Monday, 3 September 2012
Bell Curves and Red Bull
Now, I accept I know 10% of Bugger All, but this is the same negative thinking that the Sports Physiologists at Team GB cycling love to sow in other teams; for instance, the French claiming the British track cyclists' advantage was "special wheels" (that were actually bought by Team GB from a French manufacturer) to the Australian riders happy to come last in the road race by refusing to help the peleton because "It would gift Mark Cavendish Gold." In other words, once you think you're beaten, you are.
By the late 1970s both Gerald Davison (of Honda) and Mark Williams (latterly of Bike, and now writing for Benzina) were warning that the motorcycle industry was sowing the seeds of its own demise by focusing on fast road bikes and little else. Sixteen page spreads of how this year's Fireblade/Ninja/Gixxer is measurably faster than last year's model might fascinate sportsbike fans and self-obsessed journos but, little-by-little, everyone else gets bored. Ditto endless "How to" features which are only fine if your audience has a garage. Something most UK homes lack, by the way. Ditto space for a big shed.
Personally, I think the cause of motorcycling and magazines are far from lost. Sure, folk love their i-pad/phone/whatever, but some use it to watch incredible BMX stunter Danny MacAskill , (below) now sponsored by Red Bull. Ah, Red Bull - now there's a company that understands the future. The only motorcycling action our lad likes to watch on TV is Red Bull X-fighters(above), the dirt bike face-offs that are decided on who can pull off the most outrageous stunts. Ironically, this freestyle showing-off grew out of the AMA banning celebration stunts at the end of races. Yes, the old guard wanted things to stay the same, and the youngsters wanted to move with the times. Sound familiar?
Kids love speed, and most love BMX: so getting them off a pushbike and onto a motorcycle should be easy. But most of all, by necessity, kids love cheap. Funny thing is motorcycling painted itself into the performance corner from the late sixties on, when it realised cheap cars were stealing their bread and butter customers. As motorcyclists (like other consumers) became wealthier an entire industry followed them upmarket, first into performance and latterly with the Adventure Bike thing. A growing economy allowed the industry to forget new blood (as opposed to born-agains) because a few hiccups aside for a certain generation things just continued getting better. But that generation is on the way out, with some owners' club magazines having as many obituaries as small ads.
So maybe now we need cheap, trendy and above all fun wheels that tap into what Red Bull's marketers at least can see: that sexy, edgy and affordable are the future. How to apply that to growing motorcycling? How would I know? I'm a middle aged biker, stuck in my ways at the cosy end of life. Just like most of the folk in the business of motorcycling, whether it's selling bikes or magazines. Maybe that - rather than "bell curves" - is the problem.