Thursday, 31 July 2014

What's in the box, Polaris?

I try very hard not to pay attention to this blog's stats. It is, after all, a site dedicated to my own obsession and interaction with the motorcycling world -- what's interesting to me. Paying attention to stats inevitably leads to trying to cater to other people's interests. I don't want that. I'm not trying to sell anything here; I'm just sharing my own thoughts and experiences.

Even so, I can't help noticing what "works" in terms of topics, which posts draw the most readers. And in that I know that not a great deal of people care about the various faces of Polaris as much as I do. But hey, as I say: this is my blog. And I am a slut for all things Minnesota. So, I want to carry on a bit from my previous post and talk about a number of the interesting things coming from the Mendina, Minnesota-based company.

Maybe Victory isn't all that bad

Firstly, in the feedback I got on my post about Victory's 2015 model year line up, there were a lot of good points to suggest that I was either being too harsh or not quite seeing things the right way. For instance, Steve Johnson said: "Look at the models riding bikes in this video, and it's evident what they're trying to do, appeal to youth."

I think he's right. Victory seems to be oh so gently, gently, gently moving away from the image created by having R. Lee Ermey as a spokesperson to something a little more diverse and... what's the word? Roguish? It's likely the marketing guys would use the word "young." And in as much, I realise that my complaint about the look of bikes like the Magnum, Hammer and Vegas is something of a reflection on my own narrow idea of what it means to be young.

See, when I repeat the cliché that motorcycle companies should invest more time trying to appeal to younger people, I am expecting them to appeal to the young person I once was, or the young person I would like to be. Here's a Venn diagram of that person:


So, you know, the people buying a Triumph Bonneville or Harley-Davidson Iron 883 (with their parents' money) then going on an "epic road trip" from Portland to Seattle and making a Vimeo film about it. The never-been-poor white kids who who grow beards and force themselves to smoke American Spirit cigarettes in college because it looks cool. That's the kind of kid I was; that's the kind of kid I would probably be. But that is just one sub-culture of youth.

My brother was a completely different type of young person. Always fixing cars and listening to hip-hop, he drove around in an Acura that was lowered so much it couldn't physically get over speed bumps at the Mall of America. It had weird neon lights in inappropriate places and a stereo system so loud it probably violated some sort of UN human rights code. I am willing to bet that the Victory Magnum, with its gaudy paint schemes, flash front wheel and 100-watt stereo system, is totally up his alley.

So, my lament that all of Victory's line up isn't like the Gunner is really just a sign that I probably wouldn't be very good at selling motorcycles. Victory is, though. And it's targeting several different types of young person.

Meanwhile, Jerry Kerns pointed out that "it's unrealistic [to expect big surprises from Victory] this year with the big changes happening in Spirit Lake to add an assembly line then update the other."

Again: very good point. Earlier this year, Victory cancelled its annual American Victory Rally because the company is too occupied making changes to the production facility in Spirit Lake, Iowa -- where both Victory and Indian motorbikes are made. Expecting them to offer something new and ground-breaking during such a period of transition is, perhaps, unfair.

Maybe it's best to just write this off as a "rebuilding year," like when a sports team knows in the pre-season that it is going to suck, and look forward to what may come next year. Victory silently killed off four of its models (Judge, Jackpot, Boardwalk and Cross Roads) in the 2015 line up, which makes room for some new models once the changes at Spirit Lake are complete. Equally, Victory not too long ago registered a patent in the EU for a liquid-cooled cruiser. So, perhaps big things are ahead.

Is Indian offering something more than a paint scheme?

Speaking of big things ahead, there's a lot of talk about what Indian has planned for Sturgis. Over the past week or so, the Polaris-owned motorcycle company announced new two-tone paint schemes for its existing models and thereafter introduced the world to the Indian Roadmaster.

Keen observers will note the Roadmaster is just a Chieftain with a top box. This is effectively the trick Victory pulled with the Magnum -- changing one feature on an existing model and deciding that's enough to merit giving it a different name -- but I feel less critical in this case because Indian is still in its infancy in terms of its Polaris era.

When that new face of Indian launched at Sturgis last year, moto journalists were head over heels at the fact Indian had managed to design and produce the all-new Thunder Stroke 111 engine in the two years since Polaris had bought Indian in 2011. The Thunder Stroke 111 was hailed as a tremendous achievement. So, I've not expected them to floor us again this year. Some new paint and expansion of accessories seems fair.

But then, just a few days ago, Indian posted a rather intriguing picture to its Instagram account showing the existing four models -- Chief Classic, Chief Vintage, Chieftain, and Roadmaster -- lined up next to a motorcycle-sized wooden crate. Written on the crate are simply the numbers: "8.2.14."

In the photo's description, Indian writes teasingly: "We're Not Done Yet."

Thankfully, whatever's in that crate will be revealed Saturday, so I won't have to suffer too much longer. But ever since learning of its existence my mind has been exploding with thoughts of what it might be, with hopes of what I want it to be.

Based on the entire 2015 Victory line up and sleight-of-hand tricks like the Victory Magnum and Indian Roadster, as well as the fact this face of Indian is still so new, a certain part of me suspects that the thing under that crate is just an existing model in a different form. Perhaps a blacked-out Chief. Or maybe even a stripped-down Chief to make it lighter and cheaper. Certainly that would fit with the crate's placement in the Indian Instagram photo. The bikes are lined up in order of price, and the crate is placed to the left of what is presently the least-expensive Indian model: the Chief Classic.

Everyone loves a bobber these days, so maybe Indian will cut down the Chief Classic's fender, lower the suspension, slap on some pegs and a solo seat, and claim it as something new. Or maybe they'll do something that is really new.

Maybe, just maybe, the thing in that crate is an all-new bike. Maybe, just maybe, it is a Scout.

And there is some reason to believe this may be true. Firstly, there is the fact that the Scout is one of the most iconic Indian bikes. Burt Munro and his 1920 Scout are central to the ethos of Indian Motorcycles -- something acknowledged by Polaris Indian when it created the one-off Spirit of Munro bike. It was strange, then, to see the Scout absent when Indian relaunched last year.

The reason for this, according to an interview at the time with Gary Gray, director of production at Indian, was: "As much we like to think about this as glamorous, and art and fun to do, it’s a business at the same time. When you look at the motorcycle market today, heavyweight cruisers and baggers are huge right now."

OK. The Scout doesn't exist for financial reasons. Sure. Right. I don't fully buy that excuse. I mentioned above that I try not to pay too much attention to my blog stats, but I have still noticed that the posts I've written about the Harley-Davidson Iron 883 and the Triumph Bonneville are in the all-time top 10. As are the posts I wrote about the Honda NC750X, the Triumph America, and the Honda CB500F. Every single one of these are lower-displacement bikes.

