Friday, April 18, 2014

I'm finally cutting edge. Or, maybe, a joke.

I've got an office now. Well, really it's more of a cell, in which I can get down to the monastic task of writing. Not very glamorous, although it is, a.) not in my home, and b.) behind a dance studio in KC's trendy/arty Crossroads district.

The other day, I rode my bicycle in to work. I hadn't shaved, and I was wearing a bib-overall style lycra winter cycling outfit, with a motorcycle shop t-shirt under it, and a collared short sleeve Harley-Davidson work shirt over that; a spiff from the Road America launch of the ill-fated XR1200x model. Over that, I wore a bright yellow winter cycling jacket. Proper cycling cleats hurt my wonky knee, so I pedal in very old, black, Vans sneakers.

I actually do have a pair of trousers and a clean shirt at work, but since I had no one to impress, I didn't bother changing. I worked at the computer all morning, and at lunch I walked down the street to Mildred's, a hangout for local ad agency & production types, and the local digerati. I stood out like a wart on a porn star's perfectly waxed genitals. I don't think I was imagining things when it seemed that a few of the aspirational-one-percenters in there looked down their noses at me.

The thing is, I'm actually ahead of them on the hipness curve. Beards? Tatts? Cafe'd-out KZ650s? Home-made artisanal pickles? Those are so 2012. I'm 'normcore'.

Yes, for the first time ever I'm officially beyond merely hip. Check it out, it's a real thing.

Or, normcore may be a joke being played by a handful of bleeding-edge fashion bloggers, no one is quite sure. The word was coined by the accidentally-almost-perfectly-named trend forecasting group K-hole, in NYC. Basically, if you believe those K-holes , the ├╝ber-hip have embraced mediocrity, to enjoy the simple pleasure of belonging. Or they're finally exhausted by the constant effort expended on dismissing anything that anyone else likes.

I was normcore before it was... well, I was going to say 'cool' but whatever it is, it isn't cool. Anyway, about three years ago, I (briefly) had a real job, at Trader Joe's. Since regular work outside the home meant I was going to have to commute right through a Kansas City winter, often going to work at 5 a.m., I needed an enclosed, four-wheeled vehicle. Of course, at first I looked for something cool, like a Ranchero or at least a '70s vintage C10.

What I quickly learned was that anything that I could afford, that had any kind of cool factor at all, was a complete piece of shit that I could in no way count on actually starting at below-zero temps or getting me all the way to the store. After finally test driving an F-100 that the CL seller described as a daily driver, and which in fact had brakes on only one wheel, I admitted to myself that I was not destined to be cool. In fact, I took the opposite approach; I started scouring CL for vans that had absolutely no cool factor whatsoever.

I settled on a 15 year old Plymouth Voyager, which I found in fully driveable condition for $1,500. It looked like a very large, burgundy-colored suppository. Basically it was the sort of vehicle some Republican bought for his suburban wife/soccer mom. She drove it for years, until her last kid was going off to college. Then, when that kid needed a car, Mom said, "Take the Voyager," and the kid chose, instead, to use public transit.

The thing was, I loved it. I became a totally different person driving it; that guy traveling infuriatingly slowly in the right lane, listening to NPR while watching the gas gauge. It always started; it got me to Trader Joe's whenever it was too cold or icy to ride. Then came some fateful night when I had a bunch of stuff to unload from the van. After schlepping back and forth a few trips, I got inside and kicked off my shoes, and wondered, Did I lock it?

I told myself no one would steal such a bland vehicle anyway, but the next morning it was gone. It wasn't stolen for resale; when it was found later, smashed into a guardrail, it was obvious that it had been used as a rolling meth lab.

I was crestfallen, but I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised. Thieves had already smashed off the ignition of my Triumph in an attempt to steal it, and it's a piece of shit, too. You might surmise that I don't exactly live in a gated community.

Anyway, I started taking more precautions with the bikes; the Triumph, my non-running Honda Dream, and the only really good vehicle I own(ed)... my Yamaha Vino scooter. I bought a long, heavy cable to connect all three bikes, a decent padlock, and kept them all covered. That was vainglorious; the scooter was stolen last fall.

