You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2011.

It’s that time of the year. Sometime tomorrow evening we’ll all be singing Auld Lang Syne, embracing our loved ones and friends and wishing Happy New Year to all. And over the past week, journalists from every beat have done their “Tops of 2011” lists. So without adieu, here are my favorite motorcycling memories from 2011:

Rider Insurance comes through.

Smoke rising from the underground fires of Centralia, PA; one of the spookiest places on earth.

It was a weekend late in the summer. I had no plans. The weather looked good. So as a lone wolf like me is apt to do, on Saturday morning I loaded up the camping gear and headed out on the Rocket towards Central PA. I stopped at Hermys to peruse the inventory and test out a few bikes, then headed up 61 through the ghost town of Centralia (spooky, spooky place) and then West and North with no particular destination in mind. Just a plan to ride until I was tired, then camp somewhere, and head back on Sunday morning.

It was a perfect day, the Rocket was humming, and my spirits were high.

 

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Love/Hate. Currently Love.

I’ve written a bit about my love/hate relationship with my current ride, the Triumph Rocket III Touring. On a positive note, it’s a fantastic long-distance cruiser that eats up long mileage days with nary a complaint from my posterior. I love the cool factor of the bike and the fact that it can kick in the teeth of any old Harley on the road. And as my friend Art says, “You get the classic American bagger look, but with that 2300 CC engine…”

 

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Last Friday J.D. Power and Associates released the findings of its 2011 U.S. Motorcycle Competitive Information Study. The study provides some fascinating insight into bikers, their spending patterns, their satisfaction with their rides, and the improving quality of motorcycles in general:

1. Satisfaction with the sales experience has improved. J.D. Power measures owner satisfaction in six major categories: product, build quality, cost of ownership, sales, service, and warranty. Of these, the sales experience has improved the most. Very encouraging. Especially since anti-dealer sentiment runs high on most motorcycle online forums. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, the dealerships in my area are quite good and I always enjoy visiting them. Good to see that my biker brethren share this sentiment, even if the peeps on the forums are often vocally anti-dealer. According to Brent Gruber, who manages the study for J.D. Power and Associates, the motorcycle industry’s satisfaction rating is very good in comparison to other industries.

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It was a difficult conversation with my boss that started the ball rolling on NoBaffles.com: “Joe, you can’t ignore social media any more. You’re going to get left behind in your career,” he said over lunch about a month ago.

Many of the new social media and social networking tools befuddled this blogger for years.

My writing abilities and business experience have been my calling card in my public relations career. I was one of the few PR professionals who had been a corporate executive, come from a finance background, and found my way into PR through investor relations and corporate finance. My ability to understand the businesses we worked with and quickly digest their value propositions, to digest financial statements, and communicate with the C-suite had differentiated me from my peers. But recently, the worm had turned. The rise of social media tools like Twitter, blogging, LinkedIn, Facebook, and others like them had given companies the opportunity to be the media, to be a source of information. My peers who knew how to use these tools to build audiences, identify and connect with influencers, had become more and more sought after – and more and more valuable within my firm. I was facing a world where my skills would be marginalized and secondary afterthoughts.

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Indulge me here. I’m going to take the risk of venturing off-topic for a moment. I’m going to get a little deep and flaky. Hang in there, I’ll come around to the point and how this ties to our first love: motorcycles.

The class ring presentation ceremony at my daughter's high school, plus a wedding, got me thinking about the ritual of riding last weekend.

Last weekend was a weekend for rituals. On Friday night I was at my daughter’s high school for their annual class ring presentation liturgy. She goes to a Catholic private girls school, and you can’t just get your class ring at such a school. The rings are presented within the context of Catholic mass. Mind you, this particular school ceased being truly Catholic many generations ago. Sure, it’s still owned by an order of nuns, there is the token nun who serves as principal, and there are crosses in the rooms and the occasional liturgy, but most, if not all, of the families sending their kids there are “cultural Catholics”. The once-meaningful rituals are now nothing but rituals. The mass itself. The blessing of the rings. The blessing of the students with holy water tossed in their general direction by an indifferent, frond-wielding priest. Various poems and songs and processions.

