It was refreshing to see the crowd at the International Motorcycle Show this year in San Mateo. Ever since 2008, there’s been a steady decline in the manufacturer presence, inventory, and enthusiasm around the motorcycle show. I know a good portion of it has to do with the economy as money has been tight. This year, however, there was a strong presence of the motorcycle manufacturers and a good vibe was amongst the crowd. Also, it’s always good seeing good friends at the show.
Personally, I was interested as the V-Strom is nearing replacement so it was fun to see all the new toys out of the motorcycle show. A number of things appeared to me this year that seemed cool. What was it? Glad you asked!
The Shoei Neotec caught my eye. The helmet is the most functional piece of motorcycle gear after the motorcycle. With a wide variety of manufacturers and styles, it’s been hard to know what exactly is considered safe. A number of agencies validate the helmet’s quality (DOT, ANSI, SNELL) but they all have different methods. I’ve settled on only wearing Arai and Shoei helmets as they seem to get good reviews across the board for safety and quality. Fullface helmets have always been the standard for me. The problem though, is that I have to take my helmet off to take pictures with my SLR camera.
Modular helmets give the protection of the fullface helmet but allow the chin guard to move out of the way when you’re off the bike. This is huge! I was able to pop the chin guard out of the way and use the viewfinder on my SLR camera. I’m stoked!Why is this such a big deal? Because taking off my helmet requires removing my glasses, my gloves, and I usually pull out my ear plugs as well. It probably cost me 2 to 3 minutes every time I want to take a photo. Also, it had a retractable sunshade that could be used when riding directly into the sun. It even worked with my glasses. What’s the downside? You sacrifice a small amount of safety on the chin guard. It’s made with a polycarbonate plastic rather than the more flexible but durable material in the rest of the helmet. This is the helmet worn though by many officers in the CHP which bows for its safety. The retail price of the helmet is right under $600. It’s almost twice the price of my current helmet. But hey, all in the name of features, right?
There’s a new start up in town called Motorcycle University. They fill in the gap where the Motorcycle Safety Foundation leaves off. They offer a set of courses to help the new motorcycle rider grow in their abilities. Kenyon Wills, the publisher of CityBike Magazine, wanted to see a more full-featured rider education system here in the Bay Area. Looking in from the outside they appear outstanding. Motorcycle University online has a lot of good information about motorcycling as well as local resources. Kenyon has been really supportive of Homoto and has featured us as one of the Bay Area motorcycle organizations in his pamphlet. He also was one of our major supporters at Oakland Pride.
Need your glasses cleaned?
If there’s anything they push at the motorcycle show it is glass cleaner and defogger. Much like women are accosted at the mall by cosmetics sales people, motorcycle riders are accosted to buy glass cleaner. I’m not sure why it’s such the popular product with so many vendors but they tend to be the tables to avoid. I fell into the trap last year and bought a AMAZING product that will change my life forever. Do you know how many times I use it? I’ve never used it! I still clean my classes with Windex.
I got roped into this type of booth again. Last year’s stuff was in a thin yellow tube. This year’s stuff was in a Carmax like container and was orange called Blaze. It was a similar product but a different vendor this time. I listened to his sales speech and all of the different offers he had for me. It was equally going to change my life as it did last year yet this time I resisted. I ran into some friends of mine later on in the show we wandered back to this booth. We all heard (for me twice) how this was the most amazing product on the market. Steve, in my group, really vouched to that it was a great product. Based on the fact that Steve stood up for it in the salesman was kind of cute, my wallet is now $15 lighter. We’ll see if my glasses are now cleaner.
Aside from glass cleaner, the next most popular product at the motorcycle show are earplugs. Two years ago I got a set from Plug–Up. They were great at first, but after he used a started showing signs of early wear. I also had some work done on my ear plugs to put in the volume adjustment that was said to be “iPhone like.” The vendor said that the wear pattern was typical and I was extremely disappointed in the volume adjustment control. Thus, I wanted to find something of better quality.
