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Archive for June, 2011

They’ve launched!  Well sort of…

H-D announced a 2012 product launch on their web site HERE.

What could be described as a new “slow drip” marketing campaign vs. previous years where it was a rolling thunder.  Today they drip, drip, dripped 15 new models (Touring, Trike (U.S. only) and Sportster) onto dealers.  Additional 2012 models will be announced on July 20th at the H-D summer dealer meeting in Anaheim, CA.

These new 2012 products will go on sale immediately in an effort to capture consumer mind share/interest and provide consumers the newest ride/model for the largest block of time in the riding season.  While that is true I can’t help but think the accelerated shipment of these 2012 models to dealers will get people to the showroom and allows the dealer to capitalize on the peak summer selling season.  Either way if you’re in the motorcycle market its cool to see them launch a month early!

I’ll do a deeper scan on feature/enhancements for a later blog post, but on the surface it looks like only minor adjustments.  On the Touring models all are powered by the 103 cu in with automatic compression release (ACR) and an integrated oil cooler.  Looks like the 96 cu in goes out with little fan fare.  There are 6 new colors or color combinations among the various paint choices.  There is also reference to a new “tubeless” chrome laced wheel option for ease of tire replacement and repair.

There were 6 Sportster models launched.  H-D is using the H-D1™ Bike Builder factory customization process for those who want more control on the customization direct from the factory.  There was a reference to new Michelin Scorcher tires on all Sportster models which have been tested and matched to the motorcycle.  There are 7 new color options and minor tank graphic changes.

Worth a ride into the dealer?  Yeah, I need to pick up some synthetic oil and will check it out any deals on the 2011 model close out.

UPDATE: July 20, 2011 – Got a text this morning from Anaheim, CA., where the annual dealer rollout of new models is in process with the typical business training.  All the new 2012 models are online now.  The “SwitchBack” model is HERE. The CVO’s have new color combinations and H-D dropped the CVO Road Glide Ultra and replaced it with the CVO Road Glide Custom.  Very good looking motorcycle.  The CVO Street Glide gets another 100W power amp to drive 8-speakers.  Two of which are located in the touring bag/lids.  Talk about a “100W Smile”…

UPDATE: July 25, 2011 – Brief update/post on the models and various changes HERE.

Photo courtesy of H-D.

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Jobless benefit seekers are up in the U.S. and new home sales have fallen, again.  It’s a persistent drum beat of bad news about the economic recovery.  Even the Federal Reserve Chairman, Bernanke has acknowledge that many factors are weighing down the U.S. economy and they don’t have an answer.  Nothing new… just another day of the same ‘ol same.

But, it’s time to ignore all that because today is the day for the annual H.O.G. Million Mile Monday (MMM) ride.  It’s time for a smile.

Today riders from around the world will ride in a quest to log millions of miles together.  So ride your motorcycle to work or lunch or just take off and fill the day up with the wind in your face.  Hey we all need a mental health day now and then, right?

The MMM website has more information HERE.  It’s not too late to participate today so take the time to ride today because every mile counts.

UPDATE: June 29 2011 – The Worldwide mileage count exceeded 43M miles.  Click HERE to see the actual results.

Photo courtesy of H-D.

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Thermal factors such as air temperature, radiant temperature, air velocity and humidity all contribute to our riding comfort.   Or some would say DIS-comfort?!

My trip in April through the Willamette and Modoc National Forest to Laughlin and then most recently the ride to the Hells Canyon Rally reminded me how stubbornly, Mother Nature refuses us the ability to control these thermal factors.

During those trips, I was plugged in for multiple hours during the day to combat the rain/cold weather and it got me to thinking about my H-D heated clothing.  I’ll do this on occasion as I meander along the highway listening to the engine noise as a musical backdrop.

