A five-race day at the TT?

The weather, and an abbreviated schedule, are actually making this safer. There are a lot of people on the Island who would prefer it if every TT was compressed, and Race Week became Race Weekend.

The weather, and an abbreviated schedule, are actually making this safer. There are a lot of people on the Island who would prefer it if every TT was compressed, and Race Week became Race Weekend.

After a Practice Week beset by terrible weather, Race Week’s off to an equally fouled up start.

Wednesday’s races were pushed back, and the current plan is to run five races on Thursday. Supersport and Sidecar classes are cut to two-lap distances, while Superstock and Lightweights will run three laps. Only the TT Zero race will run its full scheduled distance <sarcasm>.

You read this hear first…

While it is true that most people who live on the Isle of Man feel that on balance, the TT is a net positive, a substantial minority resent the road closures and chaos. And although the organizers have done a lot to improve safety, the only way to really improve it further is to cut the total number of laps. The weather cut laps in practice, and shortening those races will reduce the total amount of risk by about a third.

A lot of people on the Isle of Man will say, “Five races in one day? That was fine. In fact, if we did that every year, we could hold the entire TT over a weekend.”

There will be pressure to compress the schedule like that, henceforth.

Would you buy this Harley-Davidson? Coming soon to a dealer nowhere near you.

This rendering showed up on Fuel, an Argentine motorcycle site. For reference, Royal Enfield sell the Himalayan in the U.S. with an MSRP of around $4,500. What do you think? Would this bring people into Harley-Davidson dealerships at that price? I say, “Hell yes!”

This rendering showed up on Fuel, an Argentine motorcycle site. For reference, Royal Enfield sell the Himalayan in the U.S. with an MSRP of around $4,500. What do you think? Would this bring people into Harley-Davidson dealerships at that price? I say, “Hell yes!”

I usually just discount any cool-new-bike story that is illustrated with a rendering or obvious Photoshop job, but something about this bike made me ask Harley-Davidson’s media relations man, Paul James, if Fuel’s story was more than speculation.

James told me that the rendering was a mashup, based on an official Harley-Davidson illustration of a future EV. But, he pointed out that the underlying message of the Fuel story — that Harley plans to work with an Indian manufacturer to produce a 250cc model for the Indian market — is true.

He forwarded a deck The Motor Company presented to investors last summer — titled “More Roads to Harley-Davidson” — in which the company promised a small-displacement hog for the Indian market. As of now, James told me, the company still has not publicly identified a production partner, and certainly hasn’t shown off any prototypes.

This slide was presented to investors a year ago, so if Harley-Davidson does in fact stick to this timeline, we’re a year away from a 250cc Indian hog.

This slide was presented to investors a year ago, so if Harley-Davidson does in fact stick to this timeline, we’re a year away from a 250cc Indian hog.

Here in the U.S., when we think of bold strokes coming from Harley-Davidson, we’re preoccupied with the $30k Livewire EV. The U.S. market was certainly underwhelmed by the Street 500 & 750 models. But something about this rendering immediately made me think, “What a cool little bike! I’d ride that.” I hope that when a made-in-India 250cc hog breaks cover, it looks more like this than a single-cylinder Street 500.

After all these years of motorcycle journalists calling for Harley to offer a really neat small, entry-level motorcycle, at an affordable price, I suppose I need to be ready for them to do so… and limit it to emerging markets.

But what do you think? If Harley-Davidson could sell this bike at a price comparable to the Royal Enfield Himalayan ($4,500 in the U.S.) would it increase The Motor Company’s market share?

Of course, Royal Enfield leaps to mind as a possible partner for Harley-Davidson. They’re both legacy brands, and RE has a massive engineering and production capability; we’ve only seen the tip of RE’s new-model iceberg with impressive offerings like the new 650 twins.

But it won’t necessarily be a Milwaukee-Chennai alliance. When I researched my Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia, Volume II, I researched three other huge motorcycle companies in India, that are still nearly unknown to American bikers. Any of them have the capability to make the motorcycle sketched above.

Check back in the next day or so, and I’ll reproduce the daily entries devoted to those companies.

Motorcyclist Magazine, 1912-2019

This was a great job.  Much of the time.

This was a great job. Much of the time.

Back in 2011, while driving from Kansas City to the Indy show I ruminated on the state of motorcycle publishing, and proposed a strategy for Cycle World’s survival. (Remember the Indy show? When the motorcycle industry was actually healthy?)

That essay was brought to mind again as Bonnier recently announced that Motorcyclist Magazine was about to print its last issue. Bonnier timed the announcement at the beginning of a holiday weekend, presumably in hopes it would go unnoticed, but the eagle-eyed Lance Oliver posted it to Common Tread.

So Bonnier’s vaunted experiment with making the magazine a keepsake failed.

If you want to read the entire strategy I laid out in my 2011 Bikewriter post, it’s here. It pretty much is the strategy Bonnier attempted to follow, although they never committed to it, by devoting resources and raising the publication’s IQ.

I concluded that long essay by writing...

The sheer physicality of the magazine is why it's expensive and time consuming to produce, and why ad page rates have to be set so high. That's the one problem the 'net will never have; that's where they've got you beat.

You have to make that your advantage.

