On Any Sunday…

“Four Million people ride motorcycles in the US – they come in all shapes, sizes, and ages” – Bruce Brown, 1971 “On Any Sunday”
When was the last time you watched it? The title itself implies a constant presences, a kind of reassurance that this activity is here to stay. That number has grown significantly over the years. However these days there seems to be a lot of press regarding the diminishing motorcycling population, many of these stories predicting the end of motorcycling is on the horizon. But is it really?..and if so, what should we do about it? Like any motorcyclist, I want to keep this activity and lifestyle alive and well – and I have always shared my adventures and enthusiasm with any willing soul. As a professional who makes his career in the motorcycle industry, I may fixate on these questions a little more than the typical enthusiast.

A good example of this occurred over the weekend when I was at a memorial for a fellow motorcyclist, an elder of the sport with many motorcycling friends. As I looked around at the gathering I recognized many fellow riders (strange how you can just “tell” if someone rides, isn’t?) and as I noted their approximate ages it seemed a graphic example of the “retiring” motorcycle demographic. I thought to myself, what inspired these people to become motorcyclist? What inspired me? What will inspire the next generations? Then some music started playing, as it often does at a memorial, but this was special – it was introduced as one of the departed favorites, it was the theme from On Any Sunday. There was an audible stir from the crowd and a lot of smiles.
Now I realize many of the people at that gathering were hardcore racers and enthusiast decades before the Bruce Brown moto classic was released, but clearly it impacted their generation just as it did mine – as well as generations decades after the film was released. So that got me thinking…does the Industry need a new On Any Sunday?

Maybe. I’ve read many statistics regarding annual sales and demographics. I’ve followed the invaluable grass-roots research of the Give-A-Shift movement (great work Robert Pandya). Though it is clear annual motorcycle sales in the US are less than half what they were 10 years ago, the reasons for this are not so clear. It’s difficult to know which statistics are relevant to which markets, and the demographics for each market factor heavily into the equation as well. Many of the sources reporting these statistics will state that sales are “flat” at the very least. Looking back 30 or more years, one could easily argue US motorcycle sales are cyclic, and though it has been much higher it has also been lower.

I see a clear variance in perspective dependent upon what the source quoting the statistics considers the “Motorcycle Industry” to consist of. Some of the motorcycle manufacturers are reporting sales are up – even with one of the two major American brands. I believe the success of those brands lies in their product diversification – they’ve not forgotten motorcyclist “come in all shapes, sizes, and ages”. If you’re selling ice cream, you’ll have more customers if you offer many flavors rather than 34 variations of “Milwaukee” Vanilla.

But I digress, so last Sunday (ironically) I decided to watch On Any Sunday like I’d never watched I before – this time I was going to analyze it, I was going to think about why it inspired me so, why it has inspired so many others, and what was the “formula” that made it such a classic. I thought perhaps if such a formula could be applied today, a new wave of motorcycling popularity may be initiated. Lofty ideals perhaps, but not completely unreasonable. Now, I know there was a sequel in 1982 – and I won’t go too far into that other than to say I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say “I sure would like to watch On Any Sunday II – I haven’t seen it for awhile, and it really inspired me”. I’m not saying it’s a bad movie, it’s just completely different. So as I watched On Any Sunday, with my analytical mind in gear, I made the following observations.

When I first saw this in the theater (I know I’m dating myself) I was youngster who was a proud owner of my very own little motorcycle, my Uncle (who took me to see the movie) rode, as did my Grandfather, my two Great Uncles, and my Great Aunt. I remember watching this movie and feeling part of a large and diverse group who all “got it” – what it felt like to ride. I wanted to share the experience – with riders and non-riders alike. I think that’s a big part of what made the film the most important motorcycle documentary of all time, it made the experience accessible to everyone. I wanted to share this film with my Mother, who was not a fan of motorcycles but I thought if she saw it maybe she’d understand (and one day when I finally got her to watch it, I think she genuinely understood). So 47 years later, as I continued watching and thinking about what was unique about this motorcycle movie, it became clear to me that all the motorcycle films that came afterward were targeted directly at the motorcycling population – they had more intense footage, and more extreme riding, and they appealed to the targeted demographic – but they weren’t films you wanted to share with your Mother. Those who didn’t ride weren’t interested in those later films. To the best of my knowledge, none of them were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature as On Any Sunday was in 1972.

Perhaps it was the timing. Maybe it was seeing so many aspects of motorcycling compressed into a span ninety six minutes. Then there was the unique perspective and narration of a genius Surf Film creator – which in itself may have been what made the film more accessible to riders who didn’t know they were riders yet. Maybe at the core of it all, it was just the way the film told the stories of the people…from kids imitating motocross racers on their bikes (introducing the World to BMX), to the national and international champions, to Mike Gibbon from Grants Pass, Oregon putting the first tire tack on top of the Widowmaker. These stories reached out to so many – and still do. So do I think the Motorcycle Industry would benefit from another “On Any Sunday” sort of movie? Without a doubt. Imagine a modern version showing the diverse ways motorcyclist indulge in their passion, presented in an accessible non-menacing fashion that even your Mother would sit through…and think about how many new riders may decide to give it try with a closing line like…

“There’s something about going riding with your friends, a feeling of freedom, a feeling of joy, that really can’t be put into words…it can only be fully shared by someone who’s done it”

Makes me want to go out and ride one of my bikes right now – how about you?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *