If you live ‘long the track like me, you,ve noticed that the trains have thinned a bit. And if you follow the tracks much, you’ll find whole unit trains of those short hopper cars they use for frac sand parked, and even the recently unobtainium tank cars are looking abandonned and forlorn in spots. Same with the rortary dump coal cars, shunted into lonely sidings by the switch to natural gas and wind. And weren’t the railorads in the middle of spending billions to upgrade tracks to handle all that oil and related traffic?

That leaves the ralroads suddenly with surplus capacity and a few thousand train crews laid off that will be looking at other career paths if they ain’t called back soon. Meanwhile, trucking is hobbling along with it’s chronic low productivity and resulting driver shortage. It’s gotten so bad that a union carrier (hourly pay, health insurance, pension, etc.) is having trouble finding qualified drivers even in my rural area.

So I’m hearing gossip that theb rail empire is going to stike back with a parry to lure all that truck traffic back to the rails. No, they probably won’t cut rates on intermodal service… Rate cutting ain’t in the railroads playbook. The gossip is about unprecedented (in the last half century) levels of service, with premium intermodal trains running at near passenger train speeds… Think of intermodal trains almost drafting Amtrak’s legendary long distance trains.

That sort of upsets the business plan of even the most dedicated truckers…

A fellow Airhead shared that term with me a decade or so ago as we enjoyed the diverse plethora of bikes at the Blind Lizard Rally on Nicollet Island in Minneapolis. “Mechanical racism” is the irrational and fact free belief that one brand or type of vehicle is superior or inferior to others. It’s most common manifestation is seen in the intense brand loyalty Ford, Chevy, GMC, and Ram (Dodge) owners have for their pickups, despite their being similar designs with similar quality and performance. That mechanical racism is so profound that after a couple decades of trying automotive giants Toyota and Nissan are still stuck in single digit pickup market shares while Fiat jumped into 3rd place in sales simply by buying Chrysler Corporation and it’s Ram/Dodge brand. And while the financial pundits cited GM and Chrysler’s pension liabilities when both went bankrupt, they ignored the fact that hundreds of thousands of loyal customers a year would blindly buy there respective favored Ford, Chevy, GMC, or Dodge pickups even if they were made south of the border by slave labor and such lemons that they couldn’t even roll of the assembly line under their own power. The only downside to this palpable “goodwill’ asset is that it’s heart will cease to beat in a decade or three, but in the meantime it’s gravy for Ford, GM, and Fiat-Chrysler.

HOG(NYSE) is a somewhat smaller producer, cranking out a couple hundred thousand bikes a year versus the big three pickup makers millions. Half a century ago the fastest bike in America was the Sportster, and the Electra Glide was the weapon of choice for long distance tourers. But a few riders had found their way to the best touring bike of the time, the BMW /2, and the Japanese manufacturers were cranking out tiddlers by the shipload and even quarter liter touring bikes. By the close of the 60s BMW, Guzzi, and no less than four Japanese makers had bikes that totally eclipsed Harley’s, and they we’re just getting started.

Meanwhile, Harley was broke and soldiered on with the same designs, unable to find funding to retool. After near bankruptcy in the 80s a new management team with the support of labor breathed some life into Harley with some updates, but the basic design still belonged in a museum. Yet paradoxically Harley’s customer base grew while becoming more narrow ideologically, to the point that if you wanted to find the next anti-immigrant or tea party rally, just check the bulletin board at your local Harley dealer. And while management brought in Erik Buell and Porsche to produce more contemporary designs, the Harley bigots bad mouthed Buell, the V-Rod, and now the Street 500/750 to oblivion. To the Harley bigots, the world is a scary place of brown people, Hondas, gays, Victories, black people, Ducatis, the EPA, Yamahas, etc…. The Harley bigots response was simple, they put on the blinders, inventing “all Harley drags” when the upstart RD350s beat their Sportsters through the quarter mile. Today that isolation has spread to the point where the Harley bigots have their own websites, magazines, suppliers, and events. The loyal HOG(NYSE) customer is so loyal that he’ll ignore a whole showroom full of superior cruisers at lower prices from a half dozen makers and walk across the parking lot to the Harley showroom and beg for a Harley. No wonder the KKK and similar low life have been known to recruit at Sturgis and other Harley events…

