Harley-Davidson must hate ATK’s new bikes

Hell For Leather’s Wes Siler wrote up his experiences on ATK’s rebadged Hyosungs, which cover the 700cc cruiser and 250cc sportbike.  Surprisingly, given his perceived anti-cruiser bias, he really seems to like the new 700cc cruiser.  The article has dropped behind his pay wall now, so you need to be a subscriber to see it.

Two of the points he alluded to in the article bears further discussion.  First, he notes that the ATK badged cruiser, with it’s smaller displacement, has significantly more horsepower, and less weight–at signifigantly lower cost–than Harley’s 883 Sportster. Second he notes that Harley-Davidson isn’t keen on, and is actually rather hostile to, Frank White’s introduction of US-assembled cruisers and sportbikes to the Harley dealerships who are working with him.

I believe it’s quite likely that the latter point is a direct result of the former. ATK’s CEO never tires of telling you that he wants ATK to be sort of a Scion to H-D’s Toyota, i.e., a little brother brand that creates new entry-level customers for the top-shelf product in the fullness of time. The MoCO, however, doesn’t seem to see it that way at all.

From H-D’s point of view, their dealers are selling lower-priced, better-performing cruisers. Which means that, when it’s time to move up to a big-boy bike, customers who are more impressed by actual motorcycles than they are by the badge on the tank are quite likely to look at, say, an M109 or Vulcan rather than a Road King.

Harley Marketing to the Perv Community.

Sadly, this does not seem to be a spur to Harley to produce a more competitive cruiser but rather to circle the wagons to protect the precious, precious “brand”. And, sure, a brand is a valuable thing that needs to be protected. But it seems Harley’s idea of protecting the brand is to a) change the product as little as possible, b) resist innovation, and c) cling to an increasingly geriatric rider market. While you can get some short-term success by doing this, it’s ultimately a strategic failure.

This is a recent Harley-Davidson advertisement. It certainly says a lot, even without saying it. Even if we assume the hirsute fellow shown evokes any reaction among 17 year-old girls other than a strong urge to run shrieking in terror, capitalizing on it is, not to put too fine a point on it, a crime.

It speaks to a certain older gentleman who might wish to have a juvenile female as a companion (no doubt because of her great wisdom and ability to contribute as a equal partner). What is doesn’t speak to is the younger rider who does not see themselves, in their dreams, as an aging fifty-something pedophile.

The product itself–while admittedly attractive and well-built–is also rather dated in style, and most certainly in performance. It is the previous generation’s idea of what a motorcycle should be, with new “Dark Custom” bike sporting–Springer front-ends, a suspension system so useful it was abandoned in the 1950s. <Meanwhile the other US motorcycle company, Victory, is producing bikes that look–and perform–as if they were designed in the 21st century.

Although, in the case of the Vision, that’s actually a bad thing.

Sadly, Harley-Davidson’s current leadership, led be Kieth Wandell, seem unable or unwilling to recognize this. And, to the extent that they do recognize it, their solution so far has been to introduce factory trikes, to keep their doddering ridership on a Harley for a few after their legs are no longer able to hold up an Electra-Glide.

Sure, they are managing to keep their stock price up for the moment–mainly through cost-cutting–but at what overall cost? The fundamentals look troubling. Gross margins are declining, and debt to equity has skyrocketed from 50% to 306%. That’s not the sign of a company in rosy health.

Harley-Davidson has skated along on the strength of it’s brand for twenty years. It’s been a great run. But it’s getting awfully close to the time when the lack of innovation and stodgy corporate culture can’t be saved by the brand alone.

Speaking of naked bikes…

The major manufacturers aren’t the only ones bringing a naked bike to the US market. US startup Motus Motorcycles has not only unveiled the new MST-01 sport-tourer, but they’ve also got a naked version of the bike, dubbed the MST-R, naturally.

Motus MST-R
Motus MST-R

It’s the exact same bike, it just doesn’t have all the smooth plastic bits. Frankly, it looks kind of…mean.

The naked bikes are back

The American love affair with motorcycles, such as it is, has not extended to the naked bikes in recent years.  They sell like hotcakes to our cousins across the pond, but in the US…not so much.  We like our cruisers and repli-racers and sport-tourers.

