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Archive for March, 2009

hd_flagAppropriate or not many of the news outlets capture footage of corporate moguls emerging from private jets and images of lavish hotels, expensive gifts being showered on senior executives and clients at corporate events and then they turn right around as a “muckraker” and help fuel the fiery populist rage whipping across this country.  We’ve seen politicians do it as they prophesize evidence of corporate abuses to an outraged public all the while describing the discrepancies of “our” American dream.

Now Harley-Davidson marketing decided to throw their own tea-party and jump aboard the “outrage train” with a NY Times and online ad at Facebook.

Clearly an attempt to help the collapsing newspaper industry and draw in like-minded customers, who feel the muckrakers have predicted an early demise of American companies including H-D?  People are hurting. It seems self-serving, intellectually dishonest and a bit risky to try and capitalized on the anger and resentment of the masses to:

 “Wrench the life back into our economy.” 

More and more today’s motorcycle market reminds me of the movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” In that classic, Alec Guinness commanded a group of British POWs in Southeast Asia during WWII tasked to build a bridge for a Japanese railway. But in his zeal to build the bridge, Guinness’ character, Colonel Nicholson, lost sight of its true purpose and only saw it as means to an end, whereas it was really an end in and of itself.  As a blogger I’m always interested in the transformative power of advertising.  In this case — H-D’s thread of hopeful narrative in the midst of America’s demise — there sparkles Harley-Davidson as a flashy gem of advertising hope.

Shine on you crazy diamond, Harley.

Photo courtesy of H-D.

All Rights Reserved (c) Northwest Harley Blog

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Crispin Porter & Bogusky

Crispin Porter & Bogusky

Way back in ’05 the boyz of OCC (not to be confused with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency) showed us what they do best with a Microsoft operating system crash while designing the custom choppers for America’s corporations.  Microsoft hired OCC to build their own name inspiring Microsoft SQL Bike.

Now Microsoft has been caught in out-right deceit!  Latest example? 

Microsoft’s new “Laptop Hunters” TV campaign, in which an attractive girl professes she’s not cool enough to buy an Apple laptop and goes for a cheaper Windows machine.  Within moments, it was revealed that “Lauren” (Lauren De Long) who is a little funky, a little folksy was not an average person, but a member of SAG (Screen Actors Guild) recruited from Craigslist.  Then, it became public that the $699 computer she purchased was an old AMD-based PC with super bad reviews.  Then a Mac user offered to GIVE her his own Apple PowerBook so she could see what she was missing.

In other words, if Microsoft and the ad agency think they can pull the wool over the public’s eyes, with lame excuses denying the truth, they’re wrong.  This “twitter-first-century” is about transparency.  Most important is that the Microsoft ad totally misses the point. The ad doesn’t even advertise Microsoft’s operating system (almost as if they know that they can’t compete in this arena), but oddly the ad promotes other PC hardware over Apple’s computers by talking about a price advantage.  This $300M ad campaign created by ad agency of the year, Crispin Porter + Boguksy was designed to boost the Windows brand following the downward spiral of user outrage over Vista.

Hey Microsoft.  1999 called.  It wants its motherboard back.

Photo courtesy of Creativity.

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connectionI love Costco and I hate Costco.

My displeasure is often traced to other people who shop there?  They say membership has its privileges and I’ve seen the people who flaunt it to no end. A person is lucky to not get run over by a Range Rover or Lexus SUV in the parking lot.  You know the type… these people are “entitled.” Their lives are more important. Their jobs are more important. Their kids are more important. They’ll cut you off in a heartbeat in the candy aisle with their overloaded carriage to grab a lifetime supply of Juicy Juice. They are not to be denied!

But I digress.

