Guilding the Dandelion
by Thomas Day
Just by purchasing a couple of bike parts on-line, you can find yourself on some seriously weird mailing lists. No, I don’t mean sex toys and videos, although with luck you might get some of that stuff, too. I mean weird motorcycle stuff.
For instance, this week I received a catalog from Storz Performance. The catalog’s cover should have told me enough to store the catalog in my circular file cabinet, but I’m slow. The cover was decorated with a picture of a dude struggling to turn a Sportster and look fast in the process. Most likely, the photographer had to slow his shutter to night photography speeds to get the Harley to blur. Since the cover told me I’d received a free $5 catalog, (a seriously confusing concept), I decided to see if Storz made anything I couldn’t live without.
The first 21 pages of the catalog are devoted to performance suspension parts for Harleys; and shiny accessories for those parts. That’s interrupted with four pages of steering dampers for sport bikes and followed by a lot more Harley performance and racing parts. No kidding. Harley racing accessories. Harley and “racing” combine into a phrase that’s as oxymoronic as “military intelligence” or “jumbo shrimp.”
Stortz has positioned itself in the kind of market that engineers dream about, though. Storz charges as much as $2,945 for a dual caliper, inverted fork kit and $759 for rear suspension shocks. And I’m sure it’s worth every penny, if you have a ton of pennies.
Every engineer and machinist worth his weight in cutting oil dreams about being allowed to throw unlimited amounts of money at an easy to accomplish project. There aren’t many products that allow for that kind of dedication, anal retentiveness, or whatever you like to call a fascination with machining and polishing and chrome plating. Outside of building toys for the military, or medicine, very few markets allow for this kind of extravagance. When you find one, you milk it until it caves in from dehydration. I certainly would if I ever found one.
Just finding the niche isn’t enough, though. You either have to be a true believer or learn how to act like one. Most engineers don’t have the “focus” to cater to this sort of customer. It takes a specially humorless kind of person to deal with consumers who desperately want to be believe that “you get what you pay for” and that you should always be willing to pay top dollar for the things you own. At some point in the sales pitch, most of us lose the straight face. Some of us will break down into hysterical, convulsive laughter that can only be terminated by pain or medication. When you’re asking for $5,000 for $100 worth of stuff, you aren’t allowed a smirk, let alone an evil grin or a gut busting, finger-pointing belly laugh.
Personally, I can’t even keep a straight face past the obvious logic of “you get what you pay for.” I mean, how does that phrase help me make a decision? Of course I got what I paid for. If you pay for a cow and you get a duck, you ought to be irritated. I paid for a motorcycle and, son-of-a-gun, that’s what I got. What I want to know is what I got for the extra $10,000, if I’m going to spend extra.
And how the heck would I know if I got anything extra? When it comes to motorcycle performance enhancements, the racetrack is the only real test ground. Dyno bragging rights might be good bench racing fodder, but anyone who can strap a bike to a dyno can fudge the results to make a squid happy. For most bikers, an off-the-shelf bike of any make or style is probably designed beyond our abilities, so a seat-of-the-pants analysis isn’t worth more than an opinion from the pants.
All of this gets us to the sort of “improvement” that most bikers install; stuff that makes the bike louder or stuff that makes it shiny. Noise makers or jewelry. Anyone who can sell you that crap with a straight face is either humorless or one of the world’s great actors (probably posing as a con artist) or slightly (or largely) dumber than his customers. Set me straight here, why do you want to give your money to someone like that?