These three-wheeled contraptions—autocycles, reverse trikes, whatever—confuse me. A lot of “industry insiders” think they’re going to save or at least partially revive the motorcycle industry, but their reasoning for this sounds like the same old nonsensical, unexamined thinking that’s hurt motorcycling’s growth for decades now. Stuff like, “Women will be more likely to ride if they can’t fall over.”
Just be honest and say, “Chicks can’t ride, man,” because that’s what you’re really saying, Mister Marlboro Man.
Promotion of motorcycling to women isn’t failing because motorcycles can fall over—turns out that’s a non-gender-specific risk and fear—it’s failing because “the industry” treats women as accessories, as perpetual newbies, granting entry with a paternal pat on the helmet (which should be pink, with flowers) and an, “Aww, that’s cute. How’d you like a Ninja 300, little girl?”
The other reason autocycles won’t save the motorcycle industry is that they’re not fucking motorcycles. People that include these various three-wheeled abominations in their definition of “the industry” are actually talking about the powersports industry, a big-tent, catchall “category” comprising everything from actual motorcycles to quads to reverse trikes and what look like modern Honda Odysseys or factory-built sandrails to weird shit like Slingshots and side-by-sides, which really ought to just be called “small Jeeps” or “modern dune buggies” instead of the stupid, meaningless name they have today.
Look, I understand that dealerships need other revenue streams, especially the bad ones that suck at selling motorcycles because their management hasn’t done the thinking required to understand and sell to the ever-changing customer, and therefore hasn’t passed that thinking down to the chumps on the sales floor who don’t think past individual sales as isolated events, and therefore don’t even consider contemplation of the consequences of a sales process that often feels more like a barely-disguised ambush. Effects on the survival of the shop or even their own personal income go completely unconsidered.
From a less jaded and frustrated perspective, expansion of product lines is good for all dealerships, and I’m certainly not saying shops that have added side-by-sides to their inventory are universally bad. This started with ATCs back in the seventies, and then quads, and went from there—it’s not new. But dealership survival is arguably tougher than ever, especially in the Bay Area where square footage is dear and culture evolved more rapidly to an everything-ecommerce mentality, partly because long work hours driven by a career-as-identity mindset and substantial disposable income combined nicely to support late night (or workday) shopping at online superstores instead of setting foot in shops, motorcycle, powersports, or other. Something has to replace revenue previously driven by boots, helmets, tools and the like, which now, if stocked, mostly seem to serve as a cost center, providing hands-on pre-purchase experiences for shoppers who shamelessly exploit the time and resources of shops run and staffed by their fellow local riders, only to order from Amazon or one of the wannabe moto-equivalents, often just to save sales tax.
Good dealers know that even in such shop-hostile environments, vehicle purchases serve as long-term customer acquisition vehicles. Sell a rider a bike, make it a positive experience, and even if he or she buys their helmet and gloves online, they’ll probably come back for repairs and other transactions better served by in-person consultation. Sell a rider a trike, same applies. I’ve said it before: despite the brutality of the Bay Area business environment for non-venture capital enterprises, we have no shortage of shops making it work here by providing unique experiences and irreplaceable value, knowledge, and contributions to the community—even though the so-called community often doesn’t return the favor.
Like me, many motorcycle enthusiasts are interested in other mechanical contrivances, motorized or not, and technology in general, both old and new. And it’s oh-so-fucking-American to cook up new distractions for Joe and Jane Public to spend their money on—after all, we’re called consumers for a reason. “Yeah, you already have a motorcycle, maybe five of them. You seem like the perfect demographic target for this new thing that’s kind of like a motorcycle.”
I’m not saying these machines aren’t cool or interesting, at least to some. But I care about motorcycles, and again, these aren’t motorcycles. And even though so many industry insiders, arguably the very people that got us here, have tellingly responded to recent media focus on the industry’s challenges, both in and outside of the moto-world, by continuing to vehemently deny that motorcycling as a going concern isn’t just peachy, essentially putting their hands over their ears and loudly singing “Born to be Wild,” if we want to ensure that motorcycling doesn’t become a lunatic fringe worthy of a Rush song—if that’s even possible—we’re going to have to address the issues that exist in the motorcycle world. You don’t do that with a 30%-motorcycle bait-and-switch, and you damn sure don’t do that with more of the same old tired “chicks can’t ride” bullshit.
This story originally appeared in our March 2018 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.