Costco is not cheap. They are not about immediate dollars and cents, but about the long haul relationship.  They specialize in getting you to spend money on stuff — much of which you didn’t know you needed or wanted until you went on a “walk-a-bout” in the store. What they do leave you with is a good feeling that whatever you spent or bought – you got real value for your money.  And I’m not just talking about the Hebrew National hot dog for $1.69!  The benefits go much deeper. Did you know that they have a nearly unlimited, no-questions-asked return policy?  They sell movie tickets at discount? They offer great prices on optical products and testing?  They have cheap, high quality gas. They sell tires for less than most tire shops and offer warranties on them beyond the manufacturer’s warranty, at no extra charge?  They have buyers in retail, screening products for quality and meeting (sometimes even anticipating) consumer demand, perfectly in most every product category.

costco_autoSo here’s the question.  Why doesn’t Harley-Davidson partner with Costco to sell motorcycles?

They could leverage the existing Costco Auto Program which saves consumers money, time and hassle on new vehicle purchases or leases. In addition the Costco field staff selects participating dealers that offer up competitive pricing and superior customer service.  I’m thinking how great is that?  Consumers do not trust advertising, they don’t want to view advertising and they don’t need advertising.  H-D could save all that money on slick ads that try to entice customers who don’t care – it’s a complete waste.  Why do you need advertising when you’ve got Costco?  Dedicated Costco shoppers salivate when they speak of their store of choice.  They bring it up unsolicited, as a topic of conversation, akin to computer-users testifying about their Macs.  The everlasting love makes you want to avoid Costco and Apple at first, but then you have an experience and you’re converted.

So instead of H-D beating us over the head telling us how great their motorcycles are, why not go the non-traditional route and appeal to the populace on sheer quality.  Costco cares about its customers.  It knows their needs.  And it wants to deliver the very best for the very cheapest price.  We’re all willing to pay the most for something great especially if you believe it’s a fair business proposition.  Are you listening Harley?

And to the lady who picked up pain relievers in the ten-gallon jar and placed them in the cart with the only other item — a pile of condoms, which came in a box the size of a cinder block…I’m sorry for staring, but the dichotomy was funny!

Photo courtesy of Costco

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H-D Clothing Bundle

H-D Clothing Bundle

There are many who think the new Harley-Davidson Iron 883 (Dark Custom) is the most beautiful bike sans clothing, with U.S. press fawning all over the “back-to-basic” motorcycle.

Enjoying my Friday morning cup of “bucks” I thought how H-D marketing should offer limited editions of the machine with new clothing bundles to increase motorcycle sales.  H-D and fashion go hand-in-hand.  There isn’t much the motor company can do to improve the no frills design of the Iron 883, but having a few extra choices when it comes to what clothing gets draped over the bike is surely a good thing, right?

Call it the “Fashion Victim” series.  Offer up a complete pre-bundled look with the motorbike.  This turn-key and new way of expressing your individuality might appeal to the younger generation which the company desperately solicits.  Motorcycle clothing can be found in the most prestigious boutiques around the world, but think of the time you’ll save when H-D does the heavy lifting traveling the world of fashion and pulls together leading brand names in motorcycle wear and pre-packages them for your exclusive fashion statement.

There is precedence for this.  A couple of years ago MV Augusta designed a limited edition motorcycle (Hydrogen) specifically for Hydrogen Jeans.  Customers could order designer jeans or the motorcycle to match right online!

So, in keeping with this Iron and new clothing bundle theme it would include:

  1. Jacket: Levi’s blanket lined, Big E. Extra cost for lining worn out at right hip due to knife rubbing.
  2. Pants: Vintage Lee work pants via Ballyhoo Vintage.
  3. Shoes: Chippewa moc toe (very Irish!). Cordovan polish then mink oil make them look well worn.
  4. Gloves: Marmot
  5. Shirt: JCrew. If you don’t like a fake cowboy shirt from JCrew then it’s Sears Western.
  6. Belt: Billykirk Mechanic’s. Very cool hidden buckle avoids tanks scratches.
  7. Knife: Leatherman Flair. The only one offering a corkscrew. Dude don’t look silly carting around tools but can’t even open a bottle…essential.
  8. Glasses: JPeterman. Captures that Aermachi Club look.
  9. Dew Rag: don’t be caught naked without a snot-rag/potholder/coaster bandana. Or wearing instructions!
  10. Reading material: Snowboard Magazine (A fave to maintain “dude” speak)

Cost?  Of course undertaking a ‘Bianchi‘ like journey from Amsterdam to Chicago isn’t cheap, but I’ll let H-D determine the expressive value of the package and price accordingly.

