Postmodern Sturgis 2012

August 9, 2012

All Posts, Editorials, News

It’s Sturgis if you can afford it. It is also Sturgis if you are willing to travel hundreds of miles for a temporary job. Most of all it is postmodern Sturgis for the “next generation of Harley-Davidson” customers.

Postmodernism, one may learn from Wikipedia, “postulates that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs and are therefore subject to change.” So, postmodern theory dictates, a wholesome and innocent fraternal organization that calls itself a “club” may be magically transformed into a terrorist cell by simply replacing the four letter word “club” with the four letter word “gang.” Or, more elegantly, by simply changing the meaning of “club” to “transnational terrorist cell.”

Wikipedia, for anyone who got caught passing a joint in Texas in 1970 and is just now emerging back into the un-walled world, is the postmodern Encyclopedia Britannica. Welcome home. Watch out for the video surveillance. That noise up there is called a Predator. Your phone is tapped. Your every move is tracked. There are many new felonies. Have you heard of RICO? Gas costs $4 a gallon. The planet is doomed. Whatever you do, don’t express an opinion on gay marriage. Gay marriage. You’ll figure it out.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, for those who comprise the next generation of Harley customers, used to be a collection of brown leather books. Nobody remembers what they were for.

But, the essential postmodern story is “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” by the deceased Argentine fablist Jorge Luis Borges. In that long story Borges imagines a writer who discovers that a secret cabal of anonymous intellectuals is changing the meaning of everything in the world, from algebra to fire, and so the world is doomed to go mad.

Yes, this page is still about motorcycles – sort of.

Long ago and far away, before there was an Aging Rebel, The Aging Rebel asked Jorge Luis Borges why he even bothered to write his stories down. Borges, who looked a little like Doc Cavazos in thick glasses, only shorter, laughed. Since then, sure enough, just like Borges imagined the world has gone mad. For example, the Black Hills Motorcycle Rally, if it is still called that, in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Change Is Good

The other day the Rapid City Journal led a story with, “For Rapid City, the Sturgis motorcycle rally just isn’t what it used to be – in a good way. No longer must the city prepare for gang violence. Now, it means more business for hotels, bars and restaurants….”

Harley-Davidson’s Chief Executive Officer, Keith Wandell, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Sturgis is really where our riders are able to come together with a sense of belonging, a sense of family and brotherhood. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate our products, do test rides, and have people be part of the overall experience.” “Belonging,” “family” and “brotherhood” may also be words that have been redefined.

As many as 700,000 people will visit Sturgis this week. So far there have been six accident fatalities. Twelve of Rapid City’s 31 hotels are sold out. The remainder, including the foulest, have at least 80 percent occupancy rates. All have at least doubled their rack rates. Rapid City is about 30 miles from Sturgis but every hotel within 100 miles has raised its rates. Most of them are completely booked. What was once a raucous, working class party on Main Street is now a dedicatedly commercial business.

The two national wars that turned many thousands of young men into anti-authoritarian thrill seekers have bred one war with many names fought by the same few jobless “volunteers” tour after tour after tour after insane tour. Consequently, the footloose pool of Harley customers has dwindled. It hasn’t helped that the simple, cheap motorcycles the motor company once made have now become inefficient, computer controlled, luxury items. So, the Journal Sentinel reports, “Today’s hard-core Sturgis rider is grayer, much better behaved, and has a lot more money. You’re more apt to run into a hog-riding doctor or lawyer than an outlaw at this year’s rally.”

None of this is new. Rich urban bikers are not new. Things have been going downhill like this for decades. Most people who ride to Sturgis know they are being financially exploited. They see the moving vans unloading motorcycles in the motel parking lots. And they still manage to have a good time. If you are reading this in Sturgis, have fun. Hve more fun than ever because all of what you see is teetering on a razor’s edge.

New Improved

The profit driven transformation of the motorcycle at the heart of all this thunder from something very utilitarian and cheap into something expensive and mostly symbolic has left Harley-Davidson with a serious problem.

Nobody is supposed to talk about this either but it doesn’t help that the draft dodgers abolished the draft. Sure, it’s great that they don’t have to feel guilty anymore and there is no chance their sons may have to go but it doesn’t change the demographic reality. The best the people who run things can do is change the meaning of words like “demographic” and “reality.”

