I am not a Luddite.

Past Perfect

I am not now, nor have I ever been a Luddite. There’s nothing wrong with old and simple. Take me for instance, or my 75 Yamaha RD350B. But fresh technology is a beautiful thing when it works. There’s a 46-inch flat-screen television bolted to my living room wall, where a Roomba robot is presently vacuuming the carpet. By the time you read this, a 3.6GHz Intel Core i3-equipped Mac will have superceded the 1.8GHz pooch on my desk. Still, sometimes it feels like I missed my exit on this metaphorical freeway of accelerating technology. I’m all for acceleration, technological and otherwise, as long as it’s vaguely rational, fiscally responsible and potentially justifiable. Otherwise, somebody is liable to pull the plug. Looking out on the expanse of test bikes currently at my disposal, at least six could cover the 79.4 miles between Motorcyclist’s garage and mine in less than half my 90-minute average. There are at least six more in the nearest dealership that could do the same if I were willing to take on an extra $15,000 in red ink. It could happen today, but it won’t. That sort of thing can and eventually will make a guy unpopular, and eventually irrelevant with people in a position to pull said plug, like American Express, the California Highway Patrol and/or Department of Motor Vehicles, my boss, my wife and our friendly neighborhood insurance agent. I like that sort of social relevance enough to make the concessions necessary to keep it, like keeping my average velocity within sight of enforceable limits, saving enough to pay cash for that next new motorcycle and putting altruism ahead of egotism when and where I can. But if I hold the latest residents of most dealerships to that same standard, or look at them the way more objective members of polite society might, that sort of relevance is hard to find.

If the whole discussion sounds irrelevant to you, I respectfully submit that the future of motorcycling won't be settled entirely from the inside out. Perception is reality, and from the outside, motorcycles are starting to look like more like a problem than any sort of valid solution; big, fast noisy toys that serve no other constructive purpose aside from simply being cool. I love big fast, noisy toys, but like a lot of other people in the world, I'd love a solid, simple, efficient way to get around as well. Especially if it made motorcycling look more like a ray of light in this gathering gloom.

I can hear the product planners now. "American's don't want practical motorcycles, and we can't sell what people don't want." Our own census figures say more of us get to work on ferryboats than motorcycles. Maybe so, but you don't have to be Alvin Toffler to know things are changing. Maybe it's time for a sort paradigm shift. A fundamental change in the way we look at the world. When things start looking fuzzy, you get glasses. When the old prescription can't clear things up anymore, you need to get a new one. And maybe motorcycling needs a new prescription, but not until we come up with a new one that actually works.

Motorcycles will always be toys in some sense of the word, and riding one will always involve more sweaty want than pragmatic need. No worries. Keep the big and the fast. Just slip a few more solid, sensible alternatives into the mix to balance things out. Chevrolet builds a $106,880, 638-horsepower 205-mph ZR1 Corvette. But there’s also a 40-mpg Cruze in the 2011 line-up, along with the mostly electric Volt that allegedly hums along all day on less than I pay for a Venti Americano at Starbucks. American’s are more receptive to solid, sensible, inexpensive motorcycles than ever. Suzuki’s smart little TU250s aren’t gathering any showroom dust, and neither are Kawasaki 250 Ninjas.

Paradigms normally don't shift over night or by themselves. Global motorcycle manufacturers don't turn on the proverbial dime. That sort of change can take a decade or two, but it has to start somewhere. And the trickle-down of technologies like ABS, traction-control, anti-theft systems, electronically adjustable suspension and switchable injection/ignition maps from high-end models will make affordable ones more attractive as well. The motorcycle has always been cool, and hopefully always will be. Keeping the idea alive means keeping it viable, affordable and cool before some sweaty fascist fingers have a yank on that plug.