So basically, for every year I've lived here, someone's attempted to steal one of my vehicles; twice, they've been successful. Some day, I'll dedicate a whole post to describing just how completely nonplussed the Kansas City Police Department is, on the subject of vehicle theft.

Anyway, now that it's spring again, I really could use another scooter, but as long as I live here, I know that it has to be something so uncool that, a.) hipsters haven't driven the prices up on it, and b.) thieves won't target it.

I was having coffee with a local motorcyclist/friend the other day, who was aghast when I told him I was thinking about putting in an offer on a Honda Helix--arguably the homeliest Honda ever, although like the Voyager, a remarkably functional vehicle.

At first I fantasized about customizing it somehow; yarn-bombing it, or hand-beating alloy bodywork with steampunk brass hardware; maybe just doing an elaborate, trompe-l'oeuil paint job of rust, dirt and dents so that any thief would reject it out of hand. Then I realized that I don't need to do anything to it. The Helix is already beyond hip; it's normcore for motorcycles.


Seriously: Do a Google image search for "Honda Helix" and just look at the owners proudly posing with their Helixes (Helii?) They are so normcore it hurts.

Now that's my style.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

When will the world's longest blow job end?

I looked at Superbike Planet one day last week, and was usurprised to see that site described Marquez' dominance of the Austin practice times in terms of... Mat Mladin.

"Dare we say it? Very Mladin-ish."

Australian Mat Mladin used to race superbikes in the American championship, which he last won in (if memory serves) about 2009. And yes, for much of that time he was a dominant force in the U.S. series. He was also a dickhead, which never prevented Superbike Planet from giving him one of the longest fluffings in the history of media.

But come on. Marquez 'like' Mladin? I believe that Mladin, who was never prone to understating his abilities, would see the similarities. No one else should. Marc Marquez would wipe the floor with Mat Mladin, even if you could use a time machine to bring an early-'00s, in-his-prime Mladin to present-day MotoGP.

If Marquez puts a second on a field including Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, it might look a little like the Mladin years (which should probably be known as the Mladin/Bazzazz years, anyway.) But as it turns out, the talent pool Mladin was dominating was not too deep. Spies ended up beating him fair and square, and looked great after making the jump to SBK, but Spies was not, it turned out, a front-running MotoGP rider. Judging from the fact that the reigning AMA champion, now in Moto2, is two-seconds behind Johann Zarco on a similar motorcycle, it's safe to say there's not that much depth in the AMA field now, either.

Although Marquez is a ferocious competitor on the bike, which might seem Mladin-ish at a glance, he's in a completely different league, talent-wise. Not only that, he's far more personable off the bike -- amply proving that you don't need a personality disorder to win at the top level (or three or four levels down from the top, in AMA Pro Racing.)

Dare I say it? Nothing at all like Mat Mladin.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Will Obamacare give club racing and track days a little shot in the arm?


I was one of the people who, at the last minute last week, signed up for Obamacare. That means that I have health insurance for the first time since about 2007. Since I’m a self-employed writer and my wife is a dancer (neither of which are particularly high-paying jobs) our insurance, such as it is, isn’t costing us much. 

Prior to Obamacare, there were no meaningful coverage options that made any financial sense for us. What I’m saying is, although I’ve obviously not had to use my health coverage yet, on the face of it I’d say Obamacare works for me.

For a day or so, I had a tiny little warm glow thinking, Huh, maybe I don’t have to live in complete fear of being bankrupted by a health problem that would only be an inconvenience in a socialist country like, say, Norway or Great Britain. (For the record, given the sizable deductibles on any of the plans I can afford, I’d almost be bankrupted, but whatever.)

Then it hit me: Hey, I could do a track day; I could go racing; I could actually have fun.

One thing that’s held me back, when it comes to doing any real quality riding lately is, club racing organizations and track day operators typically insist on medical coverage.

Obviously, participating in events like club racing or track days is a selective filter for people who have thousands of dollars to blow on a hobby. And I suppose the vast majority of people who can afford the motorcycle they need for such a purpose, not to mention the truck or trailer, leathers, etc., already have health insurance. Most of the fifty million Americans without any health coverage (prior to Obamacare) probably have other priorities. And anyway, so far, on 7.1 million of them have signed up.

