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The recession hits motorcycling

Here's another sign of the times: "SOLD OUT."

If you go looking for a new motorcycle this summer, you may hear that when you ask about a particular bike that you have hour heart set on. This writer spoke with the inventory manager at Freedom Cycles of Concord, NH, recently; he said that if you can find a particular model at all, you may not have a choice of colors or options. Assuming you can find the one you're after in the first place. He added that dealers are no longer trading bikes -- that is, even if he can locate the one you want at another shop, the other dealer won't send it to your shop. You'll have to go to the other shop or not buy it.

Why? Because the recession has slowed the economy so much that even the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers are cutting way back on production. Honda, for example, used to run their factories seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Now, they're day-shift-only, five days a week. Other manufacturers, like Suzuki, are only sending a small portion of the number of motorcycles dealers ask for. In Freedom Cycles' case, he asked for 38 bikes from Suzuki and got seven.

Other factories have made similar cutbacks. In some cases, it's so bad that some dealers don't even have the full model line to show their customers. You may go to a shop hoping to see a particular model that is in production and find the dealer never got one, so look on line and call before you go shopping. Or look in the classified ads for a used motorcycle.

Mind you, it could be worse, and in some cases, it is.

In 1982, Erik Buell left the Harley Davidson company to set up shop building his own motorcycles to go racing. In 1987, he built his first Harley-Davidson powered bike, the RR1000, nicknamed the "Battle Twin." H-D took notice and bought a minority share in Buell's company in 1993. Five years later, they bought another 49% of Buell and became the majority owner, with Erik Buell as an employee.

From there, Buell motorcycles grew as a maker of high performance, special interest bikes and did well for themselves. Early in 2009, Buell was on the verge of replacing their smallest bike, the "Buell Blast." There were even television commercials of Buell himself putting one in a car crusher and reducing the poor thing to a small cube. The advertisement hinted strongly that there was a new and better replacement on the way.

Then the other shoe dropped.

Harley-Davidson was having problems selling motorcycles and needed to cut expenses. So they abruptly closed the Buell motorcycles division. Erik Buell's next video was not a new model, it was a "Thanks for your loyalty" fare well video in which he apologized to the staff for closing the factory and laying everyone off. He also apologized to his customers -- and potential customers -- for depriving them of the chance to buy a new motorcycle from him. Such are the ways of business in a recession.

So, if you want a new motorcycle, start shopping now. And bring money, lest you miss out on the bike you want.

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