Image vs. Content

Jul 19, 2012 View Comments by

What’s the best ride? Is it a bike with history, tradition, and image, or one with engineering, technology, and dependability? Without getting into name calling, there are only a blessed few bikes that can lay claim to a brand name that goes back decades and an image that is the essence of the word “motorcycle.” Most of the bikes we know today came to these shores in the 60s and 70s, even though they had proven their metal in Europe and Asia years before. Generally, they built their reputation on low cost and high enjoyment; the fact that they were bullet proof was an added bonus.

Most of us cut our teeth on these 50, 70, and 125cc machines while we dreamed of someday owning a badass big twin. At best we could buy a traditional black leather jacket with 53 zippers and a skull patch; wicked. In all truthfulness those “Big Bikes” had a reputation for limited dependability and gang type one-percent ownership; neither of  which attracted the “Leave it to Beaver/ Joe College” set. This was a problem, as there was no emerging market for these road warriors. Instead America’s roads were overrun with Honda’s, Yamaha’s, Bridgestone’s, and a smattering of European cruisers. The “you meet the nicest people on…” image and price were right for the times.

What the heavy iron boys didn’t realize was that this budget market was working into their future. The future did not lie in getting people to ride your machine, as much as it did getting them to ride period. Ninety-percent by chance and ten-percent by just being in the right place, Hollywood and Late Night TV picked up the cause of the elite American Iron and took them from the Gang Bangers to the Rolex Riders of today. Prices were still out of reach for most, but now you had something to grow into, and let’s face it, IF it made you look a little “bad”, so much the better, that was a costume you were willing to temporarily slip into. Baaaad to the bone on Saturday, CPA on Monday.

To the Iron Merchants credit they invested in better manufacturing methods and overall reliability, along with awesome graphics. No longer were they the brunt of jokes about how they “marked their spots.” All good stuff, but the majority of the buyers were still buying them for that old time image, an image that the overseas boys had noticed and emulated in their own line of V-twins, with an appropriate rumble and grumble. Yet not content to just copy a look, they were building in shaft-drive, ABS, liquid cooling, and other technological advancements that we were not. Their dependability increased along with their speed and handling, while we were still trying to sell an aging image to a younger audience that had no connection to its history or tradition.

Today it’s more “what can you do now”, than tell me about what you did, and rightly so, because fads fade, but quality and dependability will always dominate. Ride on.

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About the author

A Wisconsin farm boy, I learned how to ride a cow, before a horse and way before a motorcycle. I first started riding on my 16th birthday and I took my first real ride at my party: I pulled a wheelie and dug a trench in the lawn, which sent the bike in one direction and me in another. I was irrevocably hooked!