I used to measure the success of any big rally by my level of exhaustion. And it must be 5 years that I have never been so much exhausted by all the action, things to do , friends to meet, motorcycle and parts to look at and contagious excitement of all those like me waking up with the sun to ride the gorgeous roads of the Black Hills, Badlands, Custer Park, Devil Tower, Bear Butte, etc. Arrived a couple of days before the official start of the largest mass dedicated to the motorcycle God, I was nicely surprised by the intense traffic still flowing freely at the time from east and west on the I90 towards Sturgis and surrounding hotels and campgrounds.
I don’t care about the different “official” numbers that different administrations are going to publish on Monday. I would just refer to unofficial rally evaluations like the city of Sturgis declaring that the amount of trash removed every day is 3 times last year, that the Mount Rushmore memorial had Tuesday the most ever visitors in a single day (17,600), that the traffic around Deadwood, Lead, Speafish, Sturgis and towards the campgrounds of Glencoe, Broken Spoke, Buffalo Chip is unbelievable. Rod Woodruff owner of the 30 years old Buffalo Chip told me that he had 3 times more campers last weekend than the year before and declared to the Rapid City Journal that his business still growing he may need to move it to another location! Although some trips are “painful” in terms of time spent idling in mid 90’s F temperatures, I kept a smile inside thinking about all what it means for “my” motorcycle industry….
Can it be, like many suggest, that the explanation is that we are celebrating the 70th anniversary and that all big numbers are successful years? I believe that it is a very small part of the reason why I predict 2010 will be the most successful rally since the beginning of our economic recession. 2005 was the high water mark for the motorcycle industry. Since then, wealth has eroded with tangible and intangible assets being eroded and unemployment rising to double digit . Because of the need to cut debt, consumer spending is still logically restrained with motorcycles and parts sales remaining way below what they were in the first half decade. Consumer confidence is far from repaired and I think it will take a long time before consumers decide to pull the trigger on big ticket pleasure items. I belong to those who think that the “consumer reset” is for many years to last and that the motorcycle industry will recover, but very slowly.
So, what can be the explanation for so many more attending this year’s rally? First, what I call a “recession cabin fever” effect. Tired to hear the same bad economic news? To hear some politicians predicting the end of the world? Tired to worry about losing your job if you still have yours? Tired of no vacation? Of not enjoying your friends? Of not sharing camaraderie with those you love to meet even if only one week a year? Of not being alone with your special someone sharing what are the most important things in life, without worrying even for a short a time about the kids, about the cost of college, about your mortgage payments and of the true market value of your real estate? Frustrated of not riding and not smelling what only the road on 2 wheels can offer?
Second, how much you spend during the rest of the year may have changed, even how much money you will have left to the merchants and vendors during your stay in South Dakota. Still, if you are a Biker, is your motorcycle a luxury vehicle or a luxury necessity? In addition, life is short, even shorter for all baby boomers… I suspect that the big number of participants now enjoying their time in the Black Hills is made of people that can be qualified as real bikers, whatever their social status, economic comfort zone and type of bikes they are riding…If you are a biker, you need a motorcycle, need to ride it, maintain it…and customize it.
As a participant/observer/reporter of the motorcycle industry I would also like to mention that the number of vendors of motorcycles, parts and everything associated with them seems also much bigger than it has been during these last 5 years (the number of city vendor permits is only a partial view). For having visited and talked to a lot of them, they are all less worried, more optimistic and very busy doing business, from changing oil to installing transmissions to tuning motorcycles, from pinstriping gas tanks and fenders to installing handlebars and windshields, from demonstrating new accessories to showing their custom motorcycles in bike competitions. Some even have shared with me some secret big new product launches for 2011 (You will have to wait a little bit more) The trick to be successful? Not giving away tons of catalogs and waiting for orders when returning home. Too costly and internet (and my Blog) is enough to show your products. But doing on location demonstrations and making money with installations.
With an added smile, to all those reading me and not belonging to the industry, I will add that this year there is also a larger number of very successful professional events and parties to benefit different charity causes (money raised is at an absolute record) or for promotional reasons and that it is also symptomatic of how resilient is our industry and it is for me a big hint that the motorcycle market has stabilized and may return to a (slow) growth in 2011.
Of course, I can’t conclude this post without mentioning the changes I observed in the type of motorcycles that people are riding and building. Almost all changes being more confirmations than revelations. The extremely long overdone chopper is riding into the sunset, but don’t forget that our planet is round and that it will come back during one of these sunrises. Parking lots and roads are dominated by the big black Harley touring bikes with something new and deserving mention.
I saw not only more solo women riders but an unusual number of ladies riding their own dresser bike. More women straddle a motorcycle for the 1st time but more are also “graduating” by handling bigger and bigger motorcycles from Softails to Baggers. It’s all good. I also decided to stop by the new Official Harley-Davidson display on Lazelle Street to try to evaluate the interest that each model has with the crowd of bikers present in Sturgis. To my satisfaction, and I am sure to yours, and although that it has no statistic value, 50% of the crowd is checking out the Harley Dark Series and 48 models. I would say that about 30 to 35% of people who sat on them were women! Whatever the controversy that is all over my Blog when I talk about these Harley models I am personally convinced that the Milwaukee factory is doing the right thing to refresh its line up and attract new younger riders…and women.
On the custom motorcycle scene, 2 schools of thoughts live side by side with multiple friendly and inspirational interferences, then compete in 2 different type of bike shows. On one side the new old school style (built today with the look of the past) and the restored “real” school bikes (vintage pre and post WWII models) and on the other camp new built high end custom motorcycles ($50K to 150K) where the merit is not only in aesthetics but in engineering ingenuity. For example new ways to steer, brake, or in 5 seconds at a push of a button, go smoothly from a cruiser to a sport bike (ref. Krugger’s Vion motorcycle winner of 2010 AMD World Championship Of Bike Building) Innovation is no more outside, visible to the judges, but hidden “inside”, requiring that all judges get a briefing on each custom…
Too much to see, too many roads to ride, too many friends to visit, too much to tell you…and although the 70th Black Hills Rally is still going on for a couple of days, I judge it as a big success. If you were in Sturgis, your turn to write below in comments all your thoughts about this 70th edition.
Picture 1, Bear Butte. Picture 2, Legendary Buffalo Chip road sign. Picture 3, Deadwood main street. Picture 4, Best Auto Mechanic sign in Lead. Picture 5, Deadwood city sign. Picture 6, a restored Sears by Carl’s Cycles Supply , Picture 7, custom bike by ? (help me I don’t remember). Picture 8, Tex Mc Dorman from Texefx pinstripping a seat at his display at Monkey Rock. Picture 9, James Ramsey From Zippers Thundermax map tuning a dresser. Picture 10- Harley-Davidson 2011 models display in Sturgis. Picture 11, Bert Baker from Baker Drivetrain. Picture 12, 13, 14: new generation of Bike Builders showing their work at the Broken Spoke Saloon. Picture 15, Ron Finch & Cyril Huze at Michael Lichter’s exhibition.