Yesterday I saw the new documentary movie “Why We Ride” at the AMC 14 theaters in San Francisco along with a hundred or so other motorcycle fanatics. I’ve never seen so many helmets in a theater at one time.
I thoroughly enjoyed the movie which walked in the footsteps of Bruce Brown’s 1971 classic “On Any Sunday” and many of Warren Miller’s ski films. The cinematography was outstanding and the flow of the film worked well.
But recently, I have been watching a lot of motorcycling documentaries and it seemed to me that what Why We Ride lacked was why a non-motorcyclists would enjoy the movie. A few months ago, I discovered Evan McGregor’s “Long Way Round” and “Long Way Down” mini-series. I recommended those to my sister who has no interest in motorcycling whatsoever. She was captivated by the story, partly because of the adventure, but mostly because of the incredible friendship that comes across onscreen between Ewan and Charlie. That was the real story of Long War Round, the phenomenal bond between two blokes, who happen to ride motorcycles and who embark on an incredible adventure. By contrast, Why We Ride seemed to be more of a public service announcement for motorcycling, especially for the family-friendly aspects of the sport.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the film and think that a love letter about motorcycling is something that is needed. The only problem with Why We Ride is that it will only be seen by people who already ride. There is no overarching story that would cause a non-motorcyclist to care about the movie.
And maybe that is okay. Maybe that is the way that all enthusiast documentaries about a specific sport our activity end up. Maybe this movie will play well with the seven million or so motorcyclists in the U.S. and maybe that’s enough. But I can’t help but wish for a deeper story that would keep me coming back to the movie time and again, or to recommend it to my non-moto friends. Why We Ride, is not one of those movies. It will remain as a beautifully shot and well told story about motorcycling, for motorcyclists. Or, for a husband to convince his wife that it’s okay to get mini-dirt bikes for the kids. There is a LOT of that message in the movie.
So congratulations to the director and producer. And know that I, and many others, will indeed buy the DVD. But please also take this as encouragement to keep going and take your prodigious cinematography and moviemaking skills and tell other, deeper stories about the human condition on two wheels. In my opinion, only then will you really get across the story of Why We Ride to those who don’t already know the answer.
A Love Affair…And A Rant
I really enjoyed attending and photographing the Progressive International Motorcycle Show in San Mateo this year. However, having enjoyed the show for the past three years, I couldn’t help but notice it seems to have downsized a bit. I remember when there were additional halls of the Expo Center that were full of vintage bikes, a stunt bike exhibition in the front parking lot, and an entire wing of affordable accessories. I was told by an exhibitor that it is difficult to attract as many exhibiting companies as there used to be when the bulk of the accessory business now goes to online retailers. Personally, I wouldn’t blame this on a shift in the retail landscape, I would offer that it is industry leadership that needs to be improved. But ultimately, it will take everyone in the motorcycling community to support these shows if we want them to exist in the future. And that means us, the riders.
The good news is that I photographed a sea of bikes in the parking lot Saturday, and the show even seemed well attended Friday evening. I was also happy to see a large section presented by The Motor Cafe, a local dealer from Sunnyvale. But where was the participation from other Bay Area dealers? Where was GoPro, who is headquartered in San Mateo? Or Kali Protectives, one of the most interesting players in the helmet space, also a local company? And did I miss something, or where was Zero Motorcycles, arguably the most interesting new bike manufacturer, and also a Bay Area company? It’s easy to say that these and other companies just decided not to participate—for budget reasons or other priorities. But I would suggest that the show management should make it a strategicimperative for these companies to attend, because of the incredible business opportunity it represents for their businesses, and for the industry as a whole.
In my humble opinion, it seems that some things could be done to ramp up the show for the good of the industry stakeholders and the motorcycling community at large. Here are a few ideas from someone who is not from within the industry, offered with respect, and for what they’re worth:
Learn to Ride
I would encourage the show to adopt a robust “Learn to Ride” program sponsored by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Why not offer a discount on enrollment to any MSF course by a show attendee that equals the cost of a 3-day show pass? It would be a great way to encourage prospective or even experienced riders to attend the show. Give the MSF or local schools booth space for free in order to make it happen.
Offer conference sessions in a separate hall that provide educational opportunities to attendees. I could envision a seminar by an expert from GoPro on how to get the best ride videos, or a talk by Doc Wong on how to get your back in shape for adventure rides, or a talk by Brian or Michael from Destination Highways on the right way to plan a route. It would be a great way for exhibitors to talk to larger groups of attendees and for attendees to get great information. And this needs to be in a separate hall, not on the main stage where it is too loud with too many distractions.