For the 2010 and 2011 model years, that has changed drastically, with a whole slew of naked standards, big and small, coming back to the US in a big way, and from nearly every manufacturer. Kawi completely redesigned the big Z1000 for 2010, Triumph has been pushing the Street Triple, and now Yamaha weighs in with the new FZ8, while BMW is trying to recapture the magic of the F800ST with the new F800R.

Motorcycle USA has stacked up some of these bikes against each other in a new comparo. What makes this one interesting is that the three bikes chosen, other than being middleweight standards, are powered by completely different powerplants. The F800R is a twin, the Street Triple is–as the name implies–a triple, and the FZ8 is an I-4.

So who wins? Is it the thumpy Twin of the BMW, the silky smoothness of the Yamaha I-4, or does the Street Triple offer a sporty compromise between the two that makes is a superior bike to ride?

Apparently, there are a lot of things about the Street Triple that catches the testers’ hearts.

My book, Slackernomics, should be available for Kindle tomorrow

I’m happy to announce that sometime tomorrow my book, Slackernomics, will be available on Kindle at the Amazon store for the low, low price of $3. For those who don’t know, Slackernomics is a book on basic economics for people who think economics is boring. Instead of a bunch of charts and math, I present economics in a more enjoyable way.  For instance, here is a portion of my discussion on the role of prices:

Another feature of the price system is that it forces producers to put resources to their most valued uses. This is important because, quite often, consumers demand different goods that use many of the same components.

Let’s take petroleum, for example. People don’t just need gasoline; they need plastics to make computer keyboards and ugly furniture for college students. Businesses need chemicals for industrial production and dyes. Textile companies need artificial fabrics that don’t fade or discolor. Perverts need Vaseline.

So, in bidding for each of those items, their producers are also bidding for the petroleum required to make them. When more people buy Vaseline, Johnson & Johnson has to bid away some of that petroleum from refineries or textile mills. In turn, this increased demand in petroleum causes the price of oil to rise for everyone who uses it.

In order to keep buying oil, everyone now has to pay the price that Johnson & Johnson is willing to pay. As this raises consumer prices for these items, consumers are likely to buy less of them. For example, a consumer, noticing the increase in the cost of Vaseline, decides to spend Saturday night alone.

So, the price that Johnson & Johnson is willing to pay for oil becomes an added cost for all of the other businesses that use oil. If they want to bid away some of that oil, they have to be willing to pay the higher price. But since higher prices tend to mean lower sales, other producers will only bid away as much oil as they think they can use, now that sales are dropping.

The end result is that Johnson & Johnson ends up with a relatively larger portion of oil. In other words, the resource of oil has flowed to the highest valued product, an important…uh…medical lubricant.

Eventually, because there is an increasing supply of Vaseline, demand is affected. At some point, consumers are unwilling to buy it, because there’s enough of it on the shelves. And, of course, with all this petroleum bidding going on, the price has been increasing. So, some consumers may notice that the price of Vaseline has now increased relative to, say KY Jelly, and they may decide to purchase that instead.

Of course, either way, Johnson & Johnson wins.

So, if you’d like to get a better understanding of how economics work, and maybe get a few good laughs on the way, you can get it tomorrow for about 1/6 the price of the physical book.

I’ll provide the direct link to Amazon to purchase it when it becomes available tomorrow.

2012 Motus MST-01 studio pics

Motus Motorcycles has released some high-resolution studio images of the new MST-01 sport-tourer. Thumbnails are below.

If you like the looks of the MST-01, you’d probably like some clue about the price.  We don’t know it yet, but considering the specs of the bike and the components included, it’s hard to see how you shove the price down below $20k.  So, expect a price in the BMW range.

My own (temporary) ATK GT650R (Updated)

ATK CEO Frank White informs me that he is setting aside one of these for me to pick up on Saturday:

ATK GT650R
ATK GT650R

Except mine is red, i.e., the fast one. It looks like I’ll be driving up to Orange County first thing on Saturday to pick it up.  I’ll be keeping it for at least a week, so I’ll be able to give a fairly detailed review of it.

I suspect riding this V-Twin supersport will be…slightly different from my FJR1300.

UPDATE: Not so fast.  There’s been a delay on getting the bike to the dealership, so it looks like another couple of weeks before this will happen.

I got a ticket for splitting lanes. In California.

