Motorcycles had no interest for me BISH (Before I Saw the Honda). My Dad, who I listened to up till I was 15, had frequently pointed out that motorcycles were large, dangerous, noisy and ridden by thugs and criminals. I knew this was true, because all the bikers I saw were greasy, tattooed, scary individuals. The papers were filled with the antics of the BDRs (Black Diamond Riders), and their infamous president, Johnny Sombrero.
Honda's genius was to suggest to people like my 15 year old self there was an alternative motorcycle lifestyle with their 'You meet the nicest people on a Honda' advertising campaign. An affordable ride which did not involve having to be familiar with weapons and tattoo parlors. It worked spectacularly well. Honda made the bikes, and a far sighted advertising agency made the connection.
The problem was that with such a large cohort of baby boomers, and their even more numerous younger brothers and sisters, Generation X, all the motorcycle industry had to do was to keep churning out product for the converted as they got fatter and older. Now that we boomers are approaching the last ride one wonders where the future bikers will come from.
Not from the mainstream motorcycle industry, where 'entry level' is a 400 pound machine capable of speeds well past 100 mph, or even more bizarrely, a 600 plus pound V twin ground pounder. Such may appeal to the adventurous extreme sports wannabe or lumberjacks, but what about the nerdy skinny kid and his size 2 girl friend? To be fair, the big 4 do have token 250s, but at most dealerships they have the same status as Cinderella when the Prince came to call, and they are not paper route affordable.
Fortunately our sport does have a future, and once again it looks like a collaboration of an astoundingly abundant overseas supply, and a few smart people who are able to see beyond can be found in the typical dealership.
China is now the world's largest producer of motorcycles. Just like Japan post World War Two, the Chinese motorcycle industry grew out of an internal demand for cheap motorized transportation, which quickly grew beyond its borders. The Chinese are already flooding motorcycle markets in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Just like Japanese products of the 1950's Chinese products have a reputation for poor quality and ripping off the designs of the more established industrial zones. Which, by the way, is the reputation shared by every newly emerging manufacturing zone, including North America, when it first emerged.
It will be interesting to see if the established industrial zones will make the same mistake of underestimating how the new guys will end up dominating complacent old guys. The international industries have already climbed aboard the Chinese juggernaut looking for cheap manufacture of their traditional or home designed products. Wonderful, but the next step will be for China to turn the old boys on their heads when they come up with stuff nobody has thought of yet.
One small example of what is coming is the bike in the pic above, which is either a CCW or a Xerox copy. (CCW or Cleveland Cycle Works hints that they are an American manufacturer, but in truth their bikes are as Chinese as chopsticks, and that is not a bad thing in either instance.) What we have here is a street legal chopper about as in your face as a stuffed teddy bear. Brilliant, instead of overpriced underfunctional excrescence from the likes of the now thankfully bankrupt OCC boys, a cool (well, maybe luke-warmish) chopper a kid can actually ride to school or the local music shop. More is on the way. Chinese bikes comes in all flavours, sport, DP, cruiser radical chopper, even standards, usually with a 200 cc engine that closely resembles either a Suzuki or a Honda, with a price tag beginning at about 2K NA bucks. Which compares favorably with the 200 dollar Honda Cub of the early 1960's.
I am looking forward to the coming moto rennaissence. Not all Chinese bikes are clones, they have some weird and wonderful designs that will not be seen here until our importers lose their timidity and start bringing them in. They will sell like a 1965 Honda Cub (or S 90) in 1965.
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