I bought my current heated vest and gloves back in 2000 after returning home from a bitter cold trip to Reno.  It was during Street Vibrations and it snowed on the surrounding hills in late September.   I recall leaving Reno wearing multiple pairs of socks, long-sleeve t-shirts, handkerchief around the face and ski gloves and it wasn’t enough. Snow was falling on the ground in Susanville and by the time I arrived in Grants Pass I was nearly frozen.  Vowing to never let that happen again I immediately went out and bought the gear for future trips.  I always pack it on the bike if I think the weather has a chance of being dicey where I’m going.

It’s well known that when colder outside temperatures occur, the nervous system restricts blood flow to the extremities to maintain the body’s core temperatures. The toes and the fingers quickly become uncomfortably cold.  Other factors like wind chill aggravate the situation even more. Also, the presence of moisture increases thermal transfer significantly and causes heat to escape more rapidly and cold to penetrate faster.

Clearly the type of clothing we wear, the physical activity levels and individual physiology are elements of thermal comfort we can control.  So, I started wondering… did H-D design and make this gear or was it outsourced.  My search led me to Gerbing’s heated clothing, which is the sole supplier of Harley-Davidson heated gear.

Back in the 1970’s Gordon Gerbing owned a small machine shop just south of Seattle that primarily produced parts for Boeing airplanes. Several of his employees rode motorcycles to work all year, even through the Seattle winter chill and dampness. Gordon made note of their discomfort when employees arrived at work after a cold morning’s winter ride and he decided to look for a way to keep the riders warm. He devised a way to “wire up” motorcycle clothing with heating pads and connect the pads to the bike’s electrical system.

Over the years Jeff and Wendy Gerbing assumed management of the business and it’s a family affair.  As the technology improved they won more deals and then in 1999, Harley-Davidson selected Gerbing’s to be the sole supplier of Harley-Davidson label heated clothing.  Basically the wire inside the garment consists of bundles of stainless steel strands, twisted and wrapped in a thin Teflon-derived coating. They alter the number of these strands in each wire to custom-tune the amount of heat. By using these wires either in a heating pad, in a woven pattern or in a ribbon matrix they can further tune how the heat is delivered to the body.

In the fall of 2008 Gerbing’s moved into a new 30,000 sq ft facility located in Tumwater, WA., and this year they announced plans to expand into North Carolina (Stoneville) with a new plant that will create 158 jobs by 2015.  They will open an 88,000-square-foot facility and the company plans to invest more than $1.2 million in building upgrades and equipment with help from state, county and local incentives.

These days Gerbing’s clothing is not only popular with motorcyclists but includes hunters, fishermen and professional athletes. Among its customers are teams in the National Football League and Major League Baseball as well as law enforcement and the military.  The new facility in North Carolina is also part of a move to relocate the company’s manufacturing operations to the U.S. from China, where Gerbing had difficulty obtaining deliveries on time.

After 10+ years of use, I for one truly appreciate their heated clothing and it’s especially rewarding to hear in this economic climate about a manufacture bringing jobs back to the U.S.

Photo courtesy of Gerbing.

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A yet to be announced new 2012 model from Harley-Davidson was inadvertently released to the public by the California Environmental Protection Agency/Air Resources Board.  No details have been released or provided by the Motor Company, but according to CARB’s online listing of 2012 H-D models that the agency approved the new models show up HERE.

If the information is complete it looks like three motorcycles are being discontinued (Softail Cross Bones, Softail Rocker and Street Glide Trike).  There are additional models getting the 103 cu inch and the new “SwitchBack” which is getting its name for the ability to be switched back and forth from touring to non-touring.  Isn’t that the same as a convertible which has been out for 3 years now?  There is also what looks to be a new 10th Anniversary V-Rod model.

Water Cooled V-Twin

It might be premature on my part, but these new models don’t look like a major transformation underway in product development.  It looks more like a really big yawn vs. true innovation.  The fact that Keith E. Wandell (President and CEO), a position he has held since May 2009 has pontificated in every earnings call about the new direction for Harley-Davidson through the development and implementation of a strategic plan based on the core tenets of growth, continuous improvement, leadership development and sustainability…. which includes expansion of the company’s global reach and product development transformations along with manufacturing capabilities for improved responsiveness is lacking.  I’ll reserve final judgment until the actual 2012 release at the end of July, but at this point I find myself asking is “SwitchBack” code word for a return to the old axiom…if it sticks out chrome it, if breaks make it bigger and if it’s ugly paint it black?!

