Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The once defective Honda Rider's Club of America

Did you know that Honda Motorcycles has a club for its riders?

I was a charter member, one of the first year members of the Honda Rider's Club of America
I also received their Red Rider Magazine.

I really liked the idea of the HRCA. They had a web site, I got their magazine for that first year. Until I realized they really weren't for me and didn't seem to want to be. All because I had a classic Honda and it would seem, they only want people who buy new Hondas. Which makes no sense. They built and have brand loyalty and then they slap us in the face because our bike isn't new?

Someone needed to get a smack in the head, if you would have asked me.

I've owned three Hondas in my riding career. My first in 1980 was a Honda 400. Dependable is the word that comes to mind when I think about that bike and that year it got me through my first year of college, through all types of weather. I rode it every day of the year, through some very nasty kinds of winter weather, through ice and snow, slush and freezing rain, and all with no safety gear, no helmet, missing one rear view mirror, bald tires and yes, I was scared. I had just gotten out of the US Air Force in 1979. I tried to get jobs but nothing worked so I started college in 1980. I started with a friend, John, to whom I owe a lot for that first month.

We began together, I was a Psych Major, he was an Art Major. After two weeks, he got angry and quit. But he kept driving me every day. I felt bad that he had to get up early when he usually slept in and drove me all that distance and picked me up. I wasn't even paying him for gas at first because I had planned on going on his going, kicking in gas money when I could. I was living in my brother's shed where I fixed up a loft with a wood burning stove. Times were lean.

After I separated from the service, after years of supervising men and working on life saving equipment, being responsible for millions of dollars of equipment and people's lives, I couldn't get a job at McDonald's. What good was it to be the best parachute rigger on an air base, or have had a secret security clearance or having been cleared for nuclear weapons? There simply were no jobs for that kind of thing. So, college it was.

I felt more guilty every day John drove me from my brother Jon's house, and then brought be back in the afternoon. One day I found a bike at a friend's house, sitting in tall grass in his backyard and he was only too happy to sell it to me for more than it was worth in the condition it was in, $400, a dollar a CC. I rebuilt the engine three times, I bought a manual and took the engine out, took it apart and incorrectly put it back together. Finally it was right. And I hooked up the electrical backward and melted the electrical system. $350 later, a shop had fixed it and I had a working bike.

I had adventures on that bike, I can remember riding through extremely bad weather; various girls; police ("You're gonna die on that bike son, get some safety equipment."); but they let me go when I told them I had lost everything, was out of the service and doing anything I can to better my life. My helmet was a "bunny" hat the Air Force gave me, a soft nylon helmet of a kind that could fit under a hard helmet almost but no protection to banging your head along the ground at 50 MPH.

I eventually traded the bike straight across to a guy for his 65 beater multi primer colored Chevy Impala with no back seat but plywood boards and shag carpet and a leaky back window. It was hard owning that car as I had some nice cars between my first 67 Impala at 17 in High School. It was like going backwards in time, things weren't getting better but worse. But college was a blast and a lot of hard work and worth it in the end.

My second was a 1980 CB750 Custom that I bought for $900 with my wife at the time. Then I remarried but in between I remember going on a trip to Portland, Oregon to reclaim my estranged wife (a lost cause that was), then taking girlfriends riding on it and adventures with them, trips to Vancouver, BC, Canada to see my girlfriend who was an International Law Attorney (yes, she was crazy), and taking a trip specifically to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Good times. I sold it on it's last legs, with a sticking valve for less than a dollar a CC at $500 and gave the guy my Shoei helmets like an idiot.

Oddly enough my current is a 1980 CB900 Custom which I just stumbled into by accident and got for $600 (score! But he was being nice as it was a new ex wife's brother in law and I always got along with him and her sister). The 900 is amazing and fun and has two transmissions totaling ten gears. Great gas mileage. It was the fastest bike released that year and rides smooth and easy. It is a standard seated position and I would really prefer a cruiser, but not a cafe racer style where you are lying on your face all the time. Although I haven't ridden one of those, they look like a blast (crotch rocket as they call them) but I wouldn't want to be on one for five hours. Still, I got this bike because it's owner had bought a crotch rocket, so I have no complaints.

So, I've owned a few Hondas, just fell into them really but have been happy with them. When I started college and lived at my brother's, he had a Harley as did his friends. I parked in the front yard one day and sat down inside. They all got upity and made me move it into the back yard, no "Rice Burners" around their American made bikes, for them, how could I embarrass them like that? Okay, whatever, so I moved it. Then I came home one day and said, "where's the Sportster?" And he said, "In the shop." My Hondas almost never break down; but, to be fair, that was back during the time that AMC owned Harley and ran it into the ground.

Back then I knew someone who was so dissatisfied with his Harley, that he finally paid someone to run his bike off a cliff so he could collect the insurance money and buy something better. But after a few weeks, the cops showed up to tell him they found his bike at the bottom of a cliff, so he got his bike back and all the worse for the wear.

But honestly, I'd like a Harley now, after a life time of not wanting one. Go figure.

