Skully AR-1 Heads-Up Display Helmet Now Available for Pre-order

— Update as of 9/16/2014: Skully’s Indiegogo campaign is up to $1,978,286 —

On 8/11/2014 at 6:00 A.M. Pacific time (today), the Skully Helmets AR-1 Augmented Reality Motorcycle Helmet began accepting pre-orders through the Indiegogo crowd funding platform (see my preview post). As of the publishing of this post, Skully has raised $683,523 of their $250,000 goal. Not bad for only being a few hours into the campaign. This goes to show how much pent up demand there is by motorcyclists for advanced helmet systems that are designed to enhance their rides and make them safer.

Skully Indiegogo

With the launch of pre-orders, the question is finally answered of how much the AR-1 is going to cost. Although the Indiegogo campaign presents a number of different “perks” that allow the earliest of adopters to pre-order the helmet at a discount, the perk called “Rebel Early Adopter” is priced at $1,399 and is labeled “save $100.” So that infers that the retail price of the helmet will be $1,499.

Skully AR-1 PricingFor those of you not familiar with crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter, people with ideas for products and services seek funding for their projects from people who typically trade use of their money for some months ahead of time for a discount on the product. The beauty of this is that companies with unique ideas who may have had trouble finding finding, or who are loathe to give away large percentages of their companies to investors, can seek funding directly from the people who are most passionate about seeing their product or service come to market. I think of it like California’s initiative system, where if enough of the voters are passionate about a subject, they can pass it into law without the need for the California legislature. It is the highest form of merit-based innovation. I have backed a number of projects and have received great new products as a result. I also very much like supporting the entrepreneurial spirit with my dollars whether or not I pony up for the full product price.


Another question was answered today, when the AR-1 will be available. The estimated delivery date is May 2015. Which brings me to the thought of why it is a good idea to “lend” Skully $1,399 by participating in the crowd funding program and have to wait until May 2015 to receive their AR-1. By doing that, funders are giving the middle finger to all of the helmet manufacturers who have not innovated themselves over the past years, choosing rather to invest in new styles, colors and incremental improvements. They are also telling the investors who did not pour money into Skully that we want this product so much we are willing to fund its development.

I had a comment on another Skully post that wondered if something newer or better would come along before the AR-1s became available and whether this was a risk he should consider before funding the Skully campaign. My belief is that as for something newer and better coming along before May 2015, don’t count on it. Helmet manufacturers have had the opportunity to do something interesting for years and have not made the investment to do so. Also, I would surmise that the helmet manufacturers suffer from “hardware-think” and they don’t have the vision, let alone the talent, to pursue development of a software platform that is delivered via a heads-up display. What Skully did was look at this product as a software platform in a helmet, much as Tesla looks as their cars as computers that happen to have wheels. Skully partnered with an ODM (original design manufacturer) of helmets who is already making over 1 million helmets a year. So they can lean on the expertise of the manufacturer for all of the base-function hardware and tend to the software platform themselves, which is where the real innovation with the AR-1 is happening anyway.
Lastly, don’t forget that by funding Skully’s campaign it prevents them from needing to give away large percentages of their company to outside investors. And, by paying them near the retail price, a huge chunk doesn’t have to go to resellers, both online and in stores. This allows all of the money to pay salaries of the Skully developers and other team members who are directly responsible for bringing this revolutionary product to market. As Skully calls it, this is Rebel Innovation. And that, my friends, is a noble cause. : )
Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter Radsliff




Tease: Skully Beta Testers Meet in San Francisco

Sorry to be such a tease, but I wouldn’t be doing my job reporting what’s happening with the Skully AR-1 Augmented Reality Motorcycle Helmet if I didn’t share this. Full disclosure, there are no new details in the post that I haven’t mentioned already. So send your questions about price, release date and how you can become a beta tester directly to Skully.   : )

Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter Radsliff

On July 22, 2014 there was an event at a hip location in San Francisco for local riders who had been chosen as beta testers. For the first time, we beta testers were able to meet one another, ask questions of the Skully team members, and spend more time with the AR-1 in a group environment. For some of the beta testers, I believe this may have been their first time to fondle, I mean drool-over, that is to say, “try on” (yeah, that’s it, “try on”) the AR-1.

Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter Radsliff

So there we were: the few, the proud, the frickin’ Beta Testers! We were sipping on good wine and beer, snacking on excellent hors d’ oeuvres, and frothing at the mouth to learn more about Skully’s plans for the AR-1. One thing we did find out was that there have been over 100,000 beta tester applications. Wow! As a marketing professional I can say that few companies have engendered so much anticipatory excitement for a new product and it portends good things for Skully and the launch of the AR-1. It also humbled us as the chosen few and instilled in us a responsibility to do a good job for Skully in terms of feedback back to the development team and promotion to the riding public at large.

Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter Radsliff

Skully’s CEO, Marcus Weller, kicked off the meeting in his usual passionate and humble style. He talked about Skully’s mission to bring added safety to humanity and his feelings of how the beta testers could bring real value to the project. Without too long of a wait, Marcus invited us to feel what it was like to wear the AR-1 while sitting on one of the bikes they brought in for the event (one of which was Marcus’ own Ducati 999).

Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter Radsliff

Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter RadsliffSkully’s Director of Business Management, Mitchell Weller (and Marcus’ brother) helped beta testers evaluate how easy it was to transition between looking at the helmet display, back to the road, and back to the display again. Because the AR-1 uses an infinite focus display reticle, having your eyes make the leap from inside the helmet to outside and back is not troublesome at all. In fact, it started to feel quite natural once you spent a little time with the helmet.

Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter Radsliff

 [ note: click on thumbnails below to launch gallery viewer ]

I watched intently as all of the other beta testers tried on and experienced the AR-1. As with my first AR-1 try-on, they expressed surprise and delight at the extremely wide view of the rear-facing camera and how easy it was to see the display, with the visor up or down. I was glad to see a few glasses-wearers trying on the helmet and spoke with two of them after they were done. Each that I spoke with felt that wearing glasses with the display would not be a problem for them and the infinite-focus display worked well.

Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter Radsliff Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter Radsliff

I heard consistent comments from testers who said they really liked the electro-chromic visor. One very excited rider I spoke with felt that this unique push button on = dark, push button off = clear feature should be considered a primary feature in and of itself.

It was very interesting speaking to the beta testers about their views on the helmet. As you can imagine, everyone was very excited to be there and couldn’t wait to take one home. But alas, that was not the intent of this night’s meeting. It was a meet-and-greet between the beta testers and the Skully team members and it was a great success. Here are more photos of of beta testers and me trying on the AR-1 for your tease-ment. I will let you know more when I know more.



REVIEW: MOTO-D Racing – Performance Riding Motorcycle Socks

When MOTO-D Racing asked me to check out their Performance Riding Motorcycle Socks and tell them what I thought, I had no idea how many different makers and types of biker footwear there were! A search on a popular motorcycle store Web site produced 23 different brands selling 141 different models of motorcycle socks. Wow, who knew? And that’s not even counting any regular manufacturer of socks trying to get into the moto action. Each of the companies I found were bona fide motorcycle brands. So I wondered what could be so special about the MOTO-D Racing socks to make them stand out.

MOTO-D CoolMax Motorcycle SocksFirst of all, it is not my intent to contrast and compare the MOTO-D socks against all of their competition. I’m sure that would be an interesting article for all you sock buffs out there, but I’m going to make this a quicker read so you can get back to riding. My only points of comparison are with a few pair of thin and thick moto socks I own from a national moto-store retail chain.

MOTO-D CoolMax Motorcycle SocksI have two pair of the MOTO-D summer socks and I’ve been wearing them for the past month. I did two different types of tests with them: 1) wearing on weekend rides with regular washing in-between, and 2) wearing while riding everyday for a week straight before washing. Okay, okay…unscrunch your nose already! Amazingly, the pair I wore for a week riding to and from work and all day afterwards never got stinky or gross. I attribute this to their moisture wicking attributes and the unique combination of synthetic fibers.

