Motorcycle Economics: Brick and Mortar Compression

Crisis accelerates evolution. In 2019, buying a vehicle meant negotiating on price with a sleazy salesman, followed by long waits in a side office with lending applications, extended warranty pitches, and endless paperwork. Even after signing the deal, you often had to wait on bike setup. If you were lucky, a couple of days later you walked out of a dealership and rode away on a new bike, smiling ear to ear following an otherwise painful experience. In 2020, this process was miraculously reduced to a series of text messages, and I’m told maybe an hour visit to sign papers and pick up your vehicle (at least for cars). What happened?

Life got easy

When confronted with evolution or bankruptcy, savvy entrepreneurs discovered how to streamline the bloated, archaic retail processes to get goods into the hands of eager consumers. The world essentially took advantage of the available technology and jettisoned obsolete sales tactics, much to the celebration of customers. Buying motorcycles became a faster and more pleasurable experience.

On a different end of the consumer experience, buying motorcycle stuff got a lot easier too. With retail outlets adopting severely limited operating hours or completely closed to the public, internet retailers were all the rage. Some shops got smart and figured out how to manage orders via text and e-mail, set up pick-up times, or even “drop ship” parts directly to the customer. With a little extra jingle in our pockets from limited travel and stimmy checks, we built the bikes of our dreams thanks to modern conveniences.

The bullwhip

Related to an article about motorcycle financing, recent world events had a massive impact on supply chains. In 2019 we had 24-hour convenience stores, fully stocked shelves at local grocers, and motorcycle showrooms with almost any model you’re looking for. Since that time, we’re all overwhelmingly familiar with empty sales floors and long waits for replacement parts on backorder. As a result, today every consumer has a very vivid understanding of how supply chains are like a bullwhip; the smallest change in the input has a stunning impact on the result.


Without stepping in a pile of politics, let’s suffice to say that supply chain interruptions led to limited parts and inventory available for buyers. With more money to spend and less stuff to spend it on, consumers were competing against one another, and the prices rose to match the heated demand against the shrinking supply. Supply and demand are obviously concepts most of us are familiar with, but I bring this up to highlight a recent trend that has upset a number of consumers: mark-ups and fees.

As a guy that never stops surfing the used bike ads, I’m pretty put off by the asking prices above retail pricing I’ve seen. In the used market it’s an individual seller with an individual identity, and their own perceived value of the item they’re selling. When that item becomes a replicated commodity sold against the backdrop of identical models, like at a motorcycle dealer, folks seem to get a little testy about increased costs. I’m as frugal as the next guy, but we need to pause a moment and consider this unique situation from the other side of the counter. What has this experience been like as a shopkeeper?

In March 2020, retailers around the country were told to close. Like most of us, many of them weren’t sure where their next paycheck would come from. Many of these retailers had loans on “floor plan” motorcycles they had to pay, combined with continued overhead costs. Fortunately, when they adapted to the new sales conditions, anything remotely outdoorsy was selling like gangbusters. Until the showrooms emptied.

Brick-and-mortar stores went from fully stocked to nearly depleted inventory on all kinds of things, and likely everything, just at different times. For you and me, when we don’t know when we’re going to find our next meal, we start rationing. When dealers are unable to get more stuff to sell, they’re forced to increase prices to cover the gap between the sale of the last item to when the replacement finally arrives. Obviously, this doesn’t happen all at once. When the reality of supply starvation started to set in, dealers realized they could easily collect the full asking price, if not more, along with freight charges, documentation, and setup fees. Jacking up the sticker price of the vehicle, despite highly limited supply, potentially exposes the dealer to conflict with manufacturers who set the retail price. Thus retailers are more inclined to find other methods to collect cash to cover their next meal.

The last time I bought a new bike, I was a bit miffed by things I considered junk fees. Fortunately, the bike I wanted was in overwhelming supply everywhere, so a local dealer essentially ate the excess fees to give me the “out the door” price I wanted. In a buyers’ market, dealerships have all kinds of creative ways to reduce fees or take a haircut on list price as a means to get the customer into the monthly payment they can afford. One way or another, the total cost paid is a lump sum, despite whatever is listed on the receipt, and the manufacturer isn’t overly upset so long as their invoice is paid in full. Unfortunately, most of us motorcycle consumers aren’t familiar with the inverse of this formula, at least most of us shopping since 2008.

The fallout

Just as things were heating up in 2021, I released a podcast about the future of brick-and-mortar retailers. This idea had been rolling around in my head for some time as online retailers were making it vastly more convenient to buy motorcycle farkles versus waiting on parts to be delivered to a dealership and making multiple trips. The landscape has evolved considerably in that time. When confronted by companies like Carvana, and especially Amazon, providing anything and everything consumers want delivered to their door, many companies figured out how to duplicate the success of online retailers. So much so, those before-mentioned companies are now struggling by comparison. As a consumer, I see this as a good thing, I can now get high-quality products shipped direct from the retailer to my house. This situation puts increased stress on the middlemen. When it’s a faceless distributor, most folks don’t fret. When it’s a personal friend, trying to make a living selling you the toys you both love so much, it’s a different story.

I said privately back in 2020, the pandemic propped up power sports businesses that were already failing. Everything outdoors was gold and money was easy. When the bullwhip cracks, interest rates reach the moon, and the consumer base shrinks, the dealers that have failed to evolve with emerging technology and the whims of the customer may not be the only victims. The market forces of both limited supply and a potentially shrinking customer base may put insurmountable pressure on retailers that were until recently keeping their heads above water.

I fear this story gets worse as I suspect manufacturer politics will force a degree of corporate cannibalism among dealerships. In the automotive realm, there’s been much gnashing of teeth between the mothership and the dealers over price markups. The brands are concerned that in a receding market, their reputation will be tarnished by “greedy” salespeople. There’s an argument about the manufacturer’s hands being tied by politics and supply chain challenges, but this doesn’t change the fact that working folks at the dealership still need to be paid, especially if business is less than consistent. The very uncomfortable truth is that, despite searing prices, there were folks still foolish enough to pay them. This of course doesn’t change the fact that competing dealerships will be heavily at odds with one another, along with manufacturers depending on how this plays out. Brands may decide to slow output in preparation for a recession, putting more pressure on retail establishments. Equally problematic, if manufacturers attempt to resume 2019-era inventory, they could be forcing overstock conditions onto dealers. Conflict is brewing between the two parties, and I fear the manufacturers are the most likely victors.

The upside

This is unfortunately an ugly story for sales folks handing out business cards. However, all uncomfortable situations are also opportunities to excel. Dealerships facing inventory challenges will be forced to focus on customer relations, improving customer experience, enhancing their service department, and building a riding community. Reduced inventory means folks will have to sell the “value-added” factors and building customer loyalty. These facets, combined with yet-to-be-discovered sales innovations means more appreciation for the customer. The most successful businesses aren’t built when things are good, they’re built in the hard times.

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Motorcycle Economics: Future Interests

2020 will undoubtedly go down in history as the year that the world changed. Outside of global health impacts, here in the U.S., it felt like a motorcycle Renaissance. Many manufacturers had record sales, and dealer floors went from overstocked to barren overnight. I personally bought and sold four motorcycles since that time. After riding 365 days straight into 2018, 2020 was one of the best years I spent in the saddle; riding, racing, and adventuring. Unbeknownst to most of us, those days marked a distinct evolution in the motorcycle market.

Anyone that’s surfed for-sale ads recently is well aware of the fact that many used motorcycles are being listed at or above the manufacturer suggest retail price (MSRP). Many local motorcycle dealers are still struggling to keep various motorcycles in stock, propping up asking prices for high-demand bikes like the Tenere 700. All of us have already heard, if not experienced firsthand, the ongoing supply chain woes. However, there’s a new problem on the horizon, high interest rates.

An Era has Ended

In 2008 after a string of banking issues, massive mortgage defaults, and countless other financial details I don’t recall, the economy came to a grinding halt. To fix the economy, the Federal Reserve cut the interest rate to almost zero; then proceeded to keep it below one percent for a decade. When I started driving a car back in the ’90s, Fed interest rates were around 4-5%, but in recent memory, all of us have become conditioned to seeing 0-3% APR listed on car and motorcycle stickers. This stretch of cheap borrowing from ’08-’17 is virtually unprecedented in U.S. history, and I suspect we won’t see it again.

Compounding Problems

At the time of this writing, the fed funds rate is near 5%. While closer to 4% back in September, that translated to a 9% interest for a used car I was looking at. While supply chain challenges have limited the supply of highly desired motorcycles, the increased cost of borrowing may start to “solve” that problem, as more common motorcycles are starting to sit longer on dealer showrooms. This breakneck change in conditions has put both the customer and the retailer in a pretty awkward position. A new motorcycle is out of reach for many buyers considering inflation and interest rates. Meanwhile, dealers are sitting on more and more inventory, some of which includes paying interest on “floor plan” loans for unsold models.

Incentives back in vogue

Scoffing at the insane asking prices for dirt bikes on Marketplace, I looked over some of the manufacturer’s list prices. To my surprise, some manufacturers were already offering incentives for specific models on their websites. This was further confirmed while walking around a dealer last weekend; I saw Kawasaki offering a $1000 rebate on the new KLR, $2000 off their KX dirt bikes. Assuming it’s not happening already, I have a strong suspicion we’ll start to see shops offering discounted upgrades on trim levels, factory options, luggage, and so on to entice buyers and move aging inventory.

