Who am I and why the hell should you care about reading my blog?

Avid motorcyclist & freelance writer, specializing in motorcycles & motorcycle related topics, with a healthy dose of good humor, good vibes & general advice on simply being a good person.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

A Star is born... and then it's gone.

A Star is born

The year is 2006. The motorcycle under my carport is a 2001 Honda Shadow 750 American Classic Edition. It's raining, so I'm on the couch, watching T.V. A commercial briefly teases an all-new motorcycle under an all-new motorcycle brand- Yamaha introduces it's new "Star Motorcycles" and the all-new, 113ci air-cooled, pushrod V-twin lineup- The Roadliner, The Stratoliner and the Stratoliner Midnight. I'm intrigued. Very intrigued. The motorcycle has neo-classic styling taken straight out of the 1930's automobile design handbook, a big, pushrod V-twin and classic American styling. The Midnight edition is an almost all black bike and it is nothing like any other bike on the current market. It is a stunning machine and I love it. 

The test ride

After going online and visiting the Star Motorcycles website an obscene amount of times, requesting brochures and promotional DVDs, then reading the specs and watching the DVDs until my eyes hurt... I decided to make a trip to a dealership to check it out in person. I brought cash. The bike was huge, especially compared to my 750 Honda. It was fuel-injected and fired up instantly with a low rumble. I slowly eased the bike out of the dealership doors, feeling like a little kid on his first bicycle. The bike was huge, but it was beautiful. I slowly pulled onto the service road and eased into the throttle, carefully upshifting to get used to the gear ratio of each gear. The bike was huge, but it was geared well and easy to control. I took it up through 4th gear and then downshifted to start slowing to turn around. I pulled into a parking lot and began my u-turn. The bike was huge, but it was nimble and well-balanced. As I headed back to the dealership, I got a little more comfortable and twisted the throttle and let the 1900cc engine roar. The bike was huge... and it was powerful. If you didn't catch it... the bike was huge.

I bought it that day.

Miles of fun

It was on that Stratoliner Midnight, that I became more adventurous on my moto-journeys. Having the reliability of a brand spanking new motorcycle (the first new motorcycle I had ever had) gave me the confidence to travel further, longer. For the most part, I still stayed in my local area, but my rides were longer. I used to only average a couple thousand miles a year on my bikes- the Shadow 750 was a reliable bike, and I loved riding it, but it was small and got a little cramped after a while in the saddle. The Strat, as I came to call it, was big and roomy and had plenty of power to pull me down the highways easily and pass traffic effortlessly, so I more than tripled my yearly mileage, averaging over 6k miles a year. The only real problem I ever had was caused by an uneducated tech at a local dealership. Turns out, the all-new 113ci engine on the 'Liners had 3 holes to drain the oil, but when I brought it to the local dealership for the break-in oil change and inspection, the tech only dropped two, then filled the engine to spec without checking. That ended up blowing an O-ring inside the engine, near the base of the pushrod tube. After fighting with every "local" dealer about it, with each one refusing to fix it, I ended up bringing it back to the dealer that sold it to me (almost three hours away) and he was able to fix it at no cost to me. He even put me on a used Road Star that he had in stock, while my Strat was down. The bike was great and I was totally happy with it... until I got the fever.

Harley fever and the death of a Star

Just a few short years later, in 2009, I caught the Harley fever. With too many reasons to list, and in an attempt to not get distracted from the original story, I'll save my tale of getting Harley fever for another day and simply say- I used my beloved Stratoliner Midnight as a trade-in, on a cold winter night in South Louisiana, and rode home on a sweet new Harley-Davidson Road King Classic. Even though I left the triple tuning forks behind, I never trash talked Yamaha, the Stratoliner, or the Star brand. On the contrary, actually. I encouraged several of my friends to buy Star motorcycles because of their styling and their nearly bulletproof reliability. Once I started riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles, I never went back. Over the next decade, I went through a few different Harleys, added a couple extra to the garage and settled in on my current bike- a 2017 Road King Special. It has the all-black styling of my beloved Stratoliner Midnight, but with the performance, features, rideability, vast dealer network, history, lineage, reliability and styling that I have come to know and love with the Milwaukee USA Motor Company. Fortunately for me, switching to a brand that had been in constant production for over 100 years was the right choice, because not long after, the eventual death of Star would come.