MOTO-D CoolMax Motorcycle SocksThe MOTO-D Socks are made from the fibers shown above. I haven’t been following the state-of-the-art in sock construction lately, but I do know a lot about fiber and fabric technology from the 10 years I spent in the scuba diving equipment manufacturing business. It’s great to see MOTO-D Racing specify high performance synthetic fibers like Tactel® that is twice as soft and 20% lighter than most other fibers.

These socks seem to have just the right amount of stretch and rebound to stay snug and comfortable. They don’t bunch up above the instep and they don’t get loose above the heel or in the arch. The Lycra does its job of providing just the right amount of stretch. In the month that I have been wearing and washing these they have not lost any of their elasticity. Oh, and the metallic-looking Lurex gold thread add a bit of swag when you take off your jeans or leathers after a long ride.

MOTO-D CoolMax Motorcycle SocksAnother nice feature is the vented weave on the instep and the moisture-wicking attributes of the fibers. When riding all day in hot weather wearing my SIDI Doha boots, my feet were never swimming in sweat. And they accomplished that feat without the bulk of thicker socks.

MOTO-D CoolMax Motorcycle SocksWhat really is different and interesting about the MOTO-D socks are the hundreds of dots on the sole that provide a huge amount of traction. You won’t be doing any Tom Cruise slides in your undies while singing Old Time Rock ’N Roll with these socks on! I wondered why MOTO-D would design these with traction grip soles in the first place, and whether they be comfortable riding and walking. Since I was testing these socks while street and freeway riding, I never used them on or around a track. However, I can only imagine that parts of a paddock might be like my garage and have a slippery painted cement floor. The MOTO-D traction grip soles did an excellent job at providing grip when I was padding around my garage and on my home’s hardwood floors. I was happy to find out that although you can definitely feel the dots on your feet, they didn’t bother me at all when stepping on my pegs while riding.

MOTO-D CoolMax Motorcycle SocksIn looking through the 141 socks I found online, I didn’t see any others that had a traction grip sole. I don’t know if this is a MOTO-D Racing exclusive, but it certainly seems unique. I really like how they help keep me from slipping and my impression is that they will also be much more resistant to getting a hole in the bottom of your socks when not wearing your boots.

These socks are sold as one-size fits all, and are listed as fitting from size 8 to 14 shoe size (U.S. male). I have size 13 feet with very large calves and they fit me just fine although at the edge of their stretch in the calf area. It is amazing to me just how elastic these are while still being comfortable and not stretching out of shape. It’s the miracle of modern fiber technology combined with an excellent design.

As of the writing of this post, I found these Performance Riding Motorcycle Socks on the MOTO-D Racing Web site for $14.99 a pair or $29.99 for a three-pack. Compared to the other 141 that I found online, that makes these well-designed performance riding socks a super deal! Hey, but I would be glad to pay a few extra bucks anyway just to have socks I can wear on an extended motorcycle journey that treat my feet well and don’t stink up my other gear.

MOTO-D CoolMax Motorcycle SocksMOTO-D also has a “Fall/Cold” version featuring hollow-core Thermolite fibers. I’ll be picking up three pair of those come October this year. ::

Preview: Skully P1 Heads-Up Display Helmet

If you haven’t heard about the biggest buzz in the motorcycle industry yet, it’s the Skully P1 heads-up display helmet, and it’s only a number of months away from being a reality.
I was invited by Marcus Weller, CEO of Skully Helmets to attend his presentation on
Dec. 5, 2013 at the Piston & Chain motorcycle club in San Francisco to learn more about the P1 and what Skully is trying to achieve.

Skully Helmet and CEO Marcus Weller

Marcus Weller, CEO of Skully Helmets and the Skully P1 heads-up display helmet

The evening started with a casual gathering of club members at the Piston & Chain clubhouse/garage located on Folsom at 9th Street in San Francisco’s SOMA district. Until this event, I didn’t know about the Piston & Chain club and I was impressed by the number of vintage bikes arrayed against both walls at their spacious digs. I was greeted warmly by co-owners Matt and Erica plus the other members of the club and enjoyed pizza and beer prior to the manufacturer’s presentation which Piston & Chain host often.
( click to enlarge photos )

After Marcus arrived, he placed a shrouded object on the main table in front of a projection screen. The crowd quieted and listened with rapt attention to Marcus telling the story of how he literally dreamed up the idea for the helmet.