The day started out very badly.  In my way in to work this morning, I stopped at Albertson’s for some snacks for the day.  This Albertsons is located on the main way in to the military installation where I work.  On one side of the road, it’s two lanes that merge into a single lane.  It is always full of cars, and they are mainly stopped due to the excessive traffic going into the base.

As I reached the entrance to the road from the parking lot, I saw a CHP motor cop almost directly in front of me. I stopped at the edge of the exit from the parking lot, looked to my left to see if any motorcycles were coming up the side of the lane–as hundreds do every day on this stretch of road, since the traffic is always backed up about a block back. Seeing no one coming I turned into the lane, and followed the path shown below  by the pale blue arrow.

Traffic Diagram
Traffic Diagram

The CHP cop pulled out of his lane and lit me up.  I stopped and asked whyt he stopped me, and he said it was for illegal passing. To make a long story short, an argument about lane-splitting ensued, in which the CHP officer denied that the California Vehicle Code allowed lane-sharing in California, and demanded I cite the CVC section that allowed it.  I had my smartphone with me, and punched up the CHP official web site, and showed him the FAQ on lane sharing that is on the CHP’s FAQ page.  His response was to say, “Well, I don’t know why they put that on there.”

In other words, a CHP motorcycle officer denied that California allows lane sharing for motorcycles, and had no knowledge of why the CHP’s official web site said it was legal.

He cited me for unsafe passing on the shoulder, despite the fact that at no time did I cross the white shoulder line, and stayed entirely in the traffic lane. Moreover, it should be obvious from the diagram above that, with the traffic stopped as it was, it would have been physically impossible for him to observe whether or not I crossed the shoulder, as a line of stopped vehicles completely obscured any possible line of sight to the roadway.

In the 12 years I’ve used this gate into the installation, the common practice is for motorcycles to share the #2 lane. It is done constantly.

But what really burned me up was that after he had cited me, and handed me the yellow copy, he then proceeded to question me about my usual route to work, times, etc. From his tone and demeanor, I inferred that to be a threat to single me out for special attention on my morning commute, solely because I had the temerity to argue with him over the legality of lane sharing, and informing him that I would be fighting the ticket in court. When I asked him why he was questioning me in this manner, he said, “I’m just asking questions.” So, I told him that I had been a police officer for ten years, so I knew exactly what the import of those questions was.

I respond poorly to threats, so, as soon as it opened, I called the Oceanside CHP office and lodged an official complaint against the officer for this.

And, yes, I will contest this in court.

Motus Motorcycles MST-01 debuts

Motus MST-01
2012(?) Motus MST-01

Motus Motorcycles, an Alabama-based startup, has been working on a completely new, American-made, sport touring motorcycle.  We’ve seen glimpses of the engine, as well as artist concepts of the bike, but now, Motus has finally debuted the complete bike, in the flesh.

The MST-01 is built around a completely new engine, designed by racing powerplant builder Pratt & Miller. Named the KMV4, the direct-fuel-injected engine has a claimed output of 160HP and 122 lb-ft of torque at redline. That power comes, however, without a significant weight penalty, with the engine weighing 130 lbs, and the 6-speed transmission adding about another 70 lbs. This results in a claimed wet weight of just 530 lbs.

Brakes are by Brembo, and suspension is by Öhlins, so pretty much all of the bike is built with top-flight components.  This componentry comes at a cost, however, so the price will probably be siognificantly higher than the main Japanese competitors, the FJR1300 and Concours14.

Mor info and pictures are available at The Kneeslider, and Motorcyclist Magazine.

Quick Hits

Motorcycle Daily joins the list of motojournalists who’ve tested the BMW K1600GT/GTL. They like it.

The Icon waterproof Patrol jacket seems very nice, if a bit pricey.

The Hyosung GT650 seems like a decent naked standard, considering its price.

Another decent photoshop rendering of the upcoming MV Agusta Brutale B3 675 triple.

Talk about electric vehicles all you want, but they aren’t ready for prime time, if the sales figures are any clue.

Wes Siler thinks the 200-ish horsepower BMW S1000RR would be a great first bike.  For beginners. Who just started riding.

For 2011, Suzuki gave the Gixxer 600–one of the most popular sportbikes ever produced– a complete overhaul. How good an overhaul is it? Motorcycle.Com’s Pete Brissette took it out on the track to see.