Gadgets > Motorcycles? Have Hells Angels Been Emasculated by the App Store?

Enjoy this great Frederick Seidel article from today's New York Times. I read this as I check my iPhone4S jumping on my little red Vespa. 

Is the Era of the Motorcycle Over?

Danny Lyon/Magnum Photos

Shiny toys: In 1966, crossing the Ohio River in Louisville, Ky.

ARE motorcycles passé? Are they sort of over? I ask as a rider of two-wheel Italian beauties that go very fast, gracefully streamlined subsonic technology from the Ducati factory in Bologna. I own two sport bikes and two racers. I ride racing motorcycles on the street. One of my motorcycles is capable of nearly 200 miles an hour. I write prose about motorcycles. I write poems about motorcycles.

So I ask with some authority. Are motorcycles — even superb and lovely Italian motorcycles from the land of Donatello and Bertolucci — being replaced as love objects, as arm candy, by other more contemporary show-off desirables?

Electronic ones. Mostly made by Apple.

The iPhone 4S, the iPad 2, the 11-inch and 13-inch thin, light MacBook Air computers — these are the sleek gorgeousness young people go on about, have to have, and do have, in the millions. These machines, famous for the svelte dignity of their designs — and of course, far less expensive than a motorcycle — are a lens to see the world through and to do your work on. It’s their operating speeds that thrill. Young people cut a bella figura on their electronic devices.

Now, of course, it is not just the young who buy Apple products. I lay emphasis on the young, particularly young men, because they are the ones who might otherwise be buying motorcycles, and aren’t, at least not at all in the numbers they did before the economic downturn. The great recession was disastrous for motorcycle sales around the country, especially, it seems, for sport bikes, the ones that perform with brio but have no practical point to make. In other words, they are not bikes to tour on, they are not a comfortable way for you and a companion — wife or partner or friend — to travel to work or to a distant campground. You can do it, but it’s not ideal. Young riders were not buying motorcycles of any kind, and especially, it seems, not sport bikes.

Or, to say it another way, it’s as if the recession induced a coma in all the potential new motorcyclists, and in so many of the already experienced motorcyclists, from which they woke changed, changed utterly, and found themselves standing in line outside an Apple store, patiently waiting to buy the latest greatness.

They are buying a slice of what Apple does — and how it does it — and how it looks doing it. They are buying function but, just as important, they are buying glamour. The device enhances the buyer’s sense of self. It helps the person think and at the same time not think. Once, not so long ago, motorcycles did the same thing.

In a few days, at the International Motorcycle Show in Milan, Ducati will introduce a radically new sport bike called the Panigale, after Borgo Panigale, the neighborhood on the outskirts of Bologna where the Ducati factory is. The Ducati people are being secretive about how the Panigale will look and how it will perform. But there have been spy photos of the bike being tested on the Mugello circuit, with the former World Superbike champion Troy Bayliss aboard, and plenty of rumors and speculation about the tech specs.

We know this much. It will make brave hearts beat faster. It will weigh less than its predecessor. It will have a new sort of frame. It will have an ingenious new exhaust system. It will handle. It will be fast. It will be beautiful. How many Ducati followers — the Ducatisti — will have to have one? Some.

Oh, for the days — not so long ago — when a boy’s world would have fallen to its knees before a new Ducati design.

In Dallas, at Advanced Motorsports, his motorcycle dealership, Jeff Nash, a gentleman and one of the great Ducati racebike tuners in America, and a racer himself, deplores the passivity of the young who would rather be home with their iPads playing computer games than astride the red-meat lightning of an 1198 Superbike blazing down a Texas highway making that unmistakable growling deep Ducati sound. Mr. Nash would go further.

Better to be out in the air astride just about any motorcycle alive!

Frederick Seidel is the author of the poetry collections “Ooga-Booga” and, most recently, “Poems, 1959-2009.

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