Monday, November 24, 2008

Learning to Travel Cheap... Compliments of “The Suits” at AIG, General Motors, and Citi Bank

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)


Anonymous said...

Some fun, eh? While you should never see the inside of a McDonald's ever again except to buy a diet Coke or use the men's room, your assessment is spot on. If things stay on this course your personal weight loss program will progress a-pace, on a par with that of 'Survivor' contestants or Tom Hanks in "Castaway". Say hello to Wilson for me!

MackBeemer said...

Also, was ist so nur?!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately,you may be spot on with a lot of new and reentry riders.
I myself as many others have taken the hit you mentioned re: retirement accounts. Down 40% and I continue to look for signs of recovery,oh well.
Hopefully people will take your suggestions to heart and purchase equipment which will last.
Rode the bike to its' winter quarters this past week, 31 degrees and being dressed for it, not all that bad.
Thanks for the continued humor,
Grandad 43
PS 14

redlegsrides said...


very good assessment on how economics drive the purchase of suitable safety gear for new/re-entry riders.

The running joke when I got my first (used) beemer: What's the cheapest thing on a BMW? The owner!

There's more than a grain of truth to the above statement! I too went with some cheap gear and it did not last. My current riding gear was expensive but now that its been crash-tested, it's more than worth the cost! : )

You've always got a crash pad here in the Denver area....just let me know ahead of time so I can stock up the liquor and warn the neighbors to lock up their daughters.


Anonymous said...



Jack Riepe said...

Dear Grandad43:

Normally, I would have bought a few things from Whitehorse Gear as stocking stuffers for friends, in addition to one or two things for myself. It's just not going to happen this year. The little things that I like are all $30/$40 and I don't have the cash.

But have a great Thanksgiving anyway, At least we're warm, well fed and among friends. That's a lot to be thankful for.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Mack:

I got a note from a guy on the Motorcycle Views list today. He lives over by suffern and sent me the details of a ride through Harriman Park. I'm thinking of making that my next Perdition's Socks Ride in the spring.

We'll all meet in New Jersey. Ride up the Hudson. Criss-cross Harriman Park to West Point, and have a motel party on a Saturday night. That should be a pisser.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mack

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

Cash is going to get tight in the motorcycle industry. I was just thinking today that if I had my way, I'd take a look at the new Nolan helmets with the interior sun visor. But they are close to $300 and I can't spend the money.

I'd also like that new Fuel Plus monitoring system, but that's $336 too!

Have a great Thanksgiving. Better times are coming.

Fondest regards,

I wouldn't have thought twice about it last year.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Granny2Wheels:

The dogs bark but the caravan moves on. I pride myself on fulfilling each aspect of your most recent assessment.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Fondest regards,

Anonymous said...

You CHEAP BASTARD. How dare you not stimulate the economy as a consumer (err, I mean citizen). You shall stimulate, do it now.

Mr. Riepe, you are spot on the the price of's not cheap by any measure unless you ride a 500cc commuter bike like a old lady. Used gear is a great way to get into the sport for those that are thinking such. BTW, McDonalds McChickens are a good deal for $1...a much better value than a Big Mac.

The trouble with the 201Ks that most people now hold is the people who own these accounts. Too many spend more time planning their weekend motorcycle trip than their financial future. If people didnt see this stock market downturn coming, I say it's only their fault. It's a shame, but true.

You think things are tough now? Get ready for HYPER-inflation in 2009 and beyond!

John said...

You know I used to feel bad about not having a 401K and such. But well, I didn't lose anything. Yeah me!

The big 3 begging for a bail out sickens me to no end. Its not like this was a surprise, it not like their share of the market hasn't been shrinking every year since 1975. I feel sorry for the little guys working for them, but not for the companies. Maybe if they could actually design and build a good, economical vehicle with a short turn around time, they could bail themselves out of this mess. Chrysler is the worst they have been here before and got a bail out. Then they sold millions of worthless "K cars" and got solvent, only to blow it again. Speaking of which when was the last time you saw a running K car? Yeah, high quality. Couldn't even hold up 10 years.

You are right though Jack the motorcycle suppliers are going to take a big hit. Small independent shops that make their living selling aftermarket gear will be the first ones to pack it in. All gear is over priced and has been for years. I know that the only thing I will buy this year is a new pair of light weight gloves, $29.99. Other than oil, filters and such thats it.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Anonymous:

Unless one is talking about an Aerostitich -- including those that are more street cred than material -- used gear is like a used toothbrush.