In 2011, Marcus was riding in Barcelona, Spain and he had an accident. While following a red Smart car into a turn, he quickly looked over his shoulder to check merging traffic. When he turned his head back forwards, the Smart car had stopped in its tracks, resulting in locked brakes and a rear-end smash. Marcus told us he wasn’t seriously injured, but that it left an emotional scar.

He then told us that about six months later, at 3:00 A.M. on a Wednesday, he had a dream where he saw ride imagery and GPS maps floating in front of him. Upon waking up, he pulled out his laptop and searched for what was available and where he might buy it. He found that there was really nothing on the market that matched his dream. That, he said, was the impetus for the Skully P1 helmet which he then unveiled on the table in front of us.

Skully Helmet and Bikes

Marcus explained that Skully was trying to create the world’s most intelligent helmet centered around three core features:

1. Skully Synapse
Skully Synapse is the helmet’s intelligent heads-up display (HUD) platform built upon an “Android spine”—software terminology that I’ll refer to again below. Although heads-up display technology has been around for decades it has never been integrated into a motorcycle helmet in the way Skully is intending. Marcus showed a video that presented his vision and concept for the display:

He went on to say that the display looks as though it is floating out in front of the helmet at about arm’s length and that it can be seen with the visor closed or open. Unfortunately, Marcus didn’t open the P1 helmet—which he characterized as a working prototype—to show any of the optical gadgetry. Nor did he allow anyone to try it on, relating a story of a prospective investor accidentally snapping off the projection mechanism only 24 hours before a big partner meeting. So I cannot report any actual performance from the Skully P1 from this preview event. What I did find out was that value-added software functionality, such as turn-by-turn directions, wasn’t the only benefit envisioned for the P1’s heads-up display.

2. Skully “Ninja” Display
Marcus likened the task of riding a motorcycle to being surrounded by a bunch of ninjas and trying to keep from being attacked by whichever one you weren’t watching. Not a bad analogy considering all of the cagers I see texting on the road every day. The Skully P1 helmet has a rear-facing camera with a super-wide 180° view. Marcus emphasized that this would lead to a radical improvement of visibility for the rider. He mentioned how he wore the prototype in his car when testing and that he could see not only out of the back windows, but out of both sets of side windows as well. This provided him greatly improved situational awareness which he mentioned was one of the high-level benefits of heads-up displays in fighter aircraft, aimed at giving pilots a decisive edge over their enemy.

Skully Helmet - Rear

The Skully P1 180° rear-facing camera with electronics and rechargeable batteries are housed in this stylish, aerodynamic shroud that is engineered to snap off in the event of
an accident to not impart additional rotational stresses on the rider’s head.

Many people at Piston & Chain questioned whether the heads-up display would be distracting and Marcus addressed their fears by presenting his concept of seeing all of the ninjas simultaneously. He said that instead of having to look over your shoulder and verify that the view from your mirror was correct and that there was no car in your blind spot, YOU WOULD ALREADY KNOW. This was because you could see 180° behind you and to the sides, removing the need to turn your head and take your eyes away from the road ahead of you.

This system reminds me of a motorcycle-specific version of an aftermarket panoramic rearview car mirror. I have driven a car with one of these before, and the situational awareness you gain from it is amazing. I don’t understand why these have not been integrated into cars by the automobile manufacturers because in my opinion, they greatly improve safety. But they really need to integrated into the driving experience and not just bolted onto an existing mirror. The Skully P1 aims to provide this level of improved situational awareness and safety, but with a much slicker user experience that integrates features other than just an expanded rear view.

Panoramic Rearview Mirror

Panoramic rearview mirrors never gained much popularity in cars, but the Skully 180° rearview heads-up display could change all that for motorcyclists.  

