Uneasy riders: Yen and the lack of motorcycle company maintenance
Posted by James McPherson on March 22, 2009
Another sign of the faltering U.S. economy: The New York Times today offers a story about the serious problems affecting Harley Davidson, producer of the nation’s iconic motorcycle.
Among the problems are that the age of the average rider has climbed to 49–a year shy of the requirement for AARP membership–and the average income of those riders is $87,000. In the meantime, as with cars, Japanese companies have been more efficient, producing better, cheaper and more varied products. And as with cars, those competitive problems began in the 1970s.
I spent my last summer before college working for a small-town newspaper and pitching for a softball team sponsored by a bar; the team and the bar’s clientele were made of largely of Harley riders. We were the only team in the league virtually guaranteed to have a police presence at all of our games, but in fact most of the guys were working blue-collar jobs and, though perhaps engaging in a bit too much drinking and recreational drug use, were essentially harmless.
Assuming those guys are still around, unless their lives have changed dramatically, most of them wouldn’t be able to afford to own and maintain their preferred band of motorcycle today. If they had bikes at all, they’d probably be riding what my teammates of 30 years ago denigrated as “rice burners.”
So the venerable Harley, once a sign of the kind of rebellion that Americans pretend to appreciate but generally try to crush, has largely become just another rich person’s toy. And unlike a yacht or private plane, you can’t sleep on your motorcycle or easily use it to pack your bonus off to another country.
The Associated Press and the latest issue of consumer-porn magazine Town & Country are among those at home and abroad that recently have reminded us that this isn’t the best time for the rich to be flaunting their wealth–even if humorist Joe Queenan (writing for Fortune) says they should.
“The one unquestioned moral responsibility of the wealthy is to act as role models for the less fortunate,” Queenan writes, satirically (I hope) bemoaning what he calls “the crisis afflicting self-effacing rich people, a class best described as the wallflower wealthy.”
In reality, perhaps at least a few of those wallflowers, typically old enough to remember the film “Easy Rider,” recognize that some poor guy driving an old pickup to pick up his unemployment check may still own a shotgun powerful enough to blast you off your bike.