Still, amongst those millions, I bet there are few others, besides me, who are now looking for an affordable way to treat a serious illness not covered by Obamacare: the racing bug.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Valentino Rossi comes out

Tavullia, Italy

MotoGP star Valentino Rossi ended years of quiet paddock rumors today, when he came out as openly heterosexual.
Although questioning Rossi's sexual orientation has, in the past, resulted in media outlets being denied accreditation by Dorna, some journalists have recently come right out, declaring that Rossi is a practicing heterosexual.
Although speculating about Rossi's sexual orientation has long been a career-limiting move in the racing industry, Rossi himself has been more and more open about his 'straight' orientation. At the recent MotoGP season opening race in Qatar, his girlfriend Linda Morselli had a high profile.

"I guess the confusion may have come when, in the last few years, I said 'I hate the straights'," Rossi said, laughing off the idea that he was gay in his typical style. "But honestly, that was only because the Ducati was down on top speed."

Rossi brusquely dismissed the notion that his recent acquisition of a Harley-Davidson meant that he was gay.
"Come on!" he said displaying a little frustration, "Maybe some Harleys are gay, but I bought an XR750! It's the least-gay motorcycle there is. Anyway, I am obviously straight. The name of the town where I live actually is the word for 'vulva' in Italian."

Rossi said that he decided to come out because, at this point in his career he's looking towards his racing legacy, and he wants to be sure that he's remembered for who he really is.

"Sure, in the past, I released photos that projected an image that wasn't really me," Rossi said. "I was under pressure to conform to peoples' ideas about what a motorcycle racer should look like, and act like. But now at this point in my career, I feel that I can just be myself."
"Maybe some fans will be disappoint, in knowing that I am straight," said the many-times champion. "But what matters is what I do on the track, no? Not what I do in the sack."

With that, he ushered his hot girlfriend into his motorhome which, we note, has recently acquired an "If this van is rockin', don't bother knockin'" bumper sticker.

UPDATE

Although MotoGP fans are not as openly heterosexual as, say, Nascar fans, the news that Rossi is straight has quickly spread amongst straight fans.

"That Rossi post stirred my loins," wrote Sean A. "Now that I know he's one of us, I'm an even bigger fan."

National Association of Embalmers & Undertakers joins forces with ABATE

From a press release issued by AE&E national headquarters, Columbus Park, MO.

One of the largest  trade groups in the funeral direction industry will announce an official partnership with ABATE later today. The two groups are the Association of Embalmers & Undertakers (AE&E), a 12,000-member organization representing funeral directors from all 50 states and Puerto Rico, and ABATE*, with chapters in 25 states.

"As an organization, the AE&E is committed to freedom of choice," says national spokesman Randy Glaholt. "We don't think the government has a role in dictating our clients' choice of interment or cremation, and we saw a brother organization in ABATE, which maintains the belief that motorcycle helmets are an infringement on another basic right, namely, the right to die in an otherwise-harmless low speed motorcycle crash."

The partnership will begin with the two organizations sharing databases, and holding joint strategic planning sessions. It's expected that the groups will merge their Washington and state-capital lobbying organizations soon, too.

ABATE spokesman Buck 'Stump' Brown admitted, "They've got a huge database, but of course all their clients are dead, and it is getting harder and harder to count on their votes in helmet referendums. But, our strategic goals are closely aligned, so we should save a lot of money and increase our effectiveness when it comes to fighting totalitarian helmet laws.

This strategic alliance was the brainchild of AE&E's North Dakota state director, Harley Bridgewater. "We've always noticed an uptick in business in our state, during the big biker gathering at Sturgis," Bridgewater says. "For us, that time of year is like the old days, before socialists in Washington forced seat belts on us, and interfered with the free market by restricting tobacco ads."

"As a young apprentice embalmer," Bridgewater recalled with obvious fondness, "I remember my dad telling me about the days when, after a funeral, the men would all go outside and stand around smoking. We all wish it could still be so, but let's face it, that fight's been lost. That's what's great about working with ABATE. It does my heart good to see a funeral attended by a huge column of Patriot Guard riders, with their American flag do-rags snapping in the breeze."