A generation ago, an eight-year-long war flooded America with millions of potential bikers – so many that they were impossible to ignore. Now a war that may never end is fought by so few men that its veterans are invisible. And, don’t forget political correctness. As if you could. The rough, disciplined, anti-materialistic, anti-authoritarian attitudes that earlier generations of veterans carried home with them are less tolerable now than they were in, say, 1946 or 1972. Men whose grandfathers fought for “freedom” now fight to be blessed with the empty word “hero.” And, both “freedom” and “hero” are words that seem to be undergoing redefinition, too.

The problem for Harley-Davidson and its symbiotic parasites like Sturgis, South Dakota lies in the question of where the next wave of Harley riders will come from without a widely participated in war. It is not as if America still actually makes enough of anything to sustain the working class that provided most of America’s veterans and shared their values. Seventy percent of the American economy is now based on consumer spending. And, the Army no longer buys Harleys. And, most American police forces refuse to buy American bikes.

Of course, Milwaukee already knows this. “Harley-Davidson is well aware that its core customer base is decreasing in size due to demographic trends,” a financial website named Trefis wrote today. “In response, it is actively spending on brand building and marketing activities so as to gain market share in customer segments such as younger men and women in the United States, along with a largely untapped customer base in Asia, Latin America and other international segments.”

Cherchez La Femme

Because of the whole veterans shortage thing, Harley is having trouble establishing a customer segment of younger men. Most young veterans think that the club prohibition against foreign bikes is silly. They grew up in a world where everything except Harleys was made in a foreign country and they find the sentiment to “buy American” quaint. So instead of dropping 20 grand on a Harley just like grandpa rides they pick up a Jap sport bike for about a third of that.

That means that Harley-Davidson must simultaneously game plan for the inevitable, annual Mumbai Hill Climb, Races and Rally and concentrate its domestic sales effort at women. That’s why Harley dealers are now holding “Ladies Garage Parties.”

That’s why Claudia Garber, Harley’s Director of Women’s Marketing Outreach is in Sturgis this week. Garber brought her special toy with her. No, it’s not one of those toys. It is a stationary Harley that women can sit on and rev and shift. “It’s hard to explain the exhilaration you get until you try it,” Garber told the Journal Sentinel. Okay, it is one of those toys. In any event, the future of Sturgis and of what Brock Yates memorably called the Outlaw Machine now depends on whether our great Motor Company – a company once so revered that men tattooed its name on their arms – can convince affluent, professional women that Harleys are really fun to sit on.

The Man Who Made Sturgis

It is in this context that Steve Piehl, the Harley executive who invented HOG – not a motorcycle club but an incredible mass market simulation – was inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame last night. Piehl thinks HOG. is at least partly responsible for the transformation of Sturgis from a big biker party into a ginormous profit center. “We promoted the rally to hundreds of thousands of HOG members,” Piehl modestly allowed. “It helped put Sturgis on the map for riders.”

Piehl, who is now Harley’s Director of Customer Experience – yeah, Director of Customer Experience – thinks HOG “must stay connected with younger motorcyclists, female riders and everyone else in the Harley family.” Possibly “everyone else in the Harley family” includes all those aging guys who buy and ride the family’s motorcycles. “We spend a lot of time on keeping it fresh,” he said.

Effective as of August 9, 2012 the word “clueless” will be replaced by the word “fresh.”

 Guy In Texas

Really dude. Gay marriage. I’m not kidding. It’s like a real thing. It’s the most important thing in the country right now. No, you can’t get a job working in a gas station. There are no jobs. No you can’t go back to the penitentiary. You’re free. Free. Start walking. You’re on your own. That’s what free now means.


, ,

108 Responses to “Postmodern Sturgis 2012”

  1. neverwaz Says:

    @ sled tramp & Grumbler –
    Our ride to Orygun was a blast. Didn’t see a cloud in the sky all week and hit some of the finest back roads around. She wanted to see some covered bridges of which many are off the big byways. Some of the best rides were off on those country roads. I was unaware they had pump jockeys when I filled up the first time, but got kinda used to having the kids take the cash and push ethyl for me. Deer season up there isn’t long enough. Yes, Bend is riddled with yuppies and has a repulsive system of circular intersections where her friend was. We stayed there free although I never did quite figure my way in there without 3-4 shots at it. Thanks for the tips gentlemen

  2. Arctic Says:

    “the word clueless is replaced by the word fresh.” that made me laugh out loud for a min.
    Then it hit me, it’s sad.

