Monday 11 November 2013

EICMA 2013 - Yard Built Yamaha

Over the last couple of years there has been a shift in motorcycle culture. It's hard for me to be specific about exactly what this shift is, so work with me here as I try to explain it using generalisations...

In the past, motorcycle manufacturers sold motorcycles by winning races. In the early part of the 20th century, racing had as much to do with endurance and reliability as it did with speed and handling. Competitions such as the Isle of Mann TT and the International Six Day Trial were pretty arduous and if Ariel or Zundap or whoever were successful in these events, consumers would reasonably assume that the machines were probably good enough for day-to-day use, and they'd go and buy one safe in the knowledge that it would get them to work every day. It was all pretty logical and straightforward.

By the late 1960's, motorcycles began to be seen as more than just basic transport and motorcycling became a sort of lifestyle choice. Machines became more specialised and consumers were given more choice - they could buy tourers, scramblers, sportsters etc. However, competition still played an important part in establishing a brand's reputation, but in a less direct way. Honda might win a Grand Prix with a highly specialised RC166 and the consumer might buy a CB175 basking in that reflected glory.

Around the mid 1980's consumers were offered replicas of the track bikes - GSXRs, GPZs, VFs, FZs etc. And this created a schism in motorcycle culture that still exists today. Some motorcyclists are interested in motorcycles in a general sense and some are interested only in performance. Go and look at the magazines in your local newsagent and you'll see what I mean...

While you're in there, you'll probably notice that there is a third type of magazine for aficionados of custom bikes. (And if you want to be picky, there are vintage magazines too but they're not relevant to the case I'm trying to make)

So broadly speaking (remember, we're generalising here) there are three fairly distinct motorcycle (and motorcycle magazine) markets, - Performance, General and Custom. This has been the status quo since the mid 1980's. Magazines know it and manufacturers know it. Interestingly, these markets are (mostly) mutually exclusive. Race replica pilots hate Harley riders, who in turn hate everyone who isn't 'righteous' and BMW riders look down their nose at everyone (relax, we're generalising).

*Personally, I believe this line of horseshit is propagated and perpetuated by the Motorcycle Media because it's in their interest to keep their audience loyal, but the Manufactures aren't innocent of it either.

So, we're talking about a shift in motorcycle culture over the last few years, remember?

So what is it?

Well, the Media will tell you - it's Hipsters. With their Converse Allstars, skinny jeans and open-face helmets, they're ruining motorcycling for everyone!

Why? The little fuckers won't spent €600 on an a new Arai, preferring instead to purchase a cheap matte-black brain-bucket on Ebay. And the irresponsible tightwads won't sign up to a HP agreement for a brand new ER6. No, instead, they're driving up the prices of ancient CX500s the world over. And no amount of motorcycle racing will convince the precocious little fucks that a 250 Ninja is better than a CB250RS. Bastards! With their fucking little mustaches...

The mainstream motorcycle industry is finding it increasingly difficult to engage with this market.

But wait!! It's not all bad... This worldwide Hipster-Culture uprising has brought to light some pretty interesting things.

Things like this...

And this...

Or this...

Or maybe this...

And finally...

So, to recap using more reasonable language. In general, there's been a shift in Culture (and particularly Youth Culture), away from Mindless Consumerism, and Banks and Big Media in favour of Making and Upcycling and Crowd Funding and Social media. Some of this shift has been a reaction to the Recession (people no longer trust corporations or governments the way they used to) and some of it is a direct result of the Recession (people are carrying debt, unemployment is high, youth unemployment shockingly so).

And this shift in the general Culture has been reflected in Motorcycle Culture.

Harley Davidson was the first to cotton on to this (in an indirect way), and in response it produced the Nightster, a Sportster stripped of everything but the bare essentials and painted matte black instead of chromed. Cheap to build, cheap to buy and very, very cool. It's a stroke of genius and it has been very successful in terms of sales and in bringing new blood to their consumer base. *Harley Davidson consumers were getting older and dying off and there was a real danger that HD would die with them.

They're at it again with the new 500/750 Street and although I've no doubt that it'll be successful in emerging markets (which is the real prize anyway) I don't think the styling of the standard bike is going to appeal to the New Culture. Though as a platform for building custom bikes, it's excellent, and I wonder if that was actually the point.

The New Culture is crazy about old air-cooled Boxers but 30 year old second-hand bikes don't do much for BMWs bottom line. BMW is trying to cash in on this with the clumsy R Nine-T project. I'm not saying it's a bad bike, what I mean is, it's a fucking cynical, clumsy half-assed concept and I don't think it'll work. *They released a video about this a couple of weeks ago and I was so appalled by its clumsiness and awfulness that I couldn't bring myself to blog about it...

Yamaha is trying to get in with this New Culture too. But it's doing it in a way that's both cool and sensitive to the ethos of the culture, with a concept called Yard Built Yamaha. They gave Yamaha XJR1300 and SR400 production bikes (which are essentially the same bikes that Yamaha made in the 1970's) to various custom builders (New Culture builders, very different to Orange County Choppers and the like) and let them do their thing. And then they exhibited the results and everyone wins.

The builders get exposed to a much larger audience than they would otherwise and Yamaha becomes cool by association.**

SR400 Boogie Single Racer by an anonymous Japanese builder.
SR400 Boogie Single Racer by an anonymous Japanese builder.

XJR1300 by Deus Ex Machina
XJR1300 by Deus Ex Machina

Another XJR1300, also by Deus
Another XJR1300, also by Deus

SR400 Gibbonslap by Wrenchmonkees
SR400 Gibbonslap by Wrenchmonkees

**Not that Yamaha wasn't already cool. Yamaha has always been the boldest of the Japanese manufacturers in terms of design - just look at the MT01, MT03, the TDM and the V-Max. These bikes were all weird, bold concepts different to what everyone else was doing and in the cases of the V-Max and TDM, decades ahead of their time.

#YardBuilt #EICMA2013 #Mercenary #MercenaryGarage

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