|People in cold places love motorcycles.|
The other day I read an interesting article on Asphalt and Rubber that highlighted where America’s motorcyclists are to be found — both by volume and per capita. By volume, there is nothing surprising: California, Texas and Florida take the top spots. Shocker. California, Texas and Florida are also the most populous U.S. states.
So, let’s start there in trying to find the similarities, trying to figure out what truths can be offered about the American motorcyclist.
|Where I come from, bigger is better.|
From growing up in the Upper Midwest, I know that those brutal winters mean that a lot of people don’t tend to vacation too far away from home. After suffering months of icy slings and arrows, Upper Midwesterners feel deeply entitled to the good weather of spring and summer. They don’t tend to want to “waste” their home state’s good days by heading some place else.
And from this you can see the value of a motorcycle. Firstly, what better tool with which to enjoy and indulge in the simple joys of not freezing to death? But secondly, because the average Upper Midwesterner isn’t trundling off to, say, Europe, perhaps he or she is more willing to spend money on a vehicle that, for most people, has a limited range (i.e., most people don’t tend to ride more than 300 miles in a day, whereas they would cover double that in a car).
Meanwhile, it’s a good bet you could thin the population of Los Angeles by at least half by holding a gun to people’s heads and asking them to identify the Upper Midwest on a map. And by and large Upper Midwesterners are OK with that. They’re Americans, and fiercely proud to be so, but they’re content doing their own thing, existing in their own space. They are independently minded in a true sense.
So often, when we say someone is “independently minded” we mean that they are hard to get along with or they don’t want to fit in. Upper Midwesterners are perfectly happy to fit in (especially if “fitting in” means drinking beer and eating a lot of heavy foods) but they are accepting of those times when they do not fit in, and relatively tolerant of those who do not fit in with them — as long as that tolerance goes both ways [b].
And inasmuch, is it any wonder that Harley-Davidson is based in the Upper Midwest? Does it not make perfect sense that the region is also home to Indian and Victory?
There is an old saying: “As California goes, so, too, the nation.” But in the case of motorcycling I don’t think that’s true. I think we need to look to the Upper Midwest to understand what motorcycling is and will be in the United States.
The people amongst whom I was raised like heavy, loud machines; they dislike helmets; and that’s just how things are. Those can be frustrating truths for people who see the value of a machine like, say, the Honda NC750X — they simply are not the steak to which Upper Midwesterners have grown accustomed — but accepting these truths is, I think, the first step toward seeing American motorcycling progress.
So, for instance, if you want to initiate positive changes in handling, performance, fuel efficiency and safety, you have to do it in a way that is palatable to Upper Midwesterners. If you want to see filtering accepted outside a niche of California riders, you have to figure out how to sell it to Upper Midwesterners. If a company is trying to develop products that will pull motorcycling from the hands of old white men, it needs to develop products that will appeal to young Upper Midwesterners. And if the exciting ideas of manufacturers like Brammo and Zero are ever really going to get off the ground, they will need to do so in the Upper Midwest.
Better roads and better weather may be found elsewhere, but America’s motorcycling heart is to be found in its geographical centre.
(b) My friend, Kristin, is a quintessential Upper Midwesterner. She doesn’t care what a person does or thinks, as long as that person never, ever, criticises what she does and thinks.