Friday, June 24, 2016

UPDATED: What Brexit means for the motorcycle business

The results of the 'Brexit' vote are in, and the UK will now soon begin the process of leaving the European Union. I'm surprised -- not because of pre-referendum polls, which were too close to call but because the bookmaker Ladbrokes was offering terrific odds for 'Leave' bets just a day before the vote. It was a rare example of a vote that defied the bookmaker's odds.

The vote has huge implications for Britain and the future of Europe -- the thing is, at this moment, it's hard to know what the implications are. But there will be short term ramifications, and they'll influence the motorcycle industry in a few ways.

The British Pound immediately fell relative to the Euro (-5%) the Dollar (-9%) and the Yen (-11%). It will rebound but it is likely that the pound will remain depressed for some time. That should be good for British exports and bad for British imports.

Triumph bosses were probably conflicted as they watched a historic drop in the British Pound overnight. Triumphs assembled in Hinckley will become more affordable in export markets. But triples like this one are assembled in Thailand. The Pound fell 8% against the Baht making the decision to offshore that production a lot less attractive.
A lot of Triumph bikes are now made in Thailand, and overnight the Pound fell nearly 8% relative to the Thai Baht, making the decision to assemble bikes there a lot less attractive.

In spite of that, Triumph motorcycles should probably increase market share in the UK, because British importers will be paying a lot more for Hondas and Harleys, for example.

Moving in the opposite direction, the price of new Triumphs could fall here in the U.S.

British motorcyclists ride in Europe a lot. In the short term, that just got more expensive. Over the long term, if Brexit means a return to travel carnets for vehicles, insurance hassles, and the need for visas... well, British riders will have a little less incentive to seek out those sunny Spanish roads or attend a cacophonous Italian MotoGP round.

The Isle of Man, which didn't even have a say in Brexit, pegs its currency to the Pound; it just got a little more affordable for travelers to attend the TT, although it may get a lot more complicated for the many racers who currently travel to the Isle of Man from the Continent.

I noticed that David Emmett, the Brit who operates the excellent Motomatters blog from a home in Holland said on Facebook that he'll apply for Dutch citizenship. Last but not least, I just got a pay cut for my Classic Bike column, because I'm paid for that one in Pounds.

Brexit also has larger implications for Europe. The EU is weaker without the UK; it's too early to tell what that means for companies like Ducati, KTM, and BMW which rely heavily on export sales. In the short term the Euro's also fallen against the dollar, which should be good for Americans who like to ride new European bikes, but it will be bad for Harley-Davidson which has been counting on increasing foreign sales to offset aging American buyers. (H-D doesn't break out International sales by country in its annual report, but I think it's safe to say the UK is one of, if not the biggest, foreign markets for The Motor Co. Harleys are popular in the UK, and Harley's had a strong dealer presence there for a century.)

In an increasingly interconnected global economy, it's harder and harder to say where anything's made any more. But at least in the UK, Brexit was a vote for borders. (Well, it was really a vote against foreigners.) It's also harder to predict exactly how it will shake out for any business.

I'm certain of this, though: it will impact the motorcycle business, and motorcyclists who live in the the UK and the rest of Europe...


Roger Willis, a long time observer of the UK motorcycle industry notes: Two-thirds of Triumph's production is now in Thailand including all the Bonnevilles for sale worldwide. The ones coming back to the UK are, I believe, dollar-denominated imports. The prime reason for a Thai manufacturing location, besides cheaper labour, is to take advantage of ASEAN group FTAs with the US and Antipodes. PS Harley's UK market is much smaller than France or Germany

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Every year on this day, I still don't like Cal Ripken

Today’s the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s death. He played for the New York Yankees from 1923-’39. So there are few people, anymore, who remember him though of course we all know something of him.

The one-sentence summary of Gehrig’s career is, He was the guy whose record for consecutive-game appearances seemed unassailable for decades; his streak was ended by a rare disease – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – that is now better known as ‘Lou Gehrig’s Disease’. (Forgive me the semicolon.)

