One of the benefits of experience is the added perspective it brings. In my recent A Decade At The Helm editorial, I discussed many of the changes that have taken place in the publishing world since I joined Motorcycle.com and stretching back 10 years earlier.

Another thing that has changed is how motorcycles are marketed toward their audiences, in particular how the roll-out of upcoming new models is often accompanied by “spy shots” of prototypes that foreshadow bikes we’ll see unveiled months hence. Some manufacturers seem to have established deals with friendly photographers who are set up to capture images of prototype motorcycles undergoing testing and share them with a public that is eager for a chance to look into the future of motorcycles.

Yamaha Tenere Spy-

Spy shots, like this of a Tenere version of a Yamaha FZ-07, are nearly irresistible.

However, considering how many new models that are being photographed and seen around the world, we’re a little skeptical these photographers just happened to be sitting at the side of the road when an important new prototype is being ridden past a camera. Not saying they don’t; just saying…

Such a strategy actually makes sense in terms of marketing products to consumers, because it drives a discussion about the brand and an upcoming new model, which can have the benefit of supporting sales once that model has been delivered to showrooms.

Such coordination was rare or nonexistent in “the old days,” back when cameras used film that needed processing before the image captured could be seen. Snagging such spy shots were almost like finding the Holy Grail, so scarce were they.

A similar strategy may have been used in the old days, but as far as I know, these efforts were never coordinated between the manufacturers and the photographers. My personal story of spy shots takes place in May 2002 while undertaking a comparison test for the e-zine which had recently hired me, MotorcycleUSA.

Duke's Den Spy Shots

Comparing ADV bikes long before ADV became the truncated term for adventure bikes. Triumph’s Tiger 955i was cool and competent, but it came up a bit short to the engineering prowess of BMW and its R1150GS.

We were just north of San Francisco riding along the Pacific Coast Highway, and my new cohort, Ken Hutchison, and I were enjoying a lovely day riding. We had pulled over to shoot some photos when we noticed a few corners up the road a pair of unrecognizable motorcycles seemingly in the process of their own photo shoot. We were too far away to see what kind of bikes they were, but they surely were nothing we had ever seen before.

Our inner James Bond called us into action. I quickly jumped on the back of Ken’s bike with my camera in hand. Wearing a helmet would impede my eye’s access to the viewfinder of my Canon 10S, so I’d be lidless on this chase for an unheard of machine.

“Things were about to get interesting,” recalled Ken about the event that took place almost exactly 15 years earlier. “You were hiding the camera off to the side while I tried to sneak up on them as quickly as possible.”

Duke's Den Spy Shots

I snapped this frame as we approached and got our first decent look at one of the alien-looking creatures. It was a Boxer-powered BMW of some sort, but it looked massive and ungainly. Still, it was a motorcycle no one outside BMW had ever seen, and our hearts pounded in our chests as if we were discovering two-wheeled diamonds.

Duke's Den Spy Shots

This is the moment when Ken and I became an apparent threat to the secrecy of BMW’s project.

“As we approached the group of Beemer dudes, they began to scatter like deer in every direction,” Ken relates. “I slowed down in an effort to give you an opportunity to get the shot, but those pesky Germans were well coordinated and quickly formed a human wall around the bike. The next thing we know the rider takes off down the highway, hauling ass away from us so…. the only logical thing to do was chase his ass down.”

Ken’s memory is about as reliable as mine, so clear details have been lost to a decade and a half of fresher experiences, but we can both vividly recall the sheer excitement of giving chase to prey that was almost unattainable.

“I took off as fast as I could ride two-up in an effort to track him down,” Ken explained, “but that damn Beemer was already a turn ahead of us. I was hell bent on getting us in position to take the shot whether you had a helmet on or not! Keep in mind, we had met for the first time just a day earlier, but we were on a mission.”

I tried to snap a few frames while we gave chase, but the BMW rider was very talented on those twisty roads, so I spent most of my time gripping on with one hand and gritting my teeth as our speeds approached the unreasonable.