AE&E spokesman Glaholt added, "You can only do so much to fight demographics. How often have you heard people say things like '70 is the new fifty'? Baby Boomers are watching their diets, and doing yoga. I mean sure, they're eventually going to die but how long can we wait for their business? It only makes sense for our group and ABATE to work together."

(*According to Wikipedia: ABATE is an acronym which originally stood for "A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments" and alternatively stands for "American Bikers Against Totalitarian Enactments", "A Brotherhood Aimed Towards Education", "American Bikers for Awareness, Training & Education", "American Bikers Aimed Towards Education", "American Bikers Advocating Training & Education" with other combination used.)

Monday, March 31, 2014

Breaking News: Ural announces MotoGP entry beginning in 2016!


Ural Motorcycles recently announced plans to field a two-bike MotoGP team beginning in the 2016 season.

According to Ilya Khait, Ural President and CEO, the decision is based on two factors: the surprising competitiveness of Ducati’s current MotoGP team, running under the ‘Open’ rules, and the anticipation of a cooling trend in U.S.-Russian relations.

“The U.S. has been the single biggest export market for Ural,” notes Khait. “But thanks to Barack Obama’s inability to handle Vladimir Putin, it looks as if we’re in for a long-term cooling in U.S.-Russian relations. It’s just a question of time before the U.S. embargoes Russian motorcycles, and that means we need to shift our marketing effort to Asia, Europe, and South America.”

The positive response to Ural's cameo appearance in the Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremonies got Ural interested in using high-profile sports events to market the brand.
According to Ural’s spokesperson Madina Merzhoeva, Ural got so much buzz from its recent exposure during the Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony that the company decided to reevaluate participation in major sporting events.

“We considered entering the Dakar Rally,” Merzhoeva told Bikewriter.com in an exclusive interview. “But in the end we thought, considering the off-road capabilities of our sidecar combinations, it was too expected. Of course, in brainstorming sessions in Irbit, the idea of competing in MotoGP came up, but we didn’t think it was feasible.”

All that changed when the bikes running under the new ‘Open’ rules, which allow for 24 liters of fuel and softer tires, proved far more competitive than expected. As Ural CEO Khait told us, “We thought, it might be the vodka talking, but seriously if that dog of a Ducati is suddenly competitive, we can do probably run mid-pack too.”

The surprising improvement of Ducati's MotoGP entry under Open rules convinced Ural's engineers that they too could be competitive.
The decision to enter MotoGP wasn’t a slam dunk until Russia invaded Crimea. At that point, fears of an upcoming embargo enacted in a fit of pique by frustrated U.S. lawmakers meant that Ural needed a marketing plan that de-emphasized the U.S. market while reaching Europe, Asia and South America.

“Let’s face it,” said Merzhoeva, “that dovetails perfectly with MotoGP’s audience, which is pathetic in the U.S., but huge around the world.”

Engineers at Ural’s Irbit plant have already begun prototyping a MotoGP test mule, based on input from itinerant MotoGP development rider Jeremy McWilliams.

“They’ve got a long ways to go yet,” said McWilliams, “But they’ve already taken 300 pounds off the stock bike, just by removing the sidecar.”

Although Ural’s MotoGP plans are in fact in anticipation of a cooling in U.S.-Soviet relations, rumors are that John Hopkins has already signed a letter of intent. Although people have already joked about Vladimir Putin himself riding the second bike -- the Russian leader rarely misses a chance to prove his machismo -- informed sources suggest that ride is being held open for Mikhail Prokhorov.

More on this story as it develops!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Motorcycle-USA.com gets new owners. (Or rather, its owners get new owners.)


Last year, Motorcycle Superstore, which owns Motorcycle-USA.com, was acquired by the Motorsport Aftermarket Group. Some time around then, the venerable title Cycle News (which had recently gone from a print to a digital-only format) became part of the MAG family, and as part of MAG's ownership of Motorcycle Superstore/Motorcycle-USA.com, CN's respected editor Paul Carruthers became the editorial director of both CN, which is a true web publication, and Motorcycle-USA, which is a web site.