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Two Sundays ago, for the first time, someone in my riding group went down. I didn’t see the crash happen. I came around a bend and saw one of my fellow riders in a drainage ditch on the side of the road, getting out from under his Ninja. Two other bikes were parked and their riders running toward the downed rider. The leader of the pack hadn’t yet realized that he lost the group and would arrive a few moments later after making a U-turn. I was in the rear of the pack and I parked and scrambled as well.

The guy was OK. The bike was OK too – just a whole lotta mud and a small barely-noticeable scratch on the fairing. He rode away from the crash with everything physically and mechanically in tact – very fortunate. And even though I didn’t see things go down, there was a lot to learn from the situation:

It’s OK to be last in the pack. This particular group of riders are big-time risk takers. They have a “spirited” riding style and push the limits. But I enjoy the fellowship with them, and I always learn something. Kind of like when I ski with better skiers or golf with a scratch golfer. Art, the guy who leads the pack is in his 50’s but he’s the single most aggressive guy I ride with.  He works for a performance bike shop and rides a jacked up 240 horsepower Triumph Rocket III Silverback. I can’t keep up. And I don’t try. I let them do their thing, and Art waits for me at the intersections.

Art's Rocket III Silverback.

If I were in the middle of the pack on this ride, trying to keep up, and the guy who crashed was in front of me, who knows what could have happened? Maybe I would have been startled and lost control myself. If I was in front of him, maybe I would have been the one to hit the patch of dirt that brought him down. But none of those things happened because I was content to ride along in the group at my own pace, and not pressure myself to keep up with a far superior group of riders.

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Just saw an article out on the AP today headlined Gov’t study: More drivers texting at the wheel. The article provides a number of really alarming statistics: texting while driving increased 50 percent last year..two out of 10 drivers say they’ve sent messages from behind the wheel…etc. etc.

But the article closes with this little ditty: “there were 4,502 motorcycle deaths in 2010, a 0.7 percent increase. That may mean the sudden 16 percent decline in motorcycle deaths seen in 2009 is beginning to reverse.”

I’ve often said that if I get killed out there on the road, it will be for one of two reasons: either a soccer mom (soccer dad) texting while driving or a deer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked over at a veering driver and seen the ubiquitous iPhone in their hand as they update their Facebook status. It’s downright scary. So it strikes me that the two statistics, which aren’t connected within the AP article, are actually interrelated. That the increase in texting is causing the increase in motorcycle related deaths, or is at least a major contributing factor.

A few months ago I found this really cool montage video of a RAT pack (Riders Association of Triumph) ride on the Greek island of Thessalonica. I really enjoyed watching the video and it looks like everyone in the pack had a great day of riding. I don’t know that I will ever stand up on pegs and bow while riding a motorcycle, but I was definitely impressed that there were at least two guys in this group that can confidently do that move.

But what really jumped out at me in the video is the fact that in the shots of the pack riding by, the riders with white helmets are quite a bit more visible than those in dark helmets.

I watched the video a couple of times, including a few where I tried not to focus on the riders but rather on the scenery behind them or some other part of the computer screen. Every time a rider in a white helmet passed the camera, my eye was drawn to the screen, much moreso than when a rider in a dark helmet or even a silver helmet passed the screen.

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As I’ve mentioned previously, one of the primary objectives of this blog is to help expand motorcycling to new riders, and to help motorcycle dealerships better serve the first-time rider. It strikes me that winterizing is one of these areas where some basic motorcycle dealership best practices to be applied to the first time rider market. After publishing my post on winterizing on Wednesday, I had some additional thoughts on how motorcycle dealerships can use winterizing as an opportunity to do more business with their customers who are first time riders, while helping them to take better care of their bikes.

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It’s the last day of November and it’s getting cold in Philly. I had a fantastic ride on Sunday with a group of guys I meet up with a couple times a year, came home, and stowed the bike for the winter.I know some die hard riders who never put their bikes away and ride year long, but I’m not one of them. For one thing, I’m a ski patroller at a local mountain and so that’s my focus during the winter months. For another thing, I’m getting shoulder surgery on Friday which will put me out of commission for a month anyway.

I was going to write a blog post on how to winterize a bike – something I had to learn by trial and error the first season I owned my bike – but then yesterday I found a great article on the subject. So no need to duplicate the effort.

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