Maybe I’ll go decaf tomorrow?!

Photo courtesy of 10engines.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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hog-vs-spxHarley-Davidson is scheduled to report its first-quarter 2009 financial results April 16.

Even if you’ve been leveraging “guru” Cramer (Mad Money) to help make a fortune — who in my view has no more idea of what is going to happen tomorrow than the average chimp. Pessimism runs high especially after the motorcycle manufacture took the unusual action of reporting mid-quarter sales numbers earlier this quarter. With sales down 13 percent worldwide in January and February the chance of a sunny quarter and forecast is unlikely.

Clearly HOG deserves a great deal of skepticism. Over the past year, the stock’s decline of 66% has outpaced the 40% slide endured by the broader S&P 500 Index (SPX). As a stock underperforms you’ll naturally see an uptick in investor pessimism.  There are a number of indicators which suggest traders are looking for a sharp decline out of the stock prior to April expiration.  One of the better article’s deconstructing the HOG situation can be found HERE.

Chart courtesy of Schaeffers

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rc_250The Rose City 250 is an annual charity benefit and one of the premier runs each Spring.   The 19th Rose City Oregon 250 will be held on Sunday, April 5, 2009.  

The charity event has been a major success and this year the 250 will raise money for 2 different organizations: the Providence Brain Institute, and the Vernonia Food Bank. Since the event started the 250 has donated over $50,000 to the National Kidney Foundation and 10 tons of food for Vernonia Food Bank.  This year they announced support of a new charity “Providence Brain Institute“.

Sign-in will be between 5am to 8am at Beaverton Honda-Yamaha-Suzuki on 10380 SW Cascade Blvd., Tigard OR.  For more information on the run or to sign-up see the web site HERE

Let’s hope for nice sunny weather!

Poster courtesy of RCMC.

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authority1Imagine for a moment you purchase a new Harley Iron 883.  Before pulling away from the dealer to enjoy a nice spring day ride you slip on a black leather riding vest with a large Harley-Davidson embroidered logo.  Near the bottom of the logo there is a Milwaukee, WI rocker.  Your buddies have similar vest’s and all head out.  Your pleased with the “patch” because it’s public evidence that you’re wearing colors of allegiance to the motorcycle company and it represents a new wind in the face lifestyle.  As your group rolls north up the I-5 corridor you take notice of WSP signaling you to pull over. 

The officer states that your biker “clothing” is a dress code affiliation typical of outlaw motorcycle “gangs” and as part of their early gang identification tactics your name, license number/plate is entered into a new gang watch-list database.

Impossible?  Think again.  Washington state legislators are set to pass an “anti-gang bill” that includes funds for police anti-gang taskforces, increased penalties for gang-related crimes and increased recruitment penalties.  The bill defines a gang as “an association of three or more individuals who share a symbol or name either formally or informally and who’s members participate in a crime.”   Basically a police officer can accuse you of belonging to a gang.  There is no burden of proof and if your name is put into the database you have no due process and there is no judicial overview.  There is no method to appeal – nothing!

What about abuse?  It’s likely.  For example here is a video of WSP taking license plate information from motorcyclists who visited the state capital.  And on a day specifically pre-arranged as the annual motorcycle rights lobbying day (see previous posts at: Giving Bikers A Voice and Expect The Unexpected).  It’s fair to say there is a crucial difference between motorcyclists participating in the democratic process to support motorcycle rights vs. being painted as criminal operatives engaged in a range of criminal activities only because they ride a motorcycle. Imagine the public outcry or media scrutiny if gay-marriage advocates rallied at the capital and WSP “stalked” around attendee vehicles for the purpose of entering licenses into a tracking database?!

Of course there is nothing funny about any of this.  The hard core criminally-committed motorcycle gangs, like street gangs, are primary conduits for the illicit drugs being pumped in the U.S. by the Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTO).  The consequences of the smuggling can strike anywhere in America.  Undercover work is not a game.  It is an essential part of our national defense against this wave of plunder, violence and corruption. But, have WSP and state legislators reached a point of hysteria with regard to criminal street gangs to allow unchecked power to condemn any three motorcycle riders or riding club affiliation?  Is LE basically executing “color coded” profiling? 