You have to turn the magazine into something so thick, so glossy, so beautiful that when a reader picks it up, she thinks, “Wow, no web site can do this for me.” The magazine – the physical object of it – has to be so beautiful that no one would ever throw it out. Those rolls of web press paper, the size of Sprinter vans, that were a warehousing problem last month need to be turned into objects of pride and joy for readers. You need to deliver something to their door every month that they will never, ever throw out. This is the key to extracting far more subscription revenue, and commanding premium ad dollars for placements brand managers know set their message in a flattering context, and one where the message will be seen over and over, indefinitely.

I think of this as the 'Surfers Journal' model. As a motorcyclist and a surfer, I was always irritated that surfers have a far better magazine than anything available to (North American) motorcyclists. Having spent plenty of time sitting on my board in the lineup, I know that the average surfer is no more literate than the average rider. And there are certainly not any more surfers than there are riders. And yet year in and year out, Surfers Journal produces a beautiful, well-written and erudite magazine supported by a handful of devoted premium advertisers who've been in it for years. It's primarily funded by subscribers – who pay a large multiple of the average motorcycle magazine subscription. (You can renew a motorcycle sub for about the mailing cost these days. 

I can't overstress the importance of the magazine as a physical object, if it's to complement the web site as part of a coherent strategy. Having been in the business a while, I can flip through a magazine and gauge its health in 15 seconds. I look at the number of photos supplied by manufacturers instead of shot on assignment. I look at the ratio of staff-written stuff to stuff supplied by expensive freelancers. And at the quality of the ads themselves. Ordinary readers do it too, albeit subconsciously.

Back when I worked at Motorcyclist, the magazine contributed nicely to the owners' bottom line, but newsstand sales and subscriptions were already stagnating. The owners wanted more ad revenue. One day, I flipped through a 'first bound' copy and was aghast to find a full page ad for penis enlargement. “What the hell is this?” I demanded, showing it to Mitch Boehm.

“It's a paid ad,” he responded.

We argued back and forth until I got him to agree that, a.) it didn't improve the magazine; and b.) that if we had more readers, more sales, and more subscribers we'd be able to attract a better class of advertiser.

What I couldn't get him to see was that the implied message, “This is a magazine for guys with small dicks,” isn't one that makes most guys think, “I should subscribe.”

As of this writing, Bonnier’s blended family of motorcycle magazines, that once produced scores of issues per year, produces... four. Soon the number of actual magazines will certainly to fall to zero, at which point we will see whether CycleWorld.com has what it takes to continue as a web presence alone.

Ironically, I heard that — just as the motorcycle industry tanked in 2009 — the publisher of Surfer’s Journal was looking around for another subject area, to start a sister mag, and that motorcycles were under consideration.

Ironically, I heard that — just as the motorcycle industry tanked in 2009 — the publisher of Surfer’s Journal was looking around for another subject area, to start a sister mag, and that motorcycles were under consideration.

Meta leaps to mind as a magazine that is trying to do, for motorcycles, what Surfer’s Journal did for surfing. I’ve tried to reach those guys a few times and they’ve never written me back, so I don’t know anything more about them than I can glean from flipping through the mag at a local motorcycle café. Iron & Air has also proven more resilient than I expected it to be.

But in the long run, those magazines will have to be more than physically attractive. They have to create an ecosystem that will actually support a handful of professional writers. Professional writers are the apex predators of niche journalism.

There aren’t many of us; there aren’t many wolves in Yellowstone, either. A casual visitor (or even an ecologist trained in the 1970s) might conclude that the important species are plants, birds, mice, and deer that outnumber wolves anywhere from 100:1 to a million to one. But in recent decades we’ve learned that in fact, the handful of apex predators in the environment actually influence the health of the environment all the way down.

Since the Great Recession – and especially in the last five years or so – a bunch of the journalists I worked with at magazines like Motorcyclist and Road Racer X (which was shut down while profitable!) have moved to the client side, to create ‘content’ for OEMs. That’s like being a wolf in a zoo; alive, comfortable, and probably destined to live longer than they would in the wild – but not contributing to the overall health of the motorcycle media ecosystem. In addition to that content that’s professional but can’t even pretend towards editorial integrity, there’s a deluge of quasi-independent stuff from bloggers, ‘influencers’, and enthusiastic amateurs happy to work for exposure.

I get that there’s a shitload of ‘free’ content out there, for magazines and especially web sites, but I have to believe that without some professional writing, the whole ecosystem will collapse. The death of Motorcyclist may actually free up a little ad revenue for Meta or Iron & Air. But if the ecosystem can’t support at least a few professional writers, even they won’t last.

In the meantime, if you want to keep a writer alive, buy a book.

 

Freaky Monday

What if I woke up one morning to find that motorcycle journalists were treated like screenwriters?

As seen in the  New York Times ...  April 12, 2019,  LOS ANGELES — Fire your agents.  That was the instruction the Writers Guild of America gave to its 13,000 members on Friday, after talks between the Hollywood writers and their agents broke down hours before a midnight deadline...

As seen in the New York Times...

April 12, 2019,

LOS ANGELES — Fire your agents.

That was the instruction the Writers Guild of America gave to its 13,000 members on Friday, after talks between the Hollywood writers and their agents broke down hours before a midnight deadline...

The Writers Guild of America, which is basically the union for screenwriters who work on major films and TV shows, recently came to loggerheads with Hollywood talent agencies and film studios over an industry practice known as ‘packaging’.

Talent agencies have long sought to ‘package’ writers, directors, and stars from their own rosters, so that major movies and TV shows all rely on key talent represented by a single agency. On the face of it, this makes perfect sense. Of course agents want jobs to go to people they represent, because they reap a 10% commission for each deal they negotiate, but there’s more to it.

