All posts for the month December, 2017

The LA Times recently reported on a study prepared by a focus group of motorcycle industry long-timers named Give A Shift – Motorcycle Sales in the Slow Lane. The Times piece is a well-written review of what we already know: motorcycling is not growing in the US. The study documentation was well-prepared and the reports available from the group were clear. What wasn’t clear from either the Times piece or the study documentation is why the group of experts remain so firmly trapped in the 1970s.

Motorcycling in the United States is a victim of itself in several ways. First, the rebel culture crafted by US manufacturer(s) following WWII transformed motorcycling into a means of acting out for gang-like outside-the-law bad boys. This is not limited to black-vest cruiser clubs, it also rears its ugly head (and front wheel) in the modern stunter culture that shuts down freeways and results in ugly confrontations with Land Rover owners. Dirtbike and ATV gangs in Baltimore and other large cities are a further offshoot that also trace their heritage to the outlaw MC culture of the Vietnam era. None of this is good for motorcycling as a whole and it continues to repercuss through the US.

The outlaw trope is bad, but the toy trope (“transportainment”) is worse. The US is very unique in the fact that most motorcycles are not used for general transportation, rather for pleasure. Motorcycles and other powered two-wheelers are considered basic transportation in nearly every other country in the world. Riders in the ROW start with 50cc scooters and work up to 500cc-class motorcycles. Cars may never be an option for most people in less affluent and warmer areas – they take up too much space, money, and time. Litre-class bikes are rare in most of the world for similar reasons. The EU is a unique market where both size classes coexist – the countries of the EU espouse both the basic transportation concept of smaller machines and the luxury (toy) concept of larger machines. The EU perspective is nuanced in that motorcycles are purchased with distinct purposes in mind and the owner of a larger touring machine (toy concept) is likely to also own a smaller, more city-focused bike for local riding (basic transportation concept). The authors of the study come immediately to the question of desirability in the US (bigger is better), but remain mired in the idea that fun has to be a part of the equation. The very concept of “transportainment” needs to die a fiery death.

The authors do not address the failure of rider training in the US. The efforts of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and organizations like Total Control are admirable, but do little to grow the market. They reinforce the toy concept by setting the barrier to entry very low – no significant investment in rider training is required, so motorcycles are not taken seriously. The state DMVs are complicit in this with low level licensing requirements. A tiered licensing structure with additional training at increasing power levels would reinforce the idea that motorcycling is more than simply a hobby. This is one area in which the dealership experience could improve significantly and have a very measurable impact on the acceptability of motorcycling in the current cotton-ball culture. Addition of private instruction hours with the purchase of bikes would build confidence and acceptability in today’s risk-averse environment. The 20-hour individual training minimum of the EU is unlikely to be realized in the US due to sheer cost, however it is a good goal.

The future of autonomy is described as a risk instead of an opportunity. This is and outdated and uninformed attitude. ABS system data – speed, direction, yaw, lean – forms the backbone of the information stream that is used for vehicle-to-vehicle communication and ABS is now required on new motorcycles in many markets. RADAR cruise control on bikes has been realized in the lab. Motorcycles move at traffic speeds, unlike bicyclists and pedestrians, which cannot share any data and are wildly unpredictable. This presence of so-called dumb vehicles (those that do not broadcast data, including bicycles, older motos, and older cars) cannot be avoided at this time, which forces autonomy discussions to include them. Motorcycles are fortunately large enough to register as other traffic participants, “dumb” or otherwise.

The authors have correctly identified the need to participate in the autonomy discussion, but incorrectly assess the threat. The real threat is not that autonomous cars will squeeze motorcycles out of the traffic equation, it is that autonomy will squeeze all forms of self-directed transportation off the road. This is because vehicular autonomy is purely focused on the basic transportation concept. The industry’s refusal (aside from BMW) to engage in the autonomy discussion is a deep shame and shows profound lack of foresight. I look for future efforts from Ducati to explore this through their association with Audi and VolkswagenAG, and from Honda, who share BMW’s one-house integration. Sadly, in the US, the Harley-Davidson/Ford arrangement seems to be a simple branding affair, with no technical exchange.

The authors rightly call to the carpet the entire “shrink&pink” attitude of all motorcycle industry manufacturers. The difference between any motorcycle shop in the EU and one in the US is the amount of floor space given to technical riding apparel for women. Kids’ apparel is non-existent in the US and women’s gear tends toward fashion. Women generally approach motorcycling in a more pragmatic manner than men, and not only from a safety perspective. Firstly, rebel culture and tribe-seeking are less of a draw – women are not seeking rebellion against society, they are seeking freedom within it. Secondly, basic transportation is a greater factor – women are far more likely to see their motorcycle as a means to explore the world and their place in it rather than as a simple weekend toy. Dealerships are a huge part of the problem – until the generation of sales reps that see women as part of the toy equation rather than as disbursers of money is retired, women will continue to be turned off.

