Article And Photos By: Bob Kay
Originally Published In The January 2017 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
It was December of 2015 when I decided it was time to do something about my concerns regarding the changing majority demographic, the evolving custom bike scene and the potential threat to lose our right to modify motorcycles. Step number one involved a meeting with Motorcycle Industry Council to determine if my efforts could lead somewhere. I was given the go ahead to pursue, if there was interest. Next, was setting up a Daytona meeting with a few of my younger colleagues. I did my sanity check with none other than the Cycle Source Chief, Chris Callen; his boss and master organizer, Heather; The hip entrepreneur, Jason Paul Michaels; and model turned ride everywhere lady, Leticia Cline and finally my riding buddy and partner in crime, Kyle Shorey. They gave enough info and encouragement to set up the big meeting during the Handbuilt Show in Austin. I contacted Alan from Revival Cycles, and along with his partner Stefan allowed us to use their shop for our big POW WOW. Well, I got to tell you I was blown away with who showed up to speak their mind.
It was a who’s who of Gen X and Gen Y motorcycle industry players representing Builders, OEM’s and aftermarket companies. When the meeting was over we had identified the unique millennial influence and socialization affecting the motorcycle industry. We discussed the need to attract new riders with easier access to training and possible tiered licensing programs like some European countries had in place. We talked about positive changes that had the potential to lower insurance rates for teen riders. The conversation led to ways to involve the community and create a broader awareness that would make motorcycles as transportation a real consideration for more people, especially city dwellers. Then came the elephant in the room, the influence of custom bikes and builders on the entire motorcycle industry and the perceived and very real threat of losing “The Right to Modify”. The reality that, motorcyclists could be legislated to a conformity that some tree hugging, enlightened do-gooder defined as acceptable without ever doing research on the current non-impact motorcycles have on our mother earth. Never considering the minimal carbon foot print of motorcycles, the space saving value in our everexpanding urbanization or the positive experiential influence motorcycling can have on one’s life. Truth be told, one of defining influences of motorcycles over cars is the ability to personalize/customize them as an extension of one’s personality. Besides all the concern, there was a huge generation gap between the younger builders and the old guard that needed to be closed.
We had to get this story out to the industry for consideration so a presentation was set up for our industry trade show, Custom Culture at AIMExpo. The announcement went out for “Our Changing Industry,. A Millennial Roundtable. It was standing room only as information was disseminated by a distinguished panel including, David Zemla from S&S Cycle, Sarah Lahalih from Royal Enfield, Kevin Dunworth from Loaded Gun Customs, Tim Harney from Harney Custom Motorcycles, Jason Paul Michaels from Standard Motorcycle Co and Casey Potter from Bell Helmets. When it was over the audience couldn’t wait to ask the panel more questions, it was great. A recent trip to Germany for the AMD World Championship of Custom Bike Building revealed that Europe had taken the lead in many of these issues. Maybe because two wheeled transportation is more accepted and maybe because TUV regulation seemed to be relentless.
I have been told that the EU has officially recognized “The Right to Modify” and backed it up with a provision requiring legislation to prove impact before being submitted. The European’s seem to better understand the influence of custom builders on the entire motorcycle industry as I witnessed OEM’s, aftermarket companies and individual custom shops participate in Intermot Customized and fill an entire hall dedicated to the custom motorcycle industry. We are not stopping now that we opened this can of worms. We have talked about creating a Custom Culture Advisory Forum to address the ongoing factors affecting our livelihood and lifestyle. There is even talk of an International Custom Forum. If you are interested and want to be kept abreast of our progress you may to contact me at bkay@ mic.org. I will gladly send the compilation of our Austin meeting notes to anyone requesting them. Please feel free to share your thoughts, after all we are all in this together.