And speaking of innovation, check out this link to Cyril Huze’s blog about a water cooled patent that H-D filed over a year ago… it seems to have resurrected a worldwide discussion on when will water cooled V-twins finally hit the market.  Obviously not in 2012, but maybe in 2013?

UPDATE: June 30, 2011 – Partial release of the new 2012 models occurred about a month early.  See URL HERE.

UPDATE: July 20,2011 – The H-D “SwitchBack” was rolled out at the Anaheim, CA., dealer meeting this morning and the web site is now live HERE.

Photo courtesy of CARB and ICB

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Oregon Trail Interpretive Center - Baker City, OR

On Friday we were up early to grab coffee and breakfast before making our way out to the ‘Devils Tail’ and Hells Canyon Dam.

It was rather obvious while eating my scrambled eggs and looking out across the vendor parking lot that there were some hard-living characters who had run wild the night earlier.  They weren’t totally burned out, but obviously moving a little slower.  It got me to thinking about how Harley like virtually every other motorcycle manufacture, is facing a huge, looming crisis; the ageing of its core clientele.  Like every other market they touch Boomers dominate the motorcycle industry, especially for those expensive touring cruisers that generate so much profit for the corporate coffers.

Depending on whose data you reference; AMA states the average age of its members is 48, the American Motorcycle Industry Council’s most recent survey (2008) has the average pegged at 43 years old (up 5 years from 1998) and a JD Power and H-D survey has the average at 49 years old.  It would seem that motorcycling is no longer a young man’s sport.   Based on my observation this morning I would concur and while I didn’t see anyone trading their favorite ride in on an RV, I did see a lot of interest in the Boss Hog trikes and customers lining up for demo rides.  Most were intrigued with how to navigate the parking lot in reverse gear.

Hells Canyon Dam

I’m not sure about you, but I’m the kind of person who gets satisfaction when my mechanical stuff is humming.  It puts a smile upon my face and makes me feel glad all over.  I felt that way on the ride out to the Hells Canyon Dam.  The departure temperature hung in the mid-60’s – cool for eastern Oregon — and looking around the horizon it was clear there was going to be a mix of rain showers and blue sky.  Yeah, we were going to be dancing between the rain drops all day long on this ride.

We traveled out on Baker-Copperfield Hwy (Hwy 86) toward Richland, through Halfway with a brief pit stop at the Scotty’s Outdoor Store just prior to Oxbow as we headed back to the bottom of the canyon.  Hells Canyon is on the border of Idaho and Oregon, and the ride is deep in the valley alongside the Snake River.  Yeah that one — the one where Evel Knievel attempted his X-1 Skycycle jump over the canyon, unsuccessfully, back in 1974.   Many people will disagree when you remind them that the Hell’s Canyon is North American’s deepest river gorge at almost 8,000 feet, 2,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon, but it’s true.

Posse On Devil's Tail

And as a bonus it has one of the most famous rides in the area — the Devil’s Tail — a 22 mile route from Oxbow, Oregon to Hell’s Canyon Dam. There are hundreds of S-curves and twisty’s with picturesque views.  The Devil’s Tail is not for the novice, and requires attention to riding. Last year we talked to a motorcyclist who misjudge the road and dump his bike.  Fortunately they had only minor injuries.

Baker City "Rain Out"

Back in the day this road was used to deliver workers and supplies to the site of the dam construction when it was being built in 1966. Today Idaho Power employees use it to access the dam and outdoor hobbyist use it for recreational access.  At the end of the road the dam and water were nearly level with the road.  As you drive across the dam we were greeted with a loud “whooshing” sound and at the visitor’s center which is a short, but steep ride below the dam we took pictures of the large volume of water flowing through to make hydro electrical power.  It’s a spectacular sight and the close proximity means you literally feel natures power.

