Every now and then… no, actually with dreary frequency and monotonous regularity, anyone who reviews or otherwise writes about consumer products will be accused of bias, cash-for-comment or outright mendacity. That includes us reptiles of the motorcycle press, and since I am a reasonably prominent member of that lounge, me. Now, you can poke even the most lethargic reptile only for so long before it hisses at you.
Hence this post.
It is true that you cannot please everyone. Think of Joan of Arc. But we are quite likely to please no-one consistently, over the course of a little time. I have been accused of being biased towards, let’s see, BMW, Honda, Triumph, Yamaha, Harley-Davidson… even MuZ and no doubt others I cannot remember. It seems that I love cruisers and hate them, prefer European bikes and can’t see past Japanese ones. The list goes on, and I’m already bored with it.
Let us look at a hypothetical situation. I am wined and dined by a motorcycle manufacturer during a launch, and I get back to the office and think that the bike is, well, okay. But because the wine at dinner was a good vintage and the food was great, I give it the benefit of the doubt and praise it in my launch report.
My readers follow my lead and buy the bike but find that it is… somewhat less than what I have led them to expect. Readers/riders are not stupid. They abuse me in the street and stop buying my magazine. Dropping circulation means that advertising in my mag is reaching fewer people. The manufacturers stop advertising with me. I lose more revenue and the magazine closes.
Quite apart from the question of simple honesty, that is why it doesn’t pay to respond to manufacturer pressure. Either the bike is good, and you praise it in a review, or it is crap, and you condemn it. If you do anything else, you are cutting your own throat. The same thing applies to equipment like riding suits, helmets and so on. But…
Life is never simple. Things are not strictly just wonderful or woeful. I try to put myself in the shoes of a potential buyer when I judge a bike, and it is quite true that some of the other reptiles don’t do that well enough. Too many cruisers are criticized for lack of cornering clearance, while hypersports machines cop it for lacking pillion comfort. But this is not dishonesty. It’s personal preference, which is fine if it is acknowledged by the writer.
Being a motorcycle scribbler is no bed of roses. The money is terrible. The pay rates for motorcycle journalists are only slightly above contempt level because management will assume that you are obsessed and would work for nothing. If I wanted to make decent money and get some respect, I would write about cars. The car journos fly business class, we fly economy. We also fly the cheapest route. If that takes twice as long – so what? That is not a joke. One manufacturer was once going to fly us to South Africa via Bangkok rather than direct because it was a hundred bucks cheaper. It also takes eight hours longer.
You are expected to be grateful if you get a road test bike, are invited to a launch or if the marque advertises in your publication, and temper criticism. To be fair, this is not universal. Many manufacturers cop criticism if not happily then grudgingly. But some don’t.
Press bikes? I’ve read the accusations that road test bikes are specially prepared and faster than the ones in the showroom. Really? One manufacturer once gave me a sports bike to road test with two plugs in the rear tyre, and I have more than once just made it to the nearest gas station because the tank was near empty when I collected the bike.
Launches? Yes, they can be great fun and there is usually a free t-shirt or something. And some manufacturers run terrific launches which take us to interesting places and where the evening’s bar is open. Some of the most enjoyable motorcycle memories I have come from launches. But consider this schedule, which is not typical but not too rare, either: fly from Sydney to LA and on to Atlanta. Get bussed out to the track, ride the bike for assessment and for photos, spend the night in a hotel and next morning fly back to LA and then Sydney. You’d want a t-shirt for that, one that says ‘I survived the XYZ launch’.
Of course it is not all like that. There are ancillary advantages like being able to ask for the loan of a bike. But it has to be on the test fleet, available when you want it and with low miles on it. And you have to make a case, such as using it for a touring story and getting it into the photos.
Why do we reptiles do it? Because we love motorcycles and motorcycling. There is no other reason that I can think of.
(Photos The Bear except as indicated.)