Duke's Den Spy Shots

Our high-speed pursuit of the BMW was ended after riding at supra-legal speeds without a helmet, gloves, jacket and one hand…

“We probably shouldn’t have tried to catch that guy, but the red mist must’ve overtook us and for a few moments we were working as a team for the first time.”

As for what it was that I shot, that would have to wait until after the antiquated system of developing film and printing pictures! Gawd, that seems so stone-age now.

As it turned out, our quarry was perhaps the least impressive BMW from the past few decades, the R1200CL. It was an offshoot of the oddball cruiser-styled R1200C but with a large, funky fairing and bulky luggage. Four months later BMW invited me to ride its new touring cruiser in Asheville, North Carolina. It was a fine cruiser on straight roads and in sweeping corners, but it was maladroit in tight corners and made me wonder how that guy on PCH was able to pull away from us.

In September 2002, I described the R1200CL thusly: “Take the CL to a tight, twisting road where the corner speeds are low, however, and it seems like a huge mutant penguin on land. Instead of graceful, the CL becomes ungainly.” MO’s review is here

At the end of it all, we had little more to show from our exploits other than a thrilling motorcycle chase experience and a few extra hits on the website. Oh, and this editorial, 15 years later.

Recent Duke’s Dens

Duke’s Den – A Decade At The Helm

Duke’s Den – 10 Cylinders Of (Stationary) Power

Duke’s Den – Motorcycle Bucket Lists

Duke’s Den – What Is The Yamaha Sport Heritage Line?

  • azicat

    I’ve always had a suspicion that motoring “spy shots” were more than likely to be inside jobs. The monetary and logistical aspects of being a dedicated motoring paparazzi just doesn’t add up. How can a freelance photographer justify the time spent lurking for days on end in a shifty manner, with no guarantee of income, chasing photos of subjects that relatively few people care about?

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Motorcycle paparazzi do sell their spy shots at significant prices to motorcycle magazines and manufacturers. They also happen to be enthusiasts and know where and when the testing takes place. They may have some inside contacts too, but it is not a deliberate attempt by the manufacturers to prematurely expose their bikes to the public. Spy shots are usually so ugly, especially with the camouflage, that bike manufacturers wouldn’t want their bikes seen that way. KTM especially wants their bikes to look as good as possible, such as at EICMA, and probably hates the spy shots.

  • Starmag

    I liked the whole thing a lot better before the advent of the loathsome modern-day video teaser. I refuse to click on them anymore so as to hopefully discourage them.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Video teasers are released by the manufacturers themselves (not by the paparazzi mentioned in this article) and are irritating. The actual bike is sometimes a let down.

  • JMDGT

    I have always thought that there was and is a certain amount of collusion going on between Moto-journos and OEMs. A leak here a leak there disguised as proprietary info. Manufactured mystique might work a time or two but eventually when the contrived reveals show themselves often enough a pattern becomes evident. Or does it? Even if there is collusion who cares. It’s marketing. It’s like seeing creative comparisons between two or more similar bikes. In every publication on the planet. I guess I am old enough not to take any of it too seriously. I think that individual reviewers offer us a different set of eyes when evaluating a new bike. They all add value to the discussion. Scripted evaluations are easy to identify. Rule one is if there is no drama create some. Me I like specifications with a little personal interpretation thrown in. The your mileage may very statement holds more truth than we know. I rode a Street Triple RS today. Almost every comment from every review I read was spot on about it. All made within the power of each individuals interpretation. There are always a few minor nits to pick with any product or review. The truth is out there. Trust no one. The truth will set you free. We live in the best of times. Unless you are a millennial.

    • Jon Jones

      Great post.

    • Old MOron

      “Even if there is collusion who cares. It’s marketing.”

      I care. In these days of reality television that is not real, in these days of breaking news that is fake news, in these days where people value their social media profiles more than their own humanity, I care. I almost wish I didn’t.

      • JMDGT

        I don’t believe product marketing types tell outright lies about their products. If they did they wouldn’t last very long and neither would their products. I was in product management and sales most of my career and know that you don’t go very far without employing the policy of truth. In the effort to make information available about the products of interest it makes sense for there to be a certain amount of cooperation between the manufacturer and any external parties responsible for diseminating pertinent information. It gets the truth out there more efficiently. Journalists are one of many channels they use to market their products. In this case collusion is cooperation and a good thing. Any good sales person knows the truth is your best friend and deceit once expose is a death blow. It is better to put the negatives out there. Most reviews if not all always have a few nits to pick about the bikes or products. We all want as much unfiltered information as is possible. Marketing is the filter that better indentifies the strengths and weaknesses of the offering. News is an entirely different animal. I always want the raw unfiltered version. Ride safe.

        • Old MOron

          Do you remember Evans’ MOronic story about brand intimacy? You made the very first comment, “Marketing is mind control.” http://disq.us/p/1i5jwnu

          Now you say, “Even if there is collusion who cares. It’s marketing.”

          I don’t get you, JMD.

          “Journalists are one of many channels they use to market their products. … News is an entirely different animal. I always want the raw unfiltered version.”

          So you’re saying that journalists are not news outlets, but salespeople. They collude with marketing departments, and you don’t care. I guess you have that luxury because you can see through the charade.

          But you also said: “We live in the best of times. Unless you are a millennial.”

          Yes, poor millennials. They’re falling for it. Evans mentioned, in passing, “the top brand for millennials is Chevrolet.” http://www.motorcycle.com/mini-features/harley-davidson-tops-automotive-industry-in-brand-intimacy.html
          Everyone has seen those awful “real people” ads that Chevy uses. These things are painful to watch, but… they actually work on millennials! Poor kids.

          • JMDGT

            I like you are smarter than marketing propaganda. There is nothing to get. You have the ability to see what is going on without being affected by the BS. You are immune to it because you use logic and reason. You are able to maintain the proper emotional distance. Think of it like serial data transfer. All the info comes in helter skelter in no particular order. Parallel data transfer comes in a specific structured order. When you use logic and reason it doesn’t matter how you get the data. You can disseminate it regardless. Marketing IS mind control. It is an effort to steer your thinking in a certain direction. Like I said you are immune when you use logic and reason. Marketing focuses more on the emotional aspect of the sales process. Journalism is a conduit of information. To a certain degree they cooperate with the OEMs to better synthesize the available data they can pass on to us adding in their opinion along the way. I don’t see that being a problem. As far as millennials go Fortune magazine tells us the average millennial makes less than 20k a year. They carry on average 37k in student load debt along with an additional 6k in credit card debt. That puts them below the federal poverty level of 12k. Incuring debt is almost unavoidable but should be minimized as much as possible. I almost feel sorry for the millenials but then again I don’t. You give a dance you pay the band. The world owes no one a living. There has never been a better time in history regarding motorcycles. By the way I just bought a new Street Triple RS that I will pick up on Tuesday. Compared to what was available even just a few years ago it is a lot of bike for the money. It is the best of times. Ride safe.

          • Old MOron

            Well, thanks for the vote of confidence. I hope you enjoy your new bike! Maybe you can tell us about it. You know, the raw unfiltered version.

          • Born to Ride

            On the subject of millenials, mind control, and debt, it would be very easy to formulate a logical argument that your generation is the cause of pathetic state of my generation. Education in the ultimate form of social control. We spend all of our formative years in the education system, listening to the curriculum and rhetoric written by the generation that preceded ours. Day in and day out we are taught that manual labor is bad, and that we need to go to the very best college to be successful in life. We have workshops in high school that teach us how to submit applications to the “best” universities and that we should attend the most prestigious institution that will accept us. We should have workshops for identifying aptitude for vocations, welding shops, carpentry, auto mechanics, plumbing and fluid labs. An entire generation is perpetuating the endless advertisement for higher education, promising that it will lead to livelihood and stability and not massive debt and largely unmarketable skillsets. The lack of experience with machinery and tools, and the lack of understanding in regards to the manufacturing process allows people to be persuaded about the viability and value of a product. We are over-educated and horrendously dumb. It does not remotely surprise me that advertisers have such an easy time manipulating such a population. The bullshit that anyone with a modicum of experience would see through is mystifying to someone who has never held a wrench, or a multimeter, or a soldering iron, or a stinger, or a rotary saw. For the first time in history, the older generation has taught their posterity to be completely indulgent and dependent on the labor of others.

