Opinion: The riding fraternity

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MotoStays was a great idea for a business, kind of like an Airbnb for motorcyclists, but its founders wrapped it up last week, as we reported here. “Unfortunately, the business models we were trying to leverage for a sharing economy approach were not sustainable,” they explained in a FaceBook post. “The costs and effort to run the site and grow the community were simply too great for us to continue.”

I know what those challenges are like – it was only a couple of years ago that we were dealing with them ourselves at CMG. I called up Tad Haas, who founded the website in 2014 with his partner Gaila Gutierrez from their Seattle-area home, to ask what went right and wrong.

He and Gaila got the idea for MotoStays after quitting their jobs and taking 14 months to ride 65,000 kilometres through 10 different countries. They’d meet strangers who would invite them to stay at their homes, and their travels were far richer experiences for having local residents explain the cultures and traditions of the area. MotoStays would match a hospitable motorcyclist who could offer assistance or accommodation to other motorcyclists on the road, perhaps far from home. If you were looking for places to stay, you’d pay a $39/year membership. If you were offering assistance, there was no charge.

Gaila and Tad at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, just before Coming home to establish MotoStays.

Tad wouldn’t get into specifics because he’s still hoping to sell the business, but he did say that MotoStays had “thousands of participants, all over the globe.” There are costs for maintaining a website, though, and the membership fees just weren’t enough to cover all the work. They started selling advertising, but that only created even more work: they’d spend far more than the 10 or 20 hours a week on the site than they’d expected.

One of the final straws, however, was the constant barrage of spam that needed to be cleared out from the public areas of the site. I sympathized – we have the same problem sometimes with the CMG Forum, despite having smart tecchies to protect it. Tad and Gaila and their adult son Elliot were spending far too much time battling bots and the like, and they all have regular, high-tech jobs that they need to pay the bills. Even so, they found the experience rewarding.

“Motorcyclists as a community are a good bunch,” said Tad. “They care about each other, and they’ll do anything to help like-minded people. There is something about the kindred spirits and the way motorcyclists look at life – particularly travelling motorcyclists.”

He’s right, of course, but there’s also a weird, inverse kind of prejudice among motorcyclists, where some Harley riders don’t talk to riders of other brands or even acknowledge their existence. And it goes both ways, where brands and genres take precedent over common issues. I’ll wave at other riders on the road, but when we meet at a gas station, chances are we’ll ignore each other completely. Did MotoStays ever run into such prejudice?

Never, said Tad. “Our target audience was the BMW rider, the Gold Wing rider, the KTM rider who was travelling around the world. We didn’t get the typical Harley rider who would ride 50 miles to the bar and back, although we had plenty of great Harley customers.” He and Gaila, who both ride BMWs, once stayed with a couple of Harley owners in Toronto, and in turn, their new Toronto friends stayed with them in Washington.

“The difference is a local rider versus a traveler. If you’re travelling on a motorcycle, you are fully exposed. You have your life on your bike. People see that you are open to them.”

And in Colorado around the same time. No fancy hotels for these guys!

This can sometimes be an issue in itself, but generally, it’s this openness that helps create a common bond among riders. As CMG contributor Liz Jansen, a regular user of MotoStays, once explained, “You’re open, you’re vulnerable. You’re part of everything around you. You don’t get that in a car. You get the smells, the air changes, the temperature changes, all of that – that’s who we are. When you’re in a car, do people come up to you when you park and tell you their stories? You’re so approachable and they want to tell you goodness knows what, but they’re always warm and they’re welcoming.”

That’s what MotoStays tried to offer, but in the end, not enough riders were prepared to pay for it. Such a shame.

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