Although it began in November, the new model introduction season gets into full swing this month. In the next three weeks, we have no less than three bike introductions slated on our publishing calendar. Other intros are also looming on the horizon. Friday, I’ll brave new, longer TSA lines on my way to Mallorca for the 2019 Triumph Speed Twin debut. By mid-week (-ish), you’ll be able to read my thoughts about a bike I’m quite excited to ride. In the two following weeks, Ryan and John will be returning from introductions for… well, let’s not spoil the surprise… to give you their riding impressions.
But this article isn’t one of those “it’s great to be a motojournalist” pieces. Nor is it an attempt to make you understand how tough our jobs can be. Instead, I want to look at why the manufacturers go through the trouble and expense of organizing new model introductions. Yes, I have gotten to travel to some pretty remarkable places in the world, and while that is cool, the focus of the trip is always the motorcycle at hand. In many cases, the time spent at the locale is shockingly short. On one occasion, my time on the ground in London was only a couple of hours longer than my round trip flight time from Los Angeles – and I didn’t even get to ride the bike! I just witnessed the motorcycle unveiling and took part in some lengthy tech sessions on what turned out to be a pretty exciting line of motorcycles, but the actual riding of the bikes was still a couple months away. (I did manage to squeeze in a nice 6-mile run along London’s canals, though.)
Simply put, the manufacturers hold these events to command our complete attention. They know that when we’re in our offices, they have to compete with a myriad of items demanding our time. In a nice hotel, after cocktail hour but before dinner, they have our rapt attention, giving them the time to tell (and sell) the story of their motorcycle. The type of bike determines how they use their time. A technological tour de force, like a new open class sportbike, will get right down to the nitty-gritty of what makes the bike tick – to the level of grams and millimeters. In these instances, we’ll receive multiple information sessions on the varied topics. An update of a classic model within its line promises a history lesson. An all-new model promises a little of both.
The manufacturers can also use the time to control our focus on different aspects of the products. In these situations, they often combine the presentations with a short ride to highlight a specific feature. Tire manufacturers are particularly fond of this approach because they can provide examples of wet weather traction or handling on cobblestones (a mostly European issue) or braking on wet cobblestones. However, demonstrations of this sort require a specialized facility, like the Bosch Boxberg Proving Grounds, of which there are a limited number scattered around the world. For a world class sportbike, the locations are limited to the international tracks that would highlight the bike’s sporting prowess. Adventure bikes require epic roads along with challenging dirt. You get the picture.
While those examples make a lot of sense, what about bikes with less esoteric requirements? Why go to such far-flung destinations to give the media a chance to test a motorcycle? Wouldn’t closer to home be just as effective? First, many introductions take place during the winter, making it necessary to choose locations with predictable – and warm – weather. Devoting the time and expense of putting together an introduction can be all for naught if untimely weather sweeps in. (Just ask Honda about their Gold Wing introduction in Texas last year.) Second, as a manufacturer’s PR guy said to me last week, “We’re not selling transportation; we’re selling entertainment.” So, having the action photos of the new bike in an exotic location shown around the country (or the world in the case of an international intro) ads glamor to the bike. Also, for the conspiracy theorists reading this, the manufacturers can design the ride route around their bike’s strengths or, to put it another way, mask any weaknesses.
And the lowly motojournalist? Our role is to, after a very limited window of access to a new bike, dissect its performance and relate it back to you, the reader. Most of the time, we get it right. (Though I did have my worries when I recently came back gushing so profusely about the KTM 790 Duke. Would my fellow MOron’s agree? Or was I being snookered by my love of parallel-Twins?) More often than I’d like to admit, I’ve spent hours curled in a semi-fetal position over my laptop in coach (as the passenger in front of me reclines, sleeping), attempting to get my thoughts down while they’re fresh. The compressed production cycle of the internet has taken away the luxury of time to process the gathered information for a day or two before hitting the keyboard. This is not a complaint but rather just a note on how the job has changed in my 23 years scribbling. Immediacy does have its rewards, too.
By now, you may be wondering why I’m telling you all of this – much of which you probably already knew. Once again, I’ve let some anonymous internet commenter get under my skin by claiming MO is on the payroll of a manufacturer. (If only we were. By now, after all the differing claims of bias, we would be in the pockets of all the manufacturers, and we’d have bigger paychecks.) I know that what he’s really saying is that a bike he likes didn’t get rated as highly as he thought it should. So be it.
These are the thoughts that run through my head as I lie awake at 3:00 am a few days before I head off for another introduction. Now, it’s time to double check my packing list.
Rain gear… don’t forget to take rain gear…