Getting used

The consequences in the pre-owned market will take time to resolve. At the moment, many people have (arguably) overpaid for the bikes they are currently selling. Worse, some of these sellers are still sitting on a loan for a bike they bought above MSRP. As many of us have seen, the whiplash of frozen supply and pent-up demand drove up prices, and within a year, interest rates have increased almost 5-fold; many sellers are currently left holding the bag.

Simultaneously, sellers that are still “even” don’t realize that new prices are essentially “coming down” through incentives. Understandably, these folks are trying to hold out for the price they want, but they don’t see the market shifting under their feet. The longer these sellers wait, the more used bike inventory grows; essentially adding more competitors to the market. If competing sellers decide they need to move a bike and cut prices, the stalemate may end.

With limited supply on certain models, I won’t be surprised to see some of these in-demand used bikes maintain lofty prices. However, off-road and dual-sport models are seriously starting to stack up. 2020 may have been the record year of off-road growth for all ages and segments, but unfortunately, the rising costs of food and housing have forced many Americans to jettison the expensive motorcycle hobby. I fear this reality will settle in for lots of sellers over the next year, and the consequences that follow.

Predicting the fallout

There’s no way to know for sure what the Fed will do in the coming year. It’s likely safe to say rates will increase marginally, pause, and then be reduced slowly over time. However, I stand firm that I don’t expect we’ll see 0% interest for any prolonged period going forward.

For the motorcycle market, this essentially means returning to what my parents would describe as “normal”. We’ve seen impressive price inflation since 2008, but with higher borrowing costs, we’re likely to see shifts in both pricing and offerings in a higher-interest world. As I mentioned, I expect we’ll see more concessions to clear inventory, but manufacturers don’t want to rock the boat too hard with recent customers. Buyers tend to get a little bent when they pay full retail on a bike, just to see it marked down a few months later. To thwart this, I think we’ll see certain model names disappear from line-ups in the coming future; likely to re-appear with revised features to justify the asking price. On the opposite end, companies are likely to slash features and offer new, low-spec models in pursuit of more affordability. To this point, Honda recently announced a new XR150L here in the U.S. In the era of TFT dash, adaptive cruise control, and electronic suspension, it will be interesting to see how these “high-end” features trickle down the model offerings when customers are paying 5% APR. If we’re lucky, we may even see the rebirth of the “trail bike”, considering many of them date back to the ’90s.

We’re presently on the front end of this trend. Interest is still rising and prices are still high virtually everywhere. If things play out the way I think, in the coming year I believe folks with cash may land some incredible deals. I fear dealers are going to struggle tremendously after the gear grinding shifts from 2019 to 2020, to 2023. I certainly wish we could skip the pain we’re all experiencing right now, but I expect we’ll see interesting things come out of the manufacturers in the next 5 or so years.

Am I wrong? Do you think we’ll make a “soft landing” and go back to business as usual or are higher interest rates here to stay? How do you think Manufacturers will respond?

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Lane Filtering – a Civilized Traffic Solution

I petition to you the masses, and more specifically, east coast residents, to legalize lane filtering in your state.

Why is filtering you ask?

The horrors of California gridlock are legendary. As such, folks in the Golden State warmed up to motorcycles sharing lanes, or “white line surfing” many years ago and recently canonized that practice in their legislature. Many folks call this practice, legal lane splitting.

Here in the midwest, seeing some motorcycle ripping between cars on a 65 mph highway strikes fear into the hearts of suburban drivers and brings outrage to seniors as young punks are “cutting in line”, riding like maniacs, and risking the lives of automobile drivers. I’ll concede. We are not ready for “lane splitting” here in the flyover states.

However, if we were stopped at a traffic light, you in your car, and me on my motorcycle, would you object if I carefully rolled up to the front of the line, and subsequently made legal and efficient use of my power to weight advantage? This is what I call “lane filtering”, where motorcycles use the gaps between lanes to filter to the front, removing the motorcycle from taking up excess space between cars at a stop.

Why shouldn’t motorcycles wait in line like everyone else?

While I’ve had the “luxury” of traveling the world, I’m a born and raised Daytonian. I’m intimately familiar with the snarling gridlock of rush hour in Cincinnati, as I am with the ongoing, multi-decade construction project that is the I-75 corridor between north Dayton and the Ohio river. Moreover, my commute has expanded from 20 to 30 minutes across the entire city, including an unfortunately large number of mall traffic control devices. Great lengths of this barrel-ridden wasteland, have been traversed by motorcycle as part of the routine commute.

Needless to say, midwestern traffic etiquette, and arguably the law, dictates that my motorcycle take up an entire space, despite being a third the size and nearly a tenth the mass of an automobile. Parked behind a line of vehicles at a light, my bike length, plus the safety distance behind, may mean the difference between the chasing vehicle making it through the intersection before the light changes again.

On the highway, I’ll respect that passing cars between the lanes at higher speeds adds more risk than most of us corn-country dwellers are prepared to stomach. Unfortunately, when traffic comes to an abrupt stop, I’m incredibly concerned that I’m likely to become a pancake against the trunk of the car ahead of me when an unsuspecting driver rear-ends my motorcycle at a standstill before I’m noticed. “Distracted driving” feels more prevalent than ever and while I don’t speak for other motorcyclists, it seems many of my peers are concerned about a texting driver plowing right through them at a stop.

Pay it forward

In the interest of getting more cars through controlled intersections and reducing rear-end collisions, motorcycles should be legally permitted to ride on white lines and filter between stopped cars at intersections and on designated multi-lane highways.

For non-motorcyclists, I imagine it feels like you’re being cheated. Some kid on a crotch rocket is rolling right past a line of a dozen cars and takes the lead the moment the light turns green. Worse, you sit through yet another light cycle. In this one instance, this may be true. However, given sufficient time and distance, my little 250 will squeeze through traffic much faster than my Jeep. More importantly, in most cases, from a stop, motorcycles have a significant acceleration advantage over most urban cars. Moving a motorcycle forward will free up excess lane space for more vehicles to drive through, and once at the front, most motorcycles will accelerate away from traffic without hindering following vehicles. All of this to serve the ultimate goal of getting more vehicles to their destinations safer and sooner.

Success won’t happen overnight

If I legalize filtering tomorrow, swathes of motorcyclists will rejoice, many drivers will be irritated if not irate, and even many motorcyclists will reject the practice. Folks will be unhappy, and we’re likely to have consequences on the streets and at the ballot box. I understand the fears. How will filtering be defined? Who will police offenders? How will we convince drivers to accept the practice? What will prevent drivers from opening doors and causing accidents?

My suggestion for filtering is not new. Filtering and “splitting” has been going on throughout foreign countries for many years, especially in the UK and the rest of Europe; also note, European roads are more narrow than ours. Limited forms of filtering are already legal in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Montana, and Utah. My point is that these questions have been addressed in great detail by other governing bodies, and we can draw upon their experience.

As far as the law is concerned, I think looking at Arizona and Utah is a good start. In short, their rules are as follows:

  1. The speed limit can’t be greater than 45 mph
  2. The motorcyclist’s speed can’t exceed 15 mph
  3. Traffic must be stopped

I would prefer that the law offer opportunities to filter on interstate freeways when traffic is stopped, but the importance of progress should take priority in my opinion. It’s important that drivers and riders become comfortable with filtering, and over time the law can be revised as it becomes more accepted by the culture.

I also think it’s critical that a massive infomercial campaign be launched to educate drivers and riders about the practice prior to the law going into effect. I suspect that motorcycle safety organizations would be more than happy to donate money to support the practice considering recent studies about safety, and the potential increase in commuter motorcycle purchases.

Here’s an example of a Utah lane filtering infomercial:

Regarding safety, the University of Berkeley recently released a study stating that under specific conditions, motorcyclists are at lower risk of rear-end accidents by moving into the spaces between cars. It’s important that laws permitting filtering take these ideal conditions into consideration, and that the findings of this study be promoted in the information campaign for adoption.

I also think it’s important to mention, lane filtering should not be mandatory. Motorcyclists should be permitted to filter to the front of stopped traffic when they feel safe, and should be able to choose not to do if uncomfortable with the practices or conditions.

Do you support lane filtering as I have described it? Are there specifics that should be addressed before legally accepting the practice?

Posted in Gear - Maintenance - Safety, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

ADV Motorcycle Trim Levels are Wrong

I just saw the news that Yamaha is adding two additional trim levels to the Ténéré 700. Needless to say, I’m in the tank for the T7 so I’m happy to see the availability of more factory performance bits. The middleweight Ténéré is now being offered with a touring package and a more aggressive off-road package depending on your leanings. Triumph has been offering a swath of packaged tiers for their fleet of Tigers for years, in many cases, I’m a bit perplexed by the package components and especially the pricing strategy.

When triumph launched the new series of tiger 800s back in 2016, you had to minor in linguistics to understand all the alphabet soup involved with each trim level. While they’ve cleaned it up a bit with the new 900, there’s still a mess of jargon to decode. At any rate, suffice it to say, that brands’ base-level adventure bike offerings start as bare bones, but progress in price and features as they go up. Per my previous assertion, manufacturers are getting wise to the fact that many of these bikes never go off-road and are thus tailoring to customers with optional touring-focused trim levels, and as in Yamaha’s case, offering premium performance bits and fewer frills for the bravest of adventurers.