Keith Code’s California Superbike School
With the San Mateo show being only a two-hour ride from Infineon or Laguna Seca race tracks, why don’t you create a partnership with this famous riding academy that gives Keith a booth at the show and, in turn, partner to host a demo day at one of the tracks? The show could draw attendees for the whole weekend with a three-day show pass and one-day track pass to watch, or ride. I bet riders would come from all over the West to attend a full weekend of motorcycle activities if it included the excitement of riding.
Point/Counterpoint Panel Sessions
Remember those wickedly funny Saturday Night Live skits that parodied 60 Minutes’ Point/Counterpoint? The reason they were so infamous was not just because they were funny, it was because people like to observe conflict. I’d like to see a serious panel discussion that had a member of the California Highway Patrol, a 15,000+ mile/year freeway commuter, and a “loud pipes save lives” biker all discussing the merits and best practices of lane splitting. By encouraging discussion about the elephants in the room, the show would drive attendee engagement, and probably raise safety awareness too.
Where is motorcycling’s Warren Miller?
The ski industry has Warren Miller’s films to answer the question, “Why do people love skiing?” Where is motorcycling’s Warren Miller? How about a screening of On Any Sunday, Cycles South, or clips from The Great Escape or The Long Way Round? Looking at YouTube, there are many talented moto-filmmakers out there (and even more that could use some more talent). Why doesn’t the show get GoPro to sponsor a contest with big prize money around the theme, “Why We Ride.” The finalists could be shown at the 12 shows around the country and the attendees could vote onsite for the winner.
You Meet The Nicest People
Especially after the recent episode in New York, motorcycling could use a boost of good will in the local media around the country. Could the show offer a poker ride on Friday before the show in each city to benefit a national charity? If done right, it could be a good story for local news media which would help promote the show while taming motorist angst against our breed.
What The Show Really Needs
But aside from specific ideas for the show, I offer that what attendees are really looking for is…
– To do something
– To learn something
– To enjoy something
– To belong to something
– To share something
You tell me!
Photos from the Show
Okay, okay…so that’s enough of my rant. Here are more photos from this year’s show (roll-over photos for captions or click for full-screen mode):
MyConnie amongst friends
A sea of bikes at the show
Same model as my first bike!
A meaningful tchotchkey
Bocci trying to win another one!
“I hope I win, I hope I win”
Great to see actual dirt on dirt bikes
Mini bike, maxi rider
Lots of contests going on!
Image is everything
Every biker needs a little luck
“…God shed His light on thee.”
Preaching to the choir…
…Allstate should put these at intersections.
Lots of eager iron
Perks of a photojournalist
Final Thoughts from This Industry Outsider
I’m the first to admit, what the Hell do I know about the motorcycle industry? It’s easy to offer ideas from the outside of an industry looking in without knowing the history, business realities and political struggles that are faced by the show organizers. Although the ideas above come from 30+ years as a marketer, they may well have been tried and discarded as failures years ago. To the show management Advanstar, I commend you for putting on a well-run show. And to Progressive, for showing leadership in this category, you deserve your number one spot. But if the intent is for all boats to rise in this industry, I encourage everyone to achieve new levels of leadership. And to consider doing this through even deeper partnerships and increased participation from all industry stakeholders. Carving up the same pie into different sized pieces should not be your goal. Growing the pie for all to benefit from should be your aim. The downsizing of the show does not go unnoticed by the attendees. I heard from more than a few people that the show is suffering from being smaller and with the same features—more or less—year after year. What I am hearing is apathy from the attendees, not for the sport, but for the show. It’s time to consider what the industry impact would be if these shows did not exist, and decide to do something about it before it is too late. To that aim, I wish you all the best. Ride On. ::
Those Marvelous Moto Machines
As expected, the 2013/2014 International Motorcycle Show that I photographed in San Mateo was all about the bikes. As usual, J&P Cycles held their Ultimate Builders Competition, and this year’s crop did not disappoint (roll-over photos for captions or click for carousel mode):
Detail – Glass Doorknob Suicide Shift
Detail – Pipes
Detail – Ray gun exhaust
Detail – Saw Blade Rotors
Detail – Ben Hur Fenders
Detail – Widowmaker Tank
Detail – Black Widow Exhaust
I cannot lie…
However, much to my dismay Progressive Insurance didn’t have a “Take your photo with Flo” feature this year. For some reason, getting my photo digitally superimposed with Flo had become a tradition for me. That’s okay, instead they had a slot-car racing track, custom created t-shirts and a tank painting demo. Here is some of the gorgeous tank art:
Artist not listed
by Teresa Contreras
by Lawrence Gardinier
by Lawrence Gardinier
by Casey Johnson
by Casey Johnson
by Asia Eng
Part of each year’s show were the frenzied signups to win a bike, helmet or accessory gift card worth $1,000. I’m holding out hope that I win a Hayabusa, Triumph, BSA and Motorcycle Superstore gift card. : D
Wouldn’t it be a kick to win this?!!