I am going to buy a bottle of rye today, drink it, and write letters to the government. That's my response to the government stimulus. You write like my friend Chris Jacarrino.

Fondest regards,

Anonymous said...

A tip of the visor to you. Sorry to hear about the economic woes.
I know all to well about what is happening to the state of retirement. My mom had her money in a 401 K and was hoping to retire before the stock market bottomed out. She's now saying she won't be retiring until she is seventy. I have my money in a 401 K too, but hope that things recover before I get that old.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,
Carrie aka Rebelion

Jack Riepe said...

Dear John:

The best stimulus package the government can offer is new rules for the banking community, tough but realistic terms for the bailout payback, and a major restructuring for the automobile manufacturing industry. And the keyword is jobs and plenty of them. From now on US firms that send jobs overseas need to have their asses kicked.

New jobs... New factories... New trades... And new prosperity.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Carrie!

It's great to see your comment in this column today! Happy Thanksgiving! Better days are coming. I think the spell of financial complacency is broken. No one will take Wall Street at its word ever again.

And I think the nation will no focus on manufacturing again, as opposed to making money the new fangled way -- pulling it out of a hat.

I look forward to riding with you some time this year. How is your Triumph holding up?

Fondest regards,

Anonymous said...

Hi Jack! Happy Thanksgiving to you too.
The Triumph? I'm not sure. it could be a really great motorcycle if it weren't doing little things that make me think Triumph doesn't have all the bugs worked out of the Bonneville. Broken spokes, loose battery cable, oil leaks.mirrors that flap in the wind, and a fuel valve that fails letting the gas flow into the air filter and oil, flooding the bike and causing vapor lock and a compamy that whines when you call them on using their warantee. If it weren't for stuff like that, I'd say it's great.
If I lied to you, I'd need to go to confession right now.
How's the Beemer?

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Carrie:

I'm shocked to read that the new and improved Triumph sounds a lot like the old one. I really thought you were racing around on a trouble-free ride. I can see a spoke letting go if you whacked a good sized pothole. The oil leak and the business with the fuel valve is inexcusable though.

The Beemer does not have a fuel valve. It has a fuel pump that shuts off when the ignition is switched off. The pump is electric and the one on my bike is now 14 years old. It makes me think.

Simply stated, the K75 doesn't break down. I had one legitimate broken part in 2008. There is a dash mounted device that indicates what gear the bike is in. I know this sounds terribly lame but don't knock it if you haven't used one. I slammed my bike into gear with the "warm-up" accelerator (not really a choke) wide open and it knocked the gear shift indicator out of whack. It was $50 for the part and $150 to put it in.

But I had my annual maintenance done this past month, with a voltmeter and a Centech fuse box added on. The total cost for a tune-up and getting all the fluids (except the fork oil) replaced was $880. This includes the air filter, fuel filter, and oil filter, plus new plugs and having some electrical stuff rerouted.

I expect it'll be good to go for another year.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

My old GS had a GPI (Gear Position Indicator) too. It was great to know what gear you were in so I think that was $200. well spent in your case. My SV has a guess-o-matic transmission so you have to keep track of gear changes in your mind.
My mind can't get out of gear . . . I'm still stuck with the question of how you managed to get in and out of your RX-7 and it is keeping me awake at nights.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Mr. Bobscoot:

I would rub my body down with Crisco and take a running start at the open door on the RX-7. The thought of it would keep everyone awake at night. And yet, I managed to get laid in that car too.

I know it sounds lame, but the gear position indicator is just sort of handy.

Fondest regards,

BMW-Dick said...

Dear Jack:
Expensive riding gear seems to last forever...or until you eat too many Big Macs or until it's cut off of you in an Emergency Room. I speak from personal experience.
I have this theory that the cheap bastards who finally break down and trade in the crap stuff for the "famous" stuff simply don't want to or can't afford to replace it, so even though some of the "good" stuff sux, they wear it and pass it on to the next generation of riders.
I'll be traveling with a plastic jar of Peanut Butter in my top case during the coming year. I plan to use it for lunch and perverse distractions.
Please offer my sincere appreciation to the dumb shits and assholes who run our government, our financial sector, and the Big Three Auto companies.
My Christmas wish this year is to watch the folks who invented credit swaps burn at the stake.