While I appreciate this effort, pricing your most advanced off-road model higher than the premium touring bike in some cases seems especially odd. If we were debating premium models among dirt bikes, those gold suspension bits and fat price tags make perfect sense. In the world of 500-pound adventure machines, there’s a point where the price tag starts to make the thought of off-road rowdiness a little ridiculous, and premium dirt features superfluous.

In recent months it’s become overly obvious I tend to swim against the current. Considering I race a decade-old street legal nostalgia machine, perhaps I’m a little disconnected from what the average adventure consumer wants. That aside, here on the deep end of the ADV pool, I’d like suggest a slightly alternative strategy.

Defining premium

I feel like I keep saying that. In the world of adventure bikes, performance accessories, premium suspension, and creature comforts are items I see potential buyers considering when looking to roll everything into a packaged sale. Hard luggage, skid plates, electronics packages, touring screens, and the like are items I don’t question when we’re talking about top trim-level adventure touring bikes. Furthermore, regarding grand touring options, I think it’s wise for manufacturers to offer tubeless wheel options as stock, if not a dealer-fitted add-on. Various suspension trims also make sense. Again using triumph as an example, a base model with nonadjustable springy bits is the industry standard. More aggressive street riders will also appreciate the bump to upscale suspension or even electronic suspension along with a appropriate price increase.

Pricing strategy

To me, premium and value are not the same things. Something may cost more, but it may also be redundant, thus not adding value. As an off-road ADV gumby, tubeless wheels are lost on me. Tubeless wheels (potentially) put me in a situation where lower pressure is necessary to traverse an obstacle, followed by getting a flat, and then trying to reseat the bead by my lonesome with an anemic tire inflator. That just sounds like a spoiled afternoon. Moreover, endless electronics and hard luggage are liabilities in the woods, to say the least. I get it, these are “rider aids” for folks that want to take their two-wheeled SUVs down fire roads. I understand, and I think premium packages for those folks make sense. Inversely, in a world where Pol Tarres and Toni Bou are testing the capabilities of these behemoths, “off-road pro” trims including heated seats and creature comforts seem off-target, if not just an excuse to rack up the price.

Yamaha seems to have taken the bait with their new Ténéré 700 Extreme. More suspension travel, skid plate, radiator guard, and larger foot pegs; all things most offroad hooligans can appreciate. I’m eager to see Triumph, Aprilia, and Honda follow suit in this category.

I don’t speak for the gnarliest of off-road adventurers, but I assume they want to see robust tube-type rims, so we can potentially install rims locks, possibly bib mousses, or at least fix them easily in the field. A serious skid plate, not just an aesthetic paper-thin aluminum cover. Crash protection, or, if I may suggest, sacrificial plastics, akin to something like what dirt bikes offer. Fully adjustable, suspension, on par with 9 to 10 inches of travel, high fenders, and if rider aids are included, when disabled, settings should be “sticky” and maintain position after power cycling the bike.

Inverting the paradigm

Taking it a step forward, I think the base model ADV bikes should be off-road focused. Adventure bikes are far from dirt bikes; no one questions this. At the same time, they’re far from cheap and they tend to cost more to fix when you crash. While I respect premium pricing for premium suspension, most of the “value-added” electronics and creature comforts are a waste for the most dirt-oriented riders. I would suggest that Yamaha, et al, should stick with cheap LCD dashes, ABS only, no rider modes, and no frills. Essentially how the Tenere 700 was launched. I’m also prepared to concede ABS to save a few bucks (I realize Europe won’t permit such dangerous thoughts). If buyers want tubeless wheels, up-spec suspension, heated grips, rider modes, fancy dash screens, and electronic doodads, absolutely, upcharge for all of that stuff. However, for goons that are going to toss their bikes down the trail on the regular, we just need a bare-bones machine. Fear not manufacturers, what you lose from the initial sale margin, you’ll recover in replacement parts; and I can provide references to prove it.

I obviously don’t speak for everyone, so what do you think? Are manufacturers selling you the trim levels of bikes you want?

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Harley’s CEO Jochen Zeitz Has Killed the Golden Goose

I feel it best to begin this article with the statement. I hope I’m wrong. I look forward to writing a sequential piece correcting my flawed premise. Time will tell.

Fourth-quarter earnings calls came out at the beginning of February. As one can imagine, lots of eyes were on Harley Davidson as they’ve been hemorrhaging for years now. Despite growth from many European brands, H-D claims their sales were down 8% globally for 2022 (vs. 2021 global quantities).

During the call, Edel O’Sullivan, Harley’s Chief Commercial Officer made a statement that’s stuck in my craw, “…continue to emphasize the balance of desirability and profitability… but also restrained and very, very careful management of inventory…”

But before unpacking that, let’s rewind the clock a bit. When confronted with aging demographics and market headwinds by any other name, former H-D CEO, Matt Levatich launched an initiative he called “more roads to Harley-Davidson”. He promised something like 100 new Harley models, plans to attract younger riders, and so on. We know that the Pan America we see today is the fruit of this labor. We also know, after several quarters of negative press, Levatich left the Motor Company. His replacement, Jochen Zeitz, countered with “Project Rewire” and “Project Hardwire”. Most of which is a bunch of corporate buzzword jargon to send messages to savvy traders and snow the public wherever possible. In short, Zeitz directed the company to slash spending, slash offerings, and stifle supply to boost margins and keep the stock price aloft through “very, very careful management of inventory”.

I don’t begrudge profits. Nor do I oppose change and evolution. I do oppose cutting off your nose to spite your face. I believe Zeitz’s slash program is killing the golden goose, moreover this it’s a symptom of a global problem. That being, publicly traded companies have no stomach for hardship.

What is the golden goose?

Harley-Davidson, as recently as I’m aware, is half of the American motorcycle market in new bike sales. Yet, Harley-Davidson, until very recently, only participates in one segment, cruisers. From the 50s until now, Harley has arguably been selling “lifestyle” accessories to American consumers. Not all that long ago, for ten to thirty grand you could land a piece of Milwaukee muscle. Arguments aside, “entry-level” up to luxury touring models were available for all customers. I’m told Harley even had a commercial that said you could have a motorcycle for the cost of a cup of coffee a day (hat tip to Aled). In the pursuit of higher-margin, uber-premium status, I think those days are ending.

Regime change

I’m not a savvy stock trader, nor am I a Harley insider. Thus, this is my theory, and again, I hope I’m wrong. That said, I suspect the new models we’re seeing released today are carryovers from the “More roads…” program. The Pan America, a record-selling bike, is the flagship of that program. Further spin-offs of the revolution max engine, to a much lesser degree. And for all intents and purposes, it appears that the Bronx has been sacked.

After seeing recent press releases of the new Nightster (Sportster), I was reminded of a couple of legacy Harleys, and came to the conclusion, if someone at the bar and shield was ever phoning it in, that’s what it would look like. Ironically, AMF legacy paint schemes are suddenly in vogue. Those color tones, along with new styling blunders, tell me that a regime change is immanent.

To further expand, I suspect that the powers that be were forced to launch the new Revolution Max line of new bikes. The research and development and perhaps even the production money already spent. The Pan America, while aesthetically radical by Harley standards, still fits inside the “touring” bubble that Harley commands. The rest of the models, however, are dramatic departures from (most) Harley styling and culture.

Some will say that this redesign was necessary because of emissions. Others will say it was prudent to attract the next generation of riders. At first, I believed this. I may even concede this was the initial intent, however upon further inspection, I believe these new models are a result of the bare minimum effort required. This perspective is further solidified by the fact that the Street line of motorcycles was discontinued in 2021, and yet these new Sportster models follow so many of the “unfinished” styling cues that plagued the budget 500 and 750 twins.

I believe the bigwigs in Wisconsin don’t want to sell these base-model bikes. They’re only on the showroom floor because they need to recoup the start-up costs. I arrived at this conclusion judging by the lackadaisical, piss-poor fit and finish, combined with premium price. In a statement, holy leaf blower Batman!

Infinite growth is a fantasy

I understand Zeitz’s strategy, and on its face, it makes sense. Trim the fat, focus on what people are buying, and invest in core products. With regard to shoes, appliances, and cars, I get it. However, Harley Davidson is selling products to something like 1% of the road-going population. Slashing and cutting whilst having at least one eye on the horizon is an even more delicate dance when we’re talking about one segment of one sector of recreational goods. This is compounded by the fact that Harley-Davidson’s business model has more in common with a ford dealer than most motorcycle shops. Dealerships are selling a solely branded riding experience, with bloated overhead, and an ingrained culture making for a much larger ship to steer. Are dealers interested in evolving their internal culture? Are they interested in contracting the motorcycle supply? Will they sell these new models with the same vigor as the bloated touring models? The success of the stock is hinged on more than just what motorcycles roll off the line.

These challenges also run deeper. As others have pontificated before, are these actions just a temporary strategy to make the company profitable long enough to broker purchase from a larger organization that will invest in the brand’s future? To me, it seems feasible. Whether or not this strategy is true, and whether or not it succeeds or fails doesn’t change the fact that most investors don’t care if Harley Davidson is profitable in ten years. Stockholders are not in it for the long haul. Most people own shares in Harley because it makes money. When it stops appreciating, for long enough, they’ll jump ship. This is a systemic problem all across the nation. Companies are beholden to shareholders who are only concerned about returns over the next few quarters. Losses now to invest in a brighter future is not something Wall Street has the stomach for. Amazon, until very recently was the poster child for Wall Street because of its infinite growth business model. At some point, that strategy becomes unsustainable, and that’s fine because when it is, those shareholders have realized their gains and moved on. The company be damned. Unless Harley is privatized post-sale, this is one likely outcome.

