Something quite unfortunate has happened to motorcycling in recent times. As a result, there’s not a lot of joy in the industry at the moment. Gone are the heady days of the Eighties and Nineties, when companies like Harley-Davidson could not make enough bikes to sell to the hordes lined up inside their showrooms.
What’s happened? The bikes being produced now are several orders of magnitude better in every way from the stuff we were riding back then, right? So it’s not that.
It’s actually a multitude of things, small and not-so-small, which when combined, have created the perfect storm for plunging the western world’s motorcycle market into what can only be described as a depression.
Sales are booming in developing countries like India and China. Their middle class is vast and expanding, and there is a huge demand for small and medium-sized bikes.
Over here, where the electricity is reliable and raw sewerage does not run down a furrow in the main road, things are very different.
New bike sales are somewhat in the toilet. No-one is buying superbikes, no-one is buying supersports, no-one and none of their mates are buying Harleys, and while the LAMs market is…well, “kind of steady” according to hopeful industry insiders, hordes of wobbling L-platers are not really over-running our streets. The Adventure market is still more or less OK, but pretty much everything else may as well be running down an open sewer in Calcutta.
I’m of the view that this is because there is a perception among young people – the ones who really should be buying bikes and towards whom the market should be addressing its greatest efforts – that riding a bike is no longer cool.
And that kills me.
I started riding bikes because they were cool. Any idiot could see that. I wanted to be cool and buying a stupid motorcycle was the fast track to that hallowed summit.
Sure, it was fun. But it was also pant-wettingly dangerous, and hence cool. Girls would look terrified when you asked them if they wanted a ride, but most of them got on. Some only ever got on once, while others became girlfriends and ultimately wives.
And then, as the cool demographic which was buying bikes in the Seventies, Eighties and early Nineties began to age, it also began to lose its cool.
Once upon a time, an outlaw motorcycle club member, was the living avatar of the coolest two-wheeled thing ever. He was only slightly cooler than the demon-grinned, oil-stained Ducati-riding psychopath, or the wide-eyed, long-haired maniac astride a Moriwaki-pimped Kwaka, his jeans tucked into his boots just so and the tops of his footy socks saluting the world.
Everyone rode like they meant it, many died or were maimed, and those of us who survived, were the scarred but living embodiment of cool.
Sure, there was piss-smelling middle-aged wierdos in Belstaffs who rode old Bimmers in what they imagined was a forthright manner, but no-one ever thought they were cool. Not even them.
The young, cool crowd rode all the other stuff, fought with the cops at Bathurst, howled at the moon, chucked lairy wheelstands down the main streets of our cities, and owned all the cool there was to own.
But the older you get, the less cool you are. It’s a fact of life. Like liver disease.
And as a result, today’s youth does not think bikes are cool.
It looks at a Harley, once the unshakable icon of cool, and it sees it being ridden by a fat Gandalf, with an equally blowsy harridan on the back who looks more like a cheap sofa than a woman.
It looks at a Ducati and it sees it being ridden by a cashed-up ponce from the fancy suburbs who’d rather park his Panigale in front of a coffee shop than carve mountain bends more than 20km from his house.
It looks at the latest Japanese superbike and sees it being ridden (almost always badly) by a 40-year-old who has ensured the entire back tyre is made of the strips of a hundred chickens, and who looks more like a Dad than the youth is comfortable with.
And even if he can step over these uncool horrors, and wants to buy a bike anyway, then that cabal of sex-pests, liars and thieves who keep telling me they are my government, charges him more money than he’d pay for a medical degree, and forces him to ride some underpowered rubbish while wearing a fluoro-vest.
That’s not cool.
It’s no wonder young people don’t want to ride.
Us old bastards have bought all the new bikes we’re ever going to buy. We’re only going to get older, and we’re going to start worrying about which nursing home we’re going to die in rather than hacksawing our exhaust can in half after drinking five beers in the shed one night.
You wanna save the bike industry?
You need to make riding bikes cool again.
And while ever we push that Safety First Last and Always paradigm, which is sautéed in a vile sauce of political correctness, virtue-signalling and blind compliance to the law no matter how stupid it is, that is never going to happen.
Words by Boris Mihailovic