The BMWMOA rally bombed again- Official attendance was 4000 odd souls, which means after deducting the thousand plus unissued and comp’d free tickets the real attendance was 3000 or so. Climate change can take some credit, as the triple digit heat indexes also dropped attendance at the Iowa Guzzi Rally 100+ miles north and a couple degrees cooler. A few days later climate change cancelled a Corvette gathering in Sioux Falls too.

But that’s just the beginning of what ails motorcycling… Let’s dig in the data a bit. Governments gather all kinds of obscure data, and democracies even make that data public. Thus our Census and Labor Department have been asking citizens what they do with their time, especially in the area of when we work for a few decades now. Just scratching the surface of that deep vein of data reveals that a third of us are working on peak rally days AKA weekends. That’s up from a quarter working weekends as recently as 15 years ago and probably even more from the heyday of motorcycle rallies in the 70s and 80s when their was no Home Depot and the lumberyard closed at noon saturday. Focus on the stats for the young riders motorcycling needs and they’re even more likely to be stuck working weekends.

It gets worse… It’s common knowledge that today’s young folks don’t make as much money as us seniors did in the 50s through the 70s. I took my data mining pick and shovel over to another vein in the Labor Department’s rich range of data and scraped up a few gems… Young folks today are spending about 5% less of their total income on transportation than we seniors did a few decades ago. So where did that 5% of their income go? Well, they’re spending 4% more of their income on education than we did a few decades ago!

While BMW will survive on the spending power of their well heeled car buyers, the motorcycle biz is suffering here with heavily discounted bikes lingering on showroom floors for years. And while the Iowa Guzzi Rally will do just fine thanks to the support of the volunteers and the good folks of Elkader, BMWMOA has gotten used to having it’s rallies in mega fairgrounds where a long weekend’s rent runs into six figures. With only 3000 or so paid admissions and many of them at early bird rates of $45 or so, there’s barely enough ticket revenue to cover the overhead. Another major revenue source, vendor fees that often run in the thousands for a decent indoor booth, will dry up as vendors figure out that 3000 or so mostly retired cheapskates ain’t worth it. BMWMOA, your about to go down the fiscal drain…

The solutions? Regional rallies spread around the country that hang around for a whole week. Less than ten buck a day admission with camping included. Free rider training with cheap “try before you buy” rentals. And instead of a throwaway beginner bike, a versatile and adaptable bike that will last a lifetime for under $10,000!

Fat chance any of that will happen. Motorcycling, please prove me wrong…

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Good thing I went to the Iowa Guzzi Rally in shady Elkader instead of the MOA National Rally, we’ve a “mere” 94 degree heat index instead of the 101 the MOA fanboys are suffering under in DesMoine’s concrete and asphalt fairgrounds. A couple hours east on the unforgiving asphalt of the Worlds Largest Truckstop’s annual show in Walcott down I-80 the air temperature heat index is 103, and you can probably fry just about anything on that asphalt if such seasoning is to your liking.

So a lot of us Guzzi lovers and tolerators are hanging out in the library, various eateries, and Cabelas just up the road. And despite the MOA Rally’s shrinking patronage, I suspect the air conditioned exhibit halls are crowded as bored Beemer fans drool over the farkles they already have three of. I’ve been to the Walcott truck show on days like this, and was damn near deserted, but for the paid staffers… Learned my lesson and I’m not in that sauna today!

With new high temperature records set daily and fairgrounds flooding seems like everywhere, looks like the only safe place left to hold a summer gearhead event is next to Lake Superior, and hope the winds stay out of the north.

Which reminds me of my late gearhead friend Stephanie Smith and her response when I mentioned riding somewhere… Why? Once she discovered 40+ MPG diesel cars with heat and AC, in her logical mind motorcycling didn’t make sense anymore. That said, she did have the hots for a big block Guzzi, but sadly passed before she could add one to her collection of cars, trucks, and even railroad machinery.

Got a point there… Down in south Florida where 100+ degree heat indexes occupy most of the summer days, many riders put on more miles in the winter than the summer. Being of Medicare age like many of us and having a heat aggravated  malady (MS), I don’t ride or work when the heat indexes climb into the triple digits. You can’t argue with the brutal thermodynamics… When the heat index rises over body temperature, the wind don’t cool you, only makes matters worse.

So after barely being able to stagger around after yesterday’s “heat soak”, I cooled off overnight and walked to the library and then lunch. Got brave when the heat peaked slower then expected and headed back to the campground, then retreated back to the library. There’s a storm predicted for later, wonder if I should hang here at the library or trust the campground’s storm shelter…

“Critical Mass” is when you get enough people together that the world starts taking notice and tries to cater too if not eliminate you. Given the falling attendance at this year’s grassroots moto events, I fear we may be sliding into that abyss.