  3. HighwayNomad Says:

    Let’s not also forget while you are pointing out facts about “Jap” bikes that Harley’s are no longer actually built in Milwaukee or even the State of Wisconsin (Only Engines and Transmissions are manufactured at the Wausatosa plant… Harley also uses Foreign parts from China, Asia, Japan and Mexico… They have a production plant in India (yes it is true just Google Harley Davidson plant in India and it will spell it all out for you)if you buy an expensive H-D T-shirt there’s an excellent chance it says made in China… Metric bikes ride as good, last longer, ride smoother and cost alot less than your so called Milwaukee Iron machine that isn’t actually Milwaukee Iron at all… So go head spend three times the money for something that isn’t what it use to be… At least I know where my Metric bike came from and my manufacturer isn’t trying to snow it’s unknowing customers…

  4. Ol'LadyRider Says:

    Dear HighwayNomad,

    I skimmed back through all of the comments to see what you were reacting to. I didn’t remember any “Jap bike” bashing in the thread, and couldn’t find any while looking specifically for it today. I’m curious as to what prompted your comment?? You seem rather defensive about the whole thing.

    Just for the record, so you know I’m genuinely curious, I’ve owned 8 motorcycles in my long and sordid life, and 6 of them were “Jap bikes.” I bought my first Harley less than ten years ago. I’ve never mentioned it before in this forum because it just didn’t seem to matter… So I am very interested in knowing what prompted you to comment?

    Thanks, OLR

  5. (btb) back to basics Says:

    to Ol’LadyRider…

    Even though I ride Harley’s, I too have owned Jap bikes in my life, Actually, they make some pretty good bikes these days. I personally don’t care what people ride as long as they enjoy the ride. That’s what makes America great, we still (kind of) have the right to choose. But, just like Harley, everything is subject to change.

  6. Rom Zom Says:

    Highway Nomad- if you ride and enjoy it who gives a fuck what anybody thinks or has to say about it…especially on the blasted interwebs.

    To all you old salty bastards,

    I’m on my first bike.It is a metric. But thats not mostly because every fucking brolier than thou greybeard recapturing his youth around here wants to tell me I need to be on sumpin from ‘Merica or how it used to be, that’s because I paid cash for her and can’t afford the conspicous consumption status, synonymous with the most known brand(least around here), of the HD. Hell a harley was the first bike I laid eyes upon and I get it.

    I ride cause I always wanted to. Most of the necks i went to school with had ricer dirtbikes but i didn’t, not just cause it was ‘dangerous’- mostly cause there was no fuckin money. I ride what I do because that is the best bike I could afford at the time and fuck anybody who’s got anything else to say about it. I am willing to wrench but at the moment I don’t know much so the trade-off for a cheaper but more mechanically sound ricer was worthwhile(read something I could learn on and not wrench on seriously at least for a bit).

    This motorcycle is not who I am yet. But I can see the path to where that leads there and every ride takes me a mile closer. The adrenaline and genuine ‘aliveness’ that comes isn’t restricted to one brand. I will one day own an ‘American’ motorcycle but it wont be a new one paying the fucking salary of a suit cashing in on the dream.

    I come from a different tribe where bro is thrown around. In some circles it is bru, some brah but you earn your place in the lineup. And the glorious feeling gifted by the machine is the closest feeling i’ve had to riding a wave.

    Commercialism has raped the soul of america, but we the youngins in tune are not totally caught unawares. We will wake up. It is inevitable.

    Sturgis to me is where some sweet blonde haired Dakota girl worked a summer job at the ‘Buffalo Chip’. I looked at the pictures, pulled out when it was my turn and didn’t look back.

    Everything that can be commercialized has been, but you know what it eventually comes full circle. It’s similar to beer in this country. One time there was a brewery in every damn town. Then the big three ran things for a few generations and when the craft beers started to come online they were initially looked down upon. But that was still just a tactic. Cause as more and more sprung up, the big three produced different flavors. American bikes, whether rebuilt from foreign parts or welded from merican steel will come back. There is not another choice.

    I’m not an ‘outlaw’ or a member of any club. Unfortunately I am now a criminal, in the system, and on the radar of the same assholes monitoring every site on the internet and probably all of your ips and internet posts. It’s not just Rebel who can see where I am posting from. Those tools were sold to the guards running the place long before the average joes got a hand on them.

