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Archive for April, 2010

The history of mandatory Helmet Laws in Oregon is a convoluted yet interesting journey back in time.

The year was 1966 and the Interstate Highway System was under construction with massive amounts of federal funds from gasoline taxes.  Each state had to pony up only 10% in matching funds to participate in this huge construction project and all the jobs it created.

Then in 1967, to increase motorcycle helmet use, the federal government required the states to enact helmet use laws in order to qualify for certain federal safety programs and the above highway construction funds.  The federal incentives or rather the threat of a reduction in construction funds worked!  State after state fell to the federal “blackmail” threat.  In Oregon the legislature first instated helmet use laws on January 1, 1968 where they remained in place until 1977.

As an aside, in 1971 the Easyriders Magazine Editor, Lou Kimsey started A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments (ABATE).  The acronym fit at the time as unelected federal bureaucrats were in fact using coercion on state legislators to have specific laws enacted within the states.

In 1976, states successfully lobbied Congress to stop the Department of Transportation from assessing financial penalties on states without helmet laws and shortly thereafter began a pattern of repeal, reenactment, and amendment of motorcycle helmet laws.  Specifically in Oregon, on October 4, 1977 the helmet law was repealed for age 18 and over.

Then twelve years later on June 16, 1989 the mandatory helmet law in Oregon was reinstated for all motorcyclists by voter referendum.   By all accounts this was one of the lowest turnout elections in Oregon history and it had become a fairly common trend in the state,  where-in off-season election years — which typically had low voter turnout — legislators worked to jam through bond measures, tax increases and other unpopular measures on residents.

Then in 1997 the federal government (NHTSA) reported that although helmets were the principal countermeasure for reducing crash-related head injuries and the leading cause of death among unhelmeted riders, motorcyclist deaths were at a record all time low.  Along the way a funny thing happened — any federal funding tied to state motorcycle helmet laws seemed to evaporate.

In the same year along came Oregon House Bill 2454 and the first real opportunity to change helmet laws.  The intent of HB 2454 was to repeal mandatory motorcycle and moped helmet requirements for operators and passengers over 21 years of age.  The measure required the Director of the Department of Consumer and Business Services to investigate whether the elimination of the helmet requirement for those 21 years and older increases the need for and feasibility of personal injury protection insurance for motorcyclists.  There was concern based on the cost of the Oregon Health Plan system that medical expenses would rise for un-helmeted motorcycle accidents and the state would foot the bill.  At the time failure to wear a motorcycle helmet was a Class D traffic infraction.  The violation was reduced from a Class C traffic infraction back in the 1995 legislature.

The House and Senate unanimously passed the HB 2454 bill, yet then Governor John Kitzhaber (D) on the last day (15 August 1997) before it would have automatically become law vetoed the adult pro-choice bill under the guise of it being a “threat to the health and safety of Oregonians.”  Below is the Governor’s Veto Message:

I am returning herewith HB 2454, unsigned and disapproved.

The bill would repeal the motorcycle helmet law for riders 21 years of age and older. While I respect motorcycle riders’ desire to choose whether to wear helmets, maintaining the current law is clearly in the best interests of the citizens of Oregon. This is consistent with the public position I have held on this issue for almost 20 years. I am vetoing this bill, based not only on my experience as an emergency room physician, but also because the research clearly demonstrates that motorcycle helmet laws save lives, prevent injuries, and save public dollars.

Helmeted riders have 28-73% lower death rates than un-helmeted riders and helmet usage reduces the incidence of severe head injury by 46-85%. States with helmet laws have death rates 20-40% lower than states without such laws. Helmet usage is 90-98% in states with mandatory laws, and only about 50% in those without. Un-helmeted riders have higher medical care costs

than helmeted riders in crashes, and the majority of the costs are paid by the public rather than by the injured motorcyclist. If our helmet law were to be repealed, Oregon Medical Assistance Program estimates an increased expenditure of over $6 million of public funds per biennium to pay for additional health care costs.

In addition, Oregonians showed strong support for mandatory motorcycle helmets when they overwhelmingly approved the 1988 referendum by a 2 – 1 margin. The measure passed in every county. A recent poll conducted by an independent research firm has shown that the people of this state continue to support the helmet law by a wide margin.

I will continue to oppose repealing the motorcycle helmet law based on my concern for the health of Oregon motorcyclists and my commitment to the judicious use of public funds. As I have stated in the past, the only way I would consider signing such a measure into law would be if those who are advocating freedom of choice for adult riders would also ensure that those exercising such a freedom also accept the full economic responsibility for their actions.

