Monday, December 31, 2007

Pickin' On The Purists

Doug wrote a great blog entry yesterday that had me chuckling a few times. He writes about how he finds it amusing to mess with purists' minds. You know the kind, the "My-Bike-Brand-Is-The-Holy-Grail-Of-Motorcycling" group. I've teased some of my Harley-riding buddies a few times about the various Japanese parts on their American Iron steeds, and I can attest to the amount of fun to be had.

Anyhow, give it a read.

Winter Riding Or Calculated Suicide?

On boxing day we loaded-up the car and drove my mum-in-law back home to Caraquet as she'd been staying with us for the holidays... and yes, I'll admit that it was a long three hours in the car, but we got there in the late afternoon and the trip was fine.

That evening, we drove into town to get a few things at the market. That's when I saw it. Coming towards me from the opposite direction was a lone headlight that I knew looked familiar. As it came closer, my visual memory kicked-in to overdrive and I realised at that moment that someone was actually riding a GL1500 Goldwing on that cold December night.

Now, to put this into perspective, you've got to know a few things about this little town called Caraquet, my birthplace (although I haven't lived there in over 17 years). In summer, it is festive and quaint, the wharf bustling with activity, and tourists galore wandering through the area to enjoy our many festivals, fresh seafood and beaches. In winter, it is only slightly more appealing than a blizzard in Siberia.

So to see this luxo-touring bike riding around the day after Christmas, on icy roads, in minus 20° Celsius (about -4° Fahrenheit)... well, let's just say it was a Twilight Zone moment. After a few seconds, it was over; his (or her) taillight fading away in my rearview mirror.

To whoever that Arctic rider was: my hat's off to ya! It was either a bold act of motorcycling enthusiasm, or a crazy joke. Either way, I got a kick out of it.

Southern Shopping - The Sequel

Holidays are almost done (whew) and within a few days things should slowly get back to normal. Last night I was relaxing on the couch with a nice glass of Australian Chardonnay (Lindemans - I think), and I was thinking back to all the hustle and bustle of the past few weeks.

I stopped by the local music store a few days before Christmas looking for something for my 13-year-old nephew whose a budding musician. As a musician myself (and admitted technology geek), I headed straight to the keyboard department... ‘cause they always have the coolest gear. Terry’s been a fixture there for the past 10 years or so, and I know him well as he’s assisted in emptying my wallet quite a few times. Things weren’t too busy in the store (oddly enough), and we chatted for awhile.

Eventually, we got to talking about the current state of the Canadian dollar and what effects – if any – it was having on business. He admitted that, although they had lowered their prices on many items, more and more people seemed to be buying stuff from Internet music stores. After comparing prices on a few items, I can’t always say that I blame them... and neither could Terry. Nope, the biggest issue he had with Internet shopping is when customers come into his store, and he spends half-an-hour doing a full demo of a keyboard or other gizmo, only to have that same customer walk out the door and order it online to save a few bucks. I’ll admit, if I were in sales that would leave a rather bitter taste in my mouth too.

But here’s where it gets better. Terry’s actually had some people buy stuff off the Internet, then go to his store with the article in question so that he may explain to them how it works! I’ll tell ya, he’s a much more patient man than I. If somebody pulled that kind of crap on me, they’d get a good loud rant right there in the store... which kinda explains why I’m not in sales.

Anyhow, as Ron White would say: I told ya that story so I could tell ya this one.

I can’t help but wonder if the same applies to motorcycles. I admit that I spend way too much time at the local MC dealers during winter, just hanging out and looking at the accessories catalogs, or drooling on the new ’08 models that are starting to come in. Its my therapy for dealing with cabin fever. So I’m trying to imagine how I would react as a dealer if a MC-addict like myself spent countless hours in the store pestering my sales staff, only to turn around and buy the bike across the border.

But then again, I think the frustration would be doubly so. First because I’d feel betrayed by the customer, and secondly because I’m powerless to do anything to counter it. I’ve heard that some American dealers are actually selling motorcycles at less than what the dealer cost is for Canadian dealers.

So for 2008, my prediction is that either the Canadian prices will go down considerably on many motorcycles, or that we’ll continue to see more and more dealers close-up shop.

Another thing I’ve noticed lately is the number of car/motorcycle/atv/snowmobile dealers that have been popping up. I guess this is another way to stay afloat; although I can’t help but wonder if the level of service for motorcyclists is going to be affected somehow by these new mega-dealerships.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Give 'Em What They Want.

It seems someone at Honda Canada has been listening to their customers. I was impressed last year when they came out with the CBR125, as I found that the "entry level" category had been sorely lacking for the past few years. For someone looking to learn on something other than a cruiser, about the only thing available was the Ninja 250 at a whopping $6,200CAD. The micro-CBR has a much more accessible MSRP of $3,499.