Dedication…and brand loyalty!!
The infamous Bocci trying to win yet another Triumph!
As usual, I was on bike overload drooling over all the new models from all the manufactures. And the custom bikes were truly works of art. It was also great seeing the large contingent of vintage Japanese bikes. I just don’t understand why everyone isn’t a motorcycle fanatic. There is just so much here to appreciate.
As a hardcore motorcyclist, it doesn’t get much better than living five blocks from the venue for the Progressive International Motorcycle Show.
Although Geico and Allstate would disagree, Progressive suggests you “Go with the Flo”
The show visits twelve cities each year and my home city of San Mateo, California is the first of the annual tour schedule.
I feel sorry for the truck drivers going between show venues which criss-cross the U.S.
Last year, I posted photos from the show for everyone who is not as fortunate to live nearby one of the cities that host the show. I got a lot of encouragement from the visitors to that post, so this year, I spent two full days at the show and took many more photos which are posted here. I spent most of my time taking pictures of the people who visit the show instead of just the bikes. I found it interesting to chronicle the general motorcycling public and see what they enjoy.
Paraphrasing the famous Honda ad campaign: “You meet the nicest people on a motorcycle.” Here are some of them from the show. You can roll-over photos to see captions, or click any photo to enter full-screen slide carousel mode:
“And my feet even touch the ground!”
The infamous “Bocci” on a KLR650
The infamous “Bocci” on a BMW GS
Another view of the infamous “Bocci”
“But does it wheelie?”
“But you said it would be THIS birthday!”
Checking out the merchandise
“Does it come in plaid?”
“That’s wooonnnderful, Honey.”
You meet the nicest people on a motorcycle
“Hmmmmm…eight whole horsepower?!”
No school like old school
Old school, through and through
“Once…at Moto camp…”
“Hmm…only $129 a month.”
Specs, specs…and more specs
“Three wheels…now you’re talking’!”
Drizzle, druzzle, drazzle, drone…time for this one to go home
Too much excitement
“Yeah, that’s what I’M talkin’ about.”
And not to be left out, here are some of the valiant workers that create a great experience year after year at the show:
Advertising “below the fold”
Celebrities on stage
“How does that Harley feel?”
“Is it lunchtime yet?”
Look at all that shiny chrome.
“My feet hurt already!”
Old school – new school
“Shouldn’t you be working?”
Sister Golden Hair
“But that’s not all…”
The 510 Color-Werks crew
“Those are some mighty fine brochures.”
This year, the show featured a really great rock band, the school of rock all-stars. It made for a great vibe:
But the people aren’t the only stars of the show, there is also the food:
I recently came across a 1966 TV ad for Honda that was from their famous campaign: “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.” In an era of Hollywood-inspired bad boy motorcyclists like Marlon Brando and James Dean, Honda needed to combat negative perceptions of motorcycling as much as impressions of poor Japanese quality. So they hired Grey Advertising to create the famous campaign which had a 12 year run—longer than almost all television series. The one and a half minute commercialwas shot in San Francisco and is notable for a few things:
Actor Vito Scotti
Veteran character actor Vito Scotti plays a crab-monger on Fisherman’s Wharf. IMDB lists 221 acting appearances including The Godfather, Get Shorty and just about every television show from my youth.
Vito Scotti’s IMDB page reads like a who’s who of Hollywood
Lombard Street: the crookedest street in the world
The Super Cub rider in the commercial (whom I could not identify) takes a leisurely trip down San Francisco’s most famous boulevard, Lombard Street—known as the crookedest street in the world. I, too, thought this would be a fun jaunt when I got my first bike, a 1972 Honda CL350 scrambler. It was anything but. The steep grade—27% without the eight switchbacks—and red brick pavement combined to make this a harrowing ride. More survival than ride as I remember. I made it to the bottom—barely—to the amazement of the tourists snapping photos of the gardens and this crazy motorcyclist with his feet down trying to keep from falling over. When I related this story recently to a friend’s six year old, he said, “Well, that was stupid.” He was right.
It all looks so innocent from the top.
But let me tell you, don’t try this at home!
The Honda Super Cub motorcycle
Produced continuously since 1958, the Honda Super Cub in its various models is the most produced motor vehicle in history—including automobiles—with 60 million having been manufactured in 2008. This bike is the real star of the show.
The most produced motor vehicle in history.
Other San Francisco Landmarks
Besides a brief glimpse of Fisherman’s Wharf and the top of Lombard Street, you can see Coit Tower in the background, a little bit of Chinatown, the famous, but now closed Enricos restaurant on Broadway St., and mansions on what appears to be Pacific Heights. Here is the full commercial:
All About The Honda Super Cub and Ad Series
Wikipedia has a tremendous article about the Honda Super Cub with information about the “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” ad campaign if you want to know more: link to article.