            Also, I am quite jealous of your new steed! I just bought myself a California 1400 because of a deal that I just couldn’t pass up, but I wanted to buy me a new Striple in the worst way. 15 grand out the door just wasn’t gonna happen for me. haha

          • JMDGT

            Fingerspitzengefuhl Is a German word that has no English eqivilent. Its literal translation is something like fingertip feeling but know how is probably closer to its real meaning. I always found it hard to respect people I knew in business that had never sold or managed anything. They never took it upon themselves to study the markets or learn the products we sold. Product knowledge is paramount to effective sales. Knowledge when practically applied brings with it know how or simply put wisdom. The same principle applies to making things. I come from a family of machinists and engineers. I learned that making something especially if it was the first attempt always had a steep learning curve that went with it. Every time I made something or assembled something I gained the know how along with the desire to do it better the next time. Making furniture comes to mind as I have always liked woodworking. What you are describing about education today is symptomatic of cultural Marxism. It is an evil that needs to be fought at every step. As far as the new bike goes I have always liked riding a nice midsize light machine but there just never seemed to be a bike that hit the sweet spot for me until this new version of the Street. The RS is a lot of bike for the money. I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I first rode my CBR600. Over time it became obviously antiquated and was traded off for a VFR a bike I was never really happy with. Wanting to capture that sportbike performance without the punishing egos that go along with it the new RS is the perfect street bike for me. I thought about a Speed Triple R but the RS is the better bike for the money in my opinion. I still plan on keeping the Beemers. I still want a Tuono and will eventually get one of those also. The California is in my top five. Who cares what everyone else tells you. Make your own way. You will be better for it.

          • Born to Ride

            I was fortunate to grow up in an auto repair shop, and blessed with an analytical mind. I am not easily persuaded or told what to do. I have an innate understanding of how machinery works and how it is made and assembled. Knowledge demystifies the world around us and gives us invaluable clarity for making decisions. When I work at my retail job, I read about and examine the functionality of every product that we carry, I understand what makes it desirable and how it would appeal to my customers. When you know what you are talking about and are completely confident in that knowledge, you can be incredibly persuasive. The same applies to advertising. When you know your product, and you know your consumer, marketing just comes naturally and a little imagination goes a long way. I have a genuine appreciation for smart advertising. I am more inclined to buy a product when I believe that a genuine effort has been made to connect with the consumer that is enthusiastic about the product in a unique way.

            Also, if you ever find yourself in Southern California, I’d be happy to swap bikes for a day and go for a ride! haha

          • JMDGT

            I usually get back to Orange County at least once a year or so. You never know. Good luck with the California. We need more know how.

          • blansky

            Fact of the matter is, every generation is a product the one that preceded it. How could it be otherwise. A child is a blank slate that absorbs everything that is know from what went before. The 1940s begot the 50s, the 50s begot the 60s, the 60s begot the 70s and on and on.

            The only difference today is every century or so we go through a cataclysmic “technology” change which has consequences to the social order which can throw a wrench into the works.

            But only in the last 60 years or so, has the concept of work had anything to do with personal fulfillment, but before was only to avail us to food and lodging.

            An interesting thing I realized a few years ago. In the 50 and 60 the concept of machines (think Jetsons) and the futurists of the day all pontificating about all the modern conveniences giving us incredible free time and family time and the machines would do all the work. The only thing they never mentioned is, where would our paychecks come from if all we were doing is enjoying life while machines waited on us hand and foot.

          • Born to Ride

            Ya can’t have a pontification based economy!

    • blansky

      Remind me of blogs like Boy Genius Report (BGR) with it’s endless breathless exclusive reports on the life changing new iPhone, which is always exactly like the last iPhone, with pictures supposedly James Bonded away from some Asian supplier of whatever.

      It’s been long ago exposed as merely a marketing tool to create buzz about another boring phone that’s in the pipeline sometime soon for the Apple Fanboys, so they can get their tent ready for their yearly camping excursion outside the Apple store.

