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Travels With An Airhead

The Virtues of Vibration

— by Notch Miyake

My neighbor took a test ride on the new Harley Davidson. "It was amazing," he said, raising his arms to the classic Harley handlebar position. "No vibration. It was as smooth as a BMW. I want to get one."

No vibration. Consider the implications. How will they know when to shift? And will the babe on the pillion get off in disgust? (Since this is a family newsletter, I won't go into the sexual advantages of vibration.) This is as serious a crisis as the announcement of a BMW with a chain drive. Heresy. It cannot be. But there it is. My neighbor rode one. He liked it.

How can these things happen? It's all marketing. Yamaha, Honda, et al, saw that people liked the Harley style so they copied it. Exactly. So closely that, when you come upon a glittering V-twin in the parking lot at Wegman's, you have to look for the cleverly hidden fine print to identify it as a Suzuki.

The only difference was they made the bikes inexpensive, reliable and smooth. People who imagined themselves as bikers, but unwilling to give up the new Lexus for a Harley and possessing sensitive derrieres to boot, loved the new cruisers. They bought them so that they could spend all day Saturday polishing the chrome so they could cruise comfortably to brunch on Sunday. Such is the biker lifestyle.

Even BMW made a cruiser. They took an oilhead, encrusted it with chrome, installed pullback handlebars and front mounted pegs. They even lowered the seat so that an average height person can sit on it and put both heels on the ground (Proving, finally, that it can be done by the factory). Unfortunately, BMW missed the point. A cruiser has a V-twin engine.

At first, Harley people scoffed at these cheap imitations. But they sold so well they had to do something. Since they couldn't make Harleys cheaper, they made them smoother. Does that make the Harley an expensive imitation?

So now we have Harley Davidsons without vibration. And BMWs with chain drives. Is nothing sacred anymore?

Speaking of sacred, Christmas is once again upon us. Another marketing triumph, transforming a simple, cheerful holiday into the most stressful time of the year. You know what I mean.

But I hope as we negotiate this Holiday season, we all remember the true spirit of the season, not the marketing hype. Remember Harley Davidsons that vibrate. Remember BMWs with shaft drives. Remember Christmas, Hanukkah and the Millennium.

Happy Holidays!

— Copyright © 1999 by Notch Miyake.

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