Interstate 84 North - Departing HCMR

We reversed directions and headed back to the Sunridge Best Western where we met up with some other riders who arrived late-afternoon.

On Saturday the weather was a mixed bag.  The morning started out partly cloudy with the occasional sun burst, but the Whitman National Forest was socked in with storm/rain clouds which is where the posse planned to ride for a ghost town tour.  We downed some breakfast and remained optimistic the day would bring something better.  It turned out that optimism was sorely misplaced!

Hwy 14 - West of Umatilla

Thinking it would clear later in the day we elected to hang out in the vendor booths in downtown Baker City and wait it out… but, rain is a life metaphor – into every ride a little rain must fall, right?   Well it did.  I know the Folkestad’s like to state that the HCMR has never been “rained out” and I’m not sure what criteria they use, but it started raining around 1pm with showers at first and then turned to a steady hard rain from 2pm through most of the night.  We graced the downtown area refreshment centers and talked shop with the High Desert H-D folks from Meridian, ID.  Downtown was jammed and by the time we returned to the motel restaurant/bar it was packed with wet riders who called the day a total bust.  Good for Baker City businesses, but it seemed the weather conditions were conspiring against us.

Near Maryhill Winery - Goldendale, WA

On Sunday morning you could smell the cool breath of mother nature as we wiped off the previous night rain soaked seats.  Unlike Western Oregon, the majority of the landscape in Eastern Oregon is wide open which allows riders to see the lay of the land and it provides plenty of time to take it all in.  For me I enjoy Eastern Oregon because it’s different.  The people are different (in a positive/good way), the weather is different, it looks different and the roads are different.  It seems that people have a habit of never appreciating a place until you’re about to leave it.   I had some regrets that I didn’t get time to explore the ghost towns, but we were about to point the bikes north hoping for a dry day!

We rode out of Baker City on I-84 and encountered cooler temperatures as we traversed the Wallowa Mountains.  The sun shined brightly and by the time we stopped to re-fuel in Pendleton is was actually warm.  We cut over to Umatilla and rode Hwy 14 on the Washington side of the Columbia River.  The pull toward home and returning to “normal” life was getting stronger as the pace quickened back to Portland.  We dodged some rain drops near “The Couve” and got home in time to learn that yes, the self-proclaimed “King” — Lebron James — was still not a NBA champion and that my friends means the only place celebrating more than Dallas that night was Cleveland!

In spite of the ‘rain out’ on Saturday the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally was a great experience.  If you have not attended it should be something on your bucket list!

Postcard From Hells Canyon – Part 1 HERE.

Photos taken by editor. Previous HCMR posts: 2010 HERE, 2009 HERE

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Closure Notice at AMC

The American Motorcycle Classics (AMC) Harley-Davidson dealer in Albany, OR., is going out of business at the end of the month.  They’ve called it quits.

Years ago the business was run by John Lewis, Sr.  He retired, moved to Las Vegas and sold the business to his son, John, Jr.   The G.M. was Joe Saltarello.  Was it the poor economy?  Sure didn’t help.  Were other H-D dealers complaining how Albany was cannibalizing their business which is only good for the consumer?  Did they invest in the business?  Depends on your definition of “invest.”  Maybe John, Jr. was having problems making the payments to Sr., who may have held on to the real estate and now decided to liquidate the assets, cut his losses, sell the real estate and call it a day?   Or, maybe they were FORCED out by the H-D motor company?

Hey, now that is an interesting question.  Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above.  Who knows?  If you do know send me a note.  I’m discreet.

Here is what we do know.  Over the last two years H-D is trying to consolidate its dealerships one way or another.  H-D may have just sent a letter of retirement to Albany/John Jr.  In essence it withdraws approval for the H-D franchise.  I called and spoke to the finance manager at AMC earlier in the month and he indicated that H-D was “forcing them out.”  Similar to the Chevrolet and Chrysler dealership forced closings.  Maybe it was sour grapes, but his statement went something like “HD was demanding they expand the store” and while they had committed a half-million $$ in infrastructure investment to H-D in what could be viewed as mini “Super Store” … they just didn’t have the sales revenue for such an investment, essentially being forced out by the manufacturer.  It’s not clear if AMC was selling a reasonable volume of licensed products, but I think it’s unlikely given the location.  The finance manager also stated they were doing about half the motorcycle sales volume they once garnered 4 years ago so clearly the economy has had a relevant impact.

