Almost all the bike “reviews” you read aren’t really proper assessments of the bike. To call them “reviews” is conceptually true. The bike is being reviewed, per se. But is it really? Or are you just being fed the specifications re-worded?
You’ll note the word “test” has largely disappeared from the headings. “Review” has replaced it. Understandably so. It’s almost impossible to “test” new bikes by pushing them to their limits on a public road. In the modern age, these limits are so far outside the skill-set of most reviewers (me included), the only thing being tested is the rider’s skill-set, not the bike.
The late Ken Wootton once told me the last bike he was kinda able to “test” on a public road was the Yamaha Thunderace back in 1996. “You gotta go to a racetrack to see what’s what on these things,” he said, then went back to running what was once a great bike mag.
Ken was right. Ever more onerous policing competed with ever faster and more powerful bikes, and it would be a brave bike reviewer who took the latest Fireblade out on the public highways to see what it could really do.
We review them. We don’t test them.
Letting racers review bikes is also a weird thing. These are people possessed of skills so far removed from the rest of us, they will see and note things that simply don’t apply to normal riders. “Yeah, it tends to push the front coming out of Turn 12 in third…” The fuck you say? That didn’t happen to me. And is that a flaw? I don’t think so. Not in the real world.
Then there are the “punters”, as the industry calls you. Very few can ride very well or very fast. And the ones that can get fewer and fewer as motorcycling itself becomes more focused on safety and less on mad bastards who rode like crazed beasts and sometimes died and sometimes lived on in red-eyed glory.
Never wonder why Harley-Davidson is the largest-selling road bike in Australia. You can’t ride them fast. Not proper fast. Not Panigale fast. Not foaming at the mouth, pants full of shit, cops are gonna kill me fast. They’re called “cruisers” for a reason, right?
Why do you think the upright parallel-twin engine configuration is the new black? What was once the cardigan donk of the motorcycle world has re-emerged as the coolest thing ever, primarily because it offers such an unintimidating power output to a market no longer pissing its pants to see what glorious speed-terrors the new R1 can offer.
But there are other changes. Other evolutions.
Once, you guys relied on the motorcycle media to provide an unbiased opinion on a new bike you might be in the market for. And thus was your purchase choice influenced by us.
That has changed. In Australia, we invariably get bikes after the rest of the world gets them, so they have already been reviewed, and you’ve been able to access those reviews on the Internet. In all likelihood, your purchase choice has already been made.
What you’re now looking for when you search for Australian reviews, is validation of that choice. “Tell me why I’m a genius for wanting to buy this bike. Tell me how it should make me feel when I ride it. Tell me how it deals with Aussie conditions.” That kinda thing. You’ve already made your mind up about it. You just need to be told you’ve made the right choice.
Thus has the world changed, and thus has the motorcycle media changed. It is now largely occupied by second- and third-rate shitters, who have either inherited their positions by default, are related to someone, or are prepared to do a $100K-a-year gig, for $40K (or for what advertising they can sell) from the comfort of their homes.
The skill, wit, craft, and sheer passion for riding bikes and writing about the experience for the entertainment and edification of the punter is not a thing anymore. It’s just content production, or poorly disguised advertorials for big advertisers.
Sure, there are a very few exceptions. The majority of the motorcycle media produces dross, but there are a tiny few people who still produce comprehensive, credible, and relatively well-crafted bike reviews that are not contingent upon advertising spend (Trevor Hedge is a great example), and will tell you something about a particular bike that is lacking, not right, or needs to be addressed.
So, by and large, that is what the Game is like, and what it’s been like for more than a decade now – and why I shall never breathe the air that surrounds the top of that wondrous summit. It’s a privilege to do what I do, not a right.
The only new thing here is the advent of “influencers”.
These odious creatures have massive social media followings, and entirely no credibility as motorcycle reviewers. They’re not motorcyclists. They’re just people who may own a bike. On the odd occasion when they appear at a press launch (something that is happening less and less, thankfully), they don’t have the right gear, have no terms of reference for the bike they’re meant to be reviewing, and can’t ride for shit because having 100,000 Insta followers and hash-tagging the fuck out a post is more important than dealing properly with a decreasing radius bend.
So when this type of Game is being played, and given the type of players playing it, what kind of bike reviews are being produced?
Many of them are “Press Launch reviews”. And most of these are just photo opportunities for the manufacturer to showcase the new model, and treat the media to sumptuous meals or overseas trips, thus assuming the media will be well-disposed to the bike in a quid pro quo scenario.
Certainly, some manufacturers go to great lengths to make sure the media does get a good crack on the new bike by offering two- and three-day rides on great roads in varying conditions, but in all cases, these press launches are highly-supervised affairs where riding like a mongrel bastard is frowned upon.
Understandably so. The medieval OH&S regs and corporate mindset must be adhered to, and are adhered to, and so I always look forward to some private and unsupervised “just me and the bike” time, where what happens is all on me and not on the hapless marketing guy.
After all, if one is to give readers a thorough and proper accounting of the bike, one needs to spend some time doing what one would do if the bike was theirs, ie. Riding the shit out of it.
Manufacturers (not all of them, mind) get this, and so people like me get to put a few thousand kays on a bike and thus get a proper understanding and appreciation of it. And I actually don’t have anything better to do. This is what I do. This is ALL I do.
But usually, if you’re not reading a Press Launch review, you’ll be reading a review where the media twonk puts two hundred klicks (mostly commuting) on a bike over the two weeks he or she has it, then jams some adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions between the words written in the Specifications Box, declares the job to be done, and goes back to their self-assigned place at the Top Of The Game.
That, friends and relatives, is bullshit. They know it, you know it, and the manufacturers know it. Many of them have given up reading the reviews, and supporting the platforms (both the remaining print and struggling digital) with advertising dollars.
What’s the point, right? And can you blame them? Have you read the tedious dross being offered up? How is that meant to inspire someone to buy that bike, or validate the purchase already made?
So why is such tedious dross being offered up? It’s because most of the motorcycle media twonks actually don’t have a story to tell, and couldn’t tell it if they tried and actually had one to tell. So they don’t even try. It is beyond them.
Stories do not occur if you spend two weeks commuting, and an arvo on the Old Pac or Black Spur getting pictures, do they?
Stories occur when you strap a bag to the back of the bike and go riding for a few days. Stories occur when you ride The Mother, or Reefton Spur, or the Oxley, or the Gillies, a whole bunch of times. Stories occur when you’ve put four tanks of petrol through the bike and you still have 300km to go. Stories occur when you live with a bike, ride upon the earth, and have adventures and shit.
That’s what motorcycling is, is not? That’s what I signed up for from Day One. And telling people about that, and communicating the passion, despair, delight, and everything in-between, while also offering a complete picture of what the bike is and what it does by actually riding the shit out of it somewhere, MUST be the driving paradigm in the motorcycle media.
If that’s not what you’re doing as a self-proclaimed reviewer of bikes and products, you need to fuck off.
To paraphrase a quote attributed to the great Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, you worthless bitches; show me the fucking glint of light on broken glass.”
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Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.