Sow 2day, Reap 2morrow

cedarvalleyct
6 min readOct 1, 2020

Mood: “Bendiciones” by Bad Bunny

Anyone else think BMW Motorrad before BMW Automobiles?

In 1995, my peach fuzz was aspirational and James Bond rode a BMW R 1200 C. Nine years later, my goatee mirrored the afro and Ewan and Charley took the “Long Way Round.” To whomever was Marketing Director for BMW, my apologies. Neither of the aforementioned flirtations sparked my two-wheeled Bavarian affair. That would be in 1997, when a silver and pristine BMW R 1100 RT purred to a stop in front of my Mom’s townhouse. The rider dismounted, gave the bike that lustful look over his shoulder, flipped open his modular helmet…and he was Black.

Wait, what?

As an impressionable pubescent male (redundant?), Der Roundel imprinted on the spot. “Get ’em while they’re young” is the (cringe-worthy) marketing cliché, but clichés are often grounded in truth. I’ve since purchased a flock of Bavaria’s finest. Would the outcome be different if my Mom’s friend rolled up on a Harley…or a Kawasaki…or a Moto Guzzi? How many young Black folks happen across their moto-paths simply because they connect with a motorcyclist with whom they can identify? Until I adjusted the mirrors on my pre-owned 2006 R 1200 GS, Mr. RT was the only Black man I’d seen on a BMW motorcycle. Even today, it’s a pleasant surprise to connect with any BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) motorcyclist, let alone one astride a European marque. For me and other BIPOC, or any consumer, a positive, personal association backed by an excellent product can cement a life-long relationship with the brand.

There’s a flip side to that coin.

When I think the Ford Explorer, my mind takes me to three places:

  1. Jurassic Park, the ornery T-Rex, and a traumatized, but always adorable, Lex and Tim.
  2. One college night on UPenn’s campus when five sartorially-pastel frat boys drove-by bellowing the n-word and trumpeting monkey noises.
  3. A certain Ford dealer in Georgia who refused to engage me on the showroom floor.

Jurassic Park, in which we saw poor little 10-year old Timmy electrocuted to death, is a work of fiction. Back in the day, my Mom took me and one of my best pals to see Spielberg’s masterpiece at the Uptown theatre on Connecticut Ave. in Washington D.C. My buddy Dan from Georgetown Day School kept having to “use the restroom” during the scary parts. Sure, Dan. I remember thinking how awesome the Explorer was for having protected Tim during the T-Rex’s uncaged wrath and subsequent cliff dive into the tree. At the age of nine, I was sold on my first vehicle. I collected brochures, clipped ads from Car & Driver, and stuck posters on my wall. The Eddie Bauer edition was THE one. Only, I never bought an Explorer.

Ford had me, so what went wrong? Enter associations two and three.

While number two was undoubtedly scarring, Ford bears no responsibility for frat-boy idiocy. But, the seed was planted. My less-than-cordial dealership experience sealed the (no) deal. Perhaps the salespeople were having a bad day? Perhaps they were poorly trained? Who knows, but as a Black man, such occurrences happen too often not to question motives. Rightly or wrongly, my mind connected my dealership experience with the racist bile spewed towards me on my college campus. We’ll call that one an own goal. In a move inspired by what my Mom used to refer to as my “Scorpio Stubbornness,” I’ve avoided Ford vehicles in the subsequent decade-plus.

With regard to winning the business of the Black community (learn about Black v. African-American here), forget own goals; the motorcycle industry seems intent to not take the pitch. If the strategy is no strategy, folks will stumble across your product by chance or on other people’s terms, regardless of what color they may be, if they happen across your product at all.

How can you sell to any demographic if you pay them no mind? How can any demographic buy your product if they don’t know you exist?

