront in Los Angeles that the company opened its first U.S. based operation selling the step-through Honda 50 and developing the tag line “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.”  It would be 20 years later, but Honda started production of motorcycles in a U.S. based production facility (Marysville, Ohio) in 1979.  Today the company employs over 27K in the U.S. in the design of automobiles, motorcycles, ATV’s, water crafts and power equipment.  They operate ten U.S. manufacturing plants along with 14 R&D facilities.  June also marks fifty years of Honda racing activities.  The 1959 Isle of Man TT was the first entry of a Japanese team.

It’s ironic given that 2009 is an important and historic year for the motor company that it would find it an ideal time to enter the “chopper” segment while at the same time withdraw from the U.S. road racing activities, end motorcycle production at its Marysville plant, cancel the Honda Hoot motorcycle rally and cease production of the ATV’s and watercrafts at the South Carolina manufacturing plant for 3 months.

True times are difficult, but the companies network of U.S. parts suppliers comprises 545 companies in 34 states with annual purchases over $17.5 Billion last year.  The company sold 320K units in North America in the last fiscal year down 133K from the year prior.

Since the day I started trying to convince my mom motorcycles are good and later on being introduced to the CT-70 “Mini Trail” and the hours of riding… I’ve always had a certain level of fondness of Honda and owned my fair share of these high quality motorcycles.

Congrats on 50 years!

Photo courtesy Honda web site.

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