I’m not sure, but I don’t approve of the Black Thursday tactics, I don’t like the potential for anti-gang abuse and I’m not resigned to this riding club suppression law.

Illustration courtesy Australian artist Eamo Donnelly.

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Elena at Chernobyl

Elena at Chernobyl

Next month marks the 23rd anniversary of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster in Ukraine. 

I stumbled onto Elena’s site several years ago, but had misplaced the URL until just recently.  She travels a lot on her Kawasaki Ninja (ZZR-1100) and one of her favorite riding destinations leads North from Kiev, towards the Chernobyl “dead zone”, which is about 80 miles from her home.  She has photographed and documented her motorcycle radiation travels into the “Zone of Alienation” and it’s well worth the read.

As background — On Friday evening of April 25, 1986, the reactor crew at Chernobyl-4, prepared to run a test early the next day to determine how long the turbines would keep spinning and producing power if the electrical power supply went off line. While dangerous they ran this test previously.  Several alterations were made to the generators to lower the power output.  As a part of the preparation, they disabled some critical control systems – including the automatic shutdown safety mechanisms.

Shortly after 1:00 AM on April 26, the flow of coolant water dropped and the power began to increase.  At 1:23 AM, the operator moved to shut down the reactor in its low power mode and set-off a chain of events.  In a matter of seconds the reactor went from 5% output to 100 times its normal level.  The coolant water flash-boiled, triggering a huge steam explosion which leveled tons of concrete and steel including the 2000 ton cap on the nuclear containment vessel.  Many of the 211 control rods melted and then a second explosion, whose cause is still the subject of disagreement among experts, expelled fragments of burning radioactive fuel core and allowed air to rush in — igniting several tons of graphite insulating blocks.  Once graphite starts to burn, it’s almost impossible to extinguish.  Hundreds of volunteers died on the scene ill prepared for this type disaster.

WPPSS Cooling Tower - Satsop

WPPSS Cooling Tower - Satsop

The public alert about the release of radioactive material didn’t come from Soviet sources, but from Sweden on April 27 where workers at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant (680 miles away) were found to have radioactive particles on their clothing and they were determining the source. It took 3 days before all permanent residents of Chernobyl were evacuated due to unsafe levels of radioactivity.   It took 9 days and 5000 tons of sand, boron, dolomite, clay and lead dropped from helicopters to put out the graphite fire. Over 2M acres (or 1/5 of the usable farmland in the Ukraine) was, and still is unusable.

There have been military and research reactor deaths (e.g. Idaho; Tokai-mura), but the Chernobyl disaster has the distinction of being the only commercial nuclear power plant where radiation-related fatalities occurred.  The last 2 reactors at Chernobyl remained operational and online until shut down in 2000.  Chernobyl has been renovated and is now home to more than 500 residents. Those include nuclear scientists, maintenance officials for the Chernobyl power plant, liquidation officials, doctors, physicists, and most of all, radiation physicists. Visitors to the Zone of Alienation can stay at a local lodge in the Chernobyl suburbs.

While I like taking long motorcycle rides on empty roads the requirement of a Geiger counter mounted to the handle bar would be a deterrent!

Footnote: the northwest has it share of  “reactor rides.” There is Trojan (decommissioned), Columbia Generating Station (near Richland/Hanford and only pacific northwest running plant), and WPPSS at the Satsop site which shines on as a $2.25B economic default.

Photo courtesy of Elena web site.

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Henry Rollins

Henry Rollins

Henry Rollins speaks not in drops and dribbles.  When he opens his mouth, declarations spew out that condemn, deride and praise in a single breath.  He gives people an opinion or unique take on things from pop culture to politics.

Who is Henry Rollins?  Best known to many as the 80’s front man for punk rock legend Black Flag and later the Rollins Band.  To others he is an actor and an author. He’s a businessman and a philanthropist. He’s a Grammy-nominated singer and a Grammy-winning spoken word artist. He’s an ad pitchman, a USO veteran, a world traveler and a TV host. He is a performer and does it tirelessly.

