As the snow hits the ground and forces me into more desk-time than usual (the GSX650F is a fine bike, but it is no snow bunny!), I find the time to ruminate on some of the major news in the world of biking to hit us recently.
First, the sad: George White has ceased trading. This is no tin-pot, backroad bike shop we're talking about, this was a major dealership with branches in London, Bristol, Slough, Oxford, Plymouth, Swindon and Torbay and an annual turnover of £25 million.
Administrators Deloitte were appointed to organise the orderly shut-down of the company - which had been trading since 1961. The reason for their appointment? "There are no funds currently available to be able to continue to trade the business. Unfortunately, there was no other option but to make 61 employees redundant." The remaining nine employees have been retained to assist in completing outstanding customer orders.
So how do dealers survive? George White was a business that had fingers in a number of pies; they sold bikes, they did servicing, they sold clothing and other bike kit. In the good times, this means a range of revenue streams. But in the bad times, do you look to prop up non-earning lines with better paying ones? The company I use for my bike servicing (E1 Motorcycles) used to sell bikes, do servicing and sell kit in their former guise. But when the previous owner decided to call it a day, they moved into their new incarnation as a mechanics only. The reason? Running an area for the clothing range takes a lot of space and a specialist salesperson. Likewise, selling bikes needs expertise that costs.
I really don't know what business model to adopt; choose the wrong one and you're gone - George White shows that. But maybe narrowing your range and hanging on in there is the way to go? I hope all dealers take a look, see what they can do to survive and hang on until the good times hopefully roll back in.
Next, the bewildering. The aim of the European Union is to introduce common aims and legislation, is it not? And a common bleat of the same European Union is the comparatively high rate of accidents involving motorcyclists. So why, when the chance comes to bring in some legislation that would actively save the lives of said motorcyclists, do the EU impersonate a sing-along at a folk festival and mumble into their handbags?
What am I on about? The EU has a chance to bring in market-wide legislation forcing member states to adopt a standard for crash barriers that are biker-safe (no 'cheese-cutter' wires, no concrete walls for us to bounce off etc). But they effectively chicken out, instead adopting a 'technical specification (TS) for "motorcycle road restraint systems which reduce the impact severity of motorcyclist collisions'. Technical specifications are non-binding, so member states can choose to ignore and adopt less effective standards.
MEPs are starting to speak out against this limp-wristedness. Dutch MEP Corien Wortmann-Kool along with compatriot Wim van de Camp and Spanish MEP Inés Ayala Sender have thrown their support behind a EU standard being imposed. Wortmann-Kool said "The Commission urgently needs to take prompt action and promote a European standard for guardreails which are safe also for motorcyclists. Every life counts!" She was supported by van de Camp, who added "I am a motorcyclist myself and I feel very uncomfortable in bends protected by guardrails smiling at me like a shark. We need a European standard for guardrails which takes the safety of motorcyclists into account."
Lets hope their voices are heard. While the EU dithers, lives are lost.
But it isn't all bad news. BMW has announced it delivered more motorcycles in 2011 than any year in it's 90 year history.
104,286 motorcycles were delivered; 6.4% up on 2010 - a market share of 12% in the 'above 500cc' sector. The previous record of 102,467 was set in 2007.
Well done to the German manufacturer. Everyone needs to look at what they're doing (range transformed and modernised, putting themselves into race series at the time other people drop out and so getting in front of people's faces) and see what lessons they can learn.
Finally for this article, the Motobke.co.uk paid their annual visit to the MCN London Motorcycle Show. Thankfully we got there and back before the white stuff came down (snow that is), to see what people are looking to buy this year... or "what is going to be a bargain buy in six months time when the shiny new bike doesn't meet with imagined expectations."
So what is going to fit the bill in 2012? Read the full review to find out.]
Ending on a down note, sadly, the atmosphere at this year's show was flat. Normally there is a buzz about the place, but it all seemed a bit "plonk bum in a saddle or two, buy a cheap pair of gloves and go home". But there were people showing genuine "I might well buy one" interest in bikes, and the clothing stands were doing a good trade. So hopefully things are not all bad. Let's hope so.