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Archive for July, 2009

RCMP

RCMP

I’m talking 49th parallel, don’t cha know.  Better known as the great white north…. Canada, eh!

I’ll be off line riding for several days and comments will be delayed as I schlep the Harley toward Calgary, you hoser.   I’ve socked some away for a brewski and traffic fines as we try and navigate speeds (1 MPH = 1.61 KPH) and the unusual road rules!  For example did you know it’s illegal to take photos of the RCMP?  One of those interesting “learning’s” from my trip in ‘05 while cruising the Jasper Range on “Barney” the ‘ol Metallic Violet Fatboy.

Our group was pulled over for passing two RV’s who were traveling on the shoulder of the road, up a hill, spewing clouds of diesel smoke and trying to make 30km/h in a 80km/h zone.  Sure our tires crossed over the double yellow!  It was by design as we wanted to give the RV’s plenty of space and there was no on-coming traffic…except way off in the distance a RCMP mounty… who with keen eyes noted our infraction and performed a perfectly executed Starsky & Hutch 4-tire screeching U-turn… as if we were Canada’s Most Wanted.

Barney_CAAdding more insult, the Rodney Rude hoser was insensitive to us foreigners and most dismissive of any explanation.  It was as if simply taking a ride on a too-sunny day meant we had to prove that we were entitled to any civil rights!  Yeah, the RCMP “acted stupidly” and it was a clear case of motorcycle profiling, but we didn’t have the Canadian supreme commander shine a spotlight on the incident!  In fact, the mounty never once smiled which explains the rise in public complaints.

We took our tickets and white working-class motorcycles and motored on, but I was thinking, how appropriate is that Canadian colloquialism of “Harsh my Mellow”… eh!

Look for posts about this trip in about a week… ride safe.

RCMP photo courtesy Edmonton Journal. No disrespect implied or intended with use of CANspeak.

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SportsterI called it – sort of!  I questioned Harley-Davidson’s marketing tactics HERE and HERE in rolling out a guaranteed trade-in value program on its Sportster model.

I disagreed because I just didn’t see the value prop or customer pull this program offered in these difficult economic times.   Especially when you compare it to other “protection” programs (Hyundai) which garnered the public’s attention span and given the massive layoffs across the country.  I did miss the uptick of non-buying people the program brought into the dealer, however.  But, the end result is that people are not going to go for a less-expensive Harley-Davidson model just because it has a guaranteed trade-in value when what they really want to ride is a Street Glide, FatBoy or Trike.  Buy a Sportster because it’s cheaper, ride it for a year and then trade-up, huh?  There were NO provisions for incremental custom modifications or enhancements and I don’t know about you, but I rarely see a bone stock Harley.  This was innovation at it’s worse — a re-do of an ‘80s program and then 6 months after the initial roll-out the marketing department rereleased it again with date changes… sort of a Hollywood sequel mentality… Sportster: Part Deux!

Genius_BarSure I’m being a bit harsh, but it wasn’t a big surprised to read in The Business Journal that Keith Wandell, President and CEO, “threw marketing under the bus”… saying the company mistakenly thought the recession would push consumers toward Harley’s Sportster and other less expensive motorcycles. It also turns out that Harley management stepped up the Sportster production line even though retail sales didn’t materialize.  Now dealers have a glut and plant slow downs are the theme of the day.

Motorcycle enthusiasts will rarely purchase a model they don’t want just because of a discount.  Would it have made a difference had Mr. Wandell come to the CEO position with leathers and at least one motorcycle in his garage prior to re-approving the Sportster program?  I suspect yes, but we’ll never know.  At any rate, this is a fairly significant miscalculation and the pool of talent seems to be limited to people who are used to thinking alike and are doing things the same way.  It’s time to shake things up and catch people’s attention.  My suggestion is to make the Harley buying experience less like going to the DMV and more like going to the Apple “Genius Bar!”

Photo courtesy H-D and Flickr.

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HSC55In June, Honda celebrated the 50th anniversary of its arrival in the U.S.  I posted an article on the event HERE.

Sadly, this week Honda re-confirmed in the Tokyo Nikkei, its intent to indeed wind down the U.S. motorcycle production due to declining demand.  The closure this month ends a 30 year run of motorcycle production in the U.S.  Honda launched U.S. production in 1979 and was the first among Japanese firms to make motorcycles in North America.  The plant in Marysville, Ohio produced the Gold Wing, a heavy-weight class 1,800cc touring bike, and had an annual output capacity of about 70,000 units.

1963_AdHonda launched its first overseas subsidiary in the U.S. on June 11, 1959.  Honda bought an old photo studio in Los Angeles and sent its associates off in Chevy pickups to pitch their bikes to local hardware stores and motorcycle shops.  The lead products were the Dream, Benly, and Super Cub (called the Honda 50, in the U.S.).  An ad campaign and slogan “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” reshaped how Americans looked at motorcycles and by 1968 Honda had become the bestselling motorcycle with sales exceeding a million.