I was happy that, from my perspective as a columnist on the Motorcycle-USA web site, nothing changed. I feel that it has been, on balance, one of (if not the) strongest U.S. motorcycle sites (on a par with Motorcycle.com, which stumbled a couple of years ago, but seems to have regained its footing, adding staff and columnists.) I like working for a company that, through Motorcycle Superstore sponsorships is a major supporter of American motorcycle racers and racing.

In the time I've been writing for Motorcycle-USA, I've seen a lot of changes in the American motorcycle web sites. Cycle World's trying to make its web site more relevant and timely; Asphalt and Rubber seems to be elevating its status from a mere blog to a real site; it's been invited to a few launches, for example. Beeler's reposting great content from David Emmett, but it's mixed in with vapid photoshop design exercises that should have stayed in some student's portfolio. Meanwhile, Hell for Leather (which I used to think was the one site that'd emerge from the blogosphere and become a real moto-media player) has completely lost its way. It's just clickbait, and isn't being updated much more frequently than Bikewriter.

Bearing all that in mind, I paid attention when, a couple of days ago, Tucker Rocky announced it was acquiring MAG. 

So, I now work for Tucker Rocky. At least, I work for them a few days a month, while I'm writing my columns.


For those who care, here's a little background on the sale...

MAG was owned by Leonard Green & Partners, which is an L.A.-based private equity firm with $15B in holdings. Although the 70+ companies Leonard Green's invested in are very diverse, you're most likely familiar with some of their retail brands, such as Lucky Jeans, Del Taco, Petco, and Sports Authority.

Leonard Green sold a majority stake in MAG (it will remain a minority partner) to another, smaller, investment firm: LDI Ltd., which owns Tucker Rocky.

LDI is based in Indianapolis. It has been in business since 1912, and owned Tucker Rocky since 1989. Most Bikewriter readers will know what Tucker Rocky's business is, but for those who don't, it's a wholesale distributor of aftermarket parts, apparel and accessories for the powersports industry. You know when you go into a motorcycle shop looking for some obscure accessory, and they don't have it in stock, so the parts man flips open a huge catalog on the counter, and finds it, and tells you he can order it? He's often looking in a Tucker Rocky catalog. 

LDI owns one other business, an Oregon-based logistics company. According to its web site, it's in the market for additional acquisitions.


So, where does this leave me?


Basically, I'm seeing consolidation in the aftermarket parts business. I guess the B-school take on it might be that LDI/Tucker Rocky and Leonard Green/MAG are looking for synergies and economies of scale. MAG is moving from owners who probably don't really have a passionate interest in powersports to owners who probably are pretty passionate about powersports.

Neither company really seems to think of itself as a media player, although LDI now owns Cycle News and Motorcycle-USA.com.


On the face of it, that might give the two media outlets even better access to advertisers. (I always thought Motorcycle-USA's business model was a conspicuously good one; if ad space goes unsold, there's always Motorcycle Superstore!)


What would be ideal would be, for LDI and Tucker Rocky to use this opportunity to take advantage of the fact that, in buying MAG, it also acquired an impressive content-generating machine, including some really respected journalists. (They got me, too.) 


In my day-to-day life, I work in the ad business. It would be vainglorious to claim that I knew exactly how to optimize that content generating machine, to LDI's profit; the ad business, especially online components of the business, is evolving so fast that all you can do is remain adaptable and seize opportunities to connect your clients with their customers as those opportunities arise, while trying to avoid wasting clients' money on dead ends. 


However, one thing that everyone in the business does agree on, is that the content that your business uses to attract online customers is too important to outsource. The lesson from companies from Red Bull to GoPro is, content attracts customers; sales track with time spent on your site. Whether or not you equate Big Data with Big Brother, providing interesting content is how companies will acquire and bond with customers going forward.


So, as an ad guy, I'd say the future's bright. Of course, as a journalist who's watched as the value of expert content has been eroded by shitty clickbait, I'll be happy if things stay the same, too.