The current economic crisis is going to play hell with the motorcycle industry and the suppliers of riding gear next year. With the Holiday season shaping up to be as cheery as the December the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, 2009 is going to get off to a very rocky start. Every rebound of the world markets is followed by a plunge of equal or greater magnitude, and today’s news of Citi Bank woes is driving home a sense of financial foreboding that few Americans can appreciate.
Those of us with a two-wheel addiction are going feel a hit. No matter how you slice it, riding a motorcycle is an expensive proposition.
There is nothing about a motorcycle that doesn’t fall under discretionary spending. Even the most Chevy-like Hondas (arguably the most maintenance friendly bikes on the road) will require tires two or three times more frequently than any car. That pretty much negates any savings in fuel -- especially at the current rock bottom prices. And those buying into this addiction this year -- starting from scratch -- will have the joy of purchasing riding gear too.
The worst way to purchase riding gear is the way I did it -- piecemeal. I bought the cheapest shit I could find to meet minimum riding parameters. This was a $69 dollar open-faced helmet and $10 gloves. I rode in jeans, hiking boots and a wind-resistant jacket that I had in my closet. Believe it or not, the first time I’d heard of a mesh jacket was in a Motorcycle Views forum. And then I bought the shitiest one of those I could find for $69 too!
Cheap gear always turns out to be the most expensive investment you can make... Because you are going to spend every cent of that money over again when the cheap shit breaks, splits, tears, soaks through, or dissolves when your cheap fat ass hits the pavement. You don’t have to spend top dollar to get great stuff, but you will pay 30 percent to 40 percent more to get adequate stuff. Regrettably, first time riders or reentry riders on a shoestring budget seldom see it that way. And the cash-tight constraints of 2009 are going to guarantee that a lot of riders are making due with cheap shit.
It can be argued that the average squid or kid-on-the street rider seldom gets this stuff anyway. But I was thinking of how the motorcycle market has come to depend on the middle-aged reentry rider who has had the cash to burn on a new bike and the stuff that comes with it. I read that the average age of the Harley Davidson rider is 58! That means the average BMW rider got their first bike six years after the last shot was fired in the Civil War.
That same freewheeling bunch is now discovering their retirement funds and 401k’s have been seriously devalued. The fixed income crowd is becoming cash-squeezed. And forty-year-old somethings who have been considering motorcycles, or who have recently acquired bike payments, are now finding themselves scrambling to meet the mortgage and grocery bills. Motorcycles have a way of becoming low priorities with those who are about to consider health care and tuition payments as luxuries.
I think at least two marques will come close to extinction as per their 2009 sales in the US. One because its Halloween costume life-style is based on converting gold into chrome excess, with the sale of clothing and trick or treat stuff becoming more important than the actual two-wheeled hardware itself. And the other because the cost of its trademark bikes is about $4000 more than a decent compact car, coupled with the fact the new corporate strategy is to have two dealers in the US (one on each coast).
I see a lot of barely used bikes going up for sale these days. I have noted that more than a few come with helmets, gloves, jackets, and left over visions now stained with a new reality. Some guys have discovered a new dimension to life: fear. If not a fear of dropping the bike in a curve, than the fear of dropping the financial ball.
How can we get through the next year? My discretionary fund is now a large jar filled with change harvested from my pockets every day and from the floor of the car once each month. It weighs about 25 pounds and is mostly quarters and dimes. This is my riding money for 2009. On the savings end, I have decided to limit dining out with the squeeze to once a month. This includes coming home with KFC, a pizza, or Chinese and should save from $150 to $200 on a monthly basis. I have a pretty well-stocked bar, but will no longer replenish it. I will drink down what I have and then give it up. Since I have premium cable, I will not go to another movie for a year. (Most of them really suck anyway.)
As far as Christmas gifts go, I’ll take care of Stiffie (my squeeze) and my daughter. For everyone else, I’m going to plant a tree to honor their friendship, and to offset the carbon bullshit of politicians scrambling to fix the economy.
I typically spend $10-$20 on a meal when I stop on a trip. That’s because I look for a nice country tavern. That’s over now. I will begin packing my lunch when I head out for a ride. I bought a great stainless steel Nissan/Thermos for $19 last year. It holds a pint. I have a special coffee at home that I love. I will be able to fill the vacuum bottle for $1.10, and enjoy a better steaming cup of Joe than I can find at most greasy spoons. A #1 “Big Mac” meal at McDonalds runs about 1800 calories and costs $5.99 At the current price of gas, about $2.40 a gallon for high-test in Pennsylvania, that’s more than 130 miles of range.
I may have to rediscover camping too. I made my first reservation for a bike trip in 2009. It’s a run I’ve done before, to a rustic cabin in Maryland’s Elk Neck State Park. That cost $100 for two nights. And I’ve also made my reservations in a hotel for the BMW MOA Rally next July. But aside from that, I suspect I’m going to become a regular saddle tramp.
I hate traveling cheap, but none of this was my idea. If anyone wants to say that I am not doing my part to pump cash into the economy, please direct your remarks to the suits at AIG, General Motors, and Citi Bank. They had a lot more to do with it than I did. In fact, I would cheerfully pay $100 to have the CEOs from those companies wash my bike, or twice that to have them kiss my ass. Yours too, in fact.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)