3. Android Open API-Based System
Marcus went on to emphasize that Skully is building an intelligent helmet software platform that will have an open API (application programming interface) with SDK (software development kit). For those less knowledgable about software systems, this is analogous to Apple’s iOS operating system that runs on the iPhone and iPad hardware but allows third-party developers to create custom applications to bring additional functionality to the user experience. For Apple users, this has resulted in the availability of over one million Apps to satisfy every need and want, from providing turn-by-turn directions to playing Candy Crush Saga. For motorcyclists, the Skully platform could mean apps for navigation, travel information, vlogging, communications, or a thousand other features. With minimal integration from motorcycle manufacturers, it would be easy to imagine displays incorporating instrument cluster data, engine diagnostics…even crash avoidance.

Skully has chosen Google’s Android software platform for all of this software wizardry to make their helmet “intelligent.” But even though the helmet may operate using an Android spine, it will allow both Android-based phones and Apple iPhones to run apps that utilize the system. That is, if the community of developers decide to build apps with novel functionality providing added value to motorcyclists, and profit to the developers.

There is always a chicken-and-egg conundrum with platforms like those envisioned by Skully. Developers will come once they see enough users to make it worth the cost of their development dollars. Likewise, motorcyclists may wait to adopt the Skully P1 until it has enough apps and proven value for their dollars. But in this case, it’s a pretty sure bet that the allure of the technology, safety and cool-factor will provide significant demand by motorcyclists. Skully’s 40,000+ beta tester requests have already proven that. Plus, Skully’s decision to leverage the Android toolset for their helmet platform while encouraging apps for both Google and iOS-based phones will please the mobile app developer community. It’s a pretty sure bet that as long as Skully nails the user-experience and delivers a quality helmet that is priced right, riders will line up in droves to check out, and then buy, the Skully P1.

Build it and they will come

Marcus Weller’s field of dreams: he will build it, helmet buyers and app developers will come. With the P1’s core HUD functionality of 180° rear view, plus navigation and phone control, this motorcyclist believes in Skully’s field of dreams. Other benefits from enhanced apps will arrive over time and be gravy for P1 owners. 

Marcus wouldn’t comment on projected pricing for the P1, but he did offer that he was committed to “not pricing it out of people’s reach” while still trying to “make enough money to keep innovating.” Skully is partnering with a major helmet manufacturer to produce the P1 with a “no scrimp design” ethos. Marcus said that he is planning to ship the P1 by “the upcoming riding season” but that this was a very aggressive schedule, and he allowed that this could mean that only the beta helmets might ship “at the very least.

Marcus Weller presented himself as a very confident knowledgeable and likable rider, innovator and entrepreneur. Clearly he has the chops as the lead salesman for the company. The vision he presented for creating “the world’s most intelligent helmet” to prevent accidents and enhance the motorcycling experience was compelling. The motorcycle helmet industry has been ripe for disruption for years. And with more people on two-wheels than ever before, the time is right for Skully Helmets be that disruptor.

I look at the Skully P1 not only as a motorcyclist and writer, but also as the CEO of a software development company myself. Here are my takeaways from Marcus Weller’s presentation and why a Skully P1 will on my head in the near future:

• Spidey-sense:
Who wouldn’t pay a few hundred dollars more for a helmet if it gave you the equivalent of Spiderman’s spider-sense? If I can know that a car in my blind spot is going to veer into my path before it hits me, that’s well worth the investment. And, I don’t even need to get bitten by a radioactive spider!

• A more immersive riding experience: As someone who worked in the scuba diving industry for 17 years, I know all about immersive experiences. That’s why motorcycling is so great: the wind, sun, g-forces…even the rain. Riding allows you to experience the full measure of living. The Skully P1 and potential for new apps will integrate and enhance the riding experience in ways we can barely imagine. 

• Taking motorcycling to the next level: I may be getting ahead of myself with this prediction, but I believe the Skully platform could help advance motorcycling to an entirely new level of safety and enjoyment. Think what might be possible when you combine sensors, cameras, software and a heads-up display? Just imagine: crash prediction and avoidance, new rider training while riding, group ride tracking, low tire pressure alerts…the list of potential benefits are almost endless.

