There’s nothing quite like climbing a pinnacle to let you look back the way you’ve come and forward to where you hope to be going. Traditionally, the New Year serves as such a pinnacle.
As for looking back, I’m just going to let you enjoy the photo above, taken nearly a quarter century ago at IFMA, the Cologne Motorcycle Show. I was there but I have no recollection of that bike, despite which I can’t help thinking that we might see it again at another show. Some design ideas, awful as they are, never die.
But just because there are questionable idea around, such as chili flavoured beer, the world is not going to end.
So let’s move on to the future, in the hope that it will be a bright one. There’s no question but that the motorcycle industry is in a severe downturn. But it has seen those before, and it has seen them off every time. Will the 2020s be any different? I don’t know, but I see signs of life. Not in sales so far, admittedly, but in the industry.
Both Harley-Davidson and BMW are moving into waters untested by the former and previously found too deep by the latter. Milwaukee has given us a sign of the new direction it intends to pursue, with the Pan America; Munich is sticking its neck out with another cruiser model, the R 1800. Both have attracted criticism, but remember, as T. S. Eliot asked: “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”. Even Husqvarna is wading into deep water with the Norden.
Good for them for trying new ideas, and good for all of the other motorcycle manufacturers in the USA, in Europe and elsewhere who are similarly bucking the trend. Indian, KTM, Motos Guzzi and Morini, Benelli and Ducati among others are all gathering up their skirts and getting going. Who would have believed that Harley-Davidson would start building a Third World bike in China? Who would have thought that Royal Enfield would become the sales hit that it is?
And while the Japanese have been rather quiet for a few years, they are likewise showing their stuff. Honda has two new Africa Twins; Yamaha just keeps building better and better bikes in the MT range and has finally released the long-awaited 700 Ténéré; Kawasaki engineers are having huge amounts of fun with supercharging. Suzuki could perhaps try harder, but even there the 1050 V Strom looks like a good thing.
I suspect that there have never been so many different and interesting motorcycles on the market, and hey – a lot of them are adventure bikes. Maybe only in name, but it shows someone is reading the market.
In the past few weeks I have heaped hot coals upon the heads of the motorcycle distributors in the USA, and I think justifiably so. Nevertheless, it’s better that they come up with the right ideas now even if they should have done that fifty years ago. Better late than never.
Out in the world nothing stands still, which is just as well. There will be amazing things to see, amazing motorcycle to ride. The electric revolution is coming; will it, er, ‘electrify’ or burn us and the industry? I don’t know. All I know is that unless we welcome change – whatever it brings – and incorporate it into this wonderful experience that is motorcycling, we will be wasting opportunities to live more enjoyable lives.
And the best part of it all is that we don’t know. We don’t have the wisdom or the tools to make accurate forecasts. We shouldn’t even settle upon what is it we want, because we might get something much better. “I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope,” wrote T. S. Eliot, “For hope would be hope for the wrong thing.”
A Happy New Year to everyone.
(Photos IFMA, The Bear)