Now after seven years of being out of politics John Kitzhaber (62) wants a do-over and says he’ll be a better governor…this time.  I’m betting not for motorcyclists.  Disregard that as an emergency room physician he just knows what’s best for the people of the state.  Never mind that he voted so many times for higher taxes that it earned him the nickname “Taxhaber” or that he vetoed so many Republican bills that they called him “Dr. No” or that in his last term he publically announced in frustration that the state was “ungovernable.”  He was right.  He couldn’t.

In fairness, the ex-Gov. Kitzhaber did sign on June 11, 2001, the HB 3885 bill where motorcyclists won the right to pump their own gasoline.  Oregon and New Jersey are the only two states that prohibit self-serve gas pumps and after going into law motorcycles were the only class of vehicle allowed to dispense fuel into their tanks.  Prior to this law going into effect on January 1, 2002 it was an arm wrestling match with the local high-school pump jockey about who was the fuel expert for your specific brand of motorcycle.

There you have it.  The helmet law history in Oregon.

Full Disclosure:  I support the choice to wear a motorcycle helmet and do. However, I also have opinions on government intrusion in my personal freedom and my right as an adult to choose and make bad choices.

Sources: The Motorcycle Riders Foundation; Insurance Institute For Highway Safety; Oregon State Legislature; Oregon Catalyst; NHTSA; Oregon Watchdog

Photo’s courtesy of Internet.

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The title reference is to the George Strait concert – called the “Twang” tour — as if the Texas Troubadour didn’t have that in spades!

In keeping with the music theme I started earlier in the week… a few days ago I attended the George Strait concert which included Reba McEntire and Lee Ann Womack.  There were no moving catwalks, trap doors, lasers or fireworks to boost up special effects.  It was simple.  A lean and minimalistic square stage in the middle of the Rose Garden arena with a handful of large video screens above the musicians.

Lee Ann Womack

Ms. Womack opened the night with 30-minutes of “San Antonio Rose” and of course “I Hope You Dance” then Reba performed a 90-min set which included tear-filled ballads (hers not mine!), a tribute to her father with “The Greatest Man I Ever Knew” and a “Fancy” encore complete with an oversized yellow taxi.  The concert took on the feel of a TV variety show in parts when co-star Melissa Peterman brought on stage her wacky Barbra Jean character in a cameo that segued into the TV theme song “I’m a Survivor.”  The red-head is a tough act to follow and arguably the most successful of the three given her many years of experience on Broadway, film and television!

Reba McEntire

After all these theatrics the soft-spoken and somewhat one-dimensional Strait felt a bit mellow in contrast.  In fact, for an artist whose gift to the public is singing, the first few songs were poorly mixed as the vocal track was crushed by the 11-piece Ace In The Hole band.  Who travels with 11 band members?!  They finally got the mix correct and we were treated to a generous assortment of classics, “The Seashores of Old Mexico”, “Amarillo by Morning” and “I Can Still Make Cheyenne” as well as some of his new material.  Performing in the round as it were, means the most expensive seats on the floor had the worst view at least part of the time.  We we’re just off the floor and had great views.  At heart Strait is a roadhouse country singer, the ‘ol school mold of Merle Haggard.  He sang into four mikes on stands set up on each side of the square stage and rotated to a new mike every couple of songs.

George Strait - Portland "Twang" Concert

Anthony Smith is a famous songwriter for Strait and his writing credits are a list of country’s greatest hits.  One song which Strait ask Smith to write for him was about motorcycling with friends.  Strait rides a Harley and about every year adventures with friends to Mexico.  Smith started it, then had a writing session with Bob DiPiero to finish and then Strait cut the song “Cowboys Like Us” which he performed and it included a video loop of H-D riders rolling along on their “steel horses.”   It was cool.  Strait is also a fan and big supporter of the Love of Kids and Harleys charity.

If the arena crowd was any indication, motorcycles are a social machine that identify you and draw you into contact with other like-minded people – friends – who share a similar passion.  Not the case with automobiles.  When’s the last time you’ve seen two guys gas up their Toyota SUV and chat about road conditions or Triple-D’s (diners, drive-ins & dives)?

It was a great concert… whether you ride or not!

Photos taken at the “Twang” tour in Portland, OR.; Western theme Sportster courtesy of H-D

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ZZ Top at Aquarius Amphitheater - 2007

On Saturday the Portland area recieved yet another blast of winter.  High wind warnings, low 40’s and over an inch of rain so, I’d been pushing the buttons in the automobile. 