What I also believe is that a P1 helmet could be the next “must have” for every motorcyclist and that the Skully company and its visionary leader, Marcus Weller, are the ones to watch. Good luck, Marcus (oh, and please don’t forget my beta test application). ::

CEO Marcus Weller and his prototype P1 Skully heads-up display motorcycle helmet Marcus Unveils Skully Helmet Piston and Chain motorcycle club members chatting with Skully Helmets CEO Marcus Weller Skully Crew Member Marcus Weller and the Skully Crew

Skully Helmet - B&W

Review: Why We Ride – The Movie

Why We Ride Movie

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.

What did you think? Please leave a comment below.

2013 International Motorcycle Show, San Mateo: Part 4 – The Show

( continued from Part 3 – The Demo Rides )

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 strategic imperative 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.

Conference Sessions
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):

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. ::

2013 International Motorcycle Show, San Mateo: Part 3 – The Demo Rides

( continued from Part 2 – The Bikes )

Those Sweet Demo RidesDemo rides

There were a lot of interesting bikes, motorcycle accessories and people to see at the 2013/2014 Progressive International Motorcycle Show in San Mateo. And the rear parking lot of the Expo Center was full of manufacturers offering demo rides on Saturday and Sunday. Only the San Mateo, Long Beach and Phoenix shows have demo rides available, I suspect because of poor weather when the other nine shows are in their respective cities. The participating manufacturers this year are: Can-Am Spyder, Harley-Davidson, Indian Motorcycle, Kawasaki, Star Motorcycles, Victory and Yamaha. A full listing of which bikes are available for demo rides is here.

My First Demo Ride
A first for me at the show was taking two demo rides Saturday morning courtesy of Kawasaki. My new mission is to learn how to ride off-road on a dual sport and my first step along that journey was to test ride a Kawasaki KLR650. The KLR is a beloved dual-sport machine that was introduced in 1987 and remained virtually unchanged until 2008, after which it received excellent upgrades without fundamentally changing the platform. Although arguably less famous than BMW’s GS series, the KLR has circumnavigated the globe just like Ewan McGregor’s storied ride in his excellent “Long Way Round” and “Long Way Down” TV documentaries.

My KLR650 Demo Ride

I talked to Danny and Roy an the Kawasaki booth Friday night and found out that signups started at the Kawi trailer at 8:00 A.M. Danny’s wife would handle the signups. It was great to meet and greet the Kawi crew the evening before the rides and then talk to them the next morning as I signed up.

I arrived at 7:30 and took advantage of the free motorcycle parking in the front parking lot, and was the only bike there at that early hour. Unfortunately, the show didn’t open until 9:30 and the demo ride trailers were all the way in the rear parking lot where parking was $10. That meant that I couldn’t walk through the show, but had to walk all the way around the San Mateo Expo Center. But, it was a beautiful morning and a 15 minute walk in the brisk morning air was welcome.

Kawasaki Demo Ride Signup

When I arrived at the Kawasaki trailer there was already a line of about a dozen riders ahead of me. There were plenty of bikes and ride-times to go around, though, along with great camaraderie which made arriving early a very pleasant experience. Coffee and pastries were offered by the ROK people (Riders of Kawasaki) for their members or new enrollees. As I waited to show my drivers license and sign the all-encompassing waiver, I noticed the sign below. It actually made me sad to think that this sign was needed at all, but such is life in a world full of squids.

I am sad they need this sign

I came to learn that Kawi limited demo rides to two per day per person, which seemed eminently reasonable. The way riders accomplished a second signup was to go to the rear of the line and sign up again when you got to the front of the line—a very fair system. After I secured my back-to-back demo rides for the KLR650 and new 1400cc Concours, I then waited for the safety briefing.