      Much like celebrity paparazzi there is a collusion between marketing and product, no matter how many crocodile tears they produce about invasion of privacy.

      • JMDGT

        It is like a reality show. If you watch one long enough you can see that it is scripted to a certain extent. Kind of takes away from the authenticity aspect of it. Same with the professional reviews. I have found the message boards at a number of product centric websites are a much better reflection of the truth than most of the reviews I’ve read. As good as some of those are they limit themselves in the way they paint the picture. The fact that we see a number of reviews at the same time is more than likely part of a marketing push from the OEMs than happenstance. It is also obvious that some of the marketing descriptions they receive bleed over into what they write. When you know what is happening it is easier to see through the fluff and weed out the more useless reviewers.

        • blansky

          Agree. We are constantly being manipulated by marketers of whatever. Even the ubiquitous advice of “google it”, is manipulated by companies who pay to be first on the list, and who can bother to read down to page 100 or 10,000 to see the other offerings.

          And as for forums and comments sections, there are paid trolls, as well as paid marketers throughout to push their products or points of view.

          I guess it’s fine if you are aware of this stuff, but many people aren’t and believe what they read.

          A friend of mine says, everyone giving advice, from Doctors to politicians to pundits, should have to wear a uniform like NASCAR with all their “sponsors” clearly visible.

  • John B.

    Great story Kevin!

    Even if spy photographers and OEM’s conspire, it’s a minor deception compared with the other ways corporations deceive and manipulate the public. Once we agreed to surrender our electronic data in exchange for free applications (Facebook, Google, Twitter, among others) we gave corporate advertisers what they needed to manipulate us. We consumers struck a bad bargain.

    • Old MOron

      I agree. That’s one of the reasons I’ve never had a FB, Google, Twitter, etc. account. This MOronic avatar is my only connection to social media.

      • Born to Ride

        Same here, although despite keeping my internet presence to a minimum, they still have firm control of your browser history. I doubt the average google user gets constant ads for motorcycle tire sales like I do. lol

        • Old MOron

          Too true. Here’s a funny story. I used to have a yahoo mail account, that when I set it up, I was naive enough to put my accurate age in the profile. I never paid much attention to the advertising, but one day I noticed enough to realize that yahoo thought I was due for a midlife crisis. I continued to not pay attention to the ads.

          But yahoo was paying attention. They noticed that I never clicked anything they had chosen for a *heterosexual* guy my age, so they started putting up gay advertising. I held my resolve to ignore the advertising for a short while, but eventually I did yahoo searches for muscle cars, guns, hunting, fishing, tactical weapons, etc. The gay ads went away after that.

          • Born to Ride

            Hilarious. I would love to do some sort of study on day on the effect of browser clicks on the delivered advertising.

        • DickRuble

          It’s going to get worse. The internet providers now have the right to track your browsing and use that information. To clear your history, set your browser to erase it daily or do it yourself. To prevent tracking, use a proxy service AND clean browser history and cookies. CCleaner does a good job at that.

          • None of that will stop your ISP from knowing what you’re doing. You’ll have to engage a proxy server that isn’t on your ISP’s network and be sure the connection between it and you is over TLS (https). The average person has no idea what I’m talking about, so basically, you can’t do anything about it.

    • blansky

      Except it wasn’t really a bargain. I get 10 calls a day on my phones from marketers using random dialers. And if corporations don’t get the information from companies that we “sheepishly” gave it to, they’d get it other ways.

      It’s all in the jingoism of capitalism. “We all benefit”, except we don’t.

      In my opinion where it all went wrong, is when political representatives decided they worked for who paid them instead of who voted for them.

      Online security give away….Marsha Blackburn R
      http://thehill.com/policy/technology/326816-tech-faces-public-anger-over-internet-privacy-repeal

    • Douglas

      The electronic data mining goes far beyond advertising & identifying “consumers”…so-called social media is nothing if not a tracking method, more effective than even the NSA and NRO. If anyone has any of this crap, I strongly advise cutting the cord asap. Oh, and watch carefully what you send/receive thru WiFi….

      • DickRuble

        If you use WiFi your exact location is known. The WiFi router sends location information to anyone or any thing that asks.