Meanwhile, Harley-Davidson has gone all-in with the Street 750 and Street 500. I doubt that Polaris' market research turned up dramatically different results than Harley-Davidson's. The fact is, there is a tremendous amount of interest in smaller, more-manageable bikes. And if you look at almost all of the responses to Indian's Instagram post you'll see that people are clamouring for a Scout. Count me among them. As I wrote in a blog post several months ago: "Honestly, I love Indian motorcycles so much that I would be willing to pay a deposit on [a Scout] today, right now, without any idea of what it will be or when it will be available. Just promise it will exist and take my money."

One designer's vision for the new Scout.
Add to all this the fact that in early 2013, Polaris co-sponsored a contest amongst designers to envision the new Indian Scout. That suggests a Scout has always been part of the plan. Statements by Gary Gray last year would seem to back that up: "We don’t want the brand to be pinned down into cruisers, baggers and touring like everyone probably expects. We want to go beyond that."

single news article from January of this year, suggests they are. In the article, Visor Down reported that "[Indian is set to bring] back the famous 'Scout'."

No other moto-journalism outlet has reported that, so it might normally be a rumour to dismiss, but for the fact the same article correctly predicted the return of the Indian Roadmaster. In my constant, extensive poring over motorcycle websites I've discovered that most moto-journalists, especially those that write for bigger names, are incredibly rigorous about adhering to embargo requests. So, I can envision a scenario in which a Scout really could be inside that crate to be revealed on 2 August, without anyone saying a thing about it beforehand.

I still think the stripped-down Chief theory is more likely, but I want so much for the Scout to be a reality. Something that uses the heritage of the Indian brand to appeal to that vision of a "young person" I mentioned above, and that could compete (or, preferably, excel) within the Sportster/Bonneville/Bolt arena -- something the Dirt Quake dudes could convert into a flat tracker. Folks on Indian and Victory internet forums like to go even further and dream of the Scout being an inline-4. Though, hell, even if Indian were simply to re-jig the old Freedom 100 engine from Victory, give it a heritage feel, ABS, and an affordable price, I'd lap it up.

I can hardly wait for Saturday to find out.

Then there's that weird car thing

At the same time Victory was announcing the Magnum, and Indian the Roadmaster, Polaris itself was pulling back the curtain on the new Slingshot -- a three-wheeled car that makes one think of a motorcycle because it is powered by a single rear wheel and apparently you're supposed to wear a helmet while riding/driving it.

The Slingshot looks like something that would be used in a superhero film, low to the ground and offering room for just two passengers. According to the Star Tribune, the Slingshot is "positioned to compete with Harley-Davidson’s 'Trike' three-wheel motorcycle."

But I don't really see how that could be true since the Slingshot appears to be a kind of adrenaline vehicle and offers minimal storage space (only enough room to store a helmet behind each seat, according to Motorcycle.com). Additionally, the Slingshot has seats and a steering wheel. It is similar to a trike only in the sense that both are three-wheel vehicles.

In truth, I think Polaris has made here a vehicle that is not like anything else at all. Which is very cool. But it prompts the question of who such a thing is for. I mean, if you gave me one I'd accept it happily, but I struggle to imagine the person who would pay hard-earned money for it.

Maybe, again, that's my short-sightedness -- in the same way I struggle to understand who in their right mind would pay hard-earned money for a Victory Magnum. Somebody will, though. And for the sake of a Minnesota-based company's success, I hope a whole lot of somebodies will.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Deep sigh: Victory's 2015 model year line up

The Gunner looks cool; it needs ABS.
We're always toughest on the people and things we love, I guess. This is why we sometimes fall into the trap of hurting feelings when offering "constructive feedback" to partners, We want the things we love to present their best selves, to fulfil their potential. And the expression of this desire can sometimes come out as overly harsh.

Outside of personal relationships, though, we pay less attention to feelings. We speak our minds a little more forcefully. This is why we throw things at the TV when watching our favourite teams lose. It is why we turn apoplectic when the politicians supposed to be running the countries we love fail to do so effectively. Caring about something can make you very angry when that something fails to live up to your expectations.

Essentially, this emotion was at the heart of the post I wrote not too long ago, lamenting that the majority of Minnesota motorcyclists are fat, old and woefully under-skilled. I had a few people react negatively to that post (in part, I think, because I inarticulately failed to isolate my criticism to my own specific Minnesota experiences), but I don't really regret writing it. Like the Spanish Inquisition toward the Pope, I possess an almost fanatical devotion to the state of Minnesota. And when I feel it or its residents have let me down in some way I can't help but react with a certain amount of vitriol.

I tell you all this to explain why I am today banging my head against the table and swearing profusely at another Minnesota thing: Victory Motorcycles.

I absolutely love Victory. I love the fact they are from Minnesota; I love the power and ease of the Freedom 106 engine used in all Victory machines; and I love the look of most of their bikes. But this weekend the Mendina, Minnesota-based company announced its 2015 line up, including a "new" model, and my general reaction to said line up is utter exasperation. 

Why? Well, first off, let's take a look at this video, shall we?


"Leading the charge is the Victory Magnum," announces the video's breathy voice over.

There are so many things that make me angry about this bike that I'm not sure where to begin. The fact that it's not new is a good place, I suppose. Anyone with eyes can see the Magnum is just a Cross Country with a big, kiddie-toy-esque front wheel and idiot paint job. That's it.

The Cross Country is a hell of a bike, without doubt, but it's been around since 2010. Adding a massive, comical, obviously-compensating-for-something 21-inch front wheel to the Cross Country does not a new bike make. If anything, it just ruins an otherwise brilliant motorcycle by making it considerably harder to handle (a).

Neither is the look of the Magnum new by any stretch. This is the same crap Paul Teutul was churning out of Orange County Choppers back in 2004. Good grief, y'all. The Magnum is a 4-year-old bike with a 10-year-old design.

Also, it is named after a condom. I mean, I realise Harley-Davidson is fond of giving its bikes names that sound like types of condom or dildo (e.g. Fat Boy, Wide Glide, Night Rod Special), but Victory has just straight up stolen the name of a prophylactic and given it to something you're supposed to put between your legs.

Whereas I guess the name High Ball was already provocative enough. Like the Cross Country, it gets new paint and wheels for 2015, but no name change. Meanwhile, the Gunner (itself just a Judge with a different seat) also gets new paint. And that's about it (b).

"As for our touring bikes," growls the voice over. "We let the odometer do the talking."

Huh? In other words: they did nothing. 

Most glaring amongst the things they did not do is make anti-lock brakes available on their line of cruisers. I mentioned in my previous post that Victory will have to offer this in the EU from 2016. It appears they are content to wait until the very last minute to offer the feature (or perhaps they're planning to drop out of the European market?). Whereas ABS has existed on all Harley-Davidson models for roughly a year. Victory sees itself as a competitor to the Milwaukee-based brand but the fact is it is getting its ass well and truly kicked. 