From country to soft rock and then I settled on this little gem from XM DeepTracks channel. 

With its stuttering intro and swagger…it’s about living in the moment, enjoying the ride.

“Well I was rollin’ down the road in some cold blue steel
I had a blues man in the back, and a beautician at the wheel
We going downtown in the middle of the night
We laughing and I’m jokin’ and we feelin’ alright
Oh I’m bad, I’m nationwide
Yes I’m bad, I’m nationwide”

The cool cat musicians I reference are ZZ Top singing “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” from the 1979 “Degüello” album.

I cranked up the volume to revel in the magic and was instantly reminded of the Aquarius Amphitheater at the 2007 Laughlin River Run. It was the 25th Anniversary of the motorcycle rally and ZZ Top headlined the largest bike rally in the western U.S. 

Thinking back to the concert I remember the stadium steps were sticky.  The people were sweaty.  The liquid refreshments were warm.  But we were thrilled to be there. There wasn’t a special section for hedge funders, no separation of the classes, we were one, motorcycle enthusiasts from across the country reveling in the music.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Laughlin, NV rally then it’s a must add to your riding “bucket list.”  It’s four days of wall-to-wall bikes, exhibits, vendors and entertainment. The rally is distinctive with 10 major casino resorts along a two-mile stretch on Casino Drive and everything is literally at your hotel doorstep.   The desert makes a great backdrop and riding bonus for the event. 

Sure there have been moments of negative, but in about 3 weeks it will be time for the 2010 Laughlin River Run.  I’m looking forward to a quick drive-by and then it’s on to a scenic tour around the canyon.  Grand Canyon.  I’ve previously posted on the 2009 Laughlin Rally HERE and 2008 Rally HERE.

Photo courtesy of ZZ Top, at Laughlin River Run.

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Harley-Davidson has shown superb marketing prowess in the motorcycling industry with some absolutely brilliant campaigns, but could someone tell me what the exec’s were thinking of with this one on the right?

I thought about calling them to say, “Hey Harley, Scientology telephoned and wanted to let you know the spaceship is on the way…long live Zenu!” after reading it.

Sure the Motor Company is a textbook business school case study for “lifestyle” marketing, but this advertisement at minimum shines a spotlight on age disparity, trophy-wife dysfunction (TWD) and connotes enticement to underage marriage (depending on the state).  It’s a non-rational marketing decision to be sure.  It harkens back to the AMF marketing days where motorcycle rebels cared more for role models than reliability and the bad memories of the “Harley-Davidson Cigarettes” campaign in 1992-1993.  A miserable flop to be sure with several lawsuits leaving a bad taste (pun intended) in consumers mouth.

So, if I have this correct…we have a slightly weathered and bearded 50-something ‘boomer’… proclaiming that as a “quiet gray gentlemen” he would never let his under-18 aged wife ride his motorcycle until she turns of legal age.  In this era of hyper-pedophile-mania there is nothing more classy than old men married to under-18 girls. I find the ad downright creepy to suggest that under-18 girls are looking to ‘hook-up’ with a 50-something boomer. This marketing doesn’t make sense even for boomers let alone as a way to reach-out to the youthful motorcycle riding demographic.  The only thing I could imagine being worse is using it in a branding blitz during Child Abuse Prevention month or to post it on a billboard advertisement in Houston while the polygamy trials run through the court system!  To be fair, this ad/photo has been circling online since ’08 and I’m not exactly sure where it ran in print.  Let me know if you’ve seen it.

Last quarter when Harley-Davidson CEO Keith Wandell stated the company was investing in the brand I first thought this was some kind of ‘code word’ for more layoffs, but little did we know it meant CMO, Mark-Hans Richer was deep in the H-D branding lab, with his sleeves rolled up, hitting the marketing white board to improve the company image.

H-D likely spent hundreds of man hours building out the creative concepts for this advertisement.  What’s next?  I’ll save them some time and $$… I’m visualizing a multi-city billboard campaign with a “cougar” straddling a Dark Custom… a Glee club drop-out on the back holding on with the tag line… “I just added my first aftermarket accessory.  I think his name is Billy.”

Time for a new marketing road Harley.

Photo courtesy of H-D and Flickr.

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Arial View of H-D Arizona Proving Grounds (Yucca)

The motor company delivers on its promise.

