Lead Image by Alfonse Palaima MOTOINSIDER:
One-third of Fonzie’s melon, Crocodile Waheed, yours truly, Bertrand of the North and Ducati PR guy Nathon Verdugo at last week’s Multistrada junket.
Twenty-five – okay, 27 years ago – I was the rebellious youth wanting to shake up motojournalism. Now I’m the Old Guy trying to hang in there. As James Mason writes in his excellent Vietnam novel Chickenhawk of his postwar drug-smuggling bust, “Nobody was more surprised than me.” Luckily, it’s not the riding-the-motorcycles part that’s become difficult, it’s the everything else. Mostly the way the technology has transformed it. Difficult is the wrong word, though. More like mystifying.
When I got here, PR guy fashion choices tended toward double-knit: Sansabelt slacks, maybe white bucks, possibly a Hawaiian shirt if it was casual Friday. I just got back from riding the new Multistrada, and the traveling attire of Ducati’s new press guy reminded me of my college kid, replete with a backward baseball cap. He cleans up nicely when it’s time for business and it would be a mistake to think of Nathon Verdugo as any sort of of millennial slacker, since he worked his way up from PR stints at the X Games, Dainese, Alpinestars, and Troy Lee Designs before becoming Ducati’s PR manager for North America, not to mention having done things like race the Baja 1000 in 2008 on one of those Aprilia RX-V 5.5 Twins. He couldn’t have been more than about 12. He’s a highly professional guy.
The fun part is watching him and a couple of other kids work the smartphones. Every time anything entertaining happens, they’re exchanging videos of it ten seconds later and howling “TIGHT!” Okay, that’s more Adam Waheed, from Motorcycle USA, who can’t be much past 30. The ’Heed is a blur of social media and sometimes startling cassowary-style outbursts of laughter (who does the work of about five pre-www motojournalists).
When I was at the Big Magazine, we were strongly encouraged to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’m down with the Insta. FB’s okay, but I continue to not get the Tweet. Right now I’m following 99 other tweeters and 141 people are following me. I’m not leaving much of a trail, sorry. Matthew Miles at Cycle World had like 5000 followers when I left, so I concluded I’d never understand it and kind of let it go. I guess it’s the same basic thing as FB: People share links to photos and videos and what’s going on in their world, but I can only watch so many racing and dog-trick clips and pictures of food. I hope somebody who’s a professional twitterer will straighten me out, but even my kid says Twitter is lame. Mainly it’s all a huge time suck. The most fun we old people got out of Twitter there for awhile was conjugating it: Tweet, twat, twit. While we laugh and ease into a cat-food retirement, TWTR is up to $47 a share.
The hard part for me is the password. Passwords. Sometimes my device is forgetful, and wants me to suddenly re-enter it after months of no questions asked. It’s written down back at the home office along with the other 80 passwords you have to change every time you click on what seemed like a legit link to increase your penis size, but that does you no good in the field. The most fun is when you have some site send the password reset link to an email account, only to find yourself locked out of the email account too. Can’t they all just recognize the thumbprint like Evans Brasfield’s phone, or use some kind of scent tracker, like a dog? Wait, what just popped up on my laptop? iCloud Keychain? Never mind.
I love most of the electronics on new motorcycles, but a little standardization wouldn’t be a bad thing when you need 15 minutes to reset the tripmeter. Someday a bike will ask me for my password and then I truly will lose it. Electronics take us forward, but remind me of how it must’ve been before everybody agreed on left shift, right front brake. Actually big gub’mint forced that on us. Imagine trying to get it through Congress today. Mr. President, I refuse to shift OR brake left…
I don’t think Writing or Serious Journalism is ever going to die, because most thinking people are able to sort out their thoughts better on paper in a dark office far better than with their mouths on camera. But when it comes to things like motorcycle journalism, I start to worry. When the only images were a few grainy black-and-white photos on cheap newsprint, writing was critical for describing things. Now that the www enables delivery of color images and video clips and complete specs instantly around the world to your target audience, you’re well on the way to eliminating the middleman, i.e. the writer, i.e. me. All the hard information I just shared from my Multistrada ride is available on Ducati.com except for my personal writing, wait, riding, impressions. And if you wait until after bikes are delivered to consumers, you can get tons of those online from guys more familiar with any given bike than I am, since I scarcely ever establish a long-term relationship with any of them.
Press launches for new bikes always were marketing-driven, but lately the marketing departments seem to have completely taken over, to the point where what once was a great blast through the countryside with other motorcycle nuts has become more a big, carefully choreographed photo shoot. The first Ducati “press trip” I went on was when they brought the Paso to the US: Phil Schilling told me to buy myself a one-way ticket to New Jersey and ride the Paso back to California. I think I did it in five days, and after I rested up for a few more after completing that arduous journey, I sat down at my typewriter and probably took a week to bang out a story. By then I was pretty familiar with the Paso. The story showed up in Cycle maybe six weeks later. Another week after that, a hand-scrawled fan letter or three might show up … a few years later, I did the same thing with one of the first Road Kings to roll off the line in York, PA. Steve Piehl met me at the factory, shook my hand and waved bye-bye. H-D’s launches today are circus-type affairs. (At least the Emperor did have some new clothes at the last one I attended for the Street 750.)
Come to think of it, it did get a little lonely at night on the road alone sometimes. It would have been nice to send out a photo now and then and get an “attaboy” or a “Tiiight!” back in real time. But the cellphone hadn’t been invented yet. And social media hadn’t been imagined.
What I miss, though, are the long-form stories. I hate myself for forgetting the name of the Car & Driver guy (now deceased) who wrote Bend the Sky, about his ride in a Navy F4 Phantom jet, flying inverted through a valley where he described the tree bark. Kevin Cameron’s Cycle magazine profile of Mike Baldwin, Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright, is one of the best things he (and therefore anybody) ever did, right at the beginning of his motorcycle writing career. Maybe you have advanced Google skills and can find them. I can’t. Those and a few others, Ken Vreeke’s Hickman Haul-Ass Club, also in Cycle, are the things that made me want to do what I do. I never reached the level of any of them, but I’m kind of worried that nobody else lately has seemed to either.
What’s unquestionably better now is the motorcycles. The Paso was my first Ducati and I’d never ridden more than 200 miles in a day before I set out west from Jersey. Cruise control? Gore-tex? Self-restraint? What? I got two tickets in Kansas; on the second one I explained to the officer I’d already paid my Kansas speeding tax. He escorted me to the courthouse in his patrol car. This was in the dark days of the 55-mph limit. Now Kansas is even more backward, but at least you can get through it at a decent clip and back out.
The fact that I’m still “testing” new motorcycles makes me pinch myself; seeing bikes evolve is a life-affirming counterbalance to all the other galloping stupidity in the world. And getting to hang out with the kids whether they like it or not is icing on the proverbial cake. Studies I’m not making up have shown riding motorcycles and being with younger people both counter aging. I get the double shot. As God is my witness, I vow to Tweet and Instagram more from now on, and take acting lessons so as to appear less dicklike on video. Where do I sign up? Does anybody remember my AOL password?