The Harley-Davidson Softail Slim costs more than a Victory Gunner
but has ABS, tachometer, gear position indicator and keyless start.
Also available on all of Harley-Davidson's models are tachometers, gear position indicators and keyless starts -- the latter of which is not available on any Victory model (c). And, of course, these days Harley-Davidson is developing an awesome-looking electric motorcycle. Victory has responded by offering different paint schemes.

This. Is. Embarrassing.

I have long been a fan of Victory, loving the look of bikes like the Judge, the Gunner and the Boardwalk, and, of course, placing the Cross Country right near the top of Dream Bike list. But seeing the company not try on such an epic scale really frustrates me.

I understand that to a certain extent it behoves Victory not to change too much in an aesthetic sense, because the company is still only 15 years old. Having a load of models that look the same helps to establish a distinct, identifiable Victory "look." But I don't think that vindicates making no other changes in terms of performance, braking, features or ergonomics. 

At one point in the promotional video, with heavy rock riffs blaring and the bikes being followed by a shaky camera across desert landscape, the voiceover huffs triumphantly: "In this pack, we're never satisfied." 

I'm not satisfied, ether, Victory. You could have done so much better.

____________________

(a) Look closely at about 32-33 seconds in the video and you will notice that even the professional rider Victory hired wobbles this bike. Elsewhere in the video, the same rider is able to go offroading with a Gunner, so that really tells you something about how crappy the Magnum is.

(b) In addition to these minor aesthetic changes, Victory also appear to be dropping the Judge, Boardwalk, Jackpot and Cross Roads models in 2015. That's a shame; I really liked the Judge.

(c) Victory's baggers and tourers offer anti-lock brakes, tachometers and gear position indicators standard. As such, I do not see how it would be at all difficult to offer these things on cruisers.

Friday, 25 July 2014

The search for true love

Honda CBF600 SA5
Many, many moons ago, when I was attending college at a forgettable Midwestern state university deep in the heart of American farmland, I dated a girl who was, by any metric I chose, close to perfect. She was easy on the eyes, witty, intelligent, strong, caring, attentive, a good cook, and, uhm... well... good at some other stuff, too.

But I didn't love her.

Despite the fact she was wonderful, I more often than not found myself in her company thinking: "Oh, man. When are we gonna be done with this?"

It annoyed the hell out of me I felt that way. I felt evil. I felt vain. I felt hypocritical. I knew that if you were to have asked me to describe my perfect woman, the ideal girl for me, I would have more or less described this girl. OK, maybe my 100-percent perfect partner would have had a bit more fashion sense, and maybe she wouldn't have worn a perfume quite so sickly sweet, but that's kind of my point. I really had to dig to find problems with this girl.

Still, I could not make myself love her. I liked her, thought very highly of her and never spoke ill of her to anyone. But I didn't love her. Goodness knows I tried. I would stare at her picture and recite to myself all her qualities. But, no. No love.

Eventually we broke up because, as I say, she was smart. When she could not pry the words, "I love you," from my lips she moved on. I've not heard from her since.

For the sake of this story, let's say the girl's name was Ethel. It wasn't Ethel, obviously; I have never met anyone named Ethel. Which is why I'm using that name.

Anyhoo, about a month ago, as I rode home from test riding the Yamaha XV950, I found myself thinking about Ethel. My Honda CBF600 SA purred easily through traffic and responded complacently to my twists of throttle. At an intersection, she clicked on her radiator fan to breathe out the excess heat of early summer. Her sliver, arched back of a petrol tank glistened in the sunlight, slightly chipped in a few spots from my magnetic tank bag.

"Ethel," I said aloud. "You are the motorcycle equivalent of Ethel."

And almost immediately I became depressed. Because it's true. There is nothing wrong with my bike; as I mentioned just recently, on paper she is as good if not better than most machines I could realistically buy at this point in my life. She has faithfully, reliably taken me all across the United Kingdom, has opened up this island to me and helped me feel more free. She is fast, she is powerful, she is ideal in almost every situation. But I just don't love her.

A great bike, but not the one for me...
I've decided we need to go our separate ways.

Understanding the feels

But now I've fully accepted that mine is not the bike for me, it opens up the question of what I want to do about it. And I'm finding that coming up with the answer is harder than I would have thought. Because whatever the answer, it won't be entirely rational.

Motorcycling is, in part, an emotional thing. Emotion is what gets us on the bike in the first place and what keeps us there. Sure, we can make compelling arguments about efficiency and cost and lessened environmental impact, but we know the same arguments can be made about Smart cars. We choose motorcycles because they speak to the insular cortex, that mysterious part of the brain that makes us human -- the part that controls emotion.

And when choosing a motorcycle, it's good to be aware of that part of the brain.

"If you settle when getting a bike, then it's sad for the bike," says one of the interview subjects in Cafe Racers Japan. "And the rider will be disappointed... It's not about money, it's about feelings."

This is something I think is especially important for myself, living in the United Kingdom. The winters here are long, dark, get-in-your-bones cold, and interminably wet. Whereas summers are short or, in some years, non-existent. To maintain one's passion for motorcycling in such conditions it helps to have a bike that you just love, that you want to look at, and that you want to be seen on. A Honda CBF600 SA simply isn't one of those bikes.

So, I have told myself that when I get my next bike (and who knows when that will be), I will allow my emotions to play a part in the decision. I will give credence to ridiculous things like aura, styling, sound, how I look on the bike and what it "says" about me. I'm not going overboard. These are not the most important things, obviously -- I'm still unyielding in my insistence that a bike have anti-lock brakes, for instance -- but they are more important than I had previously thought.

I'd like to think I'm not wandering down the dangerous path of trying to project an image or lifestyle via a mass-produced piece of machinery, but I will admit to setting foot on it. I will admit to thinking: "OK, such and such bike has some foibles, but I can learn to accept them because it's otherwise soooo cool."

Mass-produced coolness

Case in point, the Yamaha XV950R. I really like the look of that bike -- especially in green. I have taped a picture of one to the wall by my desk. For a solid three or four weeks I was telling myself that this was it, the bike for me, and I would get one as soon as humanly possible. Despite the fact that it is a little underpowered (52 horsepower), has very cramped passenger accommodation, and no wind protection.

Yamaha XV950R
"Well, I don't even use all the horsepower of my Honda," I told myself. "Jenn doesn't ride with me all that much anyway. And I can get a sport screen for the XV950R; that still won't keep a whole lot of weather off me, but I can learn to toughen up."

This thinking then gave way to a kind of competition in my mind: a race between several bikes to see which will become my own. The race was this: will the Triumph Bonneville, Triumph Speedmaster or Victory Vegas 8-Ball (a) offer anti-lock brakes before I build up the money for a sizable deposit on the XV950R? Anti-lock brakes are coming to all those models (and exist already on the XV950R); anti-lock brakes will be legally required on all new motorcycles (above 125 cc) sold in Europe from 2016. So, I'd expect announcements on ABS-equipped models to come within the next year.