Packaging has even affected me, because Riding Man has been in Hollywood’s development hell for a decade. After I sold the rights to a big time production company, they contracted with a hot screenwriter to write a script inspired by my memoir.

One of the hurdles in getting our film made has been that talent agents are real power-brokers, and they actively push back on deals that would pair a star from one agency with a director from another.

In fact, the Riding Man project hit a few bumps right away, because industry etiquette meant the screenwriter had to clear the project with his talent agency. It turned out that company also repped another writer/director who had a TT movie in development. As I understand it, when the talent agency gave our project the thumbs-up, it effectively killed that other guy’s dream.

So, the challenges presented by that packaging practice may well have prevented at least one – if not two – TT features from being made.

That’s not the WGA’s beef. The screenwriters’ union takes issue with the fact that packaging deals have evolved to the point where major talent agencies have become producers in everything but name, with an equity stake in productions.

If agencies share in a show’s profits, they lose the incentive to get the best deals for the writers they represent. That may be why screenwriters haven’t seen a pay increase in decades.

Riding Man is not the only motorcycle story I’ve optioned to film producers, though nothing’s ever been made. Even if one of my stories eventually is produced as a feature film, I won’t necessarily be welcomed into the WGA. The Hollywood totem pole has studio heads and financiers on the top, with stars just beneath them, then directors, then screenwriters. People like me, who write underlying material, aren’t the low men on the pole, we’re on the part that’s buried in the ground.

I’ve written about motorcycles almost full time for most of the last 20 years. Over that period, the top pay for a feature story has dropped by about 65%. In 2019, motojournos often work for days on projects, some of which entail exhausting travel schedules and substantial physical risk, for a few hundred bucks. 

The above paragraph may help explain why I’m not that sympathetic to WGA screenwriters, who are paid a minimum of about $73,000 for a 90-page screenplay. Call it three bucks a word, which is to say that the bare minimum for a WGA screenwriter is about ten times the going rate for my specialty.

The other night, I went to sleep just after reading that WGA call for screenwriters to fire their agents. As I dozed off I wondered if big shot Hollywood agents would pick up any replacement writers, because I could use some of that $3-a-word abuse...

Morning.

Gene Farmer woke when he heard his assistant, Marcus, open the front door and punch in the security code. Farmer swung his legs over the edge of the bed and sat up, putting the ‘gin’ in gingerly.

Considering the way his head felt, waking up in his own bed was a pleasant surprise. He certainly had no idea how he’d gotten home – surely he hadn’t ridden that S1000RR loaner back, in the condition he’d been… Oh, wait, he’d Ubered home with that cute little editorial intern from Motorcycle World.

Where was she, anyway? Gone; just as well. He squinted at the clock – 11:30. Sighed, stood up, and found a robe.

Downstairs, Marcus could barely conceal a smile when his boss appeared.

“I was worried I’d be late,” said the assistant as he handed Farmer a large takeout cup from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.”

“Yeah,” Farmer grunted, with a nod towards a package wrapped in brown paper. “What’s that?”

“Your tux,” said Marcus. “You haven’t forgotten that tonight’s the ‘Golden Wheelie’ presentation?”

“Jesus.” Farmer sipped his coffee, then said, “Jesus!” again and glared at his assistant.

“What? I’ve reminded you about the awards ceremony every day this week. Remember the tailor who came to measure you?”

“No! It’s not the awards, it’s this shit. Is this even oat milk?”

“Yes,” Marcus stammered. “Look, it’s written right on the cup: ‘Oat’.”

“It might say ‘Oat’ but it’s almond milk. I’ve told you before, you have to watch them make it.”

“Do you want me to go back and get another?”

“No, just watch, next time,” growled Farmer. 

“I will.” Marcus looked down for moment, miming contrition. Then he looked up and said, “Remember you have lunch with Alan at Toscana at two o’clock.”

“Why does that bastard always pick such out-of-the-way spots? I’ll have to cross the 405, for fuck’s sake.”

“Just remember to order the grilled salmon,” Marcus said helpfully. “It’s the one thing you always like there.”

The assistant flipped through a pile of mail and stopped at one window envelope. “It looks as if MCN has finally sent in the residual payment they owe you for online views of the Speed Twin launch.”

“It’s about time. Anything else?”

“Not really,” said the assistant. “Have you written that synopsis of the S1000RR story that Alan asked for? You know he’s going to pester you for that, over lunch.”

“That douchebag’s always after something for nothing. He knows as well as I do that according to MJG rules, I’m supposed to get a 30% deposit to start writing a synopsis. I don’t know how Lemmeister gets $10,000 dollar option fees after showing a log line, but I still have to write three fucking pages to close a deal. 

“I guess you’re a sport bike guy, he’s a dual-sport guy, he’s just in a hotter market,” said the assistant.

“Shut up,” Farmer said with a dismissive wave. “If the motorcycle media knew how to promote sport bikes, they’d be as big as ever.”

“Oh I know,” said the assistant, with enough emphasis to feign sincerity – even though Farmer knew full well his helper was a dirt bike guy at heart.

“I guess I’ll go up and take a shower,” said Farmer. “Do me a favor and find that BMW I was riding last night, would ya’?”

“Do you know where you left it?”

“I can’t remember. But I ended up coming home with that new editorial intern from Iron & Asshat, or Asphalt – whatsername? Katrina? Catriona? There’s a cat in there somewhere. Call the site and ask her where we were when we picked up that last Uber.”