Unfortunately for Star and Star owners, after only ten years as it's own brand, Yamaha decided to scrap the Star brand and fold the remaining bikes back into the lineup under the Yamaha moniker. 

The company you keep

It makes sense, I suppose. Yamaha Corporate is a huge company with products ranging from musical instruments, to motorcycles, to factory automation equipment. To say that they have their hands in several different industries is an understatement. While the Star brand was a popular one, I think that Yamaha recognized that there is only so much room in the motorcycle market for an American made motorcycle. You see, a lot of people probably didn't realize that Star Motorcycles was operated out of the Yamaha USA offices in Southern California, and that the motorcycles were designed in the good ole US of A. At their core though, much like many of the V-Twin cruiser motorcycles, they were replicated versions of original designs from the original American-born motorcycle companies, Harley-Davidson and Indian. My Shadow 750 was, literally, named the American Classic Edition (or ACE, for short). It was designed to look and sound like a Harley-Davidson FL; The Kawasaki Drifter was a blatant... umm, let's call it... "tribute" to, the original Indian Chief; The Yamaha Road Star was designed based on the Harley-Davidson Softail models and the 'Liners were designed to take on the Harley-Davidson Touring family. The biggest difference in how the designers did this, was to give it a fresh, new design that, in my humble opinion, was one of the most elegant and unique designs that, while it was still American inspired, still had it's own individual look and personality.

What made the 'Liners so popular was the size, the power and the styling. While the styling was still very retro-American, it was unique to the Star brand, as no other American motorcycles had such unique, sweeping lines and movement-inspired shapes. No other bikes had a big speedometer inspired by a "grandfather clock" and no other bike had a big, chrome strut on the front fender (just for looks) and most of all- a big fuel tank, devoid of any names or monikers, just simply adorned with 3 elegant chrome strips. But, at their core... with their big, air-cooled, pushrod V-Twin, prominently displayed in the frame, a big headlight with custom nacelle and leather covered saddlebags, the Stratoliners were easily mistaken for Harley-Davidsons. While that's not a bad thing, with a price tag similar to that of a comparable H-D and a limited aftermarket (by comparison), the Star brand was fighting for it's place on American soil. I believe that Yamaha saw the writing on the wall, when Polaris bought the rights to the Indian name and introduced their first models in 2014. Market analysts surely predicted that Polaris' Indian brand would re-ignite the battle for supremacy in the US market between the two iconic American brands and, after watching the decline of Victory Motorcycles' sales, they were proven right. 

In 2016, Yamaha discontinued the Star moniker, absorbing all of the most popular models back under the Yamaha name. Shortly after, in 2017, Polaris discontinued Victory after years of waning sales. It made sense for Yamaha. The name recognition of Star just wasn't there, not compared to the household name of Yamaha, that is. After all, everyone knew Yamaha. From jet skis, to dirt bikes and ATVs, to your kid's keyboard or saxophone... Yamaha was a brand name that was in practically every household in America. 

The end of the road

Unfortunately, 2017 not only brought the end of Victory, but it also marked the end of the line for the prestigious Stratoliner. Yamaha discontinued the big cruiser to focus on the Star Venture. The Venture is not a new name for Yamaha's touring motorcycle line, far from it, actually. The Venture name first saw production on the 4 cylinder Royal Star as it's luxury lined version, but Yamaha is now using the name on their only "Transcontinental Touring" bike- the Star Venture. The motorcycle is still basically a Stratoliner, but with a full, frame mounted fairing, new bodywork and of course, saddlebags and tour pack. Basically, Yamaha combined most of their big, heavyweight cruisers into one bike to compete with the venerable Honda Goldwing and Harley-Davidson's Road Glide Limited and Ultra Classic Limited. Yamaha has always had a long history of very successful sport and off-road bikes and, it's obvious by going to their little corner of the interweb that, they are clearly focusing more on that market instead of the heavyweight cruisers.

