Avoidable Contact #102: Why would you care what these men have to say about motorcycles?

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Sam Smith

I’ll get straight to the point: Starting about now, Hagerty Media is expanding our scope of coverage to include new motorcycles.

No, our partners at Hagerty Insurance do not insure new motorcycles—very few of them, in any event, they won’t touch my ZX-14R or even my wife’s R3—but we are going to write about them and test them. We’re doing this because the profitability limitations of the motorcycle-magazine business have essentially killed off almost every reputable source of motorcycle testing; the last decent source of bike tests, Cycle World under the leadership of the inimitable Mark Hoyer, has ceased magazine publication and is now online-only. Everybody else is long gone.

(We should note that there are plenty of motorcycles out there that Hagerty will insure, so unless your garage exclusively contains what a rental car agency would call “Hayabusa or similar”, you should give our counterparts on the insurance side a call — jb)

Our stated mission here at Hagerty Media, that of saving driving, also obliges us to do what we can to save riding. Therefore we are throwing our hat into this ring and we hope you’ll join us for the, uh, ride. Which brings us to the obvious question:

Why would you listen to anything we have to say about motorcycles?

I think we have a good answer to that, and I’ll detail it below. Let’s start by acknowledging the legitimacy of the question. There has long been a mechanism by which lousy autowriters become even worse motorcycle journalists, and it goes something like this:

  • 30-something lousy autowriter experiences mid-life crisis and/or a severe attack of ennui
  • Cagey PR agency offers this writer some time on a motorcycle
  • 30-something lousy autowriter wobbles around a parking lot on it…
  • …and immediately sees himself as a combination of Hunter S. Thompson and “Jax” from Sons Of Anarchy
  • Cagey PR agency makes sure this dude always has a bike to ride
  • Since this novice rider has zero experience, he loves everything
  • …and the uncritical “journalism” the PR agency receives is better, and cheaper, than buying ads
  • This dopey waltz continues until the writer crashes or gets frightened or both…
  • …at which point the PR agency looks for another pigeon to pluck, and the ride continues.

This is a variant of The Mommyblogger Public Relations Playbook, only for disaffected men, and just like Colt .45 it works every time. The problem is that it doesn’t produce good or useful writing. Why would you buy, or even consider, a motorcycle based on the opinions of some buffoon who has less mileage to his credit than Peter Egan’s last pair of boots? Many of our readers have been riding for thirty years or more. How useful is it for them to read the opinions of a rank novice who thinks everything is just great?

Sam Smith

It was with the above cliche in mind that I set out to build our capacity to review motorcycles. I looked for experienced riders who could communicate their impressions to the reader. We didn’t need a bunch of MotoGP racers, but we did need at least one or two people who could ride a bike up to the general vicinity of its handling limit. (When considering modern bikes, which can use 215 horsepower to motivate 450 pounds, this is a tough ask.) We also needed people who had serious long-haul riding experience. Last but not least, we needed people who knew how to fix a bike and who would understand the problems faced by someone who owns a motorcycle over the long haul as opposed to just borrowing an endless parade of new ones.

Sam Smith

For our first group test, the results of which you’ll be able to read in the weeks to come, we selected four bikes with real-world interest to a broad variety of Hagerty readers:

  • The Kawasaki H2 SX-SE, a 200-horse sport-touring bike for the Ninja-centric Gen-Xer;
  • The new Honda Gold Wing with Dual Clutch Transmission, representing the state of the touring art;
  • The BMW R1250GS, the favorite “ADV bike” of well-heeled long-haulers;
  • The Ducati Monster 1200S, a “cafe racer” with unimpeachable street credibility.

Four bikes meant four precision riders, and I was able to come up with three. I hasten to note in advance that all three Smiths are, as far as we know, unrelated:

  • Sean Smith is a canyon-carving street hooligan with over a decade’s worth of experiencing writing for major publications. He is remarkably quick on a bike, remarkably observant, and has been in the ICU a few times looking for the absolute limit. We rely on him to tell us how a bike behaves when it starts scraping body parts on the pavement.
  • Kyle Smith is my favorite motorcycle-riding Hagerty employee. He’s ridden and worked on a broad range of vintage motorcycles. This upcoming year you’ll be able to read about his attempt to race the same old bike in six different kinds of events. From Kyle, we hope to find out how the modern bikes compare to the old standards. Kyle and I are co-owners of a 1984 Gold Wing Aspencade, which is a wonderful thing.
  • Sam Smith has been working on and riding a variety of bikes for a decade and a half, starting with a CB400F and wandering through a wide variety of European iron. His current collection includes a creamsicle-colored BMW R90S.
  • Jack Baruth is just zis guy, you know? I bought my first motorcycle, a Top Gun-colored ’86 Ninja 600R, in 1994, which means I am humiliatingly close to thirty years of “M” endorsement. Never a knee-down type, most of my experience comes from decades of commuting in almost every kind of weather including light snow. I’ve been exceptionally lucky on the street but I did snap my left tibial plateau on the handlebars of a Husqvarna 450 a while ago, at the famous Glen Helen MX course. I’m mostly here to watch the kids ride and to make sure we never eat anything besides hamburgers.

In addition to the motley crew listed above, expect to see a variety of bylines from well-known and credentialed motorcycling journalists, plus the occasional race-winning hotshoe. Our purpose will be simple: Entertain the Hagerty reader and maybe provide a little bit of useful purchasing advice along the way. As many of you already know, motorcycle stores aren’t like car dealerships; it’s hard to get a test ride outside the controlled conditions of a parking-lot “experience.” We’ll be focusing on giving you the information that you can’t get from reading a spec sheet or just sitting on the thing.

As with everything we publish here at Hagerty Media, you’ll be able to contribute comments, questions, and biting snark via the Hagerty Community. It’s certain that we won’t get everything right in the format and content of these tests so I’ll look forward to your corrections and advice. If you want us to test a specific bike, please let us know.

Last but not least, if you have a particularly interesting (and aren’t they all particularly interesting, to some degree?) vintage bike for young Kyle to swing a leg over, I’d like to hear from you. I’m hoping we will be able to put new and old motorcycles together in future tests. Right now, all I can tell you is that the Kawasaki Ninja H2 is a lot faster than a Kawasaki Ninja 600R … but not quite as fast as a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R!

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