With that, Farmer shuffled back upstairs.

“Aw-kward,” the assistant muttered under his breath.

“I heard that!” Farmer called down, adding, “Get a bike ready for me to take to lunch. Something electric; my head’s killing me.”

This time, Marcus just mouthed the words ‘No kidding’.

“And make sure to check the tire pressures!”

Lunch

“Mr. Farmer! So nice to see you again.”

Farmer handed his helmet and gloves to the maître d’, who passed them off to the coat-check girl with a quiet word to clean the visor.

“I believe you’re meeting Mr. Lipshitz. He’s just finishing up with, ah… 

Farmer looked across the dining room, to see Alan Lipshitz, his agent, bidding good-bye to one of his other clients, Hyman Lemmeister. The agent knew they’d been seen and was momentarily embarrassed. Lemmeister strode across the room, with the shit-eating grin of a man who ordered the most expensive steak on the menu just to watch his agent squirm.

“Gene,” he said extending a hand like a vice.

“Hymie.”

Farmer started to walk towards his agent, but Adam Dean waved him over. Dean, who loved to be called ‘the dean of motojournalists,’ was holding court over a few other motorcycle scribes.

“Did you hear about the vote?” he asked.

“No,” said Farmer. 

“The Motorcycle Journalists Guild has officially voted to recommend that all members fire their agents forthwith,” said another lush, reading the email off his phone verbatim. He added, “It’s over packaging.”

The third writer at the table was a relative newcomer who’d moved to the dark side – motorcycle journalism – to make some real money after a few years at the sharp end in MotoGP. “So,” he asked, “are you going to fire your agent?” 

“I don’t know,” said Farmer. “There’s a good reason they call him dipshit, but that dipshit’s sold nine of my feature stories in the last six years.”

Dean could be counted on for two things: He wasn’t going to pick up the tab, and he was going to be well informed. Sotto voce, he said, “I don’t know; I heard the reason All Bikes hasn’t committed to your BMW test is that they wanted Drew Southcott to shoot it, but your agent over there is only offering it to publications that will take a package deal of you as writer and Bruce Rimmer as photographer, in exchange for 20% of the ad revenues.”

The old creep, who always had a sixth sense for a new ass to kiss, looked over his shoulder and smiled obsequiously as Lipshitz walked up.

“Gene! You’re early for a change,” the agent nearly shouted. He grabbed Farmer’s hand and pumped it. He looked around the table. “Gentlemen, Mr. Farmer and I have some business to discuss, as I’m sure you understand.”

“Of course, Mr. Lipshitz,” said Deane. Then with a nod in Farmer’s direction “We’ll see you at the ‘Wheelies’ tonight, eh? 

“Only if I don’t see you first,” Farmer said over his shoulder, making it sound like a joke, but totally meaning it.

The agent and the writer sat down just as a busboy was resetting glasses and cutlery over fresh linen. Lipshitz made a long pretense of studying the menu before ordering a small green salad.

“You ate lunch with Lemmeister.” 

“So what? I’m still paying for yours.”

“And no gear? You’re not even riding? Why even pretend that you actually care about motorcycle journalism?”

“I don’t,” Lipshitz said. “I care about motorcycle journalists. Like you. And getting you feature story assignments. Which brings me to an important question: Have you written a synopsis yet, for that BMW test? I’ve got editors all over town ready to read it.”

“Alan, you shithead,” started Farmer.

“Uncalled for,” Lipshitz interjected.

“You know full well,” the writer continued, “that the Motorcycle Journalists Guild schedule of minimums specifies that I should get a payment of about three grand, down, before delivery of a synopsis. Meanwhile, you’re getting ten grand option fees for Hymie back there, on the strength of a log line.”

“If you want to cite the rules, get them right. The deposit on a synopsis is $2,275, not three g’s,” the agent said drily. He paused as a waiter put down his salad and Farmer’s salmon. The writer picked up a fork and lifted a flake of fish with a single tine. It was cooked to perfection, as usual. Lipshitz had good taste in restaurants, if nothing else. 

Once the waiter had moved away, the agent continued at a lower volume but with plenty of hiss. “Hymie’s funny. He knows what readers want these days, which is a few good brap stories and some wheelie pics. Meanwhile you’ve got a reputation for delivering 1,500-word disquisitions on flame spread, and can’t write a tire story without using words like ‘hysteresis’. Editors are afraid of you.”

“Is it that, or is it that you’re trying to package me with that hack snapper, Rimmer?”

“Where did you hear that?” asked the agent, feigning hurt to cover real embarrassment.

Farmer built up a head of steam. “I swear to God, if I ever hear that you’re working for a cut of ad revenue, or if I ever think you’ve queered a deal of mine because you insisted on photos by that charlatan, I will take the Guild’s advice and fire you. Packaging is bullshit, and you know it.” 

“Oh, ‘queer the deal’? Are you trying to piss me off now, or are you just a crass pig? And besides, Rimmer’s an artiste; every bit as much as you are, or were.”

For a moment, Farmer wondered if he’d gone too far. Everybody knew Lipshitz was a ju-jitsu expert. “Just get me my quote,” the writer said. “You know damned well that I get double the Guild schedule, or at least you should because I’ve sure as hell been earning you double the commissions.”

“OK, OK,” said the agent, smoothing things over. “Let’s split the difference. I won’t ask you to write a synopsis on spec if you promise to be on your best behavior, and pitch your story to a few editors verbally tonight at the Golden Wheel Awards.”