Businesses fail all the time so what’s the point of this post?

Well, AMC H-D is well known in the northwest for being the cheapest H-D dealer in Oregon.  If I had interest in a new motorcycle I would always call or drive down and get pricing whether it be a motorcycle or parts.  That then became my new starting price to leverage any deal at a local dealer closer to the Portland metro area.  I never did purchase a motorcycle there,  but I have 4 buddies who all purchased motorcycles during the last 2-4 years from Albany.  They obtained below MSRP on every purchase, including additional discounts on aftermarket parts and walked away saving $1000’s and big smiles!

And even though they saved all those $$’s… cheapest does not always work.  You can’t always make it up on volume and it now seems that little was dropping to the bottom line to keep the doors open and make the payments.   We’ve seen this behavior in other type businesses.  A person will throw an “open sign” up in a strip mall and offer cheap prices — way below the current market — but in less than 24 months they disappear.  It means they were not making enough money, and just screwed up the market for everyone else.

AMC H-D had a “No pancakes, No S*****t, no rock band, no bull” slogan which was essentially an anti-social slam toward other dealers who subscribe the post-sales mantra.  But you know what?  That doesn’t work for some folks.  Yeah saving a few bucks is important (always!), but many of us are motorcycle enthusiasts and are looking for a dealer that will be in business (long-term), one that’s like a social “club” to hang out, talk shop, talk custom modifications and they are willing pay a little extra $$ to have that option.  Personally I like the fact that Paradise personnel (Mike(2)) know who I am and will call me by name when I walk into the dealer.  We’re not BFF’s, but I know, that they know, that I over paid a few hundred $$ for that privilege on my last motorcycle purchase, and for me it’s more than just a money transaction – its genuine relationship building – AFTER the sale.

Maybe this is what happened at Albany?  They had “A Beautiful Mind” moment.  Did you see the movie?  In the movie Russell Crowe plays John Nash, a mathematician who won the Nobel Prize for developing the concept of non-cooperative game theory.  In case you’re not familiar with the theory, it roughly means that to make the best decisions, you have to consider the actions of your competitors.

This may sound harsh, but in my view, the AMC H-D building was “lipstick on a pig.”  Functional, but not a place you’d socialize or hang-out long.  I’ve been there in the early morning and remember how they didn’t even have coffee for customers?!  Call me Mr. shallow.  From an outside-looking-in viewpoint,  the company didn’t have much of a Facebook presence, didn’t do any blogging or customer outreach, the email system announcing sales totally sucked and defied any reasonable logic from a marketing viewpoint, and did I say the web site was dated?  At the end of the day it just didn’t look like they were putting a lot into promoting the business or appealing to those who were looking for more of a social gathering atmosphere at their local dealer.  Yeah they could “splain” that all off as low overhead giving YOU the customer the best price, but when every other dealer around you is struggling and willing to lower/match prices to compete and your shop has no amenities… you’ve cast your destiny

There are consequences other than it’s “Christmas in July” for Paradise H-D, Salem H-D and Team Latus!  There is the loss of 10-19 people who are no longer gainfully employed – and I’m not trivializing this because the folks there are hard working people and deserve better – but, PowerSports Network (powered the website) loses a customer and AMC H-D also sponsored the Pioneer H.O.G .Chapter (newsletter PDF HERE).  It was the first northwest chartered H.O.G. chapter (#4085), and it now has no home.

I’m sorry to see the dealership close and I’m sure for many of you it feels like losing an old friend.  I’m just glad I don’t have any pre-paid expensive special parts on order!

Photo courtesy of American Motorcycle Classics.

