I had the extreme good fortune to visit Australia this past winter. As an escape from shovels and parkas and frosted windows on the car, Australia can’t be beaten. I also enjoyed the added bonus of a couple of superb rides on my friend’s newly restored BMW R80G/S. But that isn’t what comes to mind when I look back on the riding and the roads and vehicles. Apparently every driving culture has its own image to uphold and the Aussies are no exception.
Now, contrary to popular image, this is an extremely urbanized country as approximately 80% of the population lives in or near major conurbations. The average Aussie does NOT live in the ‘bush’ and wrestle snakes and kangaroos before breakfast — although this is lodged in their collective self image! So what is the urban vehicle of choice for those with image problems? Behold, the Toyota Landcruiser (new) with the very prominent addition of a snorkel to facilitate wading across swollen, crocodile-infested rivers. Yes, there are crocs in Australia, and the rivers do flood during the ‘wet’ — but not in the south, and definitely not in the cities. This is akin to using the family Hummer for carting groceries; the better to withstand the rigors of the urban parking lot and the occasional speed-bump!
It also makes me think of those extreme 4x4s with huge tires and the even bigger winches mounted on the front. Or consider the wimpy 4-cylinder sedan with a so-called air foil mounted on the trunk lid — the most singularly useless cosmetic addition imaginable.
Why do average, otherwise normal folks feel obliged to spend big bucks for accessories that will never see real useage. Going out with the boys to play stuck on Saturday afternoons and have a few beers just doesn’t count. Landcruisers are indeed often the vehicle of choice in out-back Australia, but the true bush vehicle is never pretty: old, dirty, dented and often stripped of any extra metal (sills, cap, doors, box…) These are the modern workhorses of the outback and any resemblance to the urban weapon is purely in the nameplate.
We all seem to suffer from the same malaise. The manufacturers just don’t get it right. So the image/performance junkie must improve on the engineering by the addition of aftermarket accessories to enhance the chosen look.
On the motorcycle front, this can take the form of fat tires, performance chips to enhance the power, aftermarket pipes to enhance the noise, and gobs of chrome — the possibilities are endless. When all is said and done, I wonder if these folks enjoy riding more than those of us who concentrate on quiet reliability and comfort? With the exception of sensible (and often very subtle) and useful modifications to suspension, ergonomics and electrics, I suspect that many of the most expensive ‘performance enhancements’ do more to empty the wallet than anything else. More importantly, unless well executed and engineered, amateur tinkering with the structural integrity and engineered balance of a motorcycle can actually create an unsafe and less roadworthy vehicle. Why risk it?
Food for thought… I like looking at the options available for upgrading my current ride, but I would rather spend the money on fuel and do more riding! — Alison Green