Something similar seems to be happening amongst some more fanatical BMW owners, especially in the U.S.. Back that half century ago a BMW was the only bike you could ride cross country without wrenching on, and the airheads continued that tradition into the 70s and 80s after some debugging. But since then BMW has spread themselves thin with a plethora of models that beg the question: What is a BMW? Meanwhile, reliability has suffered, with BMWs needing over twice as many repairs as the Japanese bikes and thousands of BMWs recalled for numerous defects.

Thus the answer to the “what is a BMW” question has become “expensive and exclusive”. Much as happened with BMW’s cars, BMW motorcycles have become more a status symbol than a tool to reliably and economically tour the country or get to work. And at the most fanatical level, in clubs like BMWMOA, we can see the same mechanical racism and worse blooming, with working class campers made uncomfortable to discourage their attendance while wealthy BMW owners are courted with luxury tours. During last years BMWMOA rally in Saint Paul, BMWMOA loyalists told me they wanted the public access to the fairgrounds restricted because they feared the neighbors were criminals that would rob them… But fact is, that site is surrounded by a university campus and safe middle class neighborhoods. We saw economic and mechanical segregation again at the recent BMWMOA rally, where BMW was given prime position near the entrance while the Airheads were relegated to a far corner of the site. When an airhead owner showed up at the gate with a few surplus airhead parts to sell, he was told he couldn’t because he’d be competing with the paying vendors… Said vendors had almost nothing to sell that fit the old BMWs and airheads. The same censorship is being applied ideologically, with dissident members being banned from the BMWMOA forum and their posts on the BMWMOA facebook page “disappeared”.

Will the KKK be recruiting at future BMWMOA rallies? I doubt it, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a suit and tie group with the similar objectives renting a hall for fundraising dinners for a Donald Trump or David Duke, with BMWMOA security keeping any protesters far away. Much like expensive suburbs have become segregated wealthy whites-only enclaves in the south, expensive BMWs and expensive BMWMOA rallies will probably produce the same result…

Geography, the Northern Pacific Railroad, and the Interstates have made Billings the logistics hub of the upper plains and Rockies. Being situated a days round trip from a bunch of national parks hasn’t hurt Billing’s hospitality industry, either. Thus Billings is a layover stop for truckers, trains, and tourists bound for more more important places. But Billings as a destination? Only the BMWMOA would fall for that line!

One of the things I’ve noted as a rally rat is how much the host town can to contribute to or destroy a rally. On one hand we’ve got the lovely city of Elkader, Iowa which has embraced and grown with the Guzzi Rally there. On the other hand we’ve got Daytona, which has so gouged riders that the BMW riders have left and even the Harley lemmings are starting to stay away. Billings, you’ve in no danger of ever becoming a Sturgis or even a Daytona…

Lets start with the site, which is basically the old county fairgrounds. But unlike even the most impoverished county fair in Minnesota where you could eat your lunch off the floor of the swine barns after the fair’s over and they’ve cleaned up, the fairgrounds is a dump. And just to reinforce that image, Billings built the sewer treatment plant right next to the fairgrounds. On a couple other sides of the fairgrounds they built 6 lane highways to shuffle all the traffic from the Interstate to US87, which through the wonders of poor planning doesn’t have an Interstate exit of it’s own… Perhaps the oil refinery just across from the fairgrounds was in the way?

Now granted, the taxpayers have been fleeced for some recent improvements to try to place Billings on the map, namely a medium sized arena and a couple medium sized exhibit halls that should be just fine for the state high school tournaments and winter farm shows. But the rest of the place is sorely lacking in landscaping or even grass, and the racetrack and grandstands looks darn near abandoned. The only shaded and grassy area of any size is an acre or so at the apex of those six lane highways, with a series of stop lights thrown in so we can count how many times some poor trucker will shift gears pulling away from a red light only to have the next light turn red on ’em. That and watching the steady stream of creative solutions to Montana’s 131,000 pounds on 11 axles weight limits and green light for long doubles and triples was mildly amusing for this retired trucker during the daylight hours.

