Where Does Motorcycling End and Marketing Begin?

The golden age when motorcycles were the crowned queens of the world’s roads are gone, and that’s a fact. Society has come a very long way since the 1950’s and pretty much everything changed after all this time. Motorcycling, as pure and “true” as it may seem to many non-riding individuals, was not left behind and changed, too.
Now, I am not one of those who decry the demise of the old-school motorcycling under the pressure of the modern ages. I happened to run into people who had such views on the world and frankly, I disliked the encounter. The world is a living organism which evolves, even though at times, it looks like certain development directions are not exactly the best thing.

Motorcycle companies have also evolved, and some of them grew from the small workshops which used to deliver several bikes a month into huge mammoth structures which kind of begin to lose the individuality they once had. Globalization, consumerism, you call it whatever you like, but in some aspects, motorcycles today are nothing like they used to be.

Brands are now diffuse concepts, hidden behind the closed doors of the board rooms, and their development and future is directed by the stakeholders, and no longer representing the vision of one or several men brought together by a similar goal… In fact, the board commissions are brought together by the same goal, but that goal is not to make the world better by creating motorcycles, but to maximize profit.
Of course, the need for constant growth is forcing the governing bodies of automotive and motorcycling corporations to pay creative individuals for engineering new machines, discovering new technologies, reshaping the shapes which once made history and so on. Customers are usually following this trend, whether they acknowledge it or not. Some of them are completely ignoring such facts and are happy with what the industry is offering.

Others seem to understand the way things are heading for, but decide to play along. Finally, a handful of guys prefer to stick to their old machines and will not allow themselves to get caught in the “new machine” madness. I happened to talk with riders who fit in each of these imaginary categories and I brought this issue into the discussion. In a way, these fellows’ replies confirmed the choices that had made as far as the affair was concerned.

Some of them admitted that even riding has changed a lot, while some of them didn’t seem too concerned with the matter and were happy to be able to spend the money they worked for and ride the new bikes they could afford. Nothing wrong with this, but still my questions endured, even if crystallized in the “motorcycling vs marketing” paradigm.

While the two notions are not excluding each other, but watching one of the most recent ad for the new, liquid-cooled BMW R1200GS brought this matter back into the “intellectual spotlight.” When does the actual motorcycling end and when does marketing take over?

Don’t get me wrong, a manufacturer is supposed to make and sell motorcycles, and for maximizing the company’s results marketing can be used. Still, watching that ad made me realize that sometimes marketing will mercilessly sacrifice anything for the sake of profit. And even more, it will also be able to disguise this under a veil of nice words most of the individuals caught in the consumerist whirlpool are ready and willing to take as granted truth.

Technology is a good thing and humanity owes scientists and engineers big time. These are the simple facts and it’s no use in denying them. Still, when riding looks like becoming too easy, and all is presented as being possible… with the right technology, I kind of start having a problem. Even more, when the hard aspects of riding are showcased in a much milder light so that more riders are attracted by them, I might even think that a diabolical mastermind is behind all this.

Whether it’s riding fast on the race track or having a rider on an adventure bike doing some very light off-road riding, I believe the marketer is tricking the potential customer into buying or at least dreaming of buying that bike. Some of you could, of course, reply that in the end this is what sells products… and be completely right, in a way.

Simply showing the bare facts was never enough to accentuate the desire to buy a product, and that’s where sales experts came in with their various way of bragging on the exceptional qualities of their goods. Or by seeding a sort of fear in the hearts of the potential customers. Or by showing them how unhappy they are in the absence of product X, or making them feel almost ashamed for not owning product Z… there are countless methods to promote goods and services.

Well, when it comes to motorcycles, neither fear or shame can be used. Instead, pride and an overhyped sense of “courage” are the main “weapons.” A manufacturer would not sell too many sport bikes by advertising how hard and dangerous riding at 200 mph on the trace track is. And BMW, since I mentioned the R1200GS, will not be too successful in selling bikes adventure bikes by the tens of thousands in case showing top-skilled riders struggling on merciless muddy and rock trails would be all there was to their commercials.

Instead, the smart marketing guys show the easy side of things and introduce what I would call the “true motorcycling” as a much easier and casual thing. In way, the basic purpose of riding a bike for pleasure is altered and perverted. It matters little for the marketer that there is a huge difference between having Nicky Hayden shooting a commercial for the Ducati Hypermotard and only few other riders can do what he does on the bike.
Showing how easy it is for him should be a good incentive for the future customer. In fact, it’s no longer about the riding itself and what a guy must learn until reaching that point: it’s about the fact the buying the bike gets you one step closer to the dream. Marketers know that such a way of putting things has good odds to pluck the right string and there they go.

Likewise, with the R1200GS: why not showing the potential customers how neat life can be aboard the bike? Leaving the everyday asphalt behind and venturing on some back roads, crossing a shallow stream and doing it in style and with all the comfort and reassuring feeling the bike brings with it. For the urban customer, often working very hard and barely having time for the small pleasures in life – among which, some off-the-beaten-track riding is to be counted – imagining himself far from the city noise and the highway clutter, almost floating under the forest canopy may look like heaven. And the bike is the vector. So he should get one.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with that: a maker must find a way to sell its products. The trick is that nobody seems to value showing things closer to what they really are. Riding light trails is in fact the really easy thing, and almost any bike would do. But why create more machines and sell them cheaper to people looking for the basic things, when you can simply work around the problem and find a way to advertise the big, expensive ones as the right beast for that casual job?

Fortunately, not all the industry is following this path, and manufacturers such as Honda or Yamaha are delivering bikes of all displacements and selling them at pretty much anything between “cheap” and
“I’ll never afford it,” simply because they understand that not all the customers are all under the spell of BMW’s or Harley’s unquestionable mojo.

When motorcyclists start riding the way marketers, of whom some have no clue on what bikes are about, want them to, I’d say that “good-old true riding” gave way to marketing. Still, there is hope after all, because every day I meet people still riding in respect for their machines, instead of their price, in fear of the dangers which may befall them and who know riding was never easy. Nor was it a thing for everybody.
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