Not a new innovative motorcycle model, but to consolidate testing operations into one single location in Arizona – called the Arizona Proving Ground (AZPG).

Reports out of Kingman, AZ indicate that a local contractor (T.R. Orr, Inc.), received two building permits from the county Development Services Department, one for commercial renovation at the proving grounds and another for the construction of a brand new industrial plant.

You may recall that H-D moved into the Chrysler Proving Grounds at Yucca less than a year ago after it was booted from the General Motors proving grounds in Mesa, which had been closed and sold off the previous year.  The motorcycle company is shuttering testing operations in Talladega, Ala., as well as Naples, Fla., as they are in the process of moving those operations to AZPG through 2011.  I’ve previously reported as far back as 2008 on H-D plans of AZPG HERE and HERE.

According to H-D spokeswoman Pat Sweeney, the changes being made to the existing facilities and the new industrial plant will not only provide H-D the space and equipment it needs to make the most use of the proving grounds it will also – and are you ready for the “E” word – improve its efficiency.  Details on the cost of the new industrial plant or the need for any new employees from the local workforce were – incomplete – as Ms. Sweeney cited an obvious benefit to the community just because we’re consolidating there, but “we’re just still not really sure at his point in time” when referring to hiring plans.  I anticipate they offered folks in the shuttered operations an opportunity to move to AZ and are waiting on the final acceptance ratio before opening job req’s.

And speaking of jobs… the nearby and sprawling Arizona State Prison, Cerbat Facility (20 buildings on 45 acres) was a 2,000-bed minimum custody facility that just completed a major renovation and expansion into 3,400 beds.  I see an inmate labor force expansion in the near future and it couldn’t come at a better time according to local reports.

Photo courtesy of Chrysler

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Keith Wandell Resignation Letter

The news was expected.

Harley-Davidson CEO Keith Wandell, citing the pressure of obtaining a motorcycle endorsement and regularly commuting with “cagers”, today announced he is retiring at the relative young age of 60.

It’s through my privileged relations with some of the major actors of the motorcycle industry that allow this blog to offer you an exclusive first look of the resignation letter below:

Date: April 1, 2010
To: Harley-Davidson Employees
From: Office of the President and CEO, Mr. Keith Wandell
Subject: A Letter To My Colleagues

This morning I am announcing my intention to retire by the time of our next board meeting.

It has become clear that in light of the continuing leadership doubt, and the unprecedented level of negative attention about my compensation package, the company – and each of you – has had to endure, that the best thing I can do for you, our dealer network and our shareholders is to retire.

Some of you have done an extraordinary job serving our customers despite the almost daily media distraction.  I feel strongly that the attacks about my riding experience and eight month compensation package of $6.4 million are unjustified, but unfortunately, they show no signs of abating. A simple reality check tells me that people are spending more time reading about the acrimony and not enough time buying our motorcycles from the newly reduced product line up.

What matters is not what happens to me, but it’s really about the remaining employees of Harley-Davidson, our employed customers and our shareholders. The whole is greater than the sum of any 2 parts and clearly more important than me “feeling good about where we are” as a company.   Even in the midst of the first quarterly loss in 16 years, the HDFS liquidity freeze, the India expansion, the Buell distractions, the union worker delinquencies in PA., and the MV Augusta sell-off strategy… my main regret in this short, but well paid, tenure, is that I will not be here to realize the potential of this bold strategy to return the company to a “new” normal.

I will retire when my successor is appointed. The Board has begun a high profile and expensive search for a new CEO, led by the head of the Board’s Compensation, Management Development and Succession Committee. I, of course, will do everything I can to assist in this transition. I will make sure that the company firmly “stays the course” until my successor is chosen.

Let me say that it will not be easy for me to leave. I take enormous pride in obtaining my motorcycle endorsement and I’ve met a bunch of new lunch-time riding buddies.  It’s been said that the true test of a leader is the performance of the company he leaves behind. On that score, I feel my short, but well paid legacy and public record are available for all to read.  The Board has asked me to assure you of their full support as we go through the transition and into the future.

To some of you, I offer my heartfelt thanks for the extraordinary opportunity to work with and lead you during this short tenure that I’ve been in Milwaukee. Of course I will continue to see some of you in the H-D Brewers suite and have enormous faith that the best of Harley-Davidson will be lived in the days ahead.

Sincerely,
Keith “Scooter” Wandell
President and CEO, Harley-Davidson

Happy April Fool’s! Enjoy the day even with all the faux news.

Photo is courtesy of H-D.

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