It’s bad enough that a post appears in Backmarker, and has nothing whatsoever to do with motorcycles or motorcycle racing, so I will only provide the most cursory overview of Gehrig’s achievements in the sport of baseball. His Yankees won the World Series six times, he was league MVP twice, he had a career .340 batting average and, almost 70 years after his career came to an end, he still appears numerous times in the record books. In 1969, the Baseball Writers’ Association voted him the best first baseman of all time.

Even without ‘the streak’, he’d have been an automatic first-ballot Hall of Famer.

But, the streak.

To put Gehrig’s 2,130 consecutive appearances in the Yankees’ lineup into perspective, the previous record had been held by Everett Scott – 1,307 games. Both Scott and Gehrig, of course, played in an era before effective batting helmets (or, usually, any helmets at all). Gehrig was knocked unconscious at least once by pitchers.

They played before modern sports trainers. I can only wonder what Gehrig’d’ve thought of massage therapists or cryotherapy. But for a long time even players who had those advantages never came close. Steve Garvey’s modern-era streak ended over 900 games shy of Gehrig’s.

To be sure, Yankee managers did from time to time conspire to put Lou Gehrig into games as a pinch hitter for example, to keep his streak alive. X-rays, taken later in his life, showed evidence of several fractures sustained – and played through – during the streak.

Although not yet diagnosed with ALS (which at the time was known as ‘infantile paralysis’) Gehrig’s play deteriorated in the 1938 season. Early in the ’39 season, he approached Yankees manager Joe McCarthy and said, “I’m benching myself, Joe, for the good of the team.”

Gehrig’s condition was diagnosed by Charles Mayo, of Mayo Clinic fame. He was told that he’d feel no particular pain, but that he would gradually lose all motor function. His mind would remain alert to the end. He chose not to keep any of that a secret.

A few months later, the Yankees held ‘Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day’, in the break between a double-header. There is no surviving complete film, but he stood on the field and delivered this speech to the sold-out crowd...

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.  
When you look around, wouldn't you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such fine looking men as are standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.  
When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift—that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies—that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter—that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body—it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed—that's the finest I know.  
So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.

Even the cynical bastards in the press box fought back tears.

After retiring from baseball, Gehrig could’ve made a fortune as a public speaker. Instead, he took a position on the New York State parole board, because he felt strongly that the criminal justice system needed to be balanced by some sense of forgiveness.

He died on June 2, 1941.

When the baseball world returned to something like normal after WWII, people looked at the steady march of league records and realized that all things must pass, although one record seemed unassailable: Gehrig’s 2,130-game streak.

Some time in the 1980s, my dad and I declared a truce, and I started coming over on Sundays to watch baseball with him on TV. When Cal Ripken Jr. – on a streak of his own – passed Everett Scott to assume second place in the record books, I’m sure it was noted.

I don't remember the first time I heard a color man speculate that Ripken might, in fact, top Gehrig's record. But by 1993 or '94, the topic of Ripken’s streak came up every time the Orioles played.

As the 1995 season wound down (the Orioles finished third in their division) I obsessed a little over Ripken’s streak, but I was hoping for a different ending. I knew he could surpass Gehrig’s record. But I wished that he would choose not to. 

The Orioles hosted the California Angels September 4th – 6th. Those games were to be Ripken’s 2,129th – 2,131st consecutive appearances. (The league schedulers made sure they’d be home games.)

How fucking great would it have been, if on September 5th, Ripken had walked over to Phil Regan and said, “I’m taking myself out of the lineup, coach. I’ve got an ache in my stomach.”

Ripken would have secured #2 on the consecutive-games list. Even if he’d taken himself out of the lineup on September 6thth – leaving him tied with Lou – his action would have secured a place, alongside Gehrig’s ‘luckiest man’ speech, as one of the moments when an athlete transcends his sport.

I suppose he was under a lot of pressure not to do that. President Clinton and VP Al Gore were both at the game. But how fucking great would it have been for Ripken, in civvies, to sit down beside Bill, look over and say, “Great day to watch a game, huh?”

Ripken went on to play another 500+ consecutive games. His streak after his streak would have been one of the top 30, in a sport with a long memory and an obsession with statistics.

I’m not taking anything away from Ripken, but I’ll never really forgive him, either. Because he could have left Lou Gehrig at the top of that list for all time – 2,130* forever.

With the biggest, most beautiful asterisk in history of record-keeping right beside it.