#327 Jumping the ADV Shark

Has a very hot segment become too inclusive?

“Jumping the shark.” I can make this reference because we all know how old we are so it shouldn’t be too obscure. It refers back to one of the 1970s-‘80s greatest fictional motorcyclists, the Fonz. Arthur Fonzarelli was a rebel with a heart of gold and perhaps a covetous eye on Mrs. Cunningham in the television series Happy Days. The Fonz rode a Triumph TR500, wore a leather jacket (almost exclusively) and was irresistible to women, which had something to do with being able to snap his fingers and comb his hair—it was a ‘70s version of the Fifties. So beloved was the Fonz that his leather jacket is now in the Smithsonian and the Triumph TR500 that appeared on the program has been through a few sales including one by the famed auction house Bonhams where it garnered a winning bid of $87,000US back in 2011.
Fonzie’s motorcycle is as cool today as it was when it appeared in the show for several reason: it’s a classic, it was supplied to Happy Days by one of the authentic motorcycle icons of the era, Bud Ekins of The Great Escape fame, and it is very similar to the model Marlon Brando rode in The Wild One, the Fonz being a family friendly, sweeter version of the same character. Happy Days was for a time must-see TV on Tuesday nights for 11 years reaching as many as 40 million viewers a week before its popularity waned. With the possible exception of Seinfeld not much stays fresh for long on television (as Orange County Choppers taught us more recently), which brings us back to “jumping the shark.”
Henry Winkler, while playing the epitome of a cool biker, admitted that he could not ride a motorcycle well but he could water ski and during the episode in question the Fonz—to prove that he had what it takes—jumped a shark tank on water skis. In the annals of Hollywood history the term “jumping the shark” has come to represent a point where new ideas have become harder to find or the popularity of something has begun to decline making it time to try something really different.
Now I am not about to say the ADV segment has jumped the proverbial shark and is about to decline in popularity but a recent development has me a little worried—the introduction of a Honda ADV scooter. Last year’s new Africa Twin was the most significant Honda release in a decade and definitely an ADV machine. But is calling a scooter an ADV watering down the genre? Or is there another motive at play here? ADV bikes are primarily purchased by older more affluent riders—those who are old enough to have enjoyed a few episodes of Happy Days in its prime. Those riders—like the rest of us—are going to get older as well. Is the ADV scooter the answer? I hope not, much like the Fonz hoped he wouldn’t miss his mark and land inside the shark tank. There is some scooter precedence at Honda in that the Gold Wing currently has a Silver Wing scooter with an obvious name affiliation. In the case of the new scooter fortunately the name Africa Step-Thru may have already been taken. As we have said, ADV bikes are hot commodities at the moment, larger in renown than they are in segment size. Honda is using this popularity to expand the scooter lineup, which is understandable as many riders enjoy their scooters but muddying the waters with an ADV branded scooter seems to dilute the category. Like the Fonz donning water skis, a floatation belt, his leather jacket and a bathing suit, something just didn’t seem right. Not quite true to the character of the Fonz. And now 40 years after that episode, it is too early to be jumping the ADV shark with a scooter. But I’ll take all that back if someone rides one around the world or jumps one over a shark tank.

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