The above machines are the sort that appeal to my heart. I think they're cool. I'm trying to be realistic in terms of what I would actually be able to afford, though. Hence the reason I make no mention of things like the Victory Cross CountryThe Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster pops on and off the list, too, depending on my mood that day.

To me, these are bikes that have character. They are also motorcycles of the sort that my wife would refer to as "real" bikes. And I can't stress how important her opinion is to me. Yes, I'm my own man and can make my own decisions and grrrrr-harrumph manly bollocks, but I care what she thinks.

The case for practicality

In regard to my caring about what my wife thinks, the XV950R is now no longer an official competitor in the Race to Be Chris' Next Bike. I still love the look of it, but its passenger space is just too cramped. I had told myself that wasn't an issue because Jenn rarely joins me for rides, but I learned the other day she finds my existing bike a little uncomfortable on rides more than 40 miles. The XV950R's passenger accommodation is far worse. I suspect that a bike offering plenty of room and, perhaps, a backrest of some sort might entice her to join me more often.

In other words, I might get Jenn more interested in biking (and thereby fuel her recent musings on the possibility of getting herself a scooter) if the bike I rode were, you know, a little more practical. Indeed, she'd already be eager to hop on the bike with greater frequency if I had practical things like lockable side cases. That way we could ride out to one of Wales' many beauty spots, lock all our riding gear up, and go hiking.

And, hey, while I'm being practical, remember what I said about the almost-always-crappy British weather? Fairing helps to mitigate that. None of the bikes I mentioned above have weather protection. In all cases, I accept that the purchase of a windscreen would be an automatic part of getting one. And even then it's quite likely I'd suffer more of Mother Nature's wrath than I do now.

The fact is, my experience has been that cruisers/standards are most enjoyable at speeds below 60 mph. And I'm not sure that really fits with the kind of riding I do, nor the kind of riding I want to do.

BMW F800GT
I started thinking about all this recently when I was visiting Minnesota. By and large, I ride my motorbike for pleasure. I ride as often as I can, but my day-to-day routine sees me walking or riding a bicycle to places because I live in a compact urban area where doing so genuinely makes the most sense.

Where I actually live is not like the Twin Cities, which is where I want to live. There, in the great urban sprawl of a metro area that includes some 182 cities and townships (a few more than are implied in the name "Twin Cities"), one could keep off the freeways and ride for hours and hours and hours well within the speed comfort zone of a weather-protection-free bike. Here, unless you live in London, that's not really the case.

Sure, by U.S. standards I suppose all of Britain could be classed as urban or suburban, but where I live one really can't go too far without needing push to speeds that can be a little traumatic sans windscreen. And because it is for pleasure, I tend to cover larger distances when I ride -- I rarely do less than 120 miles.

And this is the kind of riding I want to be doing. I want to be riding further. When I daydream about motorcycling it is almost always of covering great distances. In September, I'll be heading up to Yorkshire, and later in the month out to West Sussex. At some point in autumn, I'm hoping to take the ferry over to Ireland and visit friends there. And I am constantly fantasising about multi-day journeys down to Spain, and so on. You know, the kind of riding to which a Harley-Davidson Sportster is perhaps not best suited (no offence to Curt Carter, who would probably argue otherwise).

And this is pretty much how I sometimes break from thoughts of a Bonneville/Speedmaster/Vegas and slip into very serious contemplation of the BMW F800GT. I wrote a little about it in a post several months ago, but it's been on my mind a lot more lately. That's definitely a knock-on effect of my visit to Minnesota. I couldn't help noticing that almost every person there was astride a cruiser. I also couldn't help noticing that the overwhelming majority of said riders displayed an appalling lack of basic riding skills. So, naturally, there's a part of me that is desperate to separate myself from such boneheads.

The other other me

But talk of practicality is a ruse. I will spend long hours daydreaming about the F800GT but not, say, the slightly more powerful and considerably less expensive Suzuki GSX1250FA. Why? Because the latter is not a BMW. The same goes for the also-more-powerful, also-less-expensive Triumph Sprint GT SE (b).

Truthfully, it all comes back to emotion. Perception. My perception of the "character" of the bike, and my desire in terms of how I want to be perceived. And if I'm going to be honest with myself and admit that feelings are relevant to my next motorcycle purchase, the big challenge is to figure out what my feeling are. What am I hoping to project?

Victory Gunner –– a bike I wish they sold in the UK.
With cruisers, I sometimes wonder if their greatest appeal to me is my incredible desire to be back in the country where they are most appropriate. A homesickness-induced affection, like the Englishman who moves to a different country and only then develops a taste for fish and chips. Like the way I drink Coors Light here but absolutely hated the stuff when I was living in the United States.

As I say, I was a little put off cruisers recently by all the boneheads I saw in Minnesota and the fact that said bikes were so ubiquitous. It made the scene so homogeneous. But that is not the case in the UK, so most certainly I haven't gone off them completely. That said, though, if I'm entertaining the idea of forcing myself to adapt to a bike that's not best suited to the conditions in which I presently exist, I must be trying to say something through that act. There is a statement being made.

I'm not 100-percent clear on what that statement is. I suppose it's something along the lines of: "I'm not Welsh; I never will be. And I'm proud not to be one of you."

Certainly motorcycling for me has long been wrapped up in those emotions. This whole Motorcycle Obsession thing started in part because I was frustrated with the too-small nature of my world; I wanted to be able to get away. A Speedmaster, or Vegas, or Sportster would allow me to do that: both physically get away and assert my psychological desire for separation. But, so, too, can an F800GT -- albeit in a slightly different way.

Perhaps better suited to my present situation, the BMW doesn't really say "I'm different in a cultural sense," but instead asserts: "I'm better than you."

Both bikes are means of offering the same sentiment, I suppose: that I don't belong.

All of this, however, leads to an even greater question. Going back to the start of this post, like every motorcyclist who's honest with him- or herself, I want to find a bike that I can truly love. Love looking at, love riding, love being seen on. But is that really possible when my motivators in choosing a bike are so spiteful?


___________________

(a) You may ask: "Wait, Chris. Didn't you say a while ago that the Vegas has looks that could only appeal to someone living in a trailer park?"
I did. That was before I really took the time to really look at one in person. Also, I have since seen pictures of a Vegas with bullet fairing and I think it looks pretty cool. If Victory were to offer the Gunner in the UK, I'd go with that one instead. 
True, a stock Vegas/Gunner would cost £1,000 more than a fully kitted Bonneville T-100. But engine-wise it's so much more bike for not a lot more money. And it's a bike with Minnesota connections; for that I would bend myself more to make payments.

(b) Actually, depending heavily on my response to a test ride, I could probably induce in myself a bit of love for the Sprint GT.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Gear review: Viking AXE Saddlebags

Viking AXE Saddlebag
I've been a little sloppy about posting ever since Jenn and I returned from the United States, because the weather here in Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has been unusually fantastic. And we are desperate to make the most of it, hopping on the bike whenever we can. To that end, we both skipped out of work a little early recently to speed over to the Gower, a tiny peninsula on the southern coast of Wales that -- when the weather's nice -- is arguably one of the best places in the world.