I stumbled into the Fit–Ear booth and was impressed. They had a number of different models of earplugs that were customized for motorcycling and other endeavors. The motorcycle plugs were low-profile and came in a variety of form factors. They had plugs that were similar to Plug–Up’s models. They also had hard plastic earplugs with transducers rather than speakers so they are legal here in California. Prices on the hard plastic earplugs ranged from about $400-$1500 based on the fidelity of the speakers. I was able to try each set and figured I’d go one up from the base model. After all, most of the time I’ll be wearing these I’m going to be a motorcycle in a wind tunnel.
They custom make the earplugs by putting this goo in your ear that hardens in a few minutes. Why the mouth gag? Apparently when making hard earplugs if the mouth is open when the caulk hardens, the earplugs will not have near as snug fit as if the mouth is closed. I only had to wear the mouth gag for about two minutes, but it was brutal trying to keep myself from not drooling all over myself! It’s a weird feeling having caulk shoved way down in your ear, but apparently it’s the only way at the motorcycle show to get an imprint of your ear. Five minutes later, I was done. 🙂
Custom bikes are usually a really big part of the show. If you’re able to find the voting form you can cast your vote for your favorite bike. Usually there are bikes of all styles and types but it tends to focus around customized cruisers. The cruiser scene is becoming less and less relevant for me as I’ve migrated over the years into a sport touring type of rider. There is one bike that did catch my eye for a number of reasons: the exhaust climbed way up behind the sissy bar, the seat looked like a bizarre torture device, and the gas tank had an alien look.
There was another bike that caught my eye. I’m not exactly sure what make and model it was but a very much reminded me of the Harley-Davidson XL 1000. It appeared to be an old track racer that got new life breathed into it. The graphics on the gas tank were super cool.
What really intrigued me though was the front wheel. There’s a photograph I took a number of years ago of the Harley-Davidson XL 1000’s front wheel. I loved how the front fork, the spokes, and the wheel all blended together in a black and white photo. I think I’ve captured some of the essence of that same photograph in this bike. I like the 1×1 format of the photograph.
The local vintage Japanese Motorcycle Association had a number of bikes on display. Most of them didn’t resonate with me except for this purple Yamaha. Joey had found one in San Francisco and posted it on his Facebook wall. Brian and I a number of days later found the same bike and posted the same picture on Joey’s wall. Lo and behold a bike of the same model albeit in much better condition shows up at the motorcycle show!
I don’t really know much about BSA bikes but those that have them are fanatical about them. The chrome on this bike’s gas tank was cool to see as well as photograph. I was surprised to see a Japanese license plate on this Honda. I guess I assumed most bikes here would at least be plated in the United States and even more have California plates.
2014 Suzuki V-Strom
Prior coming to the show I had forgotten that the V-Strom 1000 received a major overhaul for 2014. The first time I laid eyes on the bike was this very show back in 2002. I remembered seeing the 2003 model on the spinning display with bags, aggressive tires, and was all tricked out. Since I lost the Vulcan about a year later that memory of being enchanted with the bike came back. I thought that yellow V-Strom I saw on the spinning display and we’ve been great friends since that first ride in 2004.
The new V-Strom looks significantly different but it still looked cool on the spinning display. Suzuki had a promo video on display.
What’s different that I could notice?
- The front and looks very much like a cross between the Versys and the BMW GS.
- A gear shift indicator
- There’s now an adventure model which includes bags, hand guards, and I believe bash guards as well
- Suzuki now includes a power port for your GPS or heated gear in the dash.
I’m sure there’s plenty of other things I’m not listing here, but that’s what I picked up on in the first few minutes. I spent a few minutes talking to the announcer about the bike. I wanted to share my own story about my V-Strom. She listened patiently as I know I’m sure she’s heard the story told by many a guy wanting to talk to somebody attractive from the factory.
