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.
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.