For the past 34 years, Jenn's grandparents have made an annual pilgrimage to the Gower, trundling up from Devon in their camper van and spending two weeks at a camp site on the peninsula's southern coast. Every year, y'all. For 34 years. To the same place. The fact that this sort of behaviour is quite common in Britain is at the heart of why I will never really understand its people. But I digress.

To carry our clothing and sundries to see Jenn's grandparents, we stuffed everything into the saddlebags that the good folks at VikingBags.com had sent me a while ago for my trip to Scotland (a). The bags had been sent on the promise I would review them on this site. And I think it's a sign of just how cool the people at VikingBags.com are that they didn't pester me to write that review. So laid back are they that, uhm, I had kind of forgotten about my promise until I was in the Gower. Lounging beside the camper van, Jenn was digging through the bags for our swimsuits and remarked: "These bags really are OK. I don't see why you wrote such bad things about them."

But, in fact, I had not written bad things about the bags; I had not written about them at all. And in hindsight perhaps that's for the best. Because, as Jenn noted, my original impressions were negative. But with a little time to think about it, I realise my primary criticism was unfair. 

I struggled to express it, but essentially, when I first got the Viking AXE Saddlebags in the post, I was upset because they were soft, throw-over bags. Yes, that's exactly what I was expecting, but on an emotional level I guess that's not what I wanted. Subconsciously, I looked this gift horse right in the mouth and bemoaned the fact I had not been sent a set of lockable hard cases. I realise now that I'd kind of like a set of those -- so Jenn and I could go places and safely store our gear on the bike -- but initially that was not a thought I had managed to logically form in my tiny brain. So, instead I just badmouthed the things to Jenn. Because she doesn't read this blog, she assumed I had badmouthed them to you, as well.

I am glad now that I didn't. 

Throw-over saddlebags are not hard panniers. Whether that's good or bad depends on you. When thinking about motorcycle luggage, take the time to think about what you want the luggage to do and what you want out of it. There are advantages and disadvantages to both systems. VikingBags.com, by the way, offers a range of hard side cases. Though, sadly, they are all intended for use on cruisers.

So, let's take a look at the Viking AXE Saddlebags and review them fairly. 

What's good:

My bike (and the bags) on the Scottish border.
+ Durably made. The bags are constructed of a thick Cordura-like material. I have put something approaching 1,500 miles on them thus far and the material still looks brand new. It has suffered rain, high winds and countless exploding insects at motorway speeds without rip, tear or fade. I have had a teeny tiny bit of stitching start to come loose on one of the side strap loops, but I think that is the result of my deliberately overloading the bags once by stuffing them with a week's shopping.

+ Simple, good look. If you've ever bought an Oxford product, no doubt one of your greatest complaints was that it was clearly designed by someone whose sense of style became frozen in time somewhere around 1986. Generally their stuff is pretty good, but it looks awful. It declares to the world: "I am a cheap bastard." This is not the case with the Viking AXE Saddlebags. All black, and decorated with little more than a VikingBags badge, they look good on any bike.

+ ExpandableAs is, each bag offers about 22 litres of storage space. They can be expanded to provide 26 litres, giving you a whopping 52 litres of space. When I went to Scotland, that was enough to hold all the clothes I needed for eight days (save two pairs of jeans I put in a different bag), as well as a pair of running shoes, a pair of hiking boots, and various small things for bike maintenance.

+ Relatively easy to put on. The first time you put these bags on your bike, you should allocate roughly 45 minutes for you to stand around swearing, contorting and trying to figure out the best way to ensure the damned things are on your bike securely and without causing damage to your bike. This is because there are no instructions. Once you work out a system, however, you'll find that getting the bags on or off the bike takes closer to 45 seconds.

+ Passenger friendly. As evidenced by Jenn's joining me on the 60-mile ride to the Gower, the straps that go over the passenger seat do not prevent you from carrying a passenger. Jenn says she cannot feel the strap when she sits on it. And on my Honda CBF 600 SA, at least, I am able to push the bags far enough back that they don't have any effect on how she places her feet on the pegs.

+ Affordable. Certainly one of the initial selling points of the Viking AXE Saddlebags is that they are incredibly affordable, usually cheaper than any comparable bags I have seen. As with a lot of Viking products, such as the Viking Cycle Hammer jacket, the quality is better than the price would suggest.

What's not so good:

In Lake District National Park
- Poor quality control. Having just said that overall quality is good, I have to admit there are some aspects of the bags that make me think their production is lacking a certain amount of oversight. Such as:
  • The side straps don't make sense. The bags are secured to your bike firstly via two large adjustable Velcro straps that go over the passenger seat, but also by four smaller straps. The smaller straps -- two on each bag -- have trident-style buckles that clip to buckles you've attached to the frame. That probably sounds a bit confusing, so take a look at this picture and note the strap running from the bottom of the bag toward the passenger foot peg. Note, too, that the strap is on the inside of the set up. As it should be. And as it is on one of the bags I have. But not the other. My left-side bag has the strap running away from the bike, so I have to twist it back and place stress on a cloth loop that's probably not designed to hold the bags in place at 80 mph.
  • Velcro patches to close the bag don't match up. Once the bag is zipped "shut" there is an additional little flap that, presumably, would help to keep water out -- if it worked. Sadly it does not. Where the tapered flap meets the bag is not where its corresponding Velcro patch is located, so you are left with a wee bit of material that flaps in the breeze.
  • Zipper design means bag does not fully close. You'll notice that in the preceding paragraph I put the word "shut" in quotation marks. This is because the bag doesn't really shut. When zipped fully there is still a gap large enough for my finger to poke through. It is a problem that probably would not be a problem if the aforementioned flaps worked correctly. 
  • Random strange bits. Mysteriously, there are two large buckles concealed in elastic on each bag. They do not connect to anything. This is either a design flaw or a feature that has not been fully realised.


- Expanded bags not as useful as you'd like. Although the expanded bags hold a lot of stuff, getting that stuff in there is something of a challenge. This is because the size of the bag's opening does not change. So, for example, an expanded bag could easily hold a full-size helmet but you will never get one in there because the bag's opening is only about 4-5 inches wide. When packing and unpacking the bags on my Scotland trip, I suffered a fair few cut knuckles scraping my hand on the zipper when stuffing things in.

- Rough "anti-slip" coating scratches paint. The back of the bag (i.e., the side that faces your bike) has a lining that is supposed to help prevent it from slipping around. The problem is that this lining will scratch the living hell out of your paint. I learned this the hard way, which was one of the reasons Jenn heard me badmouth the bags so vociferously. My workaround was to cut up an Oxford Blanket (it's kind of like a thin yoga mat) and glue it to the bags. This protects my paint and keeps the bags from slipping.