Define premium

Limited supply, desirability, quality, and the perception of value, that’s how I see a premium product. Ducati, BMW, and the MoCo have historically held these attributes. Some of these attributes can be fake, others not so much, but just being expensive isn’t enough to sustain a business model built on premium status for long. Shoddy craftsmanship and high prices for fugly modern cruisers are unlikely to keep desirability aloft. I realize I’m picking on one flavor from the menu, but regulation and shifting customer taste could make their better offerings obsolete as well.

Harley Davidson is desperately trying to cling to its premium status as a way to prop up value and zero in on the fattest profit margins. Again, solid strategy, but I don’t think it has longevity on its current trajectory. Holding onto premium perception is a tricky task. Ferrari, Chanel, and Tiffany’s come to mind when I think of brands that are regarded as perennial premium brands. Inversely Kirby (vacuums), Pan American Airways, and Minolta strike me as premium brands that have not stood up to the test of time. Harley Davidson has had its fair share of flop models in the past, so certainly it would be premature to assume copious plastic and exposed wires on new models is the ultimate downfall of the company. However, a shift into “modern performance” isn’t instantaneous and it seems unwise to leave the existing customer base out in the cold.

Know yourself & play to your strengths

Per my above comments, a new, lighter-weight, comfortable touring alternative was a solid strategy with the Pan America. Undoubtedly, aging touring riders are meeting more of their peers at motorcycle hotspots sporting the 1250GSA. Harley band loyalty is literally tattoo worthy, so many folks weren’t going to stray from the black and orange so the flagship ADV machine capitalized on existing strengths in a growing market. Solid move.

On the flip side, I fear that the current Harley leadership has embraced their bean counters and lost sight of what makes Harley Harley. In my opinion, outside of the Pan America, the launch of the new Sportster is half-assed, and while they may see the new Sportster as sacrificial, their impact on the brand reputation will still be felt. Are they going to fix the apparent low quality or just let it ride? Will they axe the new stuff and claim youngsters aren’t interested? I honestly don’t know. I’m completely dumbfounded by the new bike launches. Harley absolutely needs to get people in the door as early as possible, but they can’t sacrifice who they are to do that.

I’ve recently discussed this, people like Harley Davidson for a reason. The reason, as silly as it sounds, is sex appeal, character, quality, and status. Essentially, they sell a premium motorized accessory. Do people want more performance? Sure, but it’s evident that sex appeal and fit and finish have greater pull than the stat sheet; this is also not exclusive to Harley Davidson. On the other end of the spectrum, despite extremely “premium” touring bikes, I don’t think Harley can successfully hang its hat on large-margin bloated touring bikes long term. They have to design and sell bikes that aren’t my grandpa’s bike, but still hold the image of premium quality and sex appeal. Something most of their “new” offerings find lacking.

A lot of words to say what exactly?

I believe Zeitz’s and his associates believe they can look profitable long enough to soak up cash for either meaningful evolution or land a potential buyer that will invest to do so. They may think they can stay afloat as a boutique brand that deals in high-end touring bikes, but I find it hard to believe that strategy has legs. History books are loaded with American car companies that have attempted it. Some may say Cadillac is that brand, but at this point, it’s seldom listed in the top ten luxury brands; if I’m wrong, it’s definitely no Ferrari. That’s what Harley would have to become, a premium motorcycle brand dealing exclusively in top-tier motorcycles that are not known for performance. Perhaps Rolls Royce is a better parallel, but I still don’t think that’s conceivable in the motorcycle micro-economy. In addition, I think there’s a tactical reason they have spun off the Live wire brand as a separate company. I don’t know if it is so they can mothball the petrol-powered company or the electric company when they fail, but I’m sure there’s a reason.

Also, without serious effort invested in cleaning up the imagery of the new revolution max line of motorcycles, these bikes will struggle to sell against similarly priced Milwaukee-8 powered cruisers. The new bikes have better performance than the Harleys of yore, but we also know the V-rod, while it had a cult following, never caught on the way classic pushrod twins did. These new bikes look more soulless than ever, and that’s a major strike against bikes that sell on status and sex appeal. I think Zeitz’s direction was to expend the least effort necessary, and that’s what we’re seeing.

As far as the Pan America, if it’s not already evident, I’ll concede it’s been a success. However, as of late, I’ve noticed a great deal of used Pan Ams for sale on market place. Many of these are top-level trim models with low mileage listed at prices near the base models new. For a bike this new, that doesn’t bode well. In a 2021 economy when credit was cheap, I see why a lot of buyers snatched these bikes up. I question whether or not the initial rush of customers will continue. A few years back, Triumph”s Bonneville Bobber broke all previous sales records. I have a strong suspicion that dealers struggle to move those new cruisers these days. I expect the Pan Am will face a similar fate if certain things aren’t changed. It’s good, but against the competition, it’s not as great as the price would indicate. There are rumors of major quality issues to boot, but that’s a different article.

Again, I hope I’m wrong. I look forward to saying so. If I’m not, I expect we’ll see some interesting shakeups in the next 3 years. If I forget to set an alarm, please be sure to come comment here and remind me to follow up.

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What Replaces the Legacy Thumpers?

I’ve waxed poetic about the dual-sport segment in the past, perhaps ad nauseam. when I look at the landscape of travel-friendly dual-purpose and adventure machines, the glaring age of the big 650 thumpers is particularly obvious. While the architecture originates from 1987, Kawasaki has invested a little bit of effort in recent years to keep the KLR alive against the wave of middleweight adventure machines cropping up all over the market. In contrast, Suzuki’s DR650 dates back to 1990 with Honda’s Big Red Pig, the XR650L following shortly after in ‘92. While I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kawasaki carry the new KLR model into 2026 maybe ’30, I’d say we’re on the eve of seeing the DR and XR 650 thumpers get a facelift, if not outright retired. Thanks to increasing noise and emissions standards, along with American lust for techy wiz-bang-ery, I have a hard time seeing any of these dual-sport dinosaurs holding out much longer. Certainly, I could be wrong, in an era of endless sequels, why risk new when you can rebrand old? But if I’m right, what will fill the void between the DR-Z400 and the Ténéré 700?

Sequels are the in thing now right?

The glaring exception to this discussion is the KTM 690 Enduro and its Husqvarna and GasGas sister bikes. Long travel suspension, modern, counterbalanced, liquid-cooled, low maintenance mills mean these Austrian offerings are likely to live on, well into the future, assuming the demand remains high enough. Considering the XR’s age, and the effort Honda spent on developing the CRF450L, it’s at least plausible that Big Red might spend some research and development cash on designing a modern big-bore dual-sport remotely on par with the KTM. This thought seems more feasible if you consider the exceptionally high resale value of 690 Enduros. I’ve bookmarked several on Marketplace over the years and while cheaper than the $13k new, it’s still a pretty penny to take one home. Considering the 690 evolved from the Dakar racing 640 power plant, it seems reasonable that a CRF650L could be born out of the liquid-cooled XR650R of Baja legend, de-tuned for a slightly more relaxed riding experience while maintaining a flavor of a racing pedigree.

Unfortunately, I fear Suzuki is a lost cause at this point. Many have asserted that the DR650 is one of the best budget buys for long-distance mixed-terrain riding; capable like the XR but without the heft of the KLR. With the advent of the all-new V-Strom 800DE, there is a glimmer of hope that the Suzuki R&D department hasn’t been shuttered. Inversely, I’d still be remiss to not mention the fact that Suzuki’s motocross bikes are still missing that magic e-start button. If the folks on the yellow team won’t install a starter motor in their premier off-road race bikes, I’m not sure we should hold our breath for a new dual-sport. I would however take a fuel-injected, slimmed, and cosmetically updated DRZ as a consolation prize.

Two for the price of one?

In recent years it seems to me that performance gains from 450 singles have overshadowed the mantra of “no replacement for displacement.” In Dakar, 950 twins begot 640 singles which begot 450 rally bikes of today. Safety arguably drove much of that regression but considering these 450 machines are in a race development loop, I wonder if the days of paint-shaker big-bore singles are ending.

On the other end of this segment, the most daring adventure riders are clamoring for lighter, more affordable, and lower displacement twins. The clearest evidence of this trend arrives with the new Aprilia Tuareg, flexing just 15 cubic centimeters over the XR650L. To this point, the Ténéré 700 makes equal horsepower to the 690 Enduro, despite the T7’s (marginally) lower displacement and cheaper price tag. In the weight department, there’s obviously a large disparity between the 650 singles and the youngest generation of ADV offerings, but I actually think this is a part of the overall trend. Modern dual-sports and even dirt bikes are becoming more high-performance oriented, adventure bikes the same. As 450s have replaced the 650s, the 700s are displacing heavier, big twin adventure motorcycles more suited for touring. If this trend holds true, I suspect we may see new, cross-platform, 500 and 600-cc twins emerge in this space.

There’s no question, poly-cylinder motorcycles are more complex and therefore more expensive to produce versus singles, but when engines can be shared across multiple chassis, like the new Hornet and TransAlp 750, the economics start to make more sense. Also, despite my preference for off-road rowdiness, I have an inkling that most dual sport riders prefer the smoother delivery of the twin when the pavement arrives, versus the vibey nature of the big thumpers. Ultimately, If I get what I want, that means bikes like the CB500X will find a knobby-shod, CRF500L with an 18/21-inch wheel combo sharing floor space in the dealer showroom.