What I took from the conversation being in my new role as a product marketing guy was that she really understood the product. She wasn’t just a cute face. She was a rider at heart who could connect with my story, share a few of her own, and leave a future customer curious about the product. Since I’m specializing in content marketing, I’m hypersensitive to the fact that I want to know that the people I’m talking to our subject matter experts. Good job on this one Suzuki!
I remember walking through the Harley-Davidson booth last year and seeing a motorcycle strapped to a dyno. They called it Harley-Davidson Jumpstart. Non-riders could mount the bike, start it, twist the throttle and feel the motorcycle’s engine at speed. As the rider would give the bike more throttle a fan would kick on to simulate wind. At that time I couldn’t of been more disgusted with the idea as I felt like it trivialized motorcycling.
Now that I’m in product marketing I still feel like the exhibit trivializes motorcycling but I think the marketing aspect of it is ingenious. Harley-Davidson for a long time has relied on word-of-mouth and image marketing for the product. In recent years technology has become a much more significant role in the development of their motorcycles. Reaching new riders however is a core competency for any motorcycle organization. It was clear that those who rode the bike had a somewhat higher fidelity understanding of the fun of motorcycling.
Everyone at the show could hear that motorcycle. Whether the show patrons were riders or not, they walked by the booth. Anyone who’s ridden a motorcycle would never get on that bike. It trivializes their experience. The ingenious part is that the only people that would ride the motorcycle were people who didn’t have motorcycles. It was a clear way for Harley-Davidson to funnel riders who didn’t have experience to the right resources and people to sell them a new motorcycle. Thus, people who are spending more than a blink in Harley’s booth were likely riders who are interested in their product (new bike to existing rider)
I have to tip my hat to your Harley, great marketing on that one.
2014 R 1200 GS
The R 1200 GS sets the standard in adventure motorcycling. It’s been the bike that everyone runs after in the adventure touring space. While Suzuki, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Triumph, and Ducati all have products in that market, none compete with the R 1200 GS. I wasn’t able to get a great picture of it as all the boys wanted to crowd around the bike and see what was new this year.
I love my V-Strom. It’s been a great bike to me and we’ve ridden many miles together. What’s so great about the GS? It has creature comforts (and the price) that the V Strom just doesn’t. First of all, I really want my next bike to be shaft driven. I hate having to scrub my chain clean every other day while touring. I know that when the shaft drive fails it’s a super expensive endeavor, but I’m willing to take that risk.
I do hope that the GS comes in yellow one year otherwise I may have to do a custom paint job to an already expensive bike. 🙂
I’ve been looking at Triumph bikes for a number of years. On the 2010 Coast and Volcanoes ride a number of us switched bikes as we rode down highway 1. I remember loving the Speed Triple 955. It reminded me of everything that was simple, yet fun about motorcycling. It didn’t have a fairing, the circular headlights were simple, the power band was silky smooth, and the bike had plenty of torque to give you a slap in the ass. The 2013 model does come in yellow. 🙂 I’m waiting a year to or two to pick up a used one as it will definitely be a specialty bike for me. I’m also not a huge fan of the matte finish in 2014.
Last year Triumph introduced the Explorer which is a direct competitor to the R 1200 GS. The bike is about $3000-$6000 cheaper and has the shaft drive which I so desperately covet in my next motorcycle. I’m not exactly sure of all of the differences between the two bikes. A good friend of mine loves his except for the fact that the luggage intentionally slides around on the back. I’m not sure what Triumph’s rationale was for that design decision. The BMW definitely edges it out on looks, but it is a step up coming from the V-Strom.
I was happy I went. Only a small part of the motorcycle show is about seeing bikes and stuff. The largest part is going to see the community with whom you ride. When the motorcycle show was “down,” it was all about seeing your good friends clustered in one place. Now the show has a better feel to it, it’s still about seeing all of your friends together in a common place.
Will I go again next year? Absolutely! They just need to stop raising the price on the tickets and keep the rain away so that parking is free :-).