The authors return many times to the need for potential buyers to want a motorcycle, but never make it past the desire to have fun. We need to change the reasons for wanting a motorcycle from the “transportainment” culture of previous generations to the basic transportation concept of today’s future owners and drive the manufacturers to participate in the technical growth of the general transportation industry. Only then will the industry be able to connect with today’s potential riders.

Recent trips to Ohio have confused me. The road has more stripes on it than it should, and I was struggling to figure out why.

Look at the road! Many many stripes. What could cause that?

It took a while and a discussion with my older son. We eventually settled on something related to snow removal. Turns out we were right.

The distinctive stripes on Ohio roads are due to an interesting deicing method used by the state to prevent ice from forming in the first place. The roads are coated with a solution of calcium chloride sprayed from a multi-point spray bar on the back of a truck, giving rise to the white lines that form on the surface. The calcium chloride residue stays on the surface, forming a conformal coating that stays put prior to snow fall. Rock salt, the typical means of controlling icing, is often scrubbed from the road if it is placed before about 1/2″ of snow has fallen. As the snow falls on the liquid-treated road, the calcium chloride (sometimes even garden-variety brine, too) goes to work immediately, reducing the risk of black ice formation.

The calcium chloride can build up over time, leading to enduring stripes on the road throughout the year.

Mystery solved.

It was catalyzed by an innocuous Facebook memory. A, by all rights and measures, good and wholesome Facebook memory. It just happened to hit right when it was most difficult to parse. It was welcome, but it opened up an entire level of weird that I was not really prepared for.

They say that true friendship means no boundaries. I disagree with this rather firmly. I feel that instead, true friends do not need to invest in securing their boundaries with each other. A boundary can be as simple as a line in the sand or a pencil line on paper. Even a Sharpie would be more than what is required to maintain a boundary with a true friend, because a true friend respects the boundary regardless of what it is constructed of.

Others require boundaries made of bricks and mortar, of hardened steel. Boundaries that must be invested in, carefully maintained, tended to. These types of boundaries are high maintenance. Without constant reinforcement, they can crumble. We can be hurt or damaged if we cannot maintain these boundaries. It’s why we learn to avoid toxic people – the effort required to maintain those boundaries saps us to the core and the risk is too high. We walk away, as much as we have the power to do so.

Things had been weird between me and the apologist for a while, and frankly, I wasn’t even sure I understood why. The apology brought it all rushing back. A boundary that I had assumed to be just fine in its pen-on-paper state had been crossed. The apologist had tried to kiss me. Cognitive dissonance of the highest order – the whole goal of being friends was to trust that even fragile boundaries would hold. And there I was, on the wrong side of that assumption. Not mad, but disappointed and sad.

I have to admit, I am a virtual expert at avoiding kisses. I’ve never given it much thought, and it’s mostly in light of #MeToo that I realize how horrible it is that I possess such a skill. The mere fact that I actually have a technique for it should be a huge red flag about our culture. I’ve always assumed it was simply a fact of life – people will try to kiss you. No. That is WRONG. I wave my left hand with its shining band of gold – how could anyone miss it, it’s a mile wide and studded with diamonds – and turn down and away. Before I had my golden defense, I simply avoided as much contact as possible, due to the risk of, well, contact.

The apology brought the event back to my mind. I’d successfully blocked it out to the point of not remembering how or why things got weird. The return to the forefront made things only weirder. More cognitive dissonance. I want the event to not have happened at all. The good memory was of a day of buddy stuff, the stuff that you rely on respected boundaries and mutual trust to really make the most of. It was a good day, a day that I wanted to do over again because it was so good. But it ended weird. And now it is weirder.

I’m glad to receive the apology, it’s the first step to moving on. I believe it is not only sincere, but thought about and given after careful consideration. I believe my apologist means it and means to repair our friendship as best they can. I am fortunate that the only injury was to the effortlessness of the friendship, and that there was no power at play. It doesn’t remove the mark, though. It doesn’t remove the bricks I had to add to my boundary, the reinforcements that I had to invest time into. I have to decide now how to approach my investment in this boundary – will it be worth trying to negotiate a new construction, or will it be too weird to think about? How will I know what enough is? It’s already more work than I want it to be just to type it all out. I don’t want to throw away the good stuff, but I have no good model for how to process the one thing that fogs it all over. It doesn’t feel good.

I cannot imagine what it is like to hear an apology from someone who used power to smash a personal boundary. It’s got to be the most empty feeling in the world.