Hope is in the ever changing market

While I wish this story had a better ending, at my core I am a motorcycle optimist and I choose to see the best in every motorcycle story and this one is no different. The Star brand may be dead, but the enthusiasm of it's owners is alive and well. Thriving, actually. Yamaha still makes the 113ci, air cooled mill and, as such, they are still building parts for it. That means there is still factory support for the big machines. There is also a growing aftermarket for those that saw the light of the Star, long after it was already burned out. Stratoliner and Roadliner enthusiasts are now finding these amazing motorcycles in the local ads for a fraction of the prices they used to demand. That means more and more of these beautiful machines are being seen on the roads. 

While I may have moved on from the giant Japanese companies' offerings, riding my beloved Harley-Davidson Road King along the interstates, highways and backroads of this beautiful land I call home, I still get a little excited to see a Stratoliner or Roadliner on the road. As a matter of fact- I have several friends that have moved up to 'Liner ownership and I couldn't be more proud for them. The 'Liners are amazing bikes, with lots of power and plenty of style to bring a smile to any real motorcycle lover's face. 

As a genuine motorcycle enthusiast- I don't really care what you ride, as long as it brings you joy, fuels your sense of adventure and gives you a deeper appreciation for this journey we call life. 

Ride safe and enjoy the ride, no matter what you ride. See you out there, MotoFriends!

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Remember your "WHY"


Often, in my line of work, I can answer most questions... but the one that escapes me the most is the "why". The rest are relatively easy- who, what, when, where and how are pretty easy to identify, but it's the "why" that is the toughest to figure out because the "why" speaks to a person's motivations, their reasons, their causes, their beliefs, their education or intelligence level and, sometimes, there simply is no reason at all for why someone does something... it's just... random. Maybe it's a sudden act or decision based on impulse, a situational opportunity or maybe, it's simply inexplicable... motivated by nothing more than a full moon, a cool breeze and a foggy brain. If you haven't figured it out yet- I'm in middle management and I'm constantly having to appease the people above me, protect the people under me and keep everyone motivated to keep doing their jobs to the most efficient level possible. 

The drudgery

Prior to my current assignment in the "company", I was in a human resources type of position where I primarily dealt with staffing and complaints. There was a LOT of paperwork associated with that job and there were deadlines, commitments and frustrations that kept me busy, working late pretty regularly. Prior to that position, I was a low-level supervisor for over a decade and let me tell you... that job was great, really great, but eventually, the gripes and complaints from my line workers eventually brought me down. I began feeling like the "ivory tower" folks (you know- those guys and gals who are in nice, comfy, climate controlled offices safe inside the building, far away from the dangers and aggravations of the job) had forgotten their "whys" and were only there to earn a fat paycheck on the backs of their subordinates. It's easy to get caught up in that negativity, especially when you live with it daily. 

In getting transferred to the HR job though, suddenly, I became one of those "ivory tower" folks. I felt like a square peg in a round hole for almost four years- I never did feel like I fit in with them. Maybe it was them- maybe I wasn't one of them- or maybe it was me. Maybe I didn't want to fit in because I felt like I was somehow betraying those that I was in the trenches with for so long, by being in that big office with the window that looked out over those workers that I used to lead. In the HR job, I was "technically" over everyone of the line workers in the company, but I didn't have any direct contact with them on most days. I would pass them in the halls and in the parking lot and I would see that fading gleam of hope for better days in their eyes. They wanted help. They wanted relief. They wanted leadership and guidance. 