Truthfully, Farmer hated the Wheelies. Only members of the Foreign Motojournalists Club voted on them. But Lipshitz insisted that all his clients showed up to schmooze there, because winning a Golden Wheel was often a first step towards winning at the Motorcycle Journalist Guild’s own annual blowout, which was coming up the next month. 

Farmer’d won a Golden Con-Rod early in his career – For ‘Best First Person Account of a Ride’, which was not even one of the big categories – and for the next two years he sold feature stories on the strength of a title and log line alone.

“So, I’ll see you tonight, right?” Lipshitz said as they were leaving. “I’ll be in the Founders Room behind the stage. Just promise me you won’t make a scene on the red carpet.”

“Maybe,” Farmer grumbled.

“Maybe definitely,” said the agent. They shook hands. Farmer turned to coat-check girl, who held on to his helmet just a second too long, smiling.

“Here you go, Mr. Farmer.” She added, “Um, I’m sure you’re busy, but is there any chance I could talk to you? 

“Let me guess,” Farmer said. “You’ve got a great idea for a motorcycle feature story, but you can’t get it to an editor.”

“Yeah, well, no, not exactly,” she said. “I mean, I’ve written a bunch of stuff on the forums, and I’ve published a few gear reviews, but I was hoping to get invited to comparo test – you know, provide a female perspective.”

Farmer suddenly noticed how nicely she filled out her Alpinestars jeans.

“I should get going,” he said. “But give me your number. Maybe we can go riding some time. You can swing by my place after; I’ll read your stuff.”

Late afternoon.

Farmer’s phone chimed, and a text came in from his assistant. “Sorry I had to leave before you got back,” it read. “Remember the foreign motojourno’s ass’n asked you to show up for the red carpet ceremony at 5. Also, your nephew Mark called.”

A 5 p.m. red carpet call meant the organizers knew he wasn’t going to win in any major category, even though he had three nominations. He’d have to sit in the theater bar for two hours before the show even started.

He dreaded the thought of calling his nephew, who was a starving screenwriter. It wasn’t the kid’s fault that writing movies and TV shows paid shit. The kid was good; really good actually. And Farmer knew that he’d influenced his nephew’s career path years earlier by telling him that when he was in college, screenwriting had been his favorite class.

But Farmer had gone where the money was, motorcycle journalism, and his nephew had followed his passion. So Farmer had a condo in Brooklyn, a cabin in Montana, and a tastefully renovated mid-century modern in Silver Lake, while his nephew shared a crappy condo in the Valley, juggled Lyft and Uber side hustles, and was still trading scripts for free Blu Rays and meals at the craft service table.

“Alexa, get Mark on the phone,” he said, as he put on his tux trousers and looked for a formal shirt.

“Hey Uncle Gene!” Farmer heard his nephew’s voice coming through the speaker on his dresser. 

“What’s up?” Farmer asked. He already knew what it would be; his nephew had an idea for a bike magazine feature story, based on some obscure movie.

The truth was that although a bunch of people had tried to take ideas from the screen and turn them into feature stories in moto-mags or on popular websites, few stories translated from the screen into words and pictures. There hadn’t been a really good one since ‘That Saturday Afternoon’ which had won the ‘Connie’ for Best Story way back in 1971, after it had run as a cover story in the much-missed ‘Cycle’ magazine.

But Farmer had to admit that this time the kid did have a legit feature story idea, based on some obscure movie about the Royal Army motorcycle racing team escaping from the Nazis, at the beginning of World War II.

“I have to admit,” Farmer told him, “that could easily get picked up in the U.K., by Motorcycle News or even Bike magazine.”

“Do you really think so?” asked his nephew, gushing.

“I do,” said Farmer. “Send me a draft and I’ll get my agent to read it. UMT has a London office. Maybe he can get someone there to read it.”

Farmer said goodbye, and looked at himself in the mirror, trying to remember how to tie a bow tie. He hated awards shows, or was it that he hated motorcycle journalism altogether? No, just the agents, the packaging, schmoozing and bullshit. It wasn’t as if he needed the money; he’d sold nine major features in the last six years alone. Even his lavish lifestyle couldn’t burn through the cash nearly as fast as it accumulated.

Not for the first time, he considered the fact that if he sold this place and moved to his property in Montana, he would never need to make another cent. The way the markets were going, he could probably even afford to keep his pied-a-terre in Brooklyn and his NetJets membership. If he did that, he could actually devote himself to screenwriting which had, it was true, been his first love.

Alexa’s disembodied voice broke into that reverie. “Message from Alan,” she said. “Where are you? You’re late. Should I send a car?”

Farmer didn’t reply. Instead, he poured himself a brandy, and padded downstairs into the office. He briefly checked his email on the big desktop computer, then dug the Macbook he used for private projects out from under a huge pile of new D-Air gear that Dainese had recently sent over, in hopes that he’d be seen wearing it.

He turned on a light over a vintage Breuer chair, opened his laptop, and clicked the ‘Final Draft’ icon. A window popped open labeled, ‘Untitled Screenplay’. Farmer started typing...

If you thought this essay was funny, you should  buy my new Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia, Vol. II.  It’s fucking hilarious.

If you thought this essay was funny, you should buy my new Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia, Vol. II. It’s fucking hilarious.