Is this a witch hunt for a product no one wants?

Honda’s Big Red Pig is now over 3 decades old and is arguably completely unchanged. The jigs and dies that make those bikes were paid for long ago, and yet there seems to be no indication of refresh or retirement. Do consumers even want an updated 650 single or even a replacement for that matter? With the versatility of today’s 250s and 450s, are the largest of the thumpers headed for extinction?

This segment has become even murkier with additions like the 410 cc Royal Enfield Himalayan, the twin-cylinder Kawasaki Versys-X 300, and the KTM 390 Adventure. Rumor has it that the 390 is expected to get a spoked wheel option very soon. That said, I was anxious to see a marginal bump in displacement and capability but I just read the news that KTM has decided to jettison its 490 adventure development. Many brands offer strict pavement models ranging in displacements from 250 to at least 1300. In the absence of the antiquated air-cooled 650s, is it still prudent to have 500 and 600cc offerings or has the Tuareg 660 and the T7 occupied that space?

What do you think will fill the void when these bikes are gone?

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Why Do People Love Harley-Davidson?

The early days of this website were published from the saddle of a Triumph cruiser. A cruiser, whose engine I so loved, gave birth to the Scrambler I still covet today. I, like many young American motorcyclists, didn’t understand the preoccupation with the overpriced wares being sold in Harley-Davidson dealerships all over the country. After bringing home a late model, carbureted Sportster this spring, and putting 5,000-odd miles on it over the summer, I made a few revelations. To the dismay of many, it’s evident that the Motor Company has tapped into the tastes of the American core motorcycle consumer, and love them or hate them, I believe I now understand the reason.

They Play for the Home Team

Be it veterans returning from Europe with memories of their WLAs1, or the 80s “Made in America” campaign, Harley Davison clearly benefits from being the brand built here in the U.S. In the age of global trade, “assembled” here is by far more accurate. However, be it patriotism, convenience of dealer network, or fear of part shortages, Milwaukee Muscle dominates the American market share, and aside from the following reasons, much of it’s because their roots are here.


There’s a motorcycle for virtually every interest and discipline; off-road, road racing, touring, adventure… and yet cruisers still dominate the American landscape. Why is that? Because the roads here are painfully straight and the vast majority of us live near the city. The average American motorcyclist rides 2,000 miles a year or less. I’m betting those miles are ridden over about 20 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day; likely to the local pub, burger joint, or ice cream stand. When those 100-odd mile excursions include a lot of stop lights and muggles2, any motorcycle will do, so why not be relaxed in the process?

Lots of people have scoffed at or slandered American cruisers for their efficiency in maintaining a straight line. They’re right, not only do Milwaukee’s Best struggle with limited ground clearance for cornering, the chassis geometry literally self-straightens faster and more effectively than any other motorcycle I’ve ridden. My Sportster WANTS to maintain its lane, regardless if my hands are on the bars or not. Certainly many would find this “feature” annoying, but in the land of concrete jungles and endless freeways, it fits the bill when sightseeing takes priority over canyon carving.

The Status Symbol of Choice

There are many stereotypes about doctors, lawyers, and Larpers3 gobbling up Harleys in the ’90s and 2000s. In my experience, there’s often a shred of truth hidden in the satire of stereotypes. Unfortunately, any way you slice it, a $30,000 Harley is still a lot cheaper than a Corvette (the Corvette-Harley owner Venn diagram is probably interesting though). Beit pricing strategy, limited demand (back in the ’90s), fit and finish, or “the experience”, Harley-Davidson holds a reputation for premium. When folks feel the need to spike the football, have a midlife crisis, impress coworkers, or finally pull the trigger on that retirement gift to themselves, the American V-twin is often the trophy of choice.

An Accessory

It goes deeper than that though, for as much as folks want to poke fun at bar and shield garage queens, the reality is that motorcycles are almost purely a recreational purchase, and like cars, are selected based on emotion more than function or application. To put it another way, it’s a two-wheeled accessory to show off to your friends. Motorcycles in this country are a fashion statement; and yet again, Harley Davidson benefits as the home team. But seriously, there’s a reason Harley sells branded clothing, it matches that shiny accessory in your garage.


Years ago I sat on a Sportster in a dealership and the salesman said, “this is a nice blank canvas for you.” At the time, I thought that was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. Why would anyone buy a $12,000 unfinished motorcycle? Guess what, not all motorcyclists are like me. Lots of folks would prefer to make art from machines, often more so than riding them. Again, considering the bikes are built in Wisconsin, there’s an entire factory and aftermarket parts network set up to get you blingy bits of every variety if you so choose. And if it’s not motorcycle art and expression you seek, many still enjoy farkling4, I mean accessorizing their most expensive fashion accessory.


“They shake and vibrate like all hell. They turn gas into noise without the byproduct of horsepower.”

It’s true. All of it. And that’s what I love most about my Harley. Today we live in a world of sanitized convenience. Our cars have been silenced inside and out, for the comfort of the occupant and the passersby. Modern automobiles shift their own gears, hold their own speed, and to some degree, literally drive themselves. The modern car has the same utility today as it did in 1950… and today they’re as soulless as a toaster.

Soulless, a word I’ve often heard used to describe metric cruisers. There are, without a doubt, exceptions, but true to their engineers’ efficient nature, many motorcycles are, unfortunately, appliance-like. They are reliable, require little maintenance, they’re affordable, are otherwise ubiquitous, and unfortunately, often fail to stir the soul.

Soulless, a Harley is not. Thanks to AMF, many claim Harleys are unreliable. Considering their intentionally unbalanced engines, a Harley vibrates the seat if not rattles the fillings from your skull. They can be infinitely transformed, and despite pricing, have no reputation of performance to uphold. It is a two-wheeled lump of anthropomorphous iron, and above all else, that’s what owners love about them.

  1. The WLA was a Harley-Davidson model with a 45 cubic-inch flathead engine used by the Allied armed forces during WWII.
  2. Inside city limits, reaching, let alone exceeding, the speed limit is often believed to be a magical feat; Muggles are people that do not believe in magic.
  3. Larpers, or LARPers are Live Action Role Players; people who assume a false identity in the pursuit of entertainment.
  4. Farkling is the action of installing farkles. A farkle is an item installed on a motorcycle that adds effing sparkle.
Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , , , | 38 Comments

Adventure Motorcycles: Evolution of the Middleweight Segment

Honda Photo

Last week, Honda and Suzuki both announced new middle-weight adventure-class motorcycles at the EICMA show in Milan. Considering my fondness for dirt-worthy touring motorcycles, I was obviously excited to hear the news; especially the new offering from Honda. With more models coming onboard out of Japan, the “middle-weight” segment is filling out nicely. At the same time, while I’m happy to see more affordable, capable, twin-cylinder options available to ADV enthusiasts, I question some of the choices manufacturers are making these days.

Honda Photo

Foreshadowing the release of the new TransAlp was the official announcement of the Honda CB750 Hornet. With patent filings and so on, YouTubers and Moto-philes suspected the new 755cc Hornet mill would likely find a home in a rumored TransAlp rebirth. This of course became a reality as Honda pulled the cover off the new XL750 at the EICMA show. An all-new engine for 2023, Honda put the CB750 tuned motor unchanged into an Adventure frame as a middle-weight offering to the ADV community. Mirroring the Hornet, the new 270° crank, parallel twin puts out 95 horsepower and 55 pound-feet of torque according to Big Red. The TransAlp also has a 6-speed transmission, 21 and 18-inch tube-type wheels, and sports just short of 8-inches of suspension travel on non-adjustable springy bits. Honda is dropping the 459-pound adventure machine on the market fitted with ABS, traction control, rider modes, and TFT display which includes Bluetooth connectivity. To the dismay of many, cruise control is not included as an option despite the rest of the throttle-by-wire and techno-wiz-bangery.

Suzuki Photo

Not about to let Honda steal their thunder, to the surprise of many, Suzuki also dropped an all-new middleweight addition to the ADV market. I want to reiterate, this is also a completely new engine, arguably the first all-new motorcycle from Suzuki after many, many years. Dubbed the DL800DE “V-strom”, Strom-troopers all over the globe were quick to point out the distinct lack of “V” in the engine architecture. “Pee-Strom 800” apparently didn’t make it past the focus groups, albeit “wee-strom” will likely live on as a colloquial term. That aside, the new Zuke sports a 776cc, 270° crank twin with 6-speed transmission. Suzuki claims the new engine puts out 85 horsepower and 57 pound-feet of torque. The new Strom is also fitted with a 21-inch front hoop while being paired with a 17 rear; both tubeless. The new Suzuki also brings TFT dash, traction control, and ABS to the party, while cruise control and rider modes aren’t explicitly mentioned. The 800 Strom is fitted with fully adjustable suspension with about 8.7-inches of travel, and tips the scales at 507 pounds ready to ride.

These two new offerings out of Japan meet a small field of 700-ish adventure machines, namely the KTM 890 Adventure, Tenere 700, and the Aprilia Tuareg. Folks that have been keeping up with the Podcast over the past few months are well aware of the fact that I’ve been in the tank for the Tenere 700 from the moment it was teased by Yamaha. The T7 shares the same engine with the MT-07, and is arguably my favorite powerplant after my beloved 865 Trumpet. Yamaha has upgraded the dash with a TFT display for 2023, along with some other creature comforts I find inconsequential, but also adds a few more bills to the asking price, raising the bar to $10,500 to get into the middle-weight adventure game.