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Highway 97

There was fun, sun, cerveza’s and of course a dash of rain.  Mixed in along the way was some imperfect weather, but what can a person expect living in the northwest in June?!  It’s an imperfect world and besides, many riders revel in the glory of making it through adversity.  Not me… I like perfect weather versus keeping track of the number times I had to dawn on rain gear.  But that’s me.

At any rate, the opening sentence pretty much describes the high level summary of the ride situation to Baker City for the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally (HCMR), but if you’re the kind of person who reads the manual, ferrets out all the details and amazes friends with all your product knowledge then read on…

The posse started this ride on Interstate 84 to pick up a buddy in “Googleville” (aka The Dalles) then at Biggs Junction we rode south on Hwy 97 to Wasco.  From there we traversed Hwy 206(Wasco-Heppner Hwy) to Condon.  This stretch of road offers up a lot of sweepers and depending on which type of bike you ride it could be fast or a mental exercise to stay alert.  You’ll never get lonely on this stretch of road, not because of the number of RVs or automobiles – there are none – but because squirrels frequently run out across the road to challenge your dodging skills and if you’re real lucky you’ll get the occasional mule deer to snap you back to reality.

Clarno Unit -- John Day Fossil Beds

From Condon we rode Hwy 19 to Fossil where we took a detour on Hwy 218 to the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds.  The Clarno Unit is located 18 miles west of Fossil and is just under a couple thousand acres in size.  It’s a remote area and Hwy 218 is a real joy to ride.  There is nothing which explains the exhilaration of roaring out of tight corners and setting up for the next hairpin.  There is an odd trend in this area of marking an entire set of 6+ curves with one single sign marked with the speed of the slowest and tightest of the entire bunch of curves.  The first 5 corners are truly 45MPH then the last one is a 20MPH right angle with gravel on the apex.  Good to see the state saving money on road signs!  The views of Central Oregon’s near-desert environment are astounding and this highway was nearly empty of anything other than a variety of grasses, sagebrush and juniper.  The cliffs of the Palisades are the most prominent landform in the Clarno Unit and the trip wouldn’t have be complete without a photo op.

We back tracked the 18 miles to the junction of Washington Street and Seventh Street (Hwy 19)… street names in Fossil make it seem like a big town – it’s not.  We then proceeded south to Service Creek then to Mitchell and picked up Hwy 26 east (essentially follows the Oregon Trail) to John Day, Prairie City and then we veered off at Bates onto Hwy 7 (Whitney Tipton Hwy) toward Sumpter.

Prairie City

Along this area we unfortunately came upon a motorcycle accident between Sumpter and Baker City just after Philips Lake.  The rider failed to negotiate a sweeper and laid the bike down.  The footboard and engine guard made deep grooves into the asphalt as the motorcycle and rider slid off the right shoulder of the road down an embankment onto some soft brush.  The rider narrowly missed hitting a guard rail and survived with only minor injuries.  Very fortunate.  The motorcycle was towed away.  Traveling this route was basically going from one mountain pass to another separated by valleys, small towns and river valleys.  The passes were over 5000’ and the changes in temperature were notable until we arrived in Baker City.

After 400+ miles we arrived at the Best Western Motel and were greeted with smiling employees who got us checked in and on our way to dinner at Arceo’s Family Mexican Restaurant.  It was awesome!

And speaking earlier of accidents… the following day (Friday) we learned and responded to voicemail’s from people who were concerned about a motorcycle accident on I-84 which happened around noon and whether it involved other members of the posse who were in route to the rally.  It didn’t, but sadly a 63-year-old Albany man was killed and a 50-year-old Lebanon man was seriously injured about four miles east of Troutdale.   The two were part of a group of 12 people, aboard 10 motorcycles, heading for the HCMR rally.  Michael Pamplin, 63, was riding a H-D in the middle of the group when he lost control and crashed to the pavement.  Even worse was the fact that he was run over by another motorcyclist in the group, 50-year-old Keith Corbett, and died at the scene. Corbett was taken to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center with serious injuries.  It’s unclear what was the main precursor to causing this wreck…

Postcard From Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally – Part 2 HERE.

Photos taken by editor.

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