First up, the now one day Naples tech day was down to 20 at best attendance and only a day’s duration. The Florida winter rally met it’s 500 attendance limit per usual, but as about the only rally left in a state of 20 million plus a few million more “snowbirds”, not much of a challenge. In a my Buffalo Ridge back yard the annual “Off Road Poker Run” was delayed due to a snow covered course and then forgotten. But the “Best Rally by Dam Site” was back to about 20 campers and even survived a ride leader who tried to keep everyone to an iron butt schedule to reach what turned out to be an abandoned restaurant down a muddy cratered dirt road on time for lunch.

Then the Bonzai Run got cancelled, though the host hotel’s inhospitably can take part of the blame. Last weekend I had no parades on the schedule and thus made my as regular as possible pilgrimage to the Iowa BMW Rally. The club put on a great event for around a mere 150 attendees, leaving one to wonder how close they’re to the break even point financially. And while I expected heavy promotion of the BMWMOA rally in Des Moines next month, it was barely mentioned. Many riders I quired aren’t going due to the $65 for next to nothing cost, and the Iowa Guzzi rally the same weekend is a far better deal.

Now one would think that a weekend of riding, camping, too much food, and comradship with fellow gearheads would be irresistible for the two wheeled masses. But motorcycle rallies seem to be down to a small core of enthusiastic riders and the guys in pickups who just came for the party. Rare exceptions are the kid who rode a Grom to the Land of Oz rally a couple years back and had a great time.

Maybe we need to listen to the kids on the Groms and scooters and bikes they dragged out of the shed and brought back to life. While British sports cars dominated Sports Car Club of America events in the 50s, fortunately they didn’t name them selves the BCCA and now their membership is growing, despite refusing to accommodate the burgeoning hordes of SUVs and trucks. BMWMOA, maybe you need to lose the “BMW” and the “tude” too!

Half a century ago, ’bout this time every spring, you could hear them sing… High pitched Honda singles. Laughing two strokes. And the occasional baritone Trumpet, BSA twin, Norton, an old man on a /2, or a just plain old and outa rhythm Harley.  Like bird spotters we learned to tell a Yamaha from a Suzuki from a block away, and as soon as we saved up the money and conned mom or dad into signing we proudly rode our Japanese solo cylinder twiddlers. As soon as our savings would allow we traded up to polyphonic twins, triples, fours, and even the lusty and rare six.

Then most of us grew up, started families, and our savings went into houses and other utilitarian needs. The 80s recession didn’t help either, and while the song of motorcycles never went silent, a lot of motorcycles quietly sat stacked floor to ceiling in warehouses. Harley flirted with bankruptcy, Ford gave Yamaha a lifeline to keep their source for a high performance engine alive, and the all powerful Japanese banks told Bridgestone to stick to tires.

Then the kids grew up and we started to doubt our virility, and like old bucks in rut crashing into each others horns and “coyotes” that were probably aged beyond reproducing anyway we needed to at least nurture fantasies otherwise. For a decade around the turn of the millennia the loud bass of the Harley drowned out near all else on two or increasingly three wheels.Then our knees got weak and our home equities crashed and the boom was over.

In an environment of adequate resources the biggest animals dominate and squeeze out the smaller… Thus Harley sucked up most of the motorcyclist’s dollars. Now with resources like new riders and and surplus income in short supply, the smaller creatures should have the evolutionary advantage. But Harley, having adopted Buell and birthed first the V-Rod and modern 500/750 twins have eaten their own Buell and V-Rod and banished the 500/750 to India with the closure of their Kansas City hog farm.

With much of the world’s population migrating to places with year round riding weather, scarce parking, and inadequate wages to support cars the environment is right for small affordable two and three wheelers. Unfortunately most of the the makers of the world’s motorcycles are still waiting for the market for literbikes and bigger to recover to figure that out.

Extinction is forever… Somebody in the motorcycle business, please channel Soichiro…

 

Um, never mind…

Hoping to enjoy Tesla’s unjustifiably lofty stock prices, for the last couple years Ford and just about every other auto manufacturer has been trying to channel Tesla with promises of soon to appear fleets of electric cars that would even drive themselves. The stock market didn’t budge.

Then GM quietly delivered on quiet promises to bring diesel powered versions of the Cruze compact sedan and even a compact crossover to market to complement the diesel midsize pickups. Heck, the Canyon/Colorado’s 4 cylinder diesel even found it way into the leftover from the last millennia full size vans. Topping that, they announced a 3 liter 6 cylinder diesel for the upcoming full size half ton pickup. Meanwhile, Volt sales have been dropping and the only thing keeping the all electric Volt assembly line barely moving is Tesla’s pretty much failure to supply their competing Model 3.

Eyeing these developments in the “Ren Cen” from their “glass tower” digs in Dearborn, Ford top management de jour was no doubt concerned. Ford stock neither taking flight nor crashing, they rolled in a new CEO who promised even more progress toward the holy grail of electrification and autonomy. Then they made major ripples by quietly announcing a diesel powered upgrade to the Transit Connect van at the Chicago Auto Show and Ford repeated that announcement with the panel van version at the Work Truck Show, and little else.