However, Honda was still lacking in the Sport-Touring and Adventure-Touring categories. For sport-touring, they still have the ST1300... which is a great bike, but I've always found it somewhat bulky for spirited riding (kinda like a GoldWing on Jenny Craig). Now they've confirmed that they'll be bringing the CBF1000A to Canada. This model should fit nicely between the VFR Interceptor and the ST1300.

For the adventure-touring segment (which has known the most growth over the past two years), they'll finally offer the Varadero 1000. A quick glance at the spec sheet puts this bike into direct competition with the Suzuki DL1000 V-Strom: similar power, 90° v-twin, large fuel tank, etc. The one thing it will offer over the big 'Strom is ABS (which is only available on the DL650). Of course, it also packs a few extra pounds...

No pricing information was available yet. However, it should be noted that only Canadians will be getting these new offerings, like the CBR125 last year, they won't be going Stateside.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Paul Mondor 2.0

Call him crazy or adventurous, either way I've got to admit that I like this guy! Anybody who has the guts to take-on the Trans-Labrador Highway in the middle of winter on a Beemer F650GS (or any other motorcycle for that matter) is tops in my book.

Best of luck to ya, Paul. If you're ever passing through Moncton, New Brunswick; I've got a few beers with your name on them!

Is It Alive?

For many bikers (myself included), the motorcycle becomes not only an extension of oneself, but also a seperate, living entity. It lives and breathes like us, and in many cases has it's own personality. I remember reading a comparo of sport-touring bikes in a MC magazine a few years ago, and although the reviewers griped about the always hot FJR, or the lack of oomph from the BMW GT (old model, not the new one), they didn't have much to say about the Honda ST. One guy finally admitted that the ST didn't really stick out because it didn't have any flaws... but that also made it somewhat bland and uninteresting!

At first, I thought the comment was curious, but when I got to thinking about it (a dangerous endeavour - I admit), it made perfect sense to me. As time passes and mileage accumulates, there's a relationship that develops between rider and machine. You get to be more familiar with the sounds coming from your bike; the chatter of the chain when it needs tightening, or the sound of the intake when the throttles need to be synched. To this day, I can easily tell when the throttle bodies are out-of-sync by simply sitting on the bike at idle.

A parallel could easily be made between motorcycles and mates. Although I'm sure my wife would start loading the shotgun if she heard me saying such things! But the truth is, life just wouldn't be that much fun if everything was predictable, consistent, planned. Having a "Stepford Wife" may have been every guy's fantasy at one point or another, but it would make for a rather bland relationship.

I need my bike to have its quirks, or its little demons. There's something oddly comforting about knowing that my bike sometimes does unpredictable things that only I understand.

Just like my wife ;-)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Of Southern Shopping and Dealer Survival

I've read a few magazine editorials lately about the motorcycle industry's rising concern with cross-border shopping. It seems more and more dealers are going into panic mode as they see their clients going South-of-the-border to buy their new (or used) motorcycle.

First off, I’d like to say that I sympathize with the dealers in this case. I spoke to a rep at our local Yamaha/Ducati/BMW dealer and he told me that the retail price on some models in the ‘States is actually lower than the dealer cost here in Canada. So to remain competitive, he’d have to sell certain models at a loss! It’s an unfair situation, and the dealers aren’t the ones holding the big end of the stick; although in the end, they will be made to pay.

Problem is, you can’t exactly blame the consumers either. I mean, let’s get real for a moment... If you’re in the market, say, for a new Kawasaki Concours 14. You’d have to be nuts to pay $19,099 CDN when you can hop across the border and get it for $13,799 USD. Either that or you’ve got way too much “disposable income”. Even at the current exchange rate (which is close to par), that comes out to a 27% difference – over one quarter the price of the bike!

Some manufacturers have started adjusting their prices to more closely reflect the climbing loonie, while others are trying to offer incentives to keep their buyers from making that trip down South. But the real truth is in the numbers. I’ve yet to see one case where a motorcycle model was priced the same in Canada as in the US. Now I’m sure that manufacturers will be quick to point out how the market is different in Canada, or how shipping may cost more up ‘ere in the North; and most of these arguments do hold a measure of truth. However, the basic fact remains that as long as buying a bike in the States is considerably cheaper than buying it in Canada, that’s what’s going to happen.

Motorcycling is one of the last bastions where brand loyalty rules (ex. how many die-hard HD owners do you know?); but Canuck consumers can still stay loyal to the brand, while dumping the dealer. In the end, Canadian motorcyclists may end up being the biggest losers of all. As more and more local dealers are closing shop, who will we turn to when we need support? A trip to the ‘States may be easily justifiable when buying a new bike, but I don’t think it makes much sense when you need to get that front wheel balanced.