First Demo Bike: Kawasaki KLR650
Riding a new bike for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience. Especially going from a 650 lb. top-heavy, 1000cc Kawasaki Concours like MyConnie, to a tall-in-the-saddle thumper like the KLR. I first needed to ensure my feet would touch the ground so I wouldn’t fall over at every stop. Like most dual-sports, the KLR has a tall seat height, and my 28-inch inseam legs worried me at first. I quickly found out that once my body weight was on the bike and the suspension compressed a bit, I could firmly plant my toes down on both sides to balance the bike. Or, I could plant my whole foot flat on one side or the other if necessary. It took me a little getting used to, but I checked the first item on my list: I could ride this bike even with my rhinoesque legs.

After the excellent safety briefing they made a big point of asking if anyone was new to riding on a freeway. I was surprised to find out that this was frequently answered in the affirmative, but not this day. Today we were all chomping at the bit to get on our steeds and out on the open road. A few moments later we were told to saddle up, start our engines and get ready to roll.

The Route
The demo ride route was much better than I expected. We received a 30 minute, escorted ride through town, 55 mph freeway, 65+ mph interstate, 35 mph back country roads and then back to the show. Each group of about 15 riders had an escort who wore high-visibility vests with one up front, one in the middle, and one at the rear. Here is a map of the route we took.

Map of Route: Google Map

Map of the demo ride route

My Impressions of the KLR650
The KLR was a lot of fun. Danny at Kawasaki told me that the KLR felt very much like what we all originally wanted to get out of motorcycling: a light, nimble and quick ride that can go anywhere. He was right. Since the seating was high I felt very different than when on my relatively low-slung Connie. Also, being a mostly naked bike, I was unaccustomed to having a lot of wind hitting my legs, torso and helmet. This wasn’t a problem, but it added a bit to the first ride jitters associated with getting accustomed to any new bike. After a few miles, though, I felt like had owned the KLR for years. What especially surprised me was how comfortable it was at 70 mph on the freeway, even with knobby tires! I could easily see a KLR in my future for motocamping trips, especially since they only cost about $6,200 brand new. There are also many available used online for a good amount less than that. As much as I would love to consider a BMW GS, it’s hard to rationalize the $15K+ price tag and oft-bemoaned service costs which helped coin the snarky acronym Bring My Wallet.

Second Demo Bike: Kawasaki Concours 1400 ABS
Right after returning the KLR to the demo area, it was time to saddle up for my next ride on the new Connie. I’ve heard a lot about this successor to my bike from the other members of the Concours Owners Group (COG). I knew that at 1400cc, it had 40% greater displacement than MyConnie and almost double the horsepower making it good that it also had ABS brakes. Last year, a 70 year old Connie rider in the show parking lot told me that the variable valve timing made it so fast that his son’s Suzuki Hayabusa had to work hard to keep up.

Kawasaki Concours 1400 ABS Demo ride

What I noticed after mounting this supersport touring beast was that the speedo went to 180 mph. Humm-baby! But even though I had great anticipation of feeling those ponies beneath me, after firing up the Connie the first thing I did was turn on the heated grips and adjust the temperature to “microwave” to take the chill away from my previous ride. Sport tourers are so much more civilized than canyon racers.

Demo ride on a Kawasaki Concours 1400 ABS

My Impressions of the Concours 1400 ABS
Pulling out of the parking lot felt much more natural on the Connie than on the KLR. It was  more like MyConnie in how it handled. But I soon found out that the similarities between this 1400cc model and my current ride were few. Surprisingly, the new larger Connie handled very well, and felt significantly less top-heavy than my 2001 version. There was no time where I felt uncomfortable in terms of handling the bike. It seemed to have less wind protection than the older Concours but the electric adjustable windscreen was neat. I preferred riding with the screen in the lowest position which placed my chest and helmet into the wind. At its highest position, the wind still hit me mid-helmet, so I would imagine achieving a full tuck to get out of the rain would be difficult, but not impossible.

Except for the demo rider in front of me who decided that 60 mph was the right speed for the freeway, I had a glorious time on the new Connie. This would be a fantastic bike for touring, camping, commuting, canyon carving…or whatever. But, with a MSRP of $16,199, MyConnie doesn’t have to worry about being replaced by MyConnie II anytime soon.

The Kawasaki Crew
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what a tremendous group of people the folks at Kawasaki were. I spent a significant amount of time talking to the different folks