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?

CHOICES…

It’s always upsetting to hear a fellow motorcyclist has lost their life while riding….more so when it’s a co-worker, friend, or family member. Friday morning – leading into the long Fourth of July weekend – I got the interoffice email from the President of the company with the subject line “Tragic News”…co-worker, fellow rider, and friend Jim Hogg had lost his life commuting to work earlier that morning. In the 45+ years I’ve been riding motorcycles, I’ve lost a few friends to riding accidents. I never get used to it, each time is different and they seem to all somehow accumulate in my soul changing my motorcycling perspective and the reasons I ride.

Motorcycles are dangerous, I get it. Such events drive this point home and make one seriously evaluate their passion for riding. It’s an extremely unpleasant mental process of questioning something in your life that brings you tremendous joy – yet may lead to your demise. The longer you’ve ridden the more likely you are to have multiple similar tragic stories in mind that all weigh in on the subject. For some, such an event would result in ceasing to ever ride again and I completely understand that. Sometimes these people become a little fanatical about trying to convince everyone they see with a helmet in their hand about the pending death that awaits them if they continue to ride. They mean well. Others try to stuff the event deep down and pretend it didn’t happen. I understand this as well, the riding means so much to them that they simply don’t want to examine the potential downfalls – often rationalizing the tragedy saying things like “They died doing what they loved” (this rarely applies…I don’t think Jim loved commuting to work on a crowded freeway). Still others look for reasons…how did this happen?…what could’ve been done (or avoided) that may have prevented this tragedy?…what can be learned from this?

I guess I mostly fall under that last category, I find myself wanting to know what happened. In this particular case, the questions are many and for the most part unanswered. See, according to the news story the police received a few calls reporting “a motorcycle down” on the side of the road at about 7:30am – and that’s it. They arrived on the scene to find Jim’s lifeless body near the crashed Dynaglide he was riding to work. Now, this is alongside of one of Southern California’s busiest 4-5 lane freeways during “rush-hour” traffic. That’s the first question that keeps going through my mind, of the hundreds – perhaps thousands who drove by – why didn’t anyone stop? Surely someone saw what happened and just continued driving. Even if they didn’t see it happen, here’s another human being lying on the side of a road – why didn’t any of them choose to stop and see if there was anything that could be done? Then there’s the actual mechanics or physics of the accident. Was there another vehicle involved, perhaps a road-rage situation of some sort? If so, this could mean a homicide was ultimately committed. Or was Jim simply speeding and traffic stacked up, as it often does in this area, and he swerved off the road losing control? Was there some sort of mechanical malfunction (not likely, Jim was a professional)? Maybe he had a freak heart attack or something and was gone before he ever hit the ground?

A CHP officer looks closely at a Harley-Davidson motorcycle after it’s rider died Friday morning in Anaheim.

CHP officers assist an OC Sheriff’s coroner during his examination Friday morning in Anaheim.
The answers to these and many others that keep bouncing around my head will likely never be answered. It seems that sadly there is a sort of bias towards motorcycle related injuries or fatalities at times. It’s as if people (who don’t ride) are too quick to jump to the simple conclusion “well, motorcycles are dangerous and that’s what happens”. Perhaps that’s what all those drivers thought to themselves as they chose to drive by Jim lying on the side of the road that morning. It reminds me of the line from the Rocky Horror Picture show when the motorcyclists ride by Brad & Janet, Brad says “-life’s pretty cheap for that type”. Those of us who ride know better. If anything we appreciate life more than most. We know it’s a fragile and precious commodity not to be wasted. Maybe that’s a big part of why we ride, and why we continue to ride. For me personally, I think it’s a balance…I have no illusions that it could never happen to me, but I also know what riding means to my soul. It’s not about fear verses thrill; it’s far more than that. It’s about understanding the risks and choosing ride in spite of them because of how riding enhances your life. I truly hate losing a friend and I know riding motorcycles is dangerous…but so is a life not lived to its fullest. I choose to keep riding.

Godspeed Jim…you left us too soon Brother.

Top 7 Reasons Why We Ride…

So I did some extensive research (I asked around) and here it is – seven of the most common reasons (or misconceptions) of  “Why We Ride”…

  • Riding motorcycles has a certain Sex appeal – if this if why you ride, you’re missing the point.
  • To be a Rebel – again, if this is why you ride (and you look like this) you’re not really “getting it”.
  • Save money on Fuel – well, not really when you consider what a modern high-mileage car can get these days.
  • Run with the “Pack” – really?…not this Dude.
  • Save money on maintenance – maybe not so much, ever priced a set of good tires for a motorcycle?
  • Parking is never a problem – not true, unless there’s actually designated motorcycle parking and even then there’s the occasional ass-clown that parks their Eco-cage in it.
  • Traffic is never a problem – well sure we can keep moving when the cages come to stop, but that doesn’t mean traffic isn’t still stressful. Splitting lanes for an hour is not the Dude’s idea of a  pleasant ride.
Okay, so maybe those aren’t the top seven reasons…maybe they aren’t real reasons at all. I think the truth is we all have our reasons, and though a few may seem to be similar to other riders if we dig a little deeper we’d find each has their own very individual list. That’s because motorcycling is itself a very individualistic activity. If you had to come up with seven reasons why you ride, what would they be?…how about just one?

The Faceless Cage…

Autonomous cars. As a motorcyclist, this whole self-driving car thing deeply disturbs me. In fact, simply as an individual who doesn’t wish to have my means of transportation dictated to me, I’m outright against them. Never mind the fact that the current technology versions being considered for service have known issues – one of which is recognizing and properly interacting with motorcycles in traffic – it’s an issue of control.
No, I’m not referring to the proficiency with which modern technology is able to pilot a vehicle from point A to point B. I’m sure that can be done. My biggest issue with driverless cars is this – I can easily see how these vehicles would eventually be made virtually mandatory. Impossible you say? Think about it. They wouldn’t have to pass any “new” laws to do it, just allow insurance companies to raise the rates to insure any self-operated vehicle so high that it’s simply not practical to own one anymore. Given the issue autonomous cars have recognizing and dealing with motorcycles, they’ll surely be the first to have their insurance rates increase 1000% or more. The Cycle Dude does not approve…am I missing something? If this comes to be, what do we do?…what will you do?