The bags have held up well in all weather.
- The bags are not waterproof. This is an issue exacerbated by the problems in keeping the bags fully closed. I dealt with this by making sure that everything within them was wrapped in at least two plastic bags.

- Rain covers are useless. The bags come with rain covers that are supposed to slip over the outside of the bags and cinch shut via elastic cord. The problem with this system is that it offers no protection on the back (the side facing the bike), and, more problematically, does not account for the straps that are securing the bag to the bike. The rain covers really only fit the bags if they are not attached to your motorcycle. So, I just used them as extra cover for things I had on my passenger seat and rack.

- Cumbersome to carry. The bags pictured on the VikingBags.com website have handles. The bags I received do not. This means that when you are transporting them to and from your hotel room it can be a little awkward. Eventually I settled on a method of slinging the bags over my shoulder, pack mule style.

The final verdict

All in all, I'd say the bags are value for money. Especially if what you're really looking for are soft bags. And certainly there are advantages to such things: they are lighter, easier to throw around, and you don't need to permanently affect the aesthetic of your bike with mounting hardware. Additionally, their being made of fabric allows a little more wiggle room in terms of the shape of things you put in them (though, as I mentioned above, not as much as I'd like).

And certainly when you start to do price comparisons, the Viking AXE Saddlebags become quite appealing. They're not perfect, but for the money you save you might find yourself happy to put up with a few foibles.

____________________

(a) I wrote about that adventure in four parts: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4

Friday, 18 July 2014

Bring on Dirt Quake IV


I'm missing Dirt Quake III this weekend and I can't help feeling ridiculously foolish for doing so. Oh, sure, I have a good reason for doing so -- actually, two good reasons -- but that doesn't make me feel any better. I can't help feeling that this is the sort of thing that will go on the list of Greatest Regrets to be flashed before me in my final moments within the mortal coil. Right up there with the time I chose not to dance the polka with Miss El Cajon at an Oktoberfest celebration in Santee, California, and the time I changed my mind about going to senior prom with a girl after she had already bought her dress.

OK, perhaps it won't be that bad. But, still, I really wish I were there.

Dirt Quake, for those of you who don't spend hours of your life searching motorcycle tags on Vimeo and Tumblr, is a ridiculous motorcycling event that takes place each year in eastern England. Perhaps it is best known for hosting flat track races for bikes that are woefully ill suited for flat track, such as choppers, scooters and well, whatever else is inappropriate for use on a dirt track. It is a weekend of hipster/chopper/flat-tracker/nuevo-rocker boneheadedness. 

How could you not want to see this?
If you haven't heard of it, don't feel bad: it is not all that well known. Well, not here, at least. You'll find no mention of it on Visor Down or MCN or any other major UK-based motorcycling website. People here aren't into that sort of thing. Or, that's the perception. I often wonder if things that Britons allegedly dislike are actually disliked or simply said to be disliked by the cynical, creatively lazy people in the UK who control the mainstream.

I digress. And certainly if you take a look at the cheerless, middle-aged, shaven-headed, bacon-sandwich-eating, rollie-smoking, worn-leather-onesie-wearing, let-me-tell-you-why-the-1998-Honda-Fireblade-was-the-best-bike-ever-talking numpties that are so prevalent at UK motorcycle shows, it's not hard to imagine that Dirt Quake wouldn't be up their street. That's doubly true of motorcyclists in Wales. Here in the Land of Song, the Suzuki Gladius is king. The Welsh love cheap mediocrity. They are like people of the Appalachia without the good music, interesting personalities, or innate ability to jerry-rig machinery.

It was my frustration with this situation that led to my discovering Dirt Quake. Why oh why, I lamented, did Britain not have things like Mama Tried or Born Free or Wheels and Waves or Deus or See See, etc.? Why, in the country that created the mods and rockers and cafe racers and the Triumphs ridden by Marlon Brando, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Elvis, Steve McQueen and the Fonz, was there no modern "cool" motorcycling culture?

It turns out there is. It's just really hard to find. British subculture is a lot more sub. But with some digging I found out about things like Bike Shed and places like Krazy Horse and, eventually, Dirt Quake. And when I saw the video for Dirt Quake II, I made a vow to myself that I would be there when Dirt Quake III rolled around.

But, as I said above: I won't be there. Firstly, because the guys at Sideburn Magazine (who organise the event) chose to have the event take place on the same weekend that Jenn and I are celebrating our wedding anniversary. Really poor planning on their part, if you ask me.

I had considered trying to convince Jenn to come along, to convince her this would be a fun/funny way to spend our anniversary, and I think I probably could have succeeded (a), but we burned all our money on our recent trip to the United States.

I'm missing all the fun.
So, I won't be there. And I am heartbroken about it. Sure, it falls on an inconvenient weekend, at a time when I have no money, and it would require that I ride to the other side of the country and sleep in a field on a weekend for which thunderstorms are forecast. But that doesn't feel like a good enough excuse. Deep down in my gut, I feel this is something I will really regret missing.

The good news is that it seems likely there will be a Dirt Quake IV. This year's Dirt Quake is big enough to draw Guy Martin as a participant (who said of Dirt Quake: "There's nothing else like it... everything else is like a sea gull following a tractor"). He will be there racing a chopper on the flat track. 

The event has also drawn enough attention beyond the shores of Blighty that there are replica events elsewhere. Back in May, the first-ever Dirt Quake USA took place. (The video of that event makes me think that a pilgrimage to Washington state may one day be in order.) Hopefully, all this bodes well for the future of the event.

And hopefully, next time I will make it. 

____________________


(a) Just the other day, she expressed passing interest in getting a scooter. And she has said that when we move to the United States she might get a motorcycle since licensing is easier.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Where fat, old men ride bikes

Stillwater, MN
Hola, by the way. I was so eager to write up a post about the Harley-Davidson LiveWire as soon as I got back that I didn't even take the time to mention it's good to be back. Well, back blogging, at least. I wouldn't have minded staying in America for a little longer.

Mrs. Cope and I were there for a little shy of three weeks, visiting my family in various parts of the Central Time Zone. First we spent a few days in Texas, where we celebrated my grandfather's 90th birthday. Then we flew up to Minnesota to spend some time with friends and family in the Twin Cities, as well as celebrate the United States' 238th birthday.

As I say, I would have liked to have stayed longer, and one of my biggest regrets is that I didn't get a chance to meet up with Lucky, who I count as one of my real influences in this whole motorcycle obsession thing. I especially would have liked to have gotten his thoughts on some of the things I observed about the state of motorcycling in the United States. Or, at least, the state of motorcycling in Minnesota.  

I guess I had always known but never truly observed just how dominant Harley-Davidson is in American motorcycling. But, yeesh, it was almost creepy to see that level of uniformity. Outside of Austin, I'd say a solid 95 percent of the bikes I saw were cruisers. 

