Short-Term Jitters, Long-Term Gain

Main Jet

With the October sun hinting at a few more good weeks of cruising in most parts of the country, some might think it a bit premature to sprinkle around phrases like "end of the season" and "2008 model year." But those folks are in the minority, and most of you probably realize (at least subconsciously) that for all intents and purposes, 2007 is over and done with for the OEMs (and the mag you're holding). If the steady rollout of '08 bike intros in the past few months hasn't yet clued you in, the slated industry showcases and new product releases in the next two months are bound to prick up your ears.

That means it's traditionally an upbeat time of the year for us moto-heads, which makes it hard to reconcile some dour conversations I had with a few insiders not too long ago. They used buzzwords like "market contraction" and "sales slowdown" (I need to get out more if that's the extent of my cocktail party discourse). Warren Buffet I'm not, but that sort of doomsday mentality seems understandable given recent jitters in the stock market. Thing is, these lamentations were most specifically leveled at a shrinking cruiser sector.

I'm not denying that you need an extra Paxil or two to digest all the gloom you read in the Wall Street Journal lately, but our industry's double-digit growth in the last decade was bound to slacken. Especially in light of the public's ever-changing tastes-with folks overdosing on O.C.C. and its big-ticket chopper ilk, that segment's flavor-of-the-moment status was sure to go sour (Titan Motorcycles declared bankruptcy earlier this year).

From where I sit, though, the view looks considerably rosier, if only from a design standpoint (no, I haven't seen any hard sales figures for '07, yet). If first releases are any indication, 2008 looks to be another year of evolved, yet envelope-pushing designs-which translates into a diverse selection of machinery for you- the consumer. One trend that looks especially promising is the renewed focus on bikes that can be ridden farther and longer. Which brings us to the highlights of this issue.

First up is Triumph's new Rocket III Touring-a traveling mount in the most classic sense. Our cover story dishes the details on Editorial Director Alex Hearn's trip over the Pond for the Touring's development story as well as an exclusive first ride on the thing. Second is last issue's cover bike, the Victory Vision-which isn't really classic in any sense, but just might be the harbinger of a new order in the touring segment. It also happens to be the winner of Motorcycle Cruiser magazine's 2007 Cruiser of the Year (the kudos unfurl on page 16).

Also debuting this ish is Harley's way-cool Rocker Softails and Star Motorcycles' slick new Raider-all three carved in the street custom style, and as you'd expect from that niche, visually compelling. This new hardware also seems to imply that the horsepower wars have leveled off, at least for now-every one of the aforementioned models emphasizes low seat height rather than boot-filling piston diameters. With the Rocker's 26.2-inch height, the Rocket's 29 inches and the Vision's 26.5 inches, the vertically challenged (including yours truly) have much to crow about these days.

But the clincher for me is public perception. The broadest indicator of the cruiser market's pulse rate can be summed up in three words: The Simpsons Movie. In several scenes of that masterful piece of cinema, Homer's seen piloting a motorcycle. Sure, it's a crudely drawn, generic two-wheeler, but it's definitely a cruiser (no OEM has yet stepped forward to claim credit for the inspiration). In other words, cruisers help define the current zeitgeist. OK, I'm only half-serious

So you'll excuse me if I prefer to see the glass as half full. "Market meltdown" notwithstanding, it's looking to be a particularly flush year-full of innovative ideas as well as new choices. As for end of the riding season, pshaw-global warming will take care of that.

See you on the road.

Tell Cherney to go back to business school at: Andy Cherney@primedia.com.