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…