Still, I've been a Honda rider since 1980. I almost bought a Norton 800 before I got out of the service and almost another bike that I don't remember the make or model that same year. But what I've owned, several times, were Hondas.

So I was pretty sad when I realized that although I was almost a life long Honda owner, HRCA wasn't for me. I read their magazine that first year, but eventually I lost interest because it was always about dirt bikers or off road, ATVs or something I could really care less about.

Not to mention, nothing about classic bike owners. No help, no suggestions, no articles, basically a feeling: "Buy a new bike." Too commercial. The web site has a cool area where you can acquire a manual online for your bike, just not for a classic bike, no help there at all, none whatsoever. It's like an obvious message saying we don't love you, you don't exist, until you buy a new bike. Show us your money! One might hope that in these hard times, they would revamp that in the hopes of gaining some customers, even if they are the scummy classic bike owner.

So I quit. I have the good thoughts of having joined their first year, happy to support them, be a part of them, until I realized, I wasn't a part of them and they really didn't want a part of me. I figured, if they can't respect me for my respecting their product all these years, then to Hell with them.

I haven't been on the HRCA web site since 2008. I logged on there back then hoping that maybe it had gotten better, but no.

Then because of this article I re signed on to their website. I got this:

"Hello, your HRCA membership has expired and we have discontinued this program. However, you may continue to enjoy access to the HRCA Clubhouse free of charge by updating your account information. Please verify and complete your information below."

It was an easy process to log back in, restart a free membership to the site. It said it would send a verification email but that didn't work correctly. Still I figured my way around it by re-verifying my email and continuing into the site. THEN I received the verification email, it just took a while. Anyway, I have a free membership now. And now, I want to see if they have rectified the issues I've gone on about, above.

Well, it seems they have indeed changed their minds, maybe because of the global economy as I indicated. But whatever the reason, they had a section about online maintenance information with a note that although the information was lacking they would soon be adding to it. There is now an area to put in your maintenance records. This is on the separate site, but that's fine.

So, maybe I'm not feeling so unwanted now after all. It's nice to feel like a part of the family. I had thought that all they needed to do was build a site for the classic owners if they wanted to segregate them from us. I didn't care. I just wanted some help, at least a minimal degree as the newer bike owners were getting. After all, brand loyalty is all about older product owners making new purchases. Isn't it?

I've run into this classic bike owner bias and prejudice from local shops too. We have a bike shop only a mile from me, but after I got my 1980, I took it in and was told that they had only recently stopped working on bikes older than 25 years old. I finally and recently found a full Honda shop up north who are happy to work on my bike and in the few times I've dropped in they have looked my bike over and talked with me about it, given me advice and once even filled up my drive shaft oil, all for no charge. I'm definitely taking my bike there beginning of next riding season to get it all in shape and spruced up.

Well, I do see more articles on the web site about classic bikes. I noticed today that I had previously put my "new" bike in back in 2008 on the Owner's Site. But it says 1981, and it's a 1980. So I tried putting in the VIN and it didn't recognize it, saying that rather than my eleven digit VIN it should be 15-17 digits. Then I tried to do it without the VIN and I realized why I had said it was a 1981. That is as far back as it goes in the drop down menu. So, there we are.

Another complaint about their site is that I see no where that you can email or contact them about any concerns you may have.

Another is in being an original member. I have a six digit member number and I'd like to keep that rather than a more current nine digit number. I saw a FAQ on their site that says you can use your six digit number by simply inputting it when requested when you first sign up. It says:

Q: I have a six-digit member number that I would like to keep. How do I register that number in the new Clubhouse? 

If you would like to use your original member number, you may enter it where prompted during the JOIN process. Just look for the image of the member card on the registration page and enter your member number.

Well, I would like to keep my original number. You also have to input your zip code, but my zip now is a number of times removed from my original zip and I have no idea what it was back then. So sadly, that not only didn't work for me, it didn't even tell me why, it simply acted like I didn't click to proceed. But that is a web programming issue, and not a Honda issue, per se. It could be that you have to have an active membership with the original number which I would understand, except that they sucked and I let my membership lapse and now that they have seemingly addressed some of my complaints all these years later, it would be nice if I could reclaim my old number.

In the end yes, I would like to be a member of HRCA. People who own other than newer bikes have them either because they have any bike they could get, probably as cheaply as possible; or, they are into classic bikes (and maybe classic cars or who knows what other no longer new items, appliances and collectibles). Those into classic collectibles tend to be pretty into them, whereas those who have picked up whatever they can have them for transportation and it's a different mindset.

I would argue, Honda should be trying to support classic owners at least to some point as they tend to have expendable cash. I mean, in college I had whatever bike I could get. Now, I'm very happy with this bike and the prestige it carries. I've been stopped many times on the street side when I was dismounting and someone would walk up and we'd enter into a 15 minute conversation about my bike and how cool they think it is.

So now I may have to reevaluate and give them a chance. Maybe....

No comments:

Post a Comment