FORTY YEARS AGO THIS MONTH, with a B.A. degree clutched in my hot, sweaty hands, I landed my first post-college job. By a quirk of fate it was with a little company in the powersports business, and the job responsibilities had very little to do with what I’d studied at university. In my mind, it was to be a temporary job that would allow me to build funds to continue my study of Mandarin in either Taiwan or Hong Kong, the closest you could get to mainland China at the time.
Obviously, that didn’t happen.
The age of the average dealer principal is around 45, so from your standpoint, 40 years is a long time. From mine, it just seems like yesterday — only the face in the mirror tells me differently.
In 1972, there were around 150 OEMs that exhibited at the annual snowmobile industry trade show in Toronto. I don’t know how many motorcycle OEs there were, but the Big Four were in existence, along with Harley-Davidson, a large number of European brands and a lesser number of British makes.
ATVs didn’t exist as a market, though Honda had introduced its ATC90 a few years earlier, and some small companies like Rupp were making similar products. Bombardier had unsuccessfully introduced its first personal watercraft sometime in the late ‘60s and it wasn’t a commercial success. Kawasaki was a year away from introducing the JetSki.
The motorcycle industry was selling around 800,000 units a year, many of which were enduro or dual purpose two-strokes. The snowmobile industry had peaked in 1970 at around a million units, and was into a decline from which it would never totally recover. ATCs were kind of a secret; unknown to its competitors Honda was selling a fair number of them, but because most of the use was on private property, the market was unaware of Honda’s success. All snowmobiles and most motorcycles were powered by two-stroke engines, except for those made by Harley-Davidson, Honda, BMW, Triumph and Norton.
Technologically, we were beginning to see significant changes. In 1969 Honda introduced the CB750 with its cross-frame, in-line four, four-stroke engine, electric start and disc brakes. This bike would shape future product for years to come.
Outside of a helmet and a leather jacket, most items were bought at your local department store and offered little, if any, protection against road rash, cold, or rain.
There was the iconic Barbour jacket, though you didn’t see too many of those on the road. Bell introduced its full-coverage helmet in 1968, and things were progressing nicely by ’72, but venting and graphics were not yet high on helmet manufacturers’ lists.