Before sharing my thoughs about these two new Japanese adv-machines, and their impact the market, I first need to set the stage. I see KTM as the groundbreaking bike in this segment with its launch of the 790 Adventure in 2018. With the venerable KTM 990 slowly evolving into today’s 1290 Super adventure, KTM rejoined the middleweight ranks, frankly outclassing Tiger 800 and BMW F800GS with far superior suspension, and most notably, an almost 50-pound weight loss. Asking for around $14k at the time, KTM was price competitive with the premium Euro brands, while still outperforming those machines off-road in every way.

When the Tenere 700 finally showed up to the party, it took up the opposite end of the budget spectrum; no-frills, strictly business adventure motorcycle. If you’re not interested in rugged off-road adventure, no problem, the stock suspension makes for a decent ride. If you’re a moto-masochist like myself and the Heavy Enduro crew, the $4k in your pocket saved by not buying an orange bike could be spent on premium kit.

With little fanfare, Aprilia entered the fray in late 2021. A few weeks back I joined my buddy Greg for a trip around the Southern Ohio Adventure Loop (SOAL). This was the maiden voyage on the new Tuareg 660 he had just picked up. Prior to this day I would have said “under no circumstances am I going to ride an Italian motorcycle off-road with any aggression!” By the end of this day, my mind was changed completely. For folks that don’t know, Aprilia’s new purpose-built adventure weapon was designed in conjunction with two other 660cc twins (RS 660 & (Tuono). While Aprilia has struggled to get a foothold on the American motorcycle market in recent years, to me, this new platform-based powerplant really demonstrates that Aprilia is trying to play the long game. The 659cc over-square Tuareg mill produces 80 Horsepower and 51 pound-feet of torque, ships fitted with 21 and 18-inch tubeless wheels, has fully adjustable suspension with nearly 9-and-a-half inches of travel, has TFT dash, ride modes, ABS, traction control, and cruise. Aprilia says the Tuareg weighs 450 pounds ready to ride and will set you back 12 grand. Despite my undying love of the T7, I must admit the Tuareg 660 chassis feels superior. The bike handles more intuitively off-road, feels lighter, and is simply “easier to ride”. That said, there’s no doubt the playful Italian mill is slightly more peaky, feeling more suited for road riding, whereas the T7 has buckets of low-end toque.

Amid this growth at the “lower end” of the middle-weight segment, Triumph dropped a new line of 900cc Tigers. A few el-bees below 500 pounds and 300ccs short of the “heavyweight” class, wearing a 21-inch spoked front wheel, the Tiger 900 Rally obviously still falls inside the circle of the middle-weight division. The new Tiger mill features a new “T-plane” firing order and the new springy bits have nine-and-a-half inches of travel, but the price tag for the cross-country models starts at $15,400, which is just shy of Tiger 1200 territory not too many years ago. The more affordable Tiger 850 Sport is available for $12,000, but also only brings a 19-17 wheel combo which is starting to feel very “Streetie” against the newer offerings in this circle of multi-purpose motorcycles.

Speaking of street chops, Moto Guzzi’s V85TT also falls in this club depending on who you’re talking to. I’ve said before, and still agree, the V85TT is still my number one pick for a touring motorcycle. While that’s complete heresy to most road monogamous riders, as a dual-sport aficionado, it checks all the touring boxes for me. TFT dash, cruise control, ABS, shaft drive, 19 & 17-inch spoked tubeless wheels, just under 7 inches of suspension travel, and a handful of pounds over five-hundo, Guzzi’s modern Scrambler is a mile-munching machine. Unfortunately, similar to Triumph’s modern adventure touring machines, Guzzi’s ADV offering, while affordable at $11,990, will struggle to keep up when the tarmac ends.

The future is lighter, goes further in the woods, and is more affordable

I’ll have to apologize for the long-winded history lesson about 600 to 900 adventure machines. While gathering my thoughts about the TransAlp, I was struggling to remember all of the stats associated with its closest competitors, only to realize that bikes like the V85 have been available for upwards of 3 years now. Per my comments above regarding price and capability, after all of this time, bikes like the Tiger 900 Rally (and unmentioned BMW F850GS), while completely capable, are closer to price and weight of the 1000cc Africa Twin, both of which are knocking on the door of the heavy-weight class considering Suzuki’s 2023 1050DE can be had for $15,999 and Yamaha’s 2023 Super Tenere for $16,300.

Pricing for the TransAlp and the 800 V-Strom has yet to be announced. The TransAlp’s CB750 stablemate has been priced in Europe on the scale of about $7800 U.S., so many pundits suspect we’ll see Honda’s new 750 may sneak in under Tenere 700 pricing. Suzuki’s pricing strategy seems a little more obscure. The outgoing 650XT commanded $9,600, so it’ll be interesting to see if Suzuki is as aggressive with its pricing strategy on its first research and development project in nearly two decades.

As far as the TransAlp is concerned, I’m hopeful, albiet skeptical. While I sold my CRF250L after 10,000ish miles, outside of character, I’m undoubtedly a Honda customer. I put a premium on reliability, simplicity, affordability, and ease of ownership. The 250L was all of those things, and still the least fussy motorcycle I’ve ever owned. For all of those reasons, it’s hard for me to walk past a Honda on the way to a T7, and especially hard to walk past both to put money down on something Italian.

Honda Photo

Emotions aside, I think Honda has potentially made some poor compromises with their new 750. As soon as I saw the teaser coverage of the new engine release, I spotted the giant oil sump spike coming off the bottom of the motor. With the exhaust tucked up tight on a naked street bike, most wouldn’t pay any mind to this protrusion. Unfortunately, I’ve been hanging out in the ADV scene long enough to see bike owners struggle with “floating” skid plates, exhaust flanges, and broken oil sumps. It appears that Honda has designed some sort of skid plate framework that’s not standard on the base model. That makes me feel slightly better, but considering the T7 and the Africa Twin both have an engine cradle “underbone” as an inclusive part of the frame, I’m scratching my head as to why this TransAlp is missing that feature considering its competition and heritage.

Honda Photo

Lots of folks on the interwebs are bemoaning the TransAlp’s apparent lack of cruise control, adjustable suspension, and tube-type wheels. Since the MSRP has yet to be released, I’m reserving judgment. Similar to the T7, if the TransAlp is cheap enough, I’m happy to spend the cash on purpose-built suspension assuming I’m brave enough to subject their skid plate setup to my preferred flavor of off-road abuse. Regarding wheels, tube versus tubeless is a very personal decision in my mind. Tube-type wheels are cheaper, and frankly a fact of life for heavy off-road riding from my perspective. There are alternatives (i.e. tubliss system), but thus far I’ve been content to just run ultra heavy-duty tubes up to this point. I expect touring motorcyclists will feel very differently. I wish the manufacturers would offer both options at the dealer, with pricing that reflects either choice. Inversely, cruise control is s feature I’d like to have on a modern ADV machine, especially considering the Tuareg offers so much capability and so much technology, well under KTM asking prices. Still ignorant to the future, I have the suspicion that Honda is going to do “the Honda thing”, and offer a very sensible motorcycle that appeals to the widest range of riders for the type of riding they’ll be doing the majority of the time. That’s the CRF250L to a tee; there’s nothing sexy about it, it’s just easy to live with. Time will tell, and like the T7, I’m overly anxious to ride the TransAlp and see.

Suzuki Photo

In a different corner, Suzuki has made equally confusing choices. The new 800DE, like the Tuareg and Tiger 900, also has a floating skidplate akin to the TransAlp; it does however share similar “bracing” from what I can see in the photos. I think Suzuki is wise to offer adjustable suspension, a parallel twin with 270° engine firing order, a 21-inch spoked front wheel, along with TFT dash and all the other electronic gizmos. That’s what people want. However, tipping the scales over 500 pounds in this club seems a day late and a dollar short. People likely to lean toward a Japanese bike will be happy about the adjustable suspension and tubeless wheels, but if the pricing is closer to Tuareg territory than the T7, Suzuki’s first “new” motorcycle is fighting an uphill battle in my mind. I’m not saying I don’t want to ride it, I just find the stat sheet a bit perplexing.

With affordable off-roady bikes like the KLR and Tenere 700 taking up residence at the muddy end of the middleweight budget, it’ll be interesting to see how Honda and Suzuki position themselves in terms of both price and “dirt-chops” against Triumph and KTM pushing the “premium” end the scale. Under no circumstances would I turn down a deal on a 850GS or Tiger 900, but if I’m forced to pay retail prices on one of these new middle-weight machines, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Africa Twin is cheaper, and several twelve-hundreds are easily within reach. As of the time of this writing, the cost of living is doing anything but getting cheaper, so it’s definitely nice to have more affordable motorcycles arriving on the market, and even more exciting as competition pushes progression in the adventure space.

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7 Deady Motorcycle Maintenance Sins…

…that I commit on the regular.

Just to appease the most litigious among us, I’ll clarify that I’m a radio operator, machine gunner, cable guy, and engineer by trade. Thus, I’m completely unqualified to offer anyone advice on the mechanical maintenance of a toaster, let alone a pontoon boat with wheels. Be that as it may, let’s talk about me…

(1) “Always replace the chain and sprockets together”

The moment has arrived. You look down at that sparkling gold chain you’ve painstakingly spent hours keeping clean, lubricated, and rust-free, just to notice there’s a damaged o-ring protruding from between the side plates. The rollers are getting worn out and rasping against the pins so you decide it’s time to cut this chain loose and move on.

