(Original article was in City Bike) www.citybike.com
By Gabe Ets-Hokin
I just quit working as a motorcycle salesman, so now I can bitch about these guys to you. I call them “un-frozen cavemen,” in honor of the hilarious character invented by Phil Hartman on “Saturday Night Live.”
On the show, Hartman plays a 20,000-year-old caveman who was frozen in a glacier and then is thawed out in modern times. Our modern ways “frighten and confuse” him. My un-frozen cave men (UCM’s) sheepishly wander into dealerships all over the USA daily. They have just thawed themselves out from 15 to 40 years of motorcycle-less hibernation and are looking at motorcycles again for the first time since Nixon bombed Cambodia (to protect us from terrorists, of course).
They usually describe pretty limited motorcycle experience, and aren’t even sure of the model of bike they owned. (“Oh, it was a Honda. I’m pretty sure it was a Honda. Anyway, it was my brother-in-law’s. Man, was I crazy!”) Today I met the man who just 15 years ago had a BMW R75S, the only one ever known to have existed. He must have had a good relationship with BMW, for them to make a unique one-off bike like that for him.
The UCM’s gave it up because they bought a house, or they had a kid, or simply because the wife asked them to.
Frequently, they have an inflated image of their past selves. Sometimes they were the fastest guy on Mt. Tam. Other times they were the top motocrosser in the state. The common thread is that they had to abandon such craziness before they got their fool selves killed.
Running through my salesman’s list of steps to move the customer towards a sale (or maybe just to weed out the timewasters, which is what 75% of these guys are), I’ve now determined their riding experience, and now I want to find out what they want out of a motorcycle.
“Well, I just want to have something to putz around on.” is what a huge number of them say.
Putz around. “Putz” is Yiddish slang for the male reproductive organ, and is more commonly used to describe an oafish or stupid man. Yeah. Judging from the rare UCM who actually buys a motorcycle, “putzing” involves wearing a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and boat shoes while wobbling down the street on a motorcycle with under 1000 miles on it. A man can do a lot of putzing (or putting) on a 50cc scooter, but they don’t want that. A 250 Virago or Ninja won’t do it either. I’ve seen a lot of putzes on scooters, especially in San Francisco, so it would seem an ideal putzing tool, but apparently not. I’ve never sold a small scooter or a small displacement bike to a UCM. “Putzing”, as an activity, needs to be done on a motorcycle with far, far, far more capability than the putzer could ever possibly use. It’s wacky, huh? Sort of like using a Porsche to pick up dry cleaning. Actually, they do that a lot, too. At least in Marin, which is probably the only place outside of Stuttgart where you can see actual traffic jams of Porsche 911’s.
Once I figure out what kind of riding style they’re interested in, I show the UCM a model or two. And it’s here the fun begins, as I have to explain every single technological advancement in motorcycle technology since 1968, starting with disc brakes. By the time I work my way up to liquid cooling, I’m ready to fake an epileptic seizure so I can stop talking to this guy.
“Liquid cooling? I don’t need that! I’ll just be putzing around on this thing. I won’t be racing or anything like that.”
I can just imagine a frustrated salesman talking to some prospect in 1910. “Rubber tires? With inner tubes? I’ve been riding on steel rims and wooden spokes since 1885. I don’t need any of that fancy crap! It’s not like I want to be riding around at 20 miles per hour or anything like that!”
Seriously, re-entry riders really need to be mature and intelligent about their re-entry purchase. Sure, a 30 horsepower Bonneville with drum brakes and barely-functioning suspension was OK back in the ‘70s, when the Bay Area’s population was a third of what it was now, and the roads were smooth and well-maintained, and most drivers were insured and driving well-maintained and relatively slow cars. But now the roads are heavily trafficked with SUV’s and monster trucks driven by inattentive sociopaths at breakneck speeds.
Introduce a putz on a modern motorcycle, a motorcycle with a power-to-weight ratio far better than anything available in the 1970s into the soup and it’s a recipe for lots of crashing. Especially when you consider that these guys never get any kind of advanced motorcycle training, much less a license.
The UCM is unable to comprehend the technological advances of the last three decades, so he just goes by what he knows about. This usually fits in with what I call the “I’m a pretty big guy” syndrome.
PBGS is a condition where the UCM’s creeping weight gain has convinced him that he needs a huge amount of horsepower to propel his expanding ass at a sufficient speed. The manifestations of PBGS are disregard for any motorcycle smaller than 750cc and a preference for “comfortable” seating positions. This means the UCM usually rejects any handlebar lower than nipple height as being “one of them Ninja-bikes.”
“I’d probably kill myself on one of those things.”
The UCM will usually tell the salesman that he had a 750 or a 900 back in the day, so he needs something at least that big. The salesman will try to explain that even the slowest, cheapest 600 today makes more horsepower and weighs far less than the most extreme, exotic, high powered liter bike 30 years ago, but the UCM’s primitive higher brain functions cannot comprehend such a concept. Big guys get big bikes. Manly men get the most powerful bike they can afford. A 750 is more powerful than a 600, and the 1400cc Harley must be the baddest, most fearsome bike at all.
It’s not like he’s buying a Kawasaki Z1 or anything like that! I remember I rode one of those things once, and I could barely control it, it went so fast!
Anyway, a pretty big guy needs at least a 750 for putzing around on. That’s just a basic safety issue. And I’m just being sarcastic. If these were real concerns I had, then the average age of motorcycle crash fatalities would be rising steadily over the last decade as more and more UCM’s re-discover the joys of ‘70s style unregulated, untrained motorcycling with the help of no formal training.