    I lost loyalty to any brand from day one cause in this day everything is commercialized or capitalized upon and branded. Look at the fucking liars on stage last night. Both are in favor of putting drones over our soil, in the name of ‘freedom’. Shoulda been here yesterday goes the saying… or just unplug. It is time to wake up and feel alive. Motorcycles are one way I can do that; at this point whatever anyone thinks about the bike I’m on when i do that matters nil.

    Fuck the ‘isms

    Fuck the bullshit

    Fuck the world

    But don’t fuck with me and mine…the angry giant of freedom sleeps and it’s time for the sheeple to wake.

    I love my motherfuckin motorcycle…and that g drop wasn’t unintentional just the way I speak.

    Miles to go before I sleep,

    Rom Zom

  7. Gibson Says:

    hello im a biker i just got out of jail spent almost 4 months in solitary confinement not really long by our texas standards. but in my stay there i designed an engine that should be inexpensive and affordable and a heavy mother fukker. i cant afford a harley because they are expensive, i worked as a trustee for a few weeks before i was segged out . someone gave me a harley wind breaker and there plain as day it said made in china on it i was shokked. I would like to start building motorcycles and was wondering maybe if anyone would like to throw some donations 1-20 bucks would be fine just send it to 2402 woodcrest ct. Granbury TX 76048. and your name and i will do my best to get something going for everyone and anyone who wants to help. the way engines operate now they are total trash i hate the shit on the market shit is made from aluminum and hard as a motherfukker to take down and rebuild. they should include 10 gasket kits on a bike when you buy it. cause its like a hey fuck nugget i gotta wait a week for a diaphram how the fuck do i get to work alls i own is a motorcycle. fuck rent. my helmet looks like it was worn by someone cooking a batch of p2 and running head on chicken with 18 wheelers, i see alot of shit with people painting murals on there helmets and bikes thats nice but are you just gonna stare at the shit or ride it ho? alotta old bikers are cashing out cause there gettin old and thats natural when you ain’t got nothing aint no shame in it . I grew up with nothing i had to walk everywhere. caught my first pinch of time when i was 15 did 3 years in Texas youth commission that was so famous from the media for violence and abuse to inmates . had runins with local state and federal authorities ( that isnt required to be a biker ) and the shit ain’t dramatic or fun sometimes you get into jams and you just ain’t got many options. My bike is a vulcan 800 it was running on 1 cylinder when i traded a weapon for it because getting weapons and drugs are easier than getting cash. I broke down once and did a engine rebuild on the side of the road in the dark with a penlight an allen wrench set and a 10mm wrench. Being a biker is about beating the odds at all costs living life to the fullest and being the best approximation of happy as possible. my mom did a 22 year stretch down in gatesville hit every unit i had no relationship with my father because he died before i was born didn’t get one with mom either. Sometimes life is like a spray of bullets headed your way shit might work out shit might not work out. Death by grasshopper. See ya’ll in sturgis 2013

  8. Amused Says:

    Harleys have been a “consumer” product since the 1930s at least. The MoCo was almost dragged into selling the “outlaw” image in the 1970s and later when its styling department began to adopt what the custom world was doing. Anyone who read the bike mags and trade mags of the time saw every detail.

    Remember when a Softail frame was aftermarket? When solid rear wheels and disc brakes were first pure custom then aftermarket only? There’s plenty more examples. :-)

    Remember when “biker” mags reviled Harley for ignoring the working class base while catering to old farts? Well, Old Farts have money and they spend it. HD is making bank with their strategy, again.

    Harleys were and are simple, slow, touring machines however ya want to spin it. The Japs have owned the street performance world since the Z-1 and still do.

    The people who want to keep a bike 30 years can ride Harley or BMW. That works for me. The people who are young, rebellious and want to haul ass can do what they’ve already been doing for forty years and buy a Jap bike. They’ll get superior engineering and performance for their money, with the more frequent model turnover that goes with it.

    Either are now so refined that while being a mechanic is damn handy it’s also not necessary, and with that it’s also killed the old social scene which revolved around keeping cantankerous machines on the road.

    Ride what ya want. Motorcycle preference isn’t much different than preferring Nvidia or ATi video cards or whatthefuckever.

Leave a Reply