In my case, I examine the “hooked” nature of both sprockets and make a decision. Is the sprocket the cause of the damage to the chain, or has it simply reached the end of its life thanks to heavy use? If it’s the latter, which it typically is with the neglected hardware on the business end of my dirt bike, I simply buy a chain, install and move on.

Is it cheaper to replace the sprockets and the chain as a set? Sometimes. Do I like new shiny bling on my bike? For the photos in my garage and driveway, sure. For the dank whoolies on race day? You can’t see the chain anyway (unless it’s gooooooOOOLD). If you’re using your sprockets as a poor man’s Rekluse, yeah, you’re seriously cutting into the life of your chain. If your chain is missing two or three rollers, your sprockets are about to be trashed. If only one of the three components has reached its wear limit, replace and ride. The “Minister of War and Finance” will thank you.

(2) “Replace tires as a set”

Along with, “don’t mix and match tires”. Some will suggest that if you’re going to install a fresh rear tire, you should also replace the front. Others will say, if you’re going to change brands or models of tires, you should replace both tires at the same time.

Long-time readers will know that not only do I disagree with this advice, I adamantly oppose it in several circumstances. The Shinko 804 (front) has put more miles on my Scrambler than any other tire, but despite how much I like the matching 805 rear, the Metzeler Karoo 3 (in 130/80-17) lasts just as long, and until recently, was the same price with better rain and off-road manners. After spending time on the new Bridgestone AX41 Adventurecross tires, that front tire has dethroned the 804 as my preferred ADV front, however, while the rear performed amazingly on and off-road, it simply doesn’t last long enough to justify the cost per mile. This of course is my own experience, but without fail, I promise you that you’ll find similar comments about the Dunlop 606 rear paired with the Pirelli MT21 front on endless dual-sport forums. There are undoubtedly circumstances where tires do not pair well together, however, this “myth” is far more pervasive than it deserves.

(3) “When you replace the tire, you should also replace the tube”

What if I just put that tube into that tire yesterday? What if I replace tires every 2,000 miles because they’re soft (DOT) knobbies on the pavement? What if I’ve only raced on this tire once and it sucks?

Solid advice for first-time owners replacing the shagged OEM tires on their new bike. Probably phenomenal advice for folks that replace a set of tires every season or perhaps every three seasons. For folks that are spooning on fresh rubber multiple times a year… maybe. In the scheme of things, tubes and rim strips are cheap. If you’re rocking discount tires like I am but can’t splurge on a fresh tube, perhaps you’re cheaper than I am.

All that said, I re-use tubes with great frequency. On the Scrambler, I probably replace a tube every 8,000 miles or so on the rear; usually about every other tire. At one point, I was swapping a tire (or both) about every 3 months. I saw virtually no scuffing on the tube, so I just put it back in the fresh tire. You’re risking wearing a hole through the side of the tube, stress on the valve stem, dry rot, and probably some other stuff I don’t know about… and yet, I’m still here. Private label tubes are as cheap at $6 at an internet retailer but probably $30 plus if you buy a name brand from your local dealer. It’s cheap insurance, and if you’re dropping $300 plus on fresh new buns, what’s 10% more? If you’re pinching pennies, riding every week, and inspecting the tube after the change, use your noggin and you’ll be fine.

(4) “Never go cheap on tires!”

“…it’s the only thing that connects your bike to the road.”
I really… really hate that expression. This is motorcycle speak for “You get what you pay for!” Is that true sometimes? Yes. However, it’s not etched in stone.

Longtime readers will recall my lengthy write-up about ADV tires for the Scrambler. 6-7k is about all I ever expect to see out of a tire considering my hamfisted nature. $200 tire or $80 tire, if it lasts beyond 7,000 miles I’d be shocked; coincidentally, I fully expect to outright HATE that tire by the time it surpasses that mileage. While I think everyone wants something different out of a tire, be it mileage, wet weather confidence, off-road traction, or cornering grip, I think all of us subconsciously recognize “value”.

Value is what I want, per how much I pay. The K60 scout could probably see incredible mileage on my bike, but for the price, I could pay 40% less for the Shinko 805 and get 75% of the mileage. I like the K60, I’d run it again, but considering the range and the performance of the 805, I’d rather buy more tires for less to have the tire manners I prefer. That formula doesn’t work for everyone. Some folks want one tire to last a season, some folks put a premium on (insert metric here), that’s fine, I can’t argue with that. However, “cheap” might mean “affordable”, “the lowest price”, “lesser-known brand” or “shoddy craftsmanship” depending on who you talk to. When it comes to price, “cheap” doesn’t necessarily mean “low value”. Folks need to try tires and see what they think. If they’re “cheap”, even if they don’t like them, they aren’t out much. Also, if you’re keeping your eye on your machine, you’ll notice if anything seems to be “going sideways” as they say.

(5) “Always balance before mounting”

Perhaps with the caveat “on road-legal motorcycles”. Along with said caveat, I might even agree if we’re talking about “road-only” motorcycles. However, these days most tires are incredibly well-balanced from the factory. You may have an unbalanced wheel, but if the wheel is balanced and the weights are still in place, you’d be amazed by what you can get away with. I’ve mounted a fresh set of tires and forgot to balance the tires before turning out the lights in the garage. Later that week I realized the balance mark was nowhere near the valve stem. It occurred to me that I noticed no odd vibrations on the bike while riding to work, including on the highway.

Inversely, back when I was relegated strictly to pavement riding, I frequently knew it was time to replace a front tire because I could feel the wobble caused by tire “scalloping”. For folks that don’t know, scalloping, or “cupping” is uneven wear caused by several possible factors; heavy braking, underinflation, unbalanced tires (wait, what?), suspension issues, and as I’ve discovered recently, seems to be coincidental to running dual-compound tires. In my case, aside from soft suspension, cupping on my Speedmaster was caused by underinflation. Despite being properly balanced at a dealer, the tire became unbalanced over time, and for some, would lead to premature replacement.

Is this a safety issue? I’m sure it is, and if I’m on a sport bike at a race track, or even talking about my (currently) road-only Harley, I intend to balance the tires. However here’s something dual-sport and adventure people have probably noticed; if you’re forced to emergency brake on knobbies or adventure tires… congratulations, your tires are now unbalanced. After a close call with wildlife on the CRF250L, on the trip home I noticed a cyclic vibration in the front wheel. A closer inspection of the (DOT) front tire revealed scalloped knobs. At this stage are you going to re-balance the tire? What if it won’t balance, are you going to replace it? Safety first says… yes, replace it. I, unfortunately, don’t have the wallet for such things… and it’s unquestionably going to happen again when the next dog darts into the road or Turkey tries to assault me. Safety third.

(6) “Don’t air down adventure tires off-road”

“Taco’d” rims, torn valve stems, broken spokes, and pinched tubes. All things I’ve seen… meanwhile, you’ll observe me dropping 10 PSI out of my scrambler tires before I spend any significant in the dirt.
I’m an avid podcast listener and follow several reputable riding instructors on social that advocate street pressures off-road. Per all of the nightmares listed above, I get it, and they’re right. Lower pressure in “unskilled” hands can lead to significant “mishaps”. At the same time, aggressive tires and “lower” pressure is cheap talent augmentation. I’d prefer to educate and allow people to choose versus pushing hard and fast rules about riding. Do racers use their entire hand on the clutch lever as they teach at the safety course?

When racing a dirt bike, I run anywhere from 8 to 12 PSI with bead locks and ultra-heavy-duty tubes. While I did design and 3D-print a bead lock for my Scrambler for racing purposes (to run 20PSI and NOT tear a valve stem), most adventure motorcycles cannot accommodate a bead lock because the rear rims are too wide. Manufacturers also assume you’re going to be on the road, and therefore a bead lock would throw off the tire balance. In the end, conventional advice for running street pressure is to avoid flats. This is safe advice… however, even pavement racers reduce air pressure. For folks that don’t know, reducing tire pressure increases the surface area of the “contact patch” with the ground. The tire essentially gets more purchase on the earth, and typically enhances grip. Off-road it also offers the added benefit of making the ride a little softer. Again, this comes at a cost, being the increased risk of a flat tire or worse, a disabled motorcycle. I run 28 PSI front and 36 PSI rear pressure in the 19 and 17-inch hoops of my hipster machine without much trouble. I also leave the valve stem nut loose so I can see if the stem starts “tilting” from hard acceleration or braking. If that happens, I add more air. The 19″ front tire is a bit skiddish in the gravel, so lower air pressure makes things “settle down” a little. Your mileage may vary.

(7) “Winterize your motorcycle”

Welp, Labor Day has come and gone, it’s time to give the bike one last deep clean, plug the exhaust, fog the jugs, attach the battery tender, and pull the cover over the bike. Advice you most certainly won’t find here.

Following the purchase of more dirt-worthy machines, I admit to washing motorcycles way more than I expected or even want to. Finding broke shit, and fear that clay will coalesce into concrete being the main driver of the said cleaning. My own stupidity aside, washing your motorcycle with greater frequency as the mercury starts to drop is good advice. Assuming you prefer chains and fasteners with less ferrous oxide, as it nears January here on the east coast it’s wise to make sure you’ve removed road grime, dust, and especially salt before letting your prized possession sit idle in the garage.

