The Universal Notebook: Death of the hog

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While I was in high school and college I rode motor scooters and motorcycles much of the time. During those long-gone years, I owned a 50cc Allstate Compact scooter, a Honda 175, a Honda 450, and a 250 cc Jawa CZ Czechoslovakian dirt bike. 

The little red and cream 1965 Allstate scooter was fast enough to get you into trouble, but not powerful enough to get you out of it. I ended up glancing off the side of a car that decided to turn right while I was stupidly passing it. The leg shield wrapped around my left leg and I ended up stuck between a couple of gas pumps.

The bright blue 1969 Honda 175 Scrambler had a swept-up exhaust that made it look like a motocross bike, but it was really just a good all-round street bike. I rode it back and forth between Westbrook and the University of Maine Portland-Gorham. My college buddy Rick Charette, who went on to become a beloved singer-songwriter, had a slightly bigger Honda and the two of us took a road trip to Nova Scotia one weekend.

Caught in a downpour in Ellsworth late the first night, Rick and I pulled in under a drive-in bank canopy just as lightning struck and set off the burglar alarm. After we explained ourselves to the police, they found a B&B that would take a couple of soaking wet collegians in the middle of the night. It rained all weekend, and all I saw of Nova Scotia was a wet blur.

The big blue Honda 450 was a remarkably stable bike and all the motorcycle I could handle at 21. But I had to dump it one day on the way to USM when a truck pulled out in front of me on Brighton Avenue in front of the old Osteopathic Hospital. 

I used to complain about the mandatory helmet law Maine had back then. When I saw the gouge on the top of my helmet that might otherwise have been on top of my head, I stopped complaining.

Some buddies and I pretty much destroyed the Jawa riding beneath power lines. 

Every once in a while I think about getting another motorcycle. I still have a motorcycle endorsement on my driver’s license, but I’m way past midlife crisis. Old men like me don’t ride Japanese bikes, of course – they ride Harley-Davidson hogs. Harleys always struck me as two-wheeled tractors, ponderous, slow, and loud, but Baby Boomers with outlaw fantasies and internal combustion libidos love them.

These days the market for Harleys seems to be dying right along with the Boomers and, ironically, Baby Boomer Donald Trump may be helping to kill it.

Harley-Davidson’s 117-year “Made in Milwaukee” pedigree would seem made to order for Trump’s America First nationalist agenda, and early on Trump was a big Harley fan. But when he imposed his ill-advised tariffs on European steel, the European Union responded with a tariff on Harleys. In order to avoid the Made-in-America penalty, Harley-Davidson started making more motorcycles in Thailand. Captain America went ballistic and backed a Harley-Davidson boycott.

In the first half of 2020 sales of Harley-Davidsons were down 22 percent. And that’s not just the pandemic. Before the coronavirus struck, Harley sales were the worst they had been in 16 years.

Trump’s trade wars backfired, leading to loss of jobs and higher prices. Harley-Davidson now has a German president who is banking on $30,000 electric motorcycles to save the company.

Good luck with that.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix, where he also writes the monthly Art Seen feature.