Setting aside the movement’s very real humanitarian grievances, Black Lives Matter economically (FWIW, the eponymous organization is not the same as the simple truth that Black Lives Matter). Twenty-plus years after my mother’s friend impressed, the Black community’s now-almost $2 trillion dollars of buying power remains woefully under-tapped. We all know the industry needs to wean itself off of the Baby Boomer teat (no disrespect to my fine-wine riders!). As the world shifts its priorities, demographics, and tolerances, the industry must meet these changing times with novel approaches paying both short- and long-term dividends. If the motorcycle industry does not wish to capitalize, other players will continue carving out their share, whether it be Polaris and the Slingshot, Dodge and their democratization of power, or Nike being Nike. Bluntly:

  • We must do more than chum the proverbial water with a one-off motorcycle loan to a black celebrity or influencer.
  • It is not enough to sprinkle some pepper in the sea of salt-filled marketing materials.
  • It is not enough to post a black square.

Eighty percent of success is showing up, said a once-famous, now-shamed film director. If the industry demonstrates a genuine care or interest, Black folks will respond. As such, I’ve summarized three alliances (some reasons why corporate philanthropy is a good thing) that could make news, expand the market of current and future riders, and lay down markers that pay generational dividends. If there’s support for Ewan & Charley, surely there’s a few pennies for some folks who may go on to buy a motorcycle, rather than receive a gifted one.

#Streets2Soil

Alliance: Monster Energy, Motorcycle Safety Foundation, B-360 Baltimore

Vision: To champion motorcycle safety and recruit talented city riders to the dirt, Monster and the MSF team up with B-360 Baltimore, a non-profit organization that “…utilizes dirt bike culture to end the cycle of poverty, disrupt the prison pipeline, and build bridges in communities.” By expanding B-360’s footprint, Monster and the MSF would elevate and amplify a previously undeveloped market of dirt-loving riders. While few become James Stewart or Eli Tomac, how many would go on to purchase a Honda or a Kawasaki? How many would fall in love with STEM, pursue engineering, and become crucial to the development and progression of the industry at-large? How much goodwill, press, and word-of-mouth could be created? One thing is for certain — the families and communities in which these programs reside would see long-lasting, positive impact.

MotoMech 101

Alliance: Atlanta Public Schools (APS), Georgia Statewide Afterschool Network (GSAN), Triumph Motorcycles America (TMA)

Vision: Each year, APS and TMA select n talented high schoolers and/or GED-pursuers with a demonstrated interest in the nuts and bolts of motorcycling. TMA can enter Atlanta’s cultural lexicon and receive positive press and enliven engagement from a city nicknamed the “Black Mecca.” Where Atlanta goes, so goes the Black community. Additionally, while the average ATLien can name Delta, CNN, and Coca-Cola, how many can identify Triumph as a member of those global brands with a headquarters in Atlanta? With MotoMech, TMA can begin sprouting roots in “da A” and spark locally-grown, nationally-impactful movement.

Ride With US

Alliance: (107) HBCUs + All Motorcycle Manufacturers with U.S. Headquarters

Vision: To recruit skilled college students and grab the attention of a demographic with 50 years of spending ahead of them, Big Motorcycle can partner with Historically Black Colleges and Universities to start the Ride With US moto-internship program (for an existing, well-executed example, please refer to Seizing Every Opportunity). Every company needs the best possible talent to sustain and grow itself. A pipeline of hungry, academically-excellent HBCU students and graduates will undoubtedly bolster the industry and provide a new perspective into our demographic.

The above are only three examples of what can be accomplished with a bit of vision and investment. Yes, COVID-19 will foreseeably remain entrenched. Yes, money is tight. No, results won’t happen overnight. But sow today and harvest plenty tomorrow. If we want this motorcycle thing to sustain itself in the years that come, we need fresh blood. To borrow from my guy Wesley Snipes, I suggest a bet on Black.

My time in the motorcycle industry is at a crossroads. My love for all-things moto endures. Should follow-up be requested, I will happily avail myself.

Yours in two-wheeled solidarity,

Lance Edward Jones

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