In Austin, I saw a little more moto-variety (I even spotted an old BSA!), so that gave me hope. Which is somewhat the opposite of what I felt when I was up in Stillwater, MN.

Get your wobble on 

It's likely you've never heard of Stillwater, Minnesota. The town gets name checked in Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage," but beyond that it's pretty unspectacular. 

Or, at least, I think it gets mentioned in that song. The line "I'll take the river down to Stillwater/ And ride a pack of dogs" certainly makes sense in a Minnesota context; Stillwater sits on the St. Croix, once a major logging river. I'm not wholly sure about the "pack of dogs" bit, though. Maybe Chris Cornell is referencing sled dog racing, which takes place in the surrounding St. Croix Valley.

I could be grasping at straws, however. Perhaps Soundgarden is singing about a different Stillwater. In which case, the Minnesota town's claim to fame is that it is a quaint Americana spot on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border that has become a destination for local motorcyclists. The roads through town are arrow straight, and curves on the surrounding roads are few and far between, yet the rumble of motorcycle engines is constant. Perhaps bikers of the Upper Midwest just really love homemade fudge and bridal boutiques.

You could be forgiven for thinking
only one type of bike is sold in America.
Jenn and I visited Stillwater one afternoon and chose to take a leisurely lunch at a place called Charlie's, which is notorious for its slow service. Never go there hungry, or if you want good food, or if you have anything to do that day. But on a sunny summer afternoon its large patio is a great place to drink beer while taking in the boats on the river, and the endless parade of V-twins that trundle the town's main streets.

Jenn and I sat at Charlie's for nigh two and a half hours. It was a weekday, so traffic was light, but I'd venture to say that a bike would pass by at least every two minutes or so. I saw just one bike that wasn't a V-twin -- a BMW K1600 -- and only a handful of riders wearing helmets. The longer I sat there, the more disheartened I felt by the apparent state of motorcycling in Minnesota, and, by extension, the United States.

"This is where fat, old men come to ride their bikes," observed my wife.

She had said it in a joking way, but the truth of her statement was undeniable. A good 80 percent of the riders we saw were very definitely closer to (or beyond) retirement than middle age, and not one of them looked to have skipped a meal since the Carter administration. Almost without exception, the only people wearing helmets were female. And no one -- not one person -- wore a protective jacket of any kind. By and large, riding gear consisted of T-shirts, shorts and tennis shoes.

We were sat within eyesight of two intersections, so we got to watch no less than two dozen dudes nearly drop their bikes as they struggled to overcome the oh-so-mighty challenge of going in a straight line slowly. Everyone else (but the BMW guy, of course) took off from a stop with both feet splayed out. Additionally, I saw an annoyingly large number of dudes attempting to navigate town while keeping their feet on the highway pegs. And, of course, almost all were revving their engines (because, yeah, you need to keep the RPM up on that brand new fuel-injected bike). 

It was a constant flow idiocy that suddenly reminded me why I hadn't gotten a bike after earning my motorcycle endorsement 20 years ago: I didn't want to be associated with people like this. What 18-year-old kid wants to loop himself in with these goobers? Sitting there, I felt a wave of embarrassment to think that this is what my Minnesota friends must imagine when I tell them I now ride a motorbike.

I thought of my previous assertion that the Upper Midwest is the motorcycling heart of America. I thought, too, of a conversation I had in April with one of the UK engineers for Victory Motorcycles. He told me of getting to visit Polaris headquarters in Minnesota, and the company organising a group ride to Stillwater. Thinking about that now made me sad. This is the sort of thing that Victory engineers are shown; this is the audience they are targeting. No wonder they don't bother putting good brakes on the Victory Judge.

And all of it offers a less-than-rosy picture of the future of motorcycling. If you look at the people and bikes rolling through Stillwater, there is very little to make you envious, to make you think: "Ooh, I want to be like that guy." And if you love bikes like I do, seeing the utter lack of good examples in terms of riding and riders makes you feel that motorcycling must be doomed.

I'm ashamed to inform you that the behaviours I spotted in Stillwater extended to many other parts of the state I so desperately love. My people are morons.

The comforting news is that there are other people in other states. And somewhere out there -- in Austin, for example -- there are people who aren't living up to bad "South Park" stereotypes. Enough of them that even Harley-Davidson is making some new, different and interesting bikes, like the LiveWire. It's just a pity that so few such people are visible in my adopted home state.

So, for the sake of my 18-year-old self and the 38-year-old man who wishes he had gotten a bike way back when, if you are one of the non idiots of America please do what you can to make yourself visible. Be a good example. Ride your bike properly. Don't be a bonehead. Help combat this stupid, embarrassing image. 

If you are a motorcyclist in Minnesota, meanwhile, please take an MSF course and learn how to ride.

Friday, 11 July 2014

What I Want: Harley-Davidson LiveWire

Don't hate on the future: the Harley-Davidson LiveWire
We seem to have fallen into an unhappy pattern in the modern era: any time anything happens –– anything at all –– there is an instant chorus of vicious critics.

Take Ann Coulter, for example. If you live outside the United States and have never heard of her, count yourself lucky. She is an awful and ridiculous person who goes out of her way to say awful and ridiculous things. Recently, while the United States men's soccer team was finding success in the World Cup she declared it was "a sign of the nation's moral decay."

Obviously, she is simply saying nasty things to get attention. Sadly, she's nowhere near being alone in such behaviour. We have built a culture in which vitriolic criticism is instantly issued for all things. The new, the old, the different, the same, the big, the small, the beautiful, the ugly, the stupid or the brilliant –– it all gets met with a tidal wave of harsh words on the internet.

But listen, y'all: sometimes a thing is just good. Sure, it's not perfect. Nothing is. But overall, it's so innately good that any fault-finding is really only a reflection of the critic's flaws.

Such is the case with the Harley-Davidson LiveWire. When America's oldest continuous motorcycle manufacturer –– renown and often lambasted for its restrained approach –– is on the verge of becoming the first major OEM in the world to deliver an electric motorcycle, that is good. It's good for motorcycling, it's good for the environment, it's good for green technologies, it's good for America, it's good for Harley-Davidson.

This is more than just "good". It is big. Actually, no. Let's move beyond the gentle superlatives and call this what it is: a potential seismic shift in motorcycling. The LiveWire is the Reformation; it is the Industrial Revolution; it is Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon; it is the point at which everything changes.

"[My] time on the LiveWire was fleeting but I still came away with a profound sense that I'd covered the biggest motorcycle story of my life," wrote Motorcycle USA journalist Mark Gardiner in a recent review.

Gardiner isn't the only one. Every review I've seen has expressed a sort of wild-eyed giddiness for this almost-certain future offering from Harley-Davidson.


