Daytona Bike Week started last Friday and it will continue through this Sunday. Guess what. Like every other, major biker rally, attendance is down – again.
The other day the Daytona Beach News-Journal quoted a campground owner named John Seibel who said, “The Harley crowd is what makes up Bike Week, and that Harley crowd (in Daytona) is diminishing. I think for the future there’ll be a diminishing of biker activity and coming to rallies.” You can read that story here if you want.
All due respect to the News-Journal but the graying of the biker counterculture in America is hardly a scoop. Attendance peaked at Laconia in 2004 and at Sturgis in 2005. Greed, time and the metastasizing police state are suffocating the whole scene. Really, this biker thing should have been over by about 1995. But here we all still are because the simple fact is that there can be no America without bands of bold and defiant men roaming the countryside on 19th Century style motorcycles. Whether the ATF and the FBI like it or not, the Americans who fight the wars and still remember how to make and do things prefer fast and loud and they are convinced that it is their birthright to pick and choose their own laws and destinations.
What is happening in Daytona this week is tee-shirt sales are down and antique-style motorcycles continue to persist. The two major American motorcycle manufacturers just announced new models here. And the interesting thing about that is that those two manufacturers have the same names they had 60 years ago – Harley-Davidson and Indian.
Harley introduced a new model motorcycle called the Breakout – again. The Breakout was test marketed as a factory built, limited edition custom bike – Harley calls them CVOs for Custom Vehicle Operations – last August. Last Friday in Daytona the motor company announced the bike had gone into production and the price had gone down.
If you ride a lot this new bike might not be your cup of tea. It is a Softail with chopped fenders, drag bars and a nine and a half inch wide rear tire. It looks beautiful when it’s parked. The 103 cubic inch engine is choked at both ends to appease the pollution police and the noise police so it can only run with electronic fuel injection. The big engine makes about 73 horsepower which is about as much as a 1980, 82-inch, AMF Shovelhead.
The bike can probably beat the last of the Shovels if you replace the wiring harness and slap a CV carburetor and a pair of Thunderheaders on it. But, not many buyers are likely to do that. Harley’s target audience doesn’t ride very much and scrupulously obeys all laws when it does. Like all Harley products, it is overpriced but it is chock full of magical symbolism.
The Breakout glistens when it is freshly washed and waxed and parked. You will look great leaning on it. Women will regard you with lust when you do. Harley describes the bike as an “urban prowler.” The cheapest one lists for $17,899 plus shipping and tax and license and registration. But your new, edgy image and the easy women you will attract are probably worth at least that much.
The same day Harley announced the Breakout, Indian announced that starting with its 2014 models all its bikes will be powered by the company’s new “Thunder Stroke 111 Engine” which is a full eight inches bigger than Harley’s 103. No, that’s not a pickup line. Obviously the Thunder Stroke continues the trend of ever larger bike engines to compensate for the inefficiency mandated by pollution and emission controls. More interesting is the fact that Polaris, which manufactures Victory motorcycles, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles is really bringing back the Indian brand.
While Harley has concentrated on screwing its employees, catering to women and developing the important new Asian market, Polaris has been trying to build a better motorcycle. Whether the Indian will be a better motorcycle than the Victory remains to be seen. That’s not what the Indian is about, anyway.
The point of the Indian is to sell a motorcycle called the Indian, which Polaris describes “as one of America’s most legendary and iconic brands.”
The cheap and simple motorcycles that footloose war veterans bought in the late forties have now been transformed into expensive symbols. Nothing says the good old days better than an Indian motorcycle. The next time somebody asks you how the country is doing, if anybody ever asks you what you think, tell them you have been thinking about the new Indian.
Maybe the News-Journal got it right. Maybe there is no future for bikers and their rallies. Or maybe the Florida paper got it wrong. Polaris just bet a lot of money that what comes next is way back there in our collective long ago. Maybe that idea will catch on. Maybe the next Cadillac will have tail fins. The future is not yet written so all things are possible.