It can be argued that we currently live in a wasteful culture. Demonised for buying more than using and replacing more than fixing this is contrast to the pervious generations. Commended for more readily fixing objects than replacing them, completing household repairs themselves, naturally recycling items and mindful of how their actions can impact the larger community the previous generations are considered to be less wasteful. ‘Doing more with less’ to sum it up. But why is it that the previous generations are like this and why aren’t we?
Historically speaking the rate of change for the human race is moving at the speed of light opposed to the glacial speed it once did. Mechanically, digitally and technologically we have been (literally and figuratively) on a rocket ship for over 100 years.
An example comes from war. The Napoleonic Wars raged between 1803 – 1815 or there about. A lot of fighting was done at sea and therefore a vessel that could act as floating weapon was imperative. Shipbuilding was, and still is, a masterful craft and at that time Napoleon could have had a number of ships built and as long as they were not destroyed used them for many years. Not only to do battle but also to ship trade around the globe. In terms of ‘technology’ the ship would be relevant and not be out gunned for the entire time of the Napoleonic Wars and for the next thirty years after.
Fast forward to World War 1. The largest war effort the world had ever seen. Bubbling up for a number of years but boiling over in a matter of days World War One had begun with Germany marching into Belgium on their way to France. The Belgium’s did not stand idly by and did battle and slaughtered thousands of German soldiers from the advantageous position of reinforced forts. Built around 1880-1890 these forts were guaranteed to withstand blasts from the most forceful canyons at that time. And they were very effective in that regard. However a mere 15 years later weaponry progressed; significantly. The artillery the Germans had bought with them had firepower, range and technology that even the gunners themselves could not believe. The forts were swiftly dismissed and the Germans progressed.
These advances could also be seen in guns, artillery, ships and clothing. With the empathises on the war effort other avenues of technology were not developed on the home front or if they were it was in line with the war effort. Historically The First World War catalysed the need for significant development in technology that has not slowed.
So returning to the original point. We are wasteful culture and the previous culture was not. I have used an extreme example with war but these advances can be seen in all manner of objects throughout the last one hundred years.
This can be seen in car manufacturing, bicycle manufacturing as well as motorcycles. But I will focus on Motorcycles.
Manufacturers’ cant churn out motorcycles quickly enough to keep up with the developing technology. During 1992 and 2012 it felt as though journalists spoke every three months about ‘the next great Superbike’. Looking back these rapid changes in technology and increasing horsepower lead to a buying power of the public for Supersports and Superbike motorcycles that was unprecedented.
Now the gears have shifted. The buying public has split and their wants and desires. Some still want horsepower and speed however there are other concerns to think of. What tech is on-board? What styling does it have? Can it go off road or around the world? Despite this split motorcycles are still out dated by the time they are on the showroom floor.
The brand new Honda Fireblade has just been announced. It appears lovely. But beyond that if you look closely it has nothing on it that the Ducati Panigale from 2012 doesn’t have. Though advances have been made in refinements it was possible to buy a motorcycle with a quick shifter, traction control, semi active suspension and rider modes in 2012 if not before. Keep in mind that Semi-active suspension was first used in the 1980’s by the Lotus F1 team.
In addition even ‘newer’ technologies come deep from the past. IMU’s (Inertial Measurement Units) has been in planes since the 1940’s, ABS has been on motorcycles for over 30 years however this year (2017) will be the first year you cannot buy a new bike over 125cc without ABS as standard.
This rapid development of technology therefore leads to a buying culture just to keep up. With the flagship brands you can change your bike every two years and always find a significant change. Different companies have different agendas and a different status to uphold and therefore these ideas/ brand identity influences their decision-making. Two examples can be Harley Davidson and Ducati.
You can fight over the intricacies of each model but for the most part buying a Harley Davidson in 1997, 2007 and 2017 is a very different experience of buying a Ducati in 1997, 2007 and 2017. Ducati pride themselves on a very different product to that of Harley. Harley does not drip their motorcycles with Gucci parts, exotic materials or latest tech. They build in house and consistent motorcycles that people love. Therefore Harleys could be described as timeless whereas Ducatis could be described as flourishes.
You can pick a Ducati of any era and know that it represents the pinnacle of motorcycles excellence at that point in time whereas Harley’s don’t. Harley’s lack of development in speed, corning, fuel efficiency etc may mean that people are less inclined to but the new model every three years. In contrast Ducati customers may want to update their motorcycle more often.
Ultimately all of these companies are guided by their customers wants. In the past machines of all sorts would have been developed for a need. Motorcycles needed to go faster be more reliable and safer (think pre 1960’s motorcycles). But we are at the precept, we are getting diminishing returns for our efforts and our pounds and pence. You can buy any motorcycle from a reputable brand and for better or worst it will be everything that you need. But when companies are designing and building products for peoples desirers or a ‘gap in the market’ instead of building something that has to protect the British Empire (for example) it will be easier to discard in twenty four months.