~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Bloodlines

My two Pembroke Welsh Corgi dogs have a wonderful pedigree even if they themselves have never been in the show ring. Their father's class and success shows in how they carry themselves and in their spirit. Nearly every great and successful current brand of motorcycle has a competition pedigree also and it shows in their class and their spirit. I believe that for all the successful motorcycle brands there is a spice that's added to their image and to their desirability that is brought about by their racing successes and that NOT having a successful racing program diminishes a motorcycle brand.

My point is that racing is a crucial aspect to a brand's broad acceptance and success in the market place and the imprinting of that brand on the customer's perception of the brand. All the current successful manufacturers including lesser known but successful brands like Aprilia and KTM have laudatory racing records (yeah, I know about the Aprilia / Suzuki / Yamaha / Rotax connection). BMW's racing successes go back to the time before WWII and extend to modern times in the torturous and deadly Dakar Rally. KTM may not have half the credibility that it has without it's success in the Dakar Rally. Ducati without it's racing heritage would just be a stylish Italian motorcycle and not quite as desirable. Those world championship trophies and scores of race wins mean something in the showroom, at least to the knowledgeable enthusiast.

Now for a mini-rant: Heritage cannot be purchased outright either, anymore than buying the latest fashions makes an ordinary person a celebrity, just ask the people from the defunct Excelsior-Henderson brand or the once again departed Indian Company. Just because the folks from Gilroy bought a name from the past doesn't mean they were entitled to the substantial glory attached to the name but earned with the blood, sweat, and passion of racers and engineers of 40 or 50 years ago. The "Indian Wrecking Crew" of Bobby Hill, Bill Tuman, and Ernie Beckman brought racing glory to Indian in it's dieing days in the early 1950s. A modern Indian wrecking crew wearing business suits instead of racing leathers brought nothing to the marque but shallow marketing of overpriced fashion apparel and poor quality bikes boasting copies of Harley-Davidson engines. As close as you'll ever get to a real, new Indian since 1953/54 is the Kiwi Indian. If I had a spare $40k laying around I'd be tempted because I love Indian Motorcycles and the Kiwi folks are passionate in the face of common sense. You have to admire that. (End mini-rant)

There is scarcely an name more worthy of honor in racing than MV Agusta and yet, as wonderful as their modern bikes are, everyone who has been around motorcycling for a while and can see past the marketing and knows that Count Agusta is long gone and the current bikes have no real connection to the glories of the howling red four cylinder Grand Prix racers of the '60s and early '70s beyond the Agusta name. The men behind the engineering of the new MV Agusta bikes are passionate motorcycle enthusiasts and MV Agusta may yet earn a new reputation for superb modern racing bikes and sport bikes but glories of Isle of Man victories are forever reserved to a company of people led by a wealthy motorcycle patriarch who got lost between a helicopter company and a Malaysian business empire. The soul of MV Agusta was laid to rest with the Count.

Knowingly or instinctively, many customers in the motorcycle dealership showroom know that the bike they are looking at has a real pedigree or a purchased one. The BMW faithful initially at least shied away from the first BMW 650 "Funduro" as they knew the engine was from Rotax, not BMW, and the bike was assembled by Aprilia. On some level in the group consciousness of the motorcycle world, posers and pretenders are ultimately avoided whether they are RUBs decked out in their official faux biker Motor Company garb or a Vincent resurrected with a camouflaged Honda engine in it. The new Vincent is beautiful, by the way, but it's not a real Vincent. Even dear Aprilia has used too many foreign engines in their bikes; at least their wonderful liter bikes have an engine designed within the confines of Italy even if it's been built by lederhosen wearing Austrians. [I seem to recall hearing lately that the building of the 990cc V-twin engine has been moved in-house though]
The H-D V-Rod which has been less than a rousing success for the Motor Company, I think suffers somehow because it has little more than a smoke and mirrors racing heritage based on one third place finish in AMA superbike racing years ago. Having a losing engine re-engineered for the street (read: completely redesigned from the ground up) by Porsche doesn't seem to add much to the desirability of the bike since the H-D cache is built on it's American roots. The V-Rod engine is probably the future of H-D though because of emissions rules but it will take some more racing and marketing of that before the bike has an honest pedigree of it's own. Currently H-D is doing some interesting things with the V-Rod in drag racing so at least they are making an effort. I wonder if we'll see the V-Rod engine translated into a flat track motor some day?

V-Rod drag bike (photo via Vance & Hines)
And for every rule there is an exception. If you know bikes you know that John Bloor and the revived Triumph brand have done very well without doing anymore than dipping their little toe into the racing waters. Credit Bloor for being a much better businessman than the others who tried to raise the motorcycle dead and also for building a first rate product. So it's "not a real Triumph" with an engine designed by Edward Turner but the new Triumph Thruxton 900 is built in the U.K. by Guinness drinking Limies and that's worth a little something.