Again, Ford stock failed to fly from it’s undervalued slumber.

So looks like they anointed a committee to come up with a new plan, and today they presented it. And like any good committee, they came up with a plan to do everything: Hybrids available with everything, even more hybrids than Toyota. Electrification too, even an exclusive platform for electric pod cars or whatever. Same with automatic emergency braking, and future Fords will probably even stop and back up to pick up lost  pacifiers too.

But the key here is the platforms, or shortage of same. Now for a long while I’ve felt Ford had too many platforms, but this is going a bit far, here are the surviving platforms:

Front Wheel Drive Unibody: Yup, there will be just one FWD platform to carry the Fiesta/EcoSport, Focus, Fusion/Escape, Taurus/Explorer, Transit Connect, C-Max, and a few more I forgot too. Methinks this will be a bit of a stretch…

Rear Wheel Drive Unibody: Did I mention Ford says they’re going to reduce costs too? Good luck with that! The AU Falcon having been recently “laid down”, looks like the Mustang platform will be around for another half century, should be humorous to see them try to morph the Mustang into a sedan…

Van Unibody: At least the Transit, after Ford taking a half century to sponsor their green card to make it to America, ain’t gonna get trashed.

Body on Frame: The fugitive from the last millennia hack’d off Econolines get a stay of execution, and of course the F series has eternal life. But after finally making it home after a near decade’s exile abroad, looks like the Ranger and BOF Bronco/Everest will only be around ’til the next generation. Yup, the Ford PR machine is getting all fired up to launch the Ranger and Bronco  and they’ve already been End of Lifed… Maybe that explains the disappearance of the promised Ranger diesel.

Battery Electric Vehicles: Batteries make lousy structural members, this should be amusing. And given that it’s taken years for market leaders GM and Tesla to even approach 200,000 plug in cars, a massive wasted investment.

The market almost reacted, with Ford stock rising a whole 2% in the minutes after the announcement was made, then dropping at close to about where it began the day. Maybe the stock market ain’t that dumb- Ford just forgot that half their sales are in markets that would choke on an F150 and announced that 90% of their American sales would be trucks and SUVs. For our friends around the world that buy Fiestas and Focuses, Ford forgot you and thinks you’ll accept either an overweight Fiesta or an overloaded Explorer, cause they’ll both be built from the same underbody bits. And for the big truck lovers that were hoping that Ford would re-enter the big rig market, Ford promises collision avoidance on their “top o’ the line” F750 but forget about tandem axles or 10+ liter engines. Ford’s big truck specialists, the Koc family in Turkey, might want to start looking for a new partner after the better part of a century with Ford…

And me? My ride with Ford is over, guess it’s time to dump my half a Fiesta’s worth of Ford stock and forget about the orphaned before arrival new Ranger…

Couple years back I featured the uTube video Ford Trucks did for International Women’s Day. Ford Trucks is in fact headquartered in Turkey and working with local partners the Koc family they engineer Ford’s world market big trucks, and do a damn good job of it. Couple years back they produced a stereotype blowing video of a Moslem woman farmer driving her load of produce to market… But recent International Women’s Day celebrations in Turkey have been met with police repression and religious fundamentalists threaten Turkey’s government, Ford, and it’s values of equality. So not surprisingly, that outstanding video disappeared from uTube.

But a similar video is back, it’s not the same but appears to use some of the cuts. Here’s the link.

On New Years Day 1968 automotive evolution changed forever, some say it was more the beginning of devolution. On that day a short list of U.S. federal safety and emissions standards took effect, and auto engineering shifted from engineers to politicians and bureaucrats. It’s been a mixed bag of regulations since- While engines are both cleaner and make more power than ever, cars have become aerodynamic battering rams to meet crash test requirements. All but gone is the crispness and responsiveness of unassisted steering and brakes. Instead of the simple protection of shoulder harnesses and disc brakes, we’ve been overwhelmed by a horde of “safety” systems trying to second guess us in a quest to save us from ourselves.

The devolution was slow… 1968 saw the Mini’s green card pulled and a lot of high performance options disappeared. Within a few years battering ram bumpers ruined the handling and looks of most every car, while once mighty engines wheezed and coughed under smog controls. Within a decade automotive stars like the Lotus Europa and bit players like the Saab 96 and Spitfire went dark. The once mighty Corvettes and Mustangs slowly soldiered on while muscle cars became caricatures of themselves if available at all. By the 80s performance was such a “bad word” that GM tried to sell the mid engine Fiero sports car as an “economy car”, and Corvettes of that era are considered pretty much expendable.

Today you can buy a 21st century muscle cars like the Ford Focus RS or VW Golf R that will run rings around most any 60s muscle car. A plethora of 60s muscle and pony cars could be had new for $3000 or less, barely a few hundred bucks more than the price of a stripped sedan with a 6 and 3 on the tree… Today, that Focus RS or Golf R is over twice the price of a base model equivalent.

And they call that progress?