Honda quickly followed up and entered the U.S. car market in 1969, selling a handful of its tiny sedans in Hawaii before launching on the mainland in 1970.  The oil crisis of 1973-1974 helped put the company on the minds of all Americans.  Honda became the first Asian automaker to set up production in the U.S., with the first motorcycle rolling off the Ohio assembly line Sept. 10, 1979, and the first car built Nov. 1, 1982.  In 1988 Honda began exporting the U.S.-built Accord to Japan ending any debate as to doubts as to whether quality standards could be maintained.

We’ve witness the American motorcycle market shrink to 1.32 million units in 2008, down almost 30% from a peak of 1.79 million units in 2005. Honda’s Q1’09 net income plummeted 95% and motorcycle/ATV units were down 32% from a year ago.  We’ve seen dismal financial results from Harley-Davidson too.

Affordability is a strong theme with motorcycle manufactures these days and Honda seems to prosper in difficult times.  They’ve concluded that the advantages of local motorcycle production have faded and will now export products from Japan to the U.S. market instead.  Despite the closure, its worldwide motorcycle business is fairly solid and they are boosting production in regions where demand is growing, mainly in Asia.

Photo’s courtesy of Honda archives.

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CVO_Road_GlideHarley-Davidson announced the recall of 1,759 CVO Road Glides (FLTRSE3) equipped with the Blade rear wheel accessory kits.

The problem is some of the wheels underwent a secondary heat treatment process which may have caused a crack in the wheel and may result in wheel failure.  Wheel failure is very serious and could result in injury or death of the rider.

The NHTSA Campaign Number is: 09V267000 and the recall was expected to start on or before July 20th.  Dealers are being ask to remove the real wheel and inspect the manufactures code.  Any wheel that underwent a secondary heat treatment process are to be replaced free of charge.  Wheels that do not have the suspect code will be reinstalled.

Owners can contact their local dealer or H-D directly at: 414.343.4056  or the NHTSA.

Photo courtesy of H-D and Kevin Wong.

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H-D 2010 Product Launch

H-D 2010 Product Launch

Across six model platforms Harley-Davidson introduced nine new motorcycle models over the weekend as part of the 2010 product line launch.  Although rumors circulated about water–cooled touring models none rolled out.  H-D claimed this to be the most expansive new-product introduction in the history of the motor company.   Highlights are:

  • The Electra Glide® Ultra Limited received a performance upgrade of a Twin Cam 103™ engine, and features standard equipment items previously offered only as accessories on regular-production Harley-Davidson Touring models.
  • The Road Glide® Custom has a slammed suspension, 18-inch front wheel and a new 2-into-1 exhaust system.
  • The Wide Glide® returns as an all-new Dyna® model done in old-school chopper style, with black laced wheels, a chopped rear fender, black “wire” sissy bar, 2-1-2 Tommy Gun exhaust and an optional flame paint scheme.
  • The Street Glide® Trike brings new styling to the 3-wheel category.
  • The Street Glide® gets updates that include a larger front wheel, slimmed-down exhaust, and a new tail light assembly.
  • Custom Vehicle Operations™ (CVO™) introduced the CVO Softail® Convertible, a CVO Street Glide, a CVO Ultra Classic® Electra Glide® and CVO Fat Bob® models are refreshed for 2010.

There were a number of additional paint refreshes and styling schemes introduced.  A good write-up on the CVO’s is HERE by Susan Carpenter of LATimes.   You can visit Harley-Davidson’s Web site for more info on the new models.

Photo’s courtesy of H-D.

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coupleWe’ve all made that poking fun comment… typically said to couples pawing at each other, engaged in heavy-duty lip smack and the lust scene makes you feel uncomfortable (or jealous).

Good news!   Best Western and Harley-Davidson have joined together to facilitate the intimate act!  The two companies announced they have extended their exclusive partnership to reward motorcycle riders with “enhanced” travel benefits.  Whether you’re about the journey or the destination – I’m talking motorcycle rides now – Best Western’s are all along America’s scenic roads, and cater to the unique travel needs of motorcycle enthusiasts.

Harley-Davidson owners can register for Best Western Ride Rewards HERE or calling 1-888-BW2BIKE.  Upon registering there is an assortment of rewards, amenities and status upgrades.  Check the site for qualifying details.  Our posse will often stay at a Best Western property because they’re “rider-friendly,” and we have access to a host of amenities, such as complimentary wipe-down rags.  Some offer access to a washing station and many have reserved parking spaces which makes unloading easier.

BW_AwardsAnd speaking of rides, if you’ve not used the H-D Ride Planner to help map out a ride I suggest giving it a go.  Due to the exclusive partnership with H-D the tool makes it easy to book a stay at a Best Western property as the locations are embedded into the trip planner.  However, my experience is the tool is U.S. centric and doesn’t provide much help for trips north of the border.  Canadian travel will require use of Google Maps or MapQuest.  In addition, Best Western’s are limited in the British Columbia province.

Photo courtesy Best Western and Flickr.