Author’s note – Years ago, I read a short story with this conceit as a premise: What if poets were treated like screenwriters. It stuck with me, and clearly inspired this essay. I recently tried to find it, in order to credit the original author, but I couldn’t track it down. I want to say I read it in the New Yorker (because that’s one of the few places where I’m exposed to short stories. And I want to say it was a piece by Martin Amis, because this is his kind of thing. But I can’t be sure. So to that author, whoever he or she was or is, Cheers, Mark

 

Four-and-half years later: Livewire? I told you so.

It took about 3 1/2 years longer than I thought it would, but now that the production Harley-Davidson ‘Livewire’ has broken cover at CES, I finally get to say, “I told you so.” Here’s what I wrote about the first Livewire prototype.

Originally published June 26, 2014: Harley-Davidson's EV announcement shocked the faithful. Here's why the company's announcement strategy is actually brilliant

Earlier this week, I was flown in to see and (however briefly) ride the Harley-Davidson LiveWire. It was shown to the public for the first time at Harley-Davidson of New York's trendy new TriBeCa flagship store.  

Harley-Davidson president Matt Levatich, and the company's CMO, Mark-Hans Richter were in New York for the event. Both of them, along with the other execs I spoke with, cleaved to the official story: there are no official plans to produce or market the LiveWire. 

If Harley-Davidson is to be believed, the upcoming 30-city 'Project LiveWire'—10,000 public test rides on hand-made prototypes costing well over $250,000 each—is all an elaborate market research project. The Motor Company is only conducting the tour to get a general sense of the interest in electric motorcycles. 

None of the experienced motojournalists at the 'reveal' believes that. The bikes we saw—Harley built a total of 39—are far too well finished, and too resolved in their design. Andy Downes, the editor of MCN, bets there will be a production announcement within 18 months. 

When really pressed, Harley execs' fallback position is, "Maybe when battery technology makes the next jump." Say, when energy densities are 50% better than they are now. But no one in the battery business expects an increase like that in the next year or two, so that's not it.


I still have those yellow jeans. If only I still had those writing chops!

I still have those yellow jeans. If only I still had those writing chops!

Before I saw the bike in the metal, and rode it, I thought the whole "market test" story had been concocted to avoid comparison with existing e-bikes of generally comparable specification, say the Zero S and SR, or Brammo Enertia or Empulse. But even after my ten-minutes-in-Manhattan-traffic first ride, I realized that Harley has nothing to fear from bikes like those. The LiveWire (its limited, 53-mile range notwithstanding) is fucking cool.

So, what gives? Why would Harley spend tens of millions to build a fleet of LiveWires, then deny plans to put an EV into production?

The short answer is, because Harley's existing customer base, the Live-to-Ride-Ride-to-Live-Helmet-laws-suck-Support-the-troops-Drill-baby-drill-If-you-can-read-this-the-bitch-fell-off-Show-me-the-birth-certificate-No-new-taxes-Theres-no-replacement-for-displacement, dyed-in-the-leather Harley purists hate the idea.

I buttonholed one Harley exec and made him admit that, out on the interwebs—on Harley forums—Duck Dynasty-reject Harley riders don't just not want an e-bike, they actively resent the whole idea. The exec angrily told me, "Those guys hate us [Harley management] anyway! They already say that the panhead was the last real Harley. And besides, they don't buy new motorcycles."

I've gotta' give him that; they don't. But what about the 35 year old welder, who's making good money in North Dakota thanks to the fracking boom? Or the 45 year old dentist in the Chicago suburbs, or the 55 year old grocery store manager in Albuquerque?

True story: After the launch, I rode my corroded Triumph Bonneville home from the Kansas City airport. As I trundled along, I was slowly passed by a guy riding a new-ish Harley-Davidson 'bagger'. He was in his sixties, portly, with a neatly trimmed white beard. An absolutely typical suburban grandpa, of the type you'd find at the Rotary, or Elks Lodge, or maybe in a small-town Chamber of Commerce. Except, he was wearing a shiny black leather jacket, with an elaborate, embroidered grim reaper across the back. And there was a little chrome skull on his rear fender.

My point in telling you this is, the guys who do buy new Harleys aren't buying them because they love the engineering; they're buying them because the Harley brand is wrapped up in the rebellious, badass 'authenticity' of those grizzled panhead riders. That is what allows the welder, the dentist, the store manager, and grandpa to tell themselves, if it ain't Harley, it ain't shit.

Then it hit me: the grandmaster-level-chess-player strategic genius of Harley's 'LiveWire tour' story—the genius of claiming that they have no specific plans to produce it.

I mean, the bike I saw was proof they do have plans to produce it. And if you need more evidence, Harley's openly recruiting engineers with EV experience on their web site. TheProject LiveWire bikes are finished; if there are no plans to put it into production, why recruit high-dollar EV specialists? Because, LiveWire, or LiveWire 2.0 is, definitely going to be mass produced. Which makes the whole "It's just a market test" story an elaborate subterfuge. Why lie to your best customers? Bear with me another minute while I set up the strategic context...

Given: Harley-Davidson is the only motorcycle manufacturer that shows up on lists of the world's most valuable brands. The thing is, it's completely wrapped up in both small- and big-C conservative values. Take away the motorcycles, and Sturgis would be a Tea Party rally. These are people who resented having compact fluorescent light bulbs rammed down their throats.

Given: Harley's existing customers don't just not want an electric Harley; they view EVs as a tree-hugging liberal boondoggle. EVs, in their view, are actually unAmerican.

