“If I don’t see an improvement in your attitude, you will not be invited to any more ZZZZ launches. We will also withdraw ZZZZ advertising from your magazine.”

Those are not the precise words of ZZZZ Australia’s motorcycle manager, but they’re close. I don’t remember them exactly, but I do remember how furious I was as I walked out of his office. What was my crime? Criticizing the rear brake on a newly-launched motorcycle. For the record, I still think those brakes were totally useless. Oh all right, maybe that’s just remembered fury. Maybe they worked just a bit. After all, this was 40 years ago.

Before walking out, I told the gentleman on the other side of the desk that he should simply remove my name from the list of launch invitees right then, and still wish I had said “F..k you.” Then I asked for an explanation from the company’s Australian management, which I did not get.

I wrote to head office and asked if they endorsed this sort of behavior. The note I got back was apologetic. The Australian operation was run as a kind of fiefdom by its MD, and they didn’t feel it would be appropriate for them to interfere. On the positive side, they would make sure that I got all the press information and had access to photo files direct from them.

Motorcycle launches can be a huge amount of fun, and that rubs off on the bike.

And that wasn’t all. ZZZZ Australia took a group of journalists to Cologne for the INTERMOT motorcycle show that year. I was – strangely – left off the invitation list, but head office flew me over instead. Without telling Australian management. The motorcycle manager’s face was worth seeing when I walked into the press conference. After that, I was back on the invitation lists, though not at the motorcycle manager’s inducement. He moved on to looking after used cars.

By the way, I am not suggesting that this kind of behaviour continues today, from any manufacturer. Although some are better than others.

What I am trying to do is introduce you to the weird and wonderful world of motorcycle journalism. There are as many ways of dealing with the pressures and pleasures of this pursuit as there are pursuers, I suspect. Here is my way; let’s start with a few basics.

One, there is no money in it. 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. They are not wrong.

Two, there isn’t a lot of respect from the industry, either. The car journos will fly business class, you will fly economy. You will also fly the cheapest route. If that takes twice as long – so what? That is not a joke. One of the Japanese importers was once going to fly us to South Africa via Bangkok rather than direct because it was a hundred bucks cheaper. They reconsidered.

Launches can be convivial and enjoyable, even when they take you no further than around the corner. (Photo The Bear)

Three, as you may have gathered from the story above, you are expected to be grateful if you get a road test bike, are invited to a launch, or if the importer advertises in your publication. To be fair, this is not universal. Many manufacturers cop criticism if not delightedly then complaisantly. But some don’t. Then again, some have also thanked me for criticism because “now I can send your magazine to head office – they didn’t believe me when I complained”.

Often, bikes are not ready when we go to collect them from distributors. At Two Wheels Magazine a Japanese importer once gave me a sports bike to road test with two plugs in the rear tyre, and I have more than once had to just about push a test bike to the nearest gas station because the tank was near empty when I collected it. We live with this because we love motorcycles and motorcycling. And we are responsible to our readers, for more than one reason.

Here is a hypothetical: Let’s say 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.

The amount spent on launches is often proportional to the cost and profitability of the bike.

My readers follow my lead and buy the bike, but find that it is not up to my report. Readers/riders are not stupid. They stop buying my magazine and I lose revenue. Dropping circulation means that advertising in my mag is reaching fewer people. The manufacturers stop advertising with me. I lose more revenue, and go down the ‘gurgler’ as we say in Australia.

Quite apart from the question of simple honesty, that’s why it doesn’t pay to respond to manufacturer pressure. Either the bike is good, and you praise it, or it’s crap and you condemn it or simply refuse to write about it. If you do anything else you are cutting your own throat. But…

Life is not simple. I find it hard to write that life is grey. But it is, in a way. Not black, not white. Somewhere in between. Few motorcycles approach perfection, but many are good enough so you’d be sad to lose them. When we assess a bike, we simply do our best.

I also try to put myself in the shoes of a potential buyer before I judge a bike. Too many cruisers are criticized for lack of cornering clearance, while hypersports machines cop it for lacking pillion comfort. C’mon, be serious. Form follows function, or it should.

And sometimes, you just love a motorcycle no matter what anyone else thinks. And then the manufacturer discontinues it.

(Photos are of no relation to the article beyond having been taken during bike reviews in Australia)

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