Quoted recently to say:

“Some could say that desperation is the secret to my steady employment.  I’m not interested in downtime.  I really like to keep working all the time and I always feel like I’m in the mail room of life; working up.  I’m always looking upwards and looking forward.”

Now Rollins will add guest star of Sons of Anarchy to his long list of accomplishments.  The producers announced he will play a new antagonist in the show’s fictional town of Charming, Ca and pose a well suited deadly threat to SAMCRO.  He is scheduled to appear in six episodes.

Should be an interesting balance of angst and intellect.

Photo courtesy of IFC.com

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or_trailWestward, Ho!  In the old days west coast settlers would cross the Snake river ford near old Fort Boise and travel across what would become the state of Oregon. Today Interstate 84 roughly follows the original Oregon Trail from Idaho to the Dalles.

Do you remember the computer game Oregon Trail?  Gameloft has taken the original and built upon the details as well as made it available on the iPhone.  Reading through the instructions of the game and premise — you and your party are traveling from Missouri to Oregon in 1848, a time of limited technology and rampant disease as you trek west.

It seemed to me that this virtual wagon-based road trip is a lot like prepping for a motorcycle trip!  For instance:

Wagon Load: How many oxen do you need? How many shotgun pellets?  For a motorcycle trip — the oxen is a metaphor for the fuel in the tank, and the shotgun pellets is your knowledge base. You can kill more buffalo (or squirrels/rabbits if you are in a non-grassy area) with more bullets. Motorcycle travelers are better supplied if they research the journey and prep for the unexpected.  Clearly a motorcycle has limited space compared to a wagon.  Long distance riders are often forced to make compromises on how much of what items they will need or take.

Travel Pace:  Are you going to travel at a slow, medium or fast pace? In the Oregon Trail if you leave too late you risk being caught on the trail during the winter (thus decreasing the amount of things to hunt.) Motorcycle travelers determine if the route is freeway or two-lane back roads.  Is the trip is covering long distance they’ll want to build in flexibility to revise trip plans to either optimize for speed vs. scenery and reduce any risk of inclement weather. 

Hunting: This was every kid’s favorite part of the game.  Are you going to eat meager portions or full portions? You have to be a cautious hunter though — if you killed everything on screen (knowing you can only carry back 100 pounds), chances are the next time you needed to hunt there wouldn’t be any buffalo or rabbits around.  If you eat meager portions on the Oregon Trail, your food supply will last longer (unless it rots) but you will become frail.  Motorcycle travelers decide eat on the go vs. a more relaxed pace largely depends on trip time.  As for quantity of food…there are eating establishments everywhere these days so, becoming frail on the trip has little merit.  However, bringing an energy bar or tail mix and water will come in handy and keep riding skills sharp.

Wagon Repair: In the game if your wagon gets busted up or you come across a downed traveler, you can opt to manually patch things up and use your supplies.  For a motorcycle traveler – don’t over plan, but  many are tempted to just hit the road and follow their nose.  Few are prepared for a break down.  Supplies are always limited.  You’ll need to decide if “credit-card repair” is the best approach or if you have enough supplies and storage in your “wagon.”

Typhoid Wagon-Mates: In the game if you catch a disease or get bit by a snake you’ll see a tombstone lying next to the trail.  As a motorcycle traveler you or your “wagon-mate” might become ill, but hopefully never observe a ‘stone’!

The Finish:  I don’t know that I’ve ever made it to the end of the Oregon Trail. I usually quit breathing about three-fourths of the way through the game.  But that’s probably just as well. I need to spend more time on the Wii Fit mastering the ski jump anyway!  As a motorcycle traveler I recall one trip where I didn’t make it to the end destination on the motorbike.  A board, a nail and air challenges on the back side of Mt Hood challenged my journey.  But, like on the Oregon Trail you learn from each run thru the game and every time you get a bit better.

So happy trails, my fellow wagoneers. I hope you reach your finish!

Photo courtesy Gameloft.

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