Given: As strong a brand as Harley-Davidson is, its customer base is very old. They say, Fifty is the new thirty; they say, 60's the new 40. Seventy may even be the new 50. But 85 is still 85. Harley needs a long-term strategy to attract younger customers 

Given: Harley's attempts a making smaller, lighter, sportier gas-powered motorcycles—bikes that could appeal to younger riders—have always failed. (And, by the way, Harley-Davidson's dealer network hated it the last time Harley tried to compete with those rice rockets. Harley created the Buell sport bike brand in an effort to compete with the Japanese manufacturers. Dealers felt that Buell was pushed on them by management; they never supported the brand, and it ultimately failed.) 

Someone at Harley-Davidson—and it had to be someone right at the top—came up with a daring plan to leapfrog right over more tech-savvy manufacturers like Honda and BMW, by going all the way to an EV. Honda doesn't have an e-bike yet, BMW doesn't (not a proper motorcycle, anyway). The only e-bikes on the market have been cobbled together by startups with no dealer networks and, frankly, not much style or marketing savvy.

There are some things that, when you hear an executive say them, you know &nbsp;are not true. For example, if the CEO of your company calls you all into the auditorium and says, "Let me make one thing clear: There will not be layoffs," it's time to run out and print 1,000 copies of your resume. I was reminded of that when Mark-Hans Richter, Harley's Chief Marketing Officer, emphatically said, "This is authentic. This is on-brand."      It was the opposite of on-brand, and that was why Harley should have done it ASAP. But now’s better than never.

There are some things that, when you hear an executive say them, you know  are not true. For example, if the CEO of your company calls you all into the auditorium and says, "Let me make one thing clear: There will not be layoffs," it's time to run out and print 1,000 copies of your resume. I was reminded of that when Mark-Hans Richter, Harley's Chief Marketing Officer, emphatically said, "This is authentic. This is on-brand."

It was the opposite of on-brand, and that was why Harley should have done it ASAP. But now’s better than never.

By producing an EV, Harley-Davidson would attract a young, liberal, urban market that until now has been inaccessible to America's oldest and most conservative motorcycle company. Harley-Davidson executives in Milwaukee secretly contacted Mission Motors, in San Francisco, and contracted them to engineer an electric drivetrain. By tapping Mission—the most advanced motorcycle EV research & development company—Harley ensured that the LiveWire would be state-of-the-art.

But Harley still had one insurmountable problem: No one thinks EVs will be more than 10% of the market any time soon, and announcing an EV was bound to freak out its existing customer base.

That's why calling Project LiveWire a market test was a communications-strategy masterstroke.

Harley's going to take its LiveWire prototypes on a 30-city tour across the U.S. It's not even bringing the machines to Sturgis, or Daytona, or any of the places where old-school Harley riders gather. But you can be sure Portland will see the LiveWire. And because the bike is fucking cool—and it's just a twist-and-go (no clutch or gears) and very easy to ride—it's going to appeal to young hipsters, tech nerds, chicks... people who've never thought of themselves as 'the Harley type'—or even motorcycle riders. 

Mark my words: within a year or two, Matt Levatich will stand up in front of a crowd of Harley faithful and say, "We weren't even going to make the LiveWire, but the free market has spoken. Customers are demanding a LiveWire of their own."

Between the lines, Harley-Davidson will tell millions of Duck Dynasty rejects, "Hey, we're a for-profit company, and the market has spoken, bro'. That was democracy in action." 

Harley-Davidson's current customers resent EVs and the liberals who drive them (or soon, ride them.) But such petty resentments are trumped by a knee jerk belief in the sanctity of a free market. After all, there's nothin' more 'Murican than the profit motive. 

So after the LiveWire tour, Harley-Davidson will address its existing customers, and actually use their deeply held conservative values to justify the decision to put the LiveWire into production.

Genius.




Black (and blue) Friday: Buy a book, help pay for my operation

Lately, I’ve become acutely aware of just how useful an opposable thumb is.

Lately, I’ve become acutely aware of just how useful an opposable thumb is.

If you’ve noticed a slowdown on blog posts here on Bikewriter.com, it’s in part down to something I’ve been too embarrassed to admit until now: I was recently injured in a motorcycle crash. It was a shit crash (aren’t they all?) But now, I’m now asking for a little sympathy.

I suppose I could organize some sad Go Fund Me to pay for treatment that I’m going to need to keep working. But I’d rather organize a “Go Find Me a gift I can give my motorcycle buddies”. What I mean is, buy your pals a good motorcycle book (or DVD), and give it to them as a Christmas gift (or, buy something for you to read over the Christmas break, while the rest of your family talks politics). That’s how you can help me out.

“That’s all I need to know! Just give me the links and I’ll buy some books right now.”

“What? You, Mr. Caution, were injured?!? Tell me more...”

Like all crashes, it was the result of a rider error. Yes, I was going much to fast for public roads, with friends but also with an eye towards writing a tire test on the buns on the Multi. I locked the front tire over-braking in an unexpected cornering situation. It was not particularly violent; I rode the bike home 200 miles from Arkansas, thinking that I’d sprained my right thumb and that the worst damage had been done to my ego.

One of these things is not like the other.

One of these things is not like the other.

Turns out that wasn’t the case. When the swelling and pain went on too long, I finally had it examined; it turns out it’s broken. And no, I’ve nothing like the kind of insurance you’d need to have it fixed in the U.S. (which, I suppose, influenced my post-crash wishful thinking that it was just some kind of sprain.)

Go ahead and berate me but don’t fucking kid yourself: No freelancer can afford meaningful health insurance. The only people who do what I do for a living, who also have good coverage are the handful of people who are still salaried employees, or journalists who happen to be married to someone with a corporate job.