That same conspiracy of stoplights provided a wondrous opportunity for Billings rednecks, teabaggers, and other fans of the “loud pipes save lives” mantra to get even with all them “un’merican” BMW riders by keeping them awake ’til well past bar closing time while they circled the fairgrounds attempting to demonstrate their bikes, pickups, and even big trucks considerable noise if not horsepower production. When you’ve got a 700 mile ride home a good night’s sleep is a good thing beforehand, and the couple thousand of us sleep deprived by Billing’s lowlife that has somehow managed to acquire a vehicle and remove it’s mufflers was not appreciated.

Now I suspect a mere text from the Billings Chamber’s tourism staffers who were much in evidence at rally HQ to the mayor would have brought some police presence to the area with a sound meter and maybe even a “vehicle noise limits enforced” sign would have solved that problem. But apparently in Billings the local rednecks who could never make it as cowboys but make noise with their pickups and Harleys instead are more important than a couple thousand motorcycle riders that created no problems while dropping a few million in the economy. So no Billings, we won’t bother you again. But I do have an award for you…

Billings… America’s biggest cow town.

After over an hour of product placement not so cleverly designed as the closing ceremony, a new BMW motorcycle and a bunch of tours, togs, and trinkets have been distributed. BMWMOA claims an attendance of 5800 hundred and change… But in the multiple attempts to draw winners of the door prizes I heard no numbers less than 1000 and none over 5900. That suggests that no attendees were given 3 digit numbers, dropping the high numbers for attendance to maybe 4800. Throw in the possibility that a lot of comp tickets were given out to vendors and such and weren’t used, and the 4000 estimate I was given by a registration volunteer sounds like the low range.

So attendance was probably around 4000 to 5000, rivaling the previous low numbers for BMWMOA rallies and a far cry from the glory days that pushed 10,000 paid attendance. Perhaps this explains why MOA is promoting lifetime memberships again… There’s no way of knowing how many members are still riding or even alive!

Meanwhile, the rally continues here at Airhead Central. Heck, we just put an airhead powered Yamaha cruiser on the bike lift for repairs!

Temps headed to the 90s with little shade, talk is that attendance topped 4000 and looks like ¬†at least half of them haven’t left yet. Slow day in the farkle vendor area too, with little inventory reduction… Wonder how many will come back next year? I’m kickin’ back at McDonalds, which has proven that they can take just as long to deliver crappy food(?) as any McDonalds in the world.

In a few hours we’ll snore through the awards ceremony and find out who gets stuck with a new BMW… I’m rehearsing my refusal speech just in case I’m the unlucky one. Then relax with the airheads and try to get a couple hours sleep between when the local rednecks tire of serenading us with their outa tune straight piped Harleys and trucks and when the first riders break camp at dawn -1 hour.

Was out judging the numerous entries for our exclusive “biggest RV” and “most farkled BMW” awards… This is gonna be a tough competition! Also a lot of walking throught the no less than three RV parking areas. Found some interesting factoids- like the most common bike found parked next to an RV is a GS. And here we thought the GS riders were these gnarly adventurer guys…

Noted too more than a few folks packin’ it in already, suddenly it’s possible to walk between tents. Not sure if they’ve had it with BMWMOA’s poor attempt at a rally or have to be at work on the coast monday morn… But this demographic don’t look to be of prime working age.

Being an airhead riding a Yamaha I don’t have much personal experience with these things, but from those in the know I’ve heard that renting a u-Haul truck from Billings to civilization starts at about a thousand $$$$, and that don’t include gas at 10 MPG or worse. And good luck finding one of them little Trannies that might get 15 MPG… The demand for rental vans around the BMWMOA rally is so high that you’re likely to get stuck with something that would normally require logbooks and a CDL!

Thta’s a far cry from 3 decades ago when I rode with an airhead rider across the desert who regularly commuted from Boston to southern California with no break downs. That experience sold me a new ’84 BMW R65LS that 31 years later has yet to be towed, trailered, or truck home. BMW, what happened?


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