The change

It was in my comfortable, climate controlled office within the "ivory tower" that I remembered my "why." I remembered why I was doing what I was doing. I remembered my motivations and I remembered who I was there to help. I also realized, by being behind the curtain and seeing the "great and powerful OZ", so to speak, that the vast majority of guys and gals in the "ivory tower" were working diligently to improve the conditions of the workplace, but their work efforts simply couldn't be seen due to the nature of what it was. Don't get me wrong, there were (and still are) some that are only there to earn a fat paycheck on the efforts of the laborers, but that can't be helped, no matter what company, business or organization that you work for. There will always be those narcissistic, egotistical sycophants that boss everyone around without due regard for what is best for the worker or the company. But, just as there is dark, there is light, and it's the ones that do care, that do want what's best for the employees, the company and the customers that are the lights by which you should be guided. 

That's when things started to change for me and for the guys and gals that I interacted with. It was in that epiphany, where I was able to start making positive changes in the company, and in my career, which also led to my personal happiness and job satisfaction. Now, I don't want you to think I did all this myself. I had a LOT of help from some really great supervisors and friends. Great leadership promotes great leaders and, while I've had some real shit-bomb supervisors, I've had some really exceptional leaders who helped me, guided me and led me by their examples. 

My why

My why became clear. I wanted to make my "company" great. I wanted to do it, not for the big bosses (even though they would benefit from it), I wanted to do it for the men and women who are out there, everyday, doing the hard job. I wanted to do it for our "customers", who pay for our services and keep us employed. I wanted to do it, because my "company" has been in business for over 120 years and I don't want to see it fail under my watch because I didn't do my part. When you work somewhere for over 20 years, you naturally get complacent in your job, your attitude and sometimes, your work product. I didn't want to be that guy

I can only guess, that by me finding my "why" again, showing it in my daily work product and my overall attitude, got noticed by the big bosses, because I finally got the promotion that I had been after for over a decade. With that promotion, I was able to get back to being a square peg in a square hole. I moved out of that big comfy office and got back to the men and women that I had been working for all those years. It was amazing. Was. 

Enter, the lifesuckers

Oh yes. The lifesuckers. You know them, they are the ones that see happiness, joy and positivity and they are drawn to it- not to bathe in the warmth of it, not to embrace the light of it, no, no... they are drawn to it to quash it. They want to destroy it. They fear it and therefore, they must kill it. They can't help it, it's in their nature to do so, because they know they are inferior. They know they are hiding their insecurities in their darkness. They know they aren't fit to lead and that, in the presence of happiness, their shortcomings could be revealed. So they do what they do- they suck the life out of every  smile, every laugh, every good day. They use (and abuse) their authority and their positions in the company to cause discontent among the workers. You know the ones... the people that believe in the mantra of "the beatings will continue until morale improves." 

The lifesuckers started getting to me. They have come at me with their constant barrage of attacks. They have shortchanged me, cut my legs out from under me and have burdened me with more and more, trying to break me. And they almost did.

My "why" reminder

Yesterday though... after a solid week of contemplating what in the actual hell I was putting up with all these attacks for, I was reminded of my "why", once again. I saw a group of new employees. Their smiling faces, celebrating their accomplishments with joy in their hearts and excitement and anticipation on their minds, reminded me of my "why" once again. I was reminded that they are a big part of the reason that I'm back where I am. I was reminded of my employees that look to me for guidance, leadership, positivity and strength. I was reminded that I am the one that is there to protect them from the lifesuckers, the joy stealers and the shitty leaders that seek to keep them down, instead of building them up. I was reminded of the friends and confidants that have helped me, and that continue to help me on a daily basis. 

Remember your why

I'll wrap up with this- remember your why and don't let those lifesuckers tear your down. Remember why you are doing what your doing and who you are doing it for. Remember that, no matter how high up the "ladder" you get, you got there with the help and dedication of those under you. Remember that there are three types of people above you- those few that are trying to pull you up, those that don't really care if you stay where you are and those other, nefarious bastards, that want to hold you down and keep you where you are because they are afraid that you'll expose their shortcomings and possibly take their jobs. Be positive. Be the light that guides others who might be stuck in the dark. Lead them out of the dark and push them forward into the light. Teach them how to do your job and encourage them to advance. Most of all- let them be happy and let yourself be happy. 

Stay positive and ride safe, MotoReaders.