Of course, riding all winter long is absolutely possible, and don’t take my word for it, ask Blaine Paulus Jr. That of course comes at the cost of time, tenacity, and a steady stream of replacement parts. That said, a gummed-up carburetor or throttle body, a rats nest, and spiders setting up a colony under your seat are probably your worst enemy if you aren’t prepared to kickstart the bike every few weeks through the winter. Different strokes for different folks, but after about 2 weeks of no riding, I’m anxious to hear the rumble of the machine. I make no qualms about pushing the bike into the driveway and thumbing the starter. Be aware, however, if you’re starting the engine, but not long enough to run it up to operating temperature, you are potentially doing more harm than good. Make sure you let the bike run long enough to evaporate any condensation that’s set up shop inside your engine cases and capitalize on all that dino-juice lubricating the expensive bits. A fuel stabilizer may still be a good investment if you don’t think you’ll be able to move much gas through the tank over the winter; unless of course, you can get your hands on ethanol-free gas. Those tips and investment in some solid winter kit goes a long way.

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Tomorrow’s Commute: Self-Driving Cars Against Motorcycles

As a Millenial that’s fallen in love with carbureted throttle response, a friend of classic car owners, and a frequent motorcycle commuter, I have concerns about how future technology will impact my enjoyment of motorcycles. Considering recent gas prices, much is being published about electric cars, and it’s hard to discuss electric cars without talking about Telsa. In that same breath, it’s hard to talk about Telsa without mentioning “advanced driver aids”, or that a number of said cars that have struck and killed motorcyclists. I obviously love riding my motorcycle and I want to continue riding it to work for as long as possible. Unfortunately, my pessimistic imagination can’t help asking, “will motorcycles be permitted in the commute of the future?”

The Fear of Self-Driving Automobiles

I’ve had a few debates about the future of self-driving cars with my buddy Flynch. He’s pointed out, when considering the small population of motorcyclists on the roadways, there’s a reasonable threat that law-makers will ban motorcycles from primary, if not all public roadways in the interest of “progress”.

I can’t help but hear Jeff Goldblum’s famous line from Jurassic Park, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

Technology has now progressed so far that machines can realistically navigate along roadways without human input. This of course isn’t news to anyone. However, for non-riders, there may be some ignorance of the fact that said machines seem to have trouble identifying pedestrians and motorcyclists.

Solutions to protecting pedestrians seem pretty easy; GPS geofencing that disables self-driving features, pedestrian traffic controls, and other things are likely to keep pedestrians from entering the roadway. Pedestrians are obviously more common in urban areas, places with significant stop-and-go traffic, which isn’t necessarily the most ideal place to utilize “driver-aids” for mundane commuting. Interstate highways however seem to be the first, most logical place for self-driving adoption. On the freeway, traffic is typically moving in the same direction and pedestrians are typically banned. Unfortunately, the real challenge for motorcycles is that they’re intended to operate equally to automobiles, and even expected to behave the same way.

One Size Fits Cars

While the Bureau of Motor Vehicles sees motorcycles (nearly) identical to cars, I strongly disagree. Aside from the fact that motorcycles are predominantly used for recreation (while permitted on public roadways), traffic controls, road design, and even traffic laws don’t seem to fit motorcycles as clearly as they fit cars. This point becomes abundantly clear if you’ve ever sat a light for ten minutes that never changed since your motorcycle lacks sufficient metal to trigger the electromagnetic sensor.

I’ve been commuting across the downtown Dayton construction zone via motorcycle for over a decade now. Gridlock, combined with the jersey barrier re-routing and lane shifting has led to the evolution of all kinds of survival habits. Considering they’re sized for cars and knowing I’m otherwise invisible, I constantly shift position in the lane to make sure my headlight is shining into the driver’s side mirrors; praying the driver looks before they change lanes. I also tend to exceed the average traffic speed, in the hopes that I’m not rear-ended by an inattentive driver.

Beyond “dead red” lights and endless construction, there’s no doubt that the minuscule motorcyclist population has led to ignorance of the distinct differences between cars and motorcycles throughout the commuting experience. Motorcycles are banned from filtering at red lights in most states. Parking spaces are designed for cars, but excess or oddly shaped space is marked with lines and a “no parking” sign despite room for multiple motorcycles. Car drivers will be ticketed for not wearing a seatbelt while motorcyclists chuckle at the irony.

Is There a Difference Between Inattentive and Disengaged?

Riding across the city on a taller motorcycle has given me a front row to some of the silliest human behavior. We all know the scene: a car wandering left and right about the lane, perhaps with the occasional harsh correction. This fool is looking at their phone right? Oh, wait, no, they’re looking directly at their passenger while talking to them. I’ve seen women applying mascara with a miror, dudes eating a bowl of cereal… you name it. For the frequency I see someone texting on their phone about to run off the road, I also see drivers dart across three lanes of traffic to avoid missing their exit… because they were so distracted by their passengers.

I’m in absolute awe of how little attention some humans place on watching the road. The regularity with which they’re not playing with a phone is more disturbing because if they weren’t looking at the road, their erratic driving would make more sense. This situation makes me question why they’re distracted in the first place. It’s popular to say “because cell phones!” I however have great suspicion modern technology is the symptom, not the disease.

Sanitizing the Driving Experience

In the purchase of my carbureted Harley, I discovered the distinct “smell” of a bygone era. That familiar scent is immediately obvious when my buddy rolls up in his ’69 Mustang: refined petroleum products. Said Mustang is a wonderful example of everything that’s changed about the driving experience in the last fifty years. Automatic transmissions, fuel injection, power steering, noise damping, air conditioning, exhaust muffling, emissions reduction, satellite radio, blind spot detection, reverse cameras, and lane assist technology to name a few. Modern passenger vehicles have all these things, and yet I find myself asking, “is this better?”

Safer? Absolutely. More comfortable? Sure. But “better”? At the end of the day, modern cars do what they did 70 years ago; they drive you to work, to the grocery, and back home. Cars are now so good at these activities, I’ve seen drivers video chat and drive. If I told a motorcyclist to “facetime” while riding to work, most would tell me to get real. Why? Probably because they need a brake or clutch hand to hold their phone. If nothing else they realize they need to scan the road to avoid a crash. Don’t drivers need the same? Well, not exactly. Most modern cars do the shifting, and undoubtedly drivers “feel safer” inside the crash cage. There’s also this dirty secret I don’t hear people talk about: drivers are flat-out bored.

While not exclusive, much of my passion for riding motorcycles stems from the inability to think about anything else while doing it. Hustling down a curvy road, or leaning between the trees on a gorgeous stretch of single track, I’m singularly focused on riding as fast and smooth as possible. Have you ever felt like that in a car? I have, and it was disturbingly illegal. That’s actually why I purchased the before-mentioned Harley-Davidson; I don’t need to go anywhere near as fast to feel just as mentally engaged. In the modern car, the left side of your body is essentially useless. It’s safer and more comfortable, sure, but I argue it’s invited unintended consequences.

Technology Changes but the Laws Remain the Same

I’m just old enough to remember when the speed limit everywhere was 55 miles per hour. Not long after that was changed, the speed limit for trucks was slower than that for cars. Recently, I’ve been shocked to see 70 MPH speed limit signs showing up on freeways outside the city. As far as government evolution goes, that’s about all I can think of. I continue to be astounded by the amount of time I spend idling at red lights with no cross traffic to be found. “Smart lights” exist, and yet the traffic patterns remain terrible. Automakers have adapted emissions restrictions by turning off the engine at these lights. Ironically, the government that caused the idling, refuses to adapt technology, be it improved sensors or old-school roundabouts. Furthermore, while speed limits have been marginally increased in my lifetime, they remain mostly static, in all conditions, while modern cars exceed them at rates like never before in isolated quiet and serenity.

Auto-Pilot Engaged

Last year my commute was extended by another ten miles or so. With this increased “observation” time, I’ve noticed numerous distracted drivers that can’t maintain their speed. Stereotypically, they speed up as I try to pass. I can’t help but laugh as they’re quite obviously not interested in the driving experience, and yet insist on being “in control”. I say, “in control” because they can’t be troubled to engage the cruise control; they’re still using the analog pedals.

I would actually suggest that the above situation is an ideal case for self-driving cars. Folks with longer commutes could be handling work e-mails, recording a podcast, or doing some other productive activity while the machine maintains the lane and speed. The activity of commuting is now so mundane, that it feels of no consequence to answer a text or surf Tiktock apparently. Why not embrace it?

From the motorcyclist’s perspective, I’m actually more inclined to welcome the machines driving if the human can’t be bothered with watching the road. Unless it’s a Microsoft operating system, I expect the auto-pilot to be slightly more predictable than the human. I admit I’m concerned about being squished at a traffic stop or by a half-hazard robotic lane change. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that a human wouldn’t do the same.

It’s Not the Distraction, It’s the Lack of Stimulation

Look, I get it; trying to convince people to be uncomfortable is an impossible task. As much as my Luddite worldview says “make stick shifts great again”, that ship has sailed. Americans have already tasted the forbidden fruit.

We could eliminate cell phones, install governors, mandate techno-nannies, and all kinds of things in an attempt to remove distractions from inside the vehicle, but we’re never going to eliminate passengers or flat-out daydreaming from the driving experience. Moreover, without removing comfort and modern convenience, unless experienced first-hand, it’s more difficult than ever to re-insert any sense of danger back into the driver’s seat.

With that in mind, can we make the roadways “smarter” and more engaging, while maintaining safety? At the same time, how do we maintain a world where “classic” owners can still commute with their antiquated machines? What do you think, will technology advance, or will self-driving applications be limited to “hyper-lanes”?

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