Although I’ve been living with it for a month, in the last week I’ve had to face the fact that as piss-ant an injury as it is, it’s career-limiting for a motorcycle journalist. My typing and note-taking are messed up, and while I can technically ride, I won’t be able to ride well enough to take on most assignments until I get it fixed, whether in Mexico, Thailand, or wherever. Hence, this appeal.

If you’ve read this far AND YOU’RE A U.S. CUSTOMER congratulations, because this is where you get some great additional offers

If you live in the U.S. I will send you as many BMW Racing Motorcycles books or One Man’s Island DVDs as you want for $15 each, and I’ll pay postage. Email me for deets.

If you live in the U.S. I will send you as many BMW Racing Motorcycles books or One Man’s Island DVDs as you want for $15 each, and I’ll pay postage. Email me for deets.

I have a bunch of copies of One Man’s Island, Peter Riddihough’s great documentary film about my Isle of Man experiences. This is a DVD made in 2002, before the advent of high definition, but it’s still very watchable. I’ll sell you as many as you want for $15 each with free shipping. Shoot an email to Mark@MarkGardiner.com with your U.S. snail mail address. I will send you a Paypal invoice (and yes for you old-fashioned types I do still accept checks in the mail!)

I have a bunch of copies of Mastery of Speed: BMW Racing Motorcycles, co-authored with Laurel Allen. Although it was written before the S1000RR era, it’s full of terrific pics from BMW’s own archives and a great gift for BMW nerds! Again, $15 each with free shipping – less than half the Amazon price (so don’t tell them!) Shoot an email to Mark@MarkGardiner.com with your U.S. snail mail address. I will send you a Paypal invoice (and yes for you old-fashioned types I do still accept checks in the mail!)

Please note: Because I will be mailing these myself, and because the USPS has jacked up international rates and made the paperwork for international mailing incredibly onerous, I can only send these to U.S. addresses.

And now for the best part: Win an incredible art calendar of nude photos shot on the TT course!

My friend Rachael Clegg is a mad TT fan who is also both beautiful and talented. If you’ve never seen her ‘Milestones’ calendars you are in for a treat. Each month is illustrated with a funny or charming nude self-portrait, all shot on the TT course. NSFW, but SFYDOG (suitable for your den or garage.)

These are large format, art-quality printing. A £25 value.

These are large format, art-quality printing. A £25 value.

Six U.S. customers who buy books between now and December 1 will win one of these calendars. Here’s how to enter:

1.     Buy a book or books and screenshot your receipt or confirmation

2.     Email that proof of purchase to me, at Mark@MarkGardiner.com with ‘Calendar Contest’ in the subject line

3.     On December 2 I will sort through and give calendars to the three people who make the biggest purchases, and three other people chosen at random.

Please note that, again, because of USPS shipping hassles, this offer is for U.S. readers only. Sorry!

Last but not least… If you are a motorcyclist who happens to be an accomplished hand surgeon, we should talk.

No wait, there is one more thing: If you were expecting a maudlin Thanksgiving post, read this one…

Why ‘Servi-Car’? Because it was for servicing cars

Back in the 1930s, quite a few garages offered to pick up and drop off customers’ cars. (Imagine that, eh? Customer service!)

Back in the 1930s, quite a few garages offered to pick up and drop off customers’ cars. (Imagine that, eh? Customer service!)

Considering that it was offered in the Harley-Davidson lineup from 1932 to ’74, it’s hard to call the three-wheeled Servi-Car a dead end. But few Servi-Cars ever served their initial purpose. 

The idea was, garage operators would send a man out on the Harley to collect the customer’s car. The delivery driver would then attach the trike to the customer’s car’s bumper, and tow it back to the garage. After servicing the customer’s car, they’d return it to the customer with the Harley in tow. Then they’d unhitch the hog and return to the garage.

The initial concept didn’t catch on all that well, but the idea of a small, fuel-efficient vehicle with a large cargo capacity found a niche with police departments and all manner of delivery services and tradesmen.

The initial concept didn’t catch on all that well, but the idea of a small, fuel-efficient vehicle with a large cargo capacity found a niche with police departments and all manner of delivery services and tradesmen.


 
This text is excerpted from my&nbsp; Second Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia . (The first&nbsp; Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia &nbsp;was an Amazon best-seller, but let's face it: we all know that when it comes to reading on the john, 'number two' is even more satisfying.)

This text is excerpted from my Second Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia. (The first Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia was an Amazon best-seller, but let's face it: we all know that when it comes to reading on the john, 'number two' is even more satisfying.)

Harley's dead ends, con't.: Was it a Blast? Not really

Decades after the Aermacchi debacle, Harley-Davidson tried to produce an entry-level bike again with the ill-fated Buell Blast, sold (read: almost given away) from 2000 to 2010.

Some day, even this will be collectible.

Some day, even this will be collectible.

The Blast was a small, light motorcycle with a relatively (for Harley) sporting stance. Basically, the motor was a 1,000cc Sportster missing the rear cylinder. The bodywork was made out of Surlyn plastic—a material normally used in golf balls. Presumably that was to make it crash resistant. 

It was a good idea. Really, it was. And according to Harley’s PR, the Blast was used to train over 175,000 riders in the Rider’s Edge program. But it was so unloved that after announcing that it would discontinue the model, Buell crushed remaining Blasts into cubes rather than sell them.