The life of an automotive journalist isn’t nearly as much fun and games as most of you might think. You ride a motorcycle, or a scooter although frankly we’d all rather be riding big fast bikes really, and then you sit down and figure out the good from the bad. But a lot of it is subjective. You, the reader, may not like the firm ride that I might like. You might like a peaky sporty thing while I might be all in favour of a lazy thumper or potato or what-have-you. Then there’s the other factor. Unlike what it used to be in the years gone by, when there were good bikes, great bikes and shit bikes, today that last one is probably among the rarest of rare. There truly are no shit bikes. And between the good bikes the difference has been reduced to a gap that’s almost negligible in many cases. By the time we’re done with all of this, and the photo shoots that you guys will inevitably try and mimic for your Insta pages on your favourite roads, there’s little mind space left for looking at anything beyond the intricacies of the product.
The result? We often end up ignoring the fact that the motorcycle is actually the vital piece in a much larger jigsaw. And I plead guilty to it too for the one and a half decades that I have been at it, even though today I have the opportunity to sagely admit this. It’s actually a lesson that I learnt when I was working on the dark side (I was in PR for a while – in whispered tones), trying to create a perfect story for the launch of the Royal Enfield Continental GT 535. The year was 2013, the place was UK and there were few outside that country who really had any background to the whole café racer concept. Our challenge was to tell the back story right. Why is a café racer iconic? Is it just an old looking bike with dropped down handlebars or is there more to it? Eight months of planning, (yep, you heard that right), led to what I believe was (and still is in my books) one of the best themed motorcycle launches I have seen.
The whole immersion process kicked off with a walking tour of London, through areas that gave birth to the music scene and sub culture that would culminate in the Rockers and their loud brash bikes. We even got everyone to eat the same stuff that those boys from the late ‘50s and ‘60s would have eaten. We got an ace fashion photographer and Revivalist to take people through the whole retro biker look phenomenon. The immersion programme was such that we thought every journo would be in it deeper than you can sink a teabag into a cup.
We returned feeling triumphant, safe in the knowledge that we had done a good job. And then the stories started pouring in. Product, product and still more product. Barely a handful few got the back story or even cared about it. At least that’s what it seemed like. All that effort, all those months of planning had been distilled down to the product, yet again! I can tell you it was frustrating.
But it was also a huge learning experience. Back on this side of the fence, I now try not to isolate the product from the story. Because I realise it’s not just clever PR, the back story is important. Why? Because it’s the back story that sells you the product. People like to buy the R1 because they’re fans of that Rossi bloke. People make that potato-potato racket because they fancy themselves to be Hell’s Angels. People ride café racers because they like the spirit of the ‘60s. Simply put, the bike you have in your garage actually tells us the back story you really like.