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June QuickThrottle Column

Got Angus back the other day, and a nice weekend coming up so I'm looking forward to getting out for a ride. It's taking some time to get used to the horrific traffic and swarms of Priuses here in Seattle, which makes my June column rather relevant. Still unpacking and getting organized after being in the desert for 5 months, but one of the first tasks was to write my July column, which means it's time to post the June one.

The day this issue comes out, June 1st, is the day I start my drive back to the Pacific Northwest from my winter home in Palm Springs. Once again I’ll be trading in sand and sunshine and palm trees and heat, for cool and moss and green and water. “Green” in more than just the color of the flora and fauna too. Seattle and the entire Northwest take great pleasure and pride in being very “green” from an environmental standpoint, unlike here in the desert where other than wind and solar power, the area seems to ignore environmental trends. After all Seattle is the land of the Prius – or is that Prii, I’m not sure. Have you noticed that you can’t really pluralize the electric vehicles?  Really.  What is the plural of Prius? And if you have several of Nissan’s all electric vehicles, the “Leaf”, do you have “Leaves”?  But I digress.

And if you are thinking I’m joking I’m not – at least about the number of electric and hybrid vehicles in the Northwest. According to a Seattle Times article about Prius ownership, the Department of Licensing estimates that 5% of all vehicles in the PNW, double the national average, are hybrids and most of them are Priuses or however we are going to pluralize the annoying little cars.  The Urban Dictionary defines the Prius as “the most liberal car ever”. As the Times says, “the distinctively styled sedan has become a kind of green status symbol, an example of conspicuous conservation.” And have you noticed that most of the drivers tend to have a bit of a “holier than thou” mindset too as they silently roll along.

But believe it or not, despite the fact that Priussess proliferate to the point they are like swarms of mosquitos, especially in Seattle and Portland, it is NOT the most popular car. Take the number of Priusoids and double it and you’ll have the number of Subaru Foresters (see you can pluralize that one it’s not electric or a hybrid.)  That must make the Subaru the “official” car of the Northwest I suppose, although for some reason those swarms of Priusers seem to stick out more and thus seem more prolific I suppose.

Which got me to thinking.  If the Prius and the Forester are the iconic cars of the Northwest, what is the equivalent in the motorcycle world? Well Harley’s Street Glide is the number one seller in the motorcycle world, followed by the Ultra Classic (i.e. Geezer Glide).  My salesmen buddies at the dealers confirm that, although they say they sell a lot of Sportsters too. When I’m out riding I see more Ultras it seems than anything, but then again I do take longer trips. Walk into a showroom and you’ll see more Street Glides on the floor than anything most of the time because it is Harley’s number one seller. But what bike really is number one in Washington?

I had my friends at the Department of Licensing run some numbers for me as my inquiring mind was trying to figure this all out. I asked them for the make and model breakdown statewide for motorcycles. They can’t do model designations apparently, although looking at my registration it does have model listed.

And to no surprise, the highest number of registered motorcycles in Washington are Harley Davidson’s -- by a rather substantial margin too. According to DOL there are 214,511 motorcycles registered in Washington as of year-end.  Of that, 67,694, over one third of all motorcycles, are Harley-Davidsons. One in three motorcycles on the road in Washington is a Harley. That’s an astounding 23,000 bikes more than the second most popular maker, Honda at 44,886.  That itself is nearly double the number three make, Yamaha with 28,903.

Going further down the list, number four is Suzuki at 22,133, followed by Kawasaki at 20,506, BMW at 9,582, KTM at 4,847, Triumph at 4,740, Ducati at 3,628. Interestingly DOL counts Vespa’s as a motorcycle, as they hold down the number 10 spot.  The remaining manufacturers, such as Buell, Indian, and Victory round out the bottom of the list.

The Times article on Prius/Subaru numbers said that the “outdoorsy Subaru represents Seattle’s free-spirited inner child” while the “earth friendly Prius” is the responsible adult. Using that analogy then would Harley’s Street Glide be the “inner child”?  It does seem to be the most popular bike amongst people in my age bracket who are undergoing midlife crises and take up motorcycling. That’s also why you’ll find plenty of used Street Glides with exceptionally low mileage on them in the pre-owned marketplace once the midlife crisis passes. Does the Geezer errrr, Ultra Classic then represent the “responsible adult”?  The serious biker who goes out touring and enjoying the road?  Maybe so.

Then where does that leave those of us who like our stripped down naked old school bikes with minimal saddle-bags and no fancy cruise control or “infotainment” system? Those of us who tour the world on our Dyna or even a Sportster, who have to stop for gas every 120 miles, who still freeze our buns and hands off on cold mornings without our heated seats and grips, and who says  “I’m not lost, I’m just somewhere I’ve not been before” and grabs a paper map rather than cuss out the GPS.

I guess we would be the rebel child then. Not the “free spirited” one, not the “responsible adult”, but the one who doesn’t give a rats ass and rides for the sheer unmitigated joy of flying over the road with a motor between our legs and the roar of the exhaust in our ears. But hey, does it really matter in the end. We are all riders, and we all enjoy the feeling of freedom that comes only on a bike, be it a Harley or a BMW -- I’m not sure about a Vespa though, and certainly no one ever claims to drive a Prius for the joy of being on the road.  And even more important, unlike the Prius, you can pluralize whatever you ride easily.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

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