I guess ultimately it depends on how passionate you are about motorcycle history in general and how much you are willing to pretend or not pretend you own a part of it. In the modern corporate bottom-line driven motorcycle industry there are bound to be compromises. The days when a single, wealthy enthusiast like Count Agusta or F.X. Bulto (Bultaco) could fund a whole company with their own money and passion for bikes just because they want to are long gone. The breeds are inevitably branching out, becoming diluted.

Theoretically, wonderful design and engineering should always take the day and glory purchased and applied to the side of a gas tank should not be necessary. I would suggest that if the owners, designers, and builders really love motorcycles and can take honest pride in their own work there should not be a need or even a desire to trade on the name, labors and passions of people to whom you have no real connection.

The blood of champions runs through my little Pembroke Welsh Corgis, I didn't buy a mixed breed with the pedigree of an single, entirely different bloodline.  Top breeders tell me that crossing  two breeds often does not result in the best of both in the new dog but the worst of both.


"Watson" - Cymru am byth!
For nearly 600 years people enthusiastic for the Corgi breed have ensured that it would not only be refined and preserved and improved but that it arrived undiluted for each new generation of Corgi enthusiasts to enjoy. Would that it could have been so with many of the great makes of motorcycles like Indian.

5 comments:

Gymi said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gymi said...

Doug, in my experience, most riders I come in contact with here in the midwest do not know bubkiss about motorcycle racing or the engineers and designers behind the scenes. Nor are they aware of the many defunct marques that have come and gone. The people that I meet on the European brands seem to have the most knowledge about their bikes pedigree than riders of Japanese or American bikes. Being from Michigan I always had a keen interest in the careers of the local boys such as Randy Goss, Jay Spingsteen, Scott Parker and Jeff Stanton . Sadly when I bring up any of these names no one knows who I am talking about. Springer and Parker only live twenty miles north of me. When I broach the racing subject in most circles I am usually met with blank stares and someone changing the subject to something they know about. I think it is a crime that American racers dominated the top level of motorcycle road racing for fifteen years, yet no one that I know seems to ever have heard of anyone of them except for maybe Kenny Roberts. It maybe different down there in the southwest, but here in the midwest most seem to make their purchases based on style rather than pedigree. I could go on and on, but this comment is already too long.

injunrider said...

Doug,

Just happened to run acros your website. Was just in a poker run for charity yesterday (8/19) in South Haven, Michigan ( transplanted Lapeer boy so yeah I do very well of Keener and Springsteen "springer" ). I was sitting there and this older Gentleman comes up admiring my "Gilory Indian" saying what a fine looking bike it is. He starts talking about riding with Beckman, Tuman and the "wrecking crew". This gentleman rode a indian and then BSA maybe you know him, John Tenney. hes also in the Open whel hall of Fame as a car racer. Anyhow the stories were absolutely fascinating! telling me how him and Beckman used to ride down the center of railroad tracks just to keep there wrist in shape! and many other yarns.......
Hopefully the new owners of Indian ( Stellican Limited), who announced a new factory in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago will do the name proud! In the meantime Im very happy with my " Gilroy Indian"!

injunrider said...

Doug,

Just happened to run acros your website. Was just in a poker run for charity yesterday (8/19) in South Haven, Michigan ( transplanted Lapeer boy so yeah I do very well of Keener and Springsteen "springer" ). I was sitting there and this older Gentleman comes up admiring my "Gilory Indian" saying what a fine looking bike it is. He starts talking about riding with Beckman, Tuman and the "wrecking crew". This gentleman rode a indian and then BSA maybe you know him, John Tenney. hes also in the Open whel hall of Fame as a car racer. Anyhow the stories were absolutely fascinating! telling me how him and Beckman used to ride down the center of railroad tracks just to keep there wrist in shape! and many other yarns.......
Hopefully the new owners of Indian ( Stellican Limited), who announced a new factory in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago will do the name proud! In the meantime Im very happy with my " Gilroy Indian"!

Doug K. said...

Injunrider, thanks for your comments. I had the good fortune to meet Bill Tuman, Ernie Beckman, and Bobby Hill some years ago at the Del Mar Concours. Would that I could have pried a few stories out of them but they were popular fellows that day (and rightfully so!). I also had the pleasure to sit and talk with Jim Davis for a little while about a year or so before he passed away. Jim Davis was amazing, at 102 he could tell racing stories from 1920 like they happened yesterday.

I'm glad you're happy with your Gilroy Indian. With the new Power Plus motor they seemed to be on the right track until the money people pulled the rug out from under them. Here's hoping Stellican will do right by the brand but my first visit to their new website showed only overpriced, Indian branded clothes for sale. To me that's not a promising sign.

Doug

Popular Posts

Search This Site

"When my mood gets too hot and I find myself wandering beyond control I pull out my motor-bike and hurl it top-speed through these unfit roads for hour after hour." - T.E. Lawrence



An Important reminder from the past:
"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." - James Madison