Out of the blue


If you've been out of the loop for a while, let me get you up to speed on what everyone's so excited about. A few weeks ago, pictures emerged of Scarlett Johansson riding a rather unique motorcycle on the set of an upcoming Avengers film. Or, well, Scarlett Johansson's somewhat boy-faced stunt double. (Take a good look at this picture and you'll see that the rider's "hair" is actually a very cleverly disguised helmet) What's important, though, is the bike. Carrying the Harley-Davidson badge, observers noticed that the bike was just a little too polished to be a standard movie-set machine.

Those road-compliant yellow reflectors, for instance. The mirrors. The overall finish. The fact that the bike's name –– LiveWire –– was emblazoned on the motor housing. All these clues pointed to an actual bike that someone actually intended to produce for the mass market.

That's not so strange. Harley's pulled this sort of thing before, cleverly working its Street 750 into Captain America: Winter Soldier before ever announcing that the bike existed. But what was different here was that the bike being ridden by Johansson's stunt double was so very much not like a Harley-Davidson. It looked a little more like a Ducati Diavel with its styling. It had a sit-up-and-beg seating position. And –– least H-D-like of all –– it was an electric motorcycle.

An electric motorcycle. From Harley-Davidson.

Cats and dogs living together, people. And before we could recover from having our minds blown at the very thought of such a thing, Harley-Davidson announced that the rumours were true. They have indeed embarked on an electric motorcycle project.

That's what they're calling it right now: a project. They go out of their way to point out that the bikes are not for sale. Yet. But they have produced several dozen of them and will be touring H-D dealerships in the US and Europe over the next year or so, offering test rides and "gauging customer feedback."

That's probably marketing speak for "generating consumer demand". In his article, Gardiner says the LiveWire is just too polished, too ready to simply be a project. He says most moto-journalists expect an announcement on the LiveWire going into production will come within 18 months. You know, about the time that upcoming Avengers film will be released...

A new era


So, take a moment to let all this sink in. All of it. Ignore the internet hater machine and just think about the countless implications of the LiveWire. This is so very big, it's hard to know where to begin.

Obviously, we've had electric motorcycles for a while. Not too long ago, I wrote a post in which I stated my belief that electric motorcycles would be a part of the mainstream within 10-20 years. So, Harley-Davidson's not doing anything new there. Indeed, with the LiveWire's current claimed range of 55 miles on a charge (a) it is a little behind the curve of Zero, Brammo and the like.

The seismic shift, however, comes in the fact that it is an electric motorcycle from Harley-Davidson –– a major, worldwide OEM. Existing e-bike companies can't touch the dealer network, publicity strength or clout of such a major player. There's a possibility that Yamaha could release its PES-1 before the LiveWire, thus earning it the distinction of being the very first major OEM to offer an electric motorcycle, but I would argue that the release of the LiveWire will have greater impact.

Harley-Davidson understands better than any other OEM the importance of intangibles like emotion, experience and impression. Performance and cost always play a part in our motorcycle-buying decisions, but Harley-Davidson gets that how the bike makes us feel is just as important, if not more so. And Harley-Davidson equally has the power, and the marketing muscle and know-how, to shape these intangibles. Yamaha (or Honda or BMW –– who knows what they're up to) may manage to get an electric motorcycle to the public sooner, but Harley-Davidson will be more successful at making the public want to buy one.

Additionally, it can use its clout and financial muscle to push for better charging network infrastructure, develop more efficient batteries and win government subsidies to encourage people to buy electric. All this would be accelerated as soon as Harley-Davidson saw even a modicum of success with the LiveWire because other OEMs would very quickly jump in the pool. To that end, I want to amend my claim that electric motorcycles will be mainstream within 10-20 years.

I am now happy to go on record saying that electric motorcycles will be a part of the motorcycling mainstream (b) within 5 years of the LiveWire going on sale. Seriously, y'all. Bookmark this blog post. It will happen.

Take my money, Harley-Davidson


While I'm making bold declarations, how about this one: I am so confident in the game-changing nature of Project LiveWire that I will state here and now that I plan to buy one. I want to be one of the first. Many decades from now, I want to be able to look back and say that I saw the seismic shift for what it was and that I was there on the ground floor when it began. So, when the day comes that the LiveWire goes into production, I will head straight to my nearest Harley-Davidson dealer and put down a deposit. I promise.

Of course, one of the reasons I'm willing to make that promise is the fact that, in the LiveWire, Harley-Davidson has managed to create an electric motorcycle that I'd actually want to buy. Thus far electric motorcycles have only been offered in the guise of ungodly expensive sport bikes or rickety things that look like glorified bicycles. The LiveWire, though, looks cool. Someone with a genuine sense of style and design has put some effort into this thing.

A lot of effort, actually. The bike is covered with nifty touches, such as the industrial-looking motor casing, or the oddly cool front turn signals. This, as I say, is an electric motorcycle that manages to speak to the intangibles. And in so doing it makes me willing to take on the unique challenges of an electric bike as related to range, staying forever aware of just how far I am from a charging station.

I like, too, that the bike has a more "normal" seating position. If you're a regular reader of this blog you'll know that I am forever waging an internal battle over what looks cool and what's actually enjoyable to ride. I liked the look of the Triumph America, for example, but couldn't stand to be on the thing for more than 5 minutes. Whereas I loved the comfort of the Triumph Tiger Explorer XC but hated its aesthetics. The LiveWire manages to mix those two worlds.

With it being a Harley-Davidson, of course, the bike will almost certainly be customisable in some fashion, with roughly a million different accessories ranging from fake fuel caps to peg relocation kits. I'm fond of the bike more or less as it is but I like the idea of being able to create a more unique look –– something that isn't really possible with, say, a Zero.

OK, yes, I'll admit that to a certain extent I'm drinking the Harley-Davidson Kool-Aid where this bike is concerned, but I think that's part of the reason I'm so excited by it. It is exciting to think of an electric motorcycle actually being cool rather than simply a morally admirable purchase.

And speaking of which, the bike sounds pretty cool, as well. At high speed it's got that devilish TIE fighter whine. At lower speed, you are free to just listen to the world around you and better connect with it. No, the old men of the American Midwest won't be able to sit and rev it at stop lights, but those of us who don't have a tiny penis will get by just fine sans loud pipes.

The LiveWire is a harbinger of the not-too-distant future. The rumbling joy of a combustion engine will never completely die, but I genuinely believe we will one day mark this as the moment when the combustion engine's monopoly on motorcycling began to fade. I can't wait to see the LiveWire in the metal. I can't wait for the opportunity to hand my hard-earned money to Harley-Davidson in exchange for one.

Because this motorcycle is a very good thing.

––––––––––––––––––––––––

(a) Most journalists feel this is the only real "project" part of the bike and that a production LiveWire would have a larger (and heavier) battery, giving it greater range. Additionally, there is suspicion that Harley-Davidson has worked/ is working pretty closely with Mission, who claim a range of 140 "real-world" miles for their Mission R electric motorcycle. 

(b) I predict they will be at least as popular as sport-tourer bikes are now.