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Hwy 97 near Shaniko, OR

Hwy 97 near Shaniko, OR

Like most riders, I’ve tried on every type of jacket I could get my hands on over the years. Deciding what to wear is a combination of the riders personality, fashion, who they ride with and for some it’s also about motorcycle safety.

My primary riding jacket is a Harley-Davidson “Rocker” classic with a fold back-collar, a snap-removable thermal insulation lining along with an assortment of pockets and zippered sleeves.  The style was made famous before my time in the “Brando” days of The Wild One, and more currently with the Ramones who played a lot of clubs.  That H-D Rocker jacket is one of the best I’ve ever owned.  It is exceptionally comfortable and has endured more than a decade of serious road use proving to be most reliable.

FXRG Perforated Leather Jacket - Front

FXRG Perforated Leather Jacket - Front

Harley-Davidson is known for quality bike clothing and recently I had an opportunity (thanks Laura!) to evaluate one of their new FXRG® Perforated Leather Jackets.  I’ve been thinking about a lighter weight (2-season) riding jacket and I thought how timely!   Historically I’ve shied away from the Motocross or Motorad style jackets which are popular in sport bike circles, but now I would have a chance to try one out.  When it comes to motorcycle garments I’ve defaulted toward the old-school functional vs. new technology.  That isn’t to say I’m so arrogant as to think there is nothing over leather or there are no other reputable manufactures who can build quality jackets.   There are many options, but for me it’s difficult to find an “off the rack” quality leather garment which can accommodate both a fit that’s right for riding and walking around vendor booths on a cool autumn day.

FXRG Perforated Leather Jacket - Back

FXRG Perforated Leather Jacket - Back

The Marketing Stats: the FXRG® Perforated Leather Jacket is designed to enhance comfort and rider performance. It has a heat and sunlight deflecting diamond plate pattern that supposedly deflects up to 80% of sunlight allowing the rider to stay cooler longer. The jacket has a reinforced Cordura® mesh backing for additional durability and abrasion resistance.  It also includes a fixed CoolMax® lining and a removable, windproof liner that features Gore-Tex® Windstopper® technology.  It also has removable, CE-approved lightweight body armor at the elbows, shoulders, and back. The jacket has a Mandarin collar, YKK® Finguard® front zipper with a newly designed zipper pull and a removable kidney belt. It has pre-curved sleeves with zipper cuffs, two zipper hand-warmer pockets and an assortment of interior pockets.  For added safety there is the 3M™ Scotchlite™ Reflective Material piping and the jacket comes with a 5-year warranty.

FXRG - Mandarin Collar

FXRG - Mandarin Collar

My Initial Reaction: FXRG® stands for “Functional Riding Gear” and the jacket certainly fulfills that promise.  The logo branding is understated by design which likely broadens the appeal beyond H-D loyalists.  My reaction in removing it from the shipping box was the weight — its heavier than I anticipated for a summer jacket, but once I removed a couple of optional items it was less of an issue.  The jacket has a semi-tailored fit.  It’s not tight, but not baggy or does it have a restrictive feel.  I was impressed by the quality of the leather as it is softer than my Rocker.  The jacket comes with a combination of linings designed to be windproof and to stabilize temperatures across a range of riding conditions.  According to H-D the lining has “membranes” or pores which open as the level of body moisture rises.  The wicking properties of the lining help keep the body cool in the summer months and during cold weather the membrane condenses to retain the heat.  The northwest has been under a heat advisory for several days and “comfort” is relative when the temperature is in the 90’s!  It was a bit of a mental challenge to put on a jacket being a t-shirt and vest person.  I can say that my pools of sweat were kept to a minimum after reaching 35-40 mph.  The large perforated panels or mesh design allowed the air to freely flow through the jacket and cool me down.

FXRG - Understated Branding

FXRG - Understated Branding

In addition I found the jacket packed with cool and useful features. The Kidney Belt provided additional back support and I liked that it could be easily removed.  The interior pocket system included two zipper pockets, a cargo pocket, Velcro-closure cell-phone pocket, and my fav was the eyewear pocket with lens wipe.  Sweet!  My iPhone was a snug fit with the rubber protective cover, and the Velcro-closure headphone cable “routing tab” was a nice touch.   An indicator of the attention to detail that was taken in the design of the jacket.  The Mandarin collar may take time getting use too.  It is short and does not fold over.  When riding with the jacket partially unzipped, the collar (does have a soft lining) had a tendency to rub or interfere with the bottom of my helmet or chin strap.  Not a deal breaker, but it was noticeable compared to a collar style jacket.  I’m planning to wear this jacket during an upcoming Canadian Rockies trip and will have a chance to evaluate it across a broader spectrum of weather conditions.  I’ll update the post with findings later in August.

As a crusty cynic I was impressed with the comfort and functionality of this jacket.  Before you conclude that I’ve been somehow anesthetized by H-D Kool-Aid, I suggest you take the time and ride down to your local dealer and try one on for yourself.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

More jacket information HERE.  Product Code: 98521-09VM — MSRP: $625-$645 depending on size — Typical internet pricing: $499.95

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