By James Holter
“I’m gasping for air right now!”
That was a friend’s response after I texted her that I just bought a new motorcycle, and that afterward I realized I hadn’t even touched it, let alone sat on it, before I committed.
For her, that was a crazy thing to do.
For me, it seemed typical, just how one buys particular motorcycles.
In an attempt to explain away my crazy, I added:
If all of that weren’t true, I told her, I would have been more critical during the transaction.
I also would have been more wary if this were, say, an “inside deal” on a demo bike that may or may not have been thrashed by some journalist with or without something to prove (not that I have anything against journalists thrashing things).
However, this 1090 was a new bike. For the record, the only “deal” was a fair price from Wally and KTM’s public incentive of a $1,500 PowerParts credit on leftover 2017s of this particular model.
I think I convinced her that I wasn’t crazy, but her first response did remind me that a lot of us don’t buy motorcycles like normal people buy cars.
Normal people buying cars may not know exactly what a particular model offers. Their planned uses (commuting, weekend trips, a family hauler) might blend or conflict. They almost certainly don’t know details that many motorcycle buyers memorize and appreciate — compression ratios, suspension travel, dry (and wet) weights, etc. They need to touch, explore, smell and examine their potential purchase, and of course test drive it in various environments, if possible. At the end of this process, car buyers probably think they know what they need to know, and pull the trigger, or not.
Other people, maybe slightly less normal, are driven by image and appearance concerns. They sit behind the wheel and fantasize about how they’ll look cruising through town, contemplate the persona the car will reinforce (or create), stress over whether the red or yellow paint will send the right message, and take into consideration who drives the same or similar models.
Of course, not everyone fits into these buckets and neither approach is wrong. And some motorcyclists buy some motorcycles these ways, as well.
But I’m not one of them. For me, and maybe you too, motorcycles are tools, functional apparatuses that enhance our motive force through this world in ways that only motorcycles can.
I grew up with friends with whom I rode motocross bikes everywhere in a part of the country where riding motocross bikes nearly everywhere was possible. Motocross bikes, as we know, are minimalist by design -- no lights, no emission controls, no invasive safety features beyond a crossbar pad and just enough variation in plastic and color to distinguish one brand from another. That experience implanted in me at a young age that less is more.
I was chatting with a seasoned moto industry photographer at a bike launch (I think for Kawasaki’s Z1000) several years ago. I asked him what he thought of his current camera. I was expecting to learn something about the finer points and features of the latest and greatest in digital photography.
“I don’t know what all this stuff does,” he said. “I just use it to take pictures.”
He then held the camera up, twisting it side to side and added, “this is my hammer.” He flipped open the memory card compartment and popped out the SD card. Holding the card between his thumb and index finger, he punctuated his point: “and this is just a nail.”
He meant that while he loved shooting and that it put food on his table, the camera was just a means to that end. He loved making photographs. He didn’t love or obsess over the tool that he made the photographs with.
In Philosophy 101, we learned about Immanuel Kant's proposition that it’s wrong to use another person as a means to an end; people should represent the end goal of actions that involve them.
Similarly, with respect to motorcycle riding, my riding is the end and my motorcycle the means. The flowing trail, the twisty road, the grind above the treeline to a 12,000-foot Rocky Mountain pass and experiencing the motive force that gets me there are what matter. The bike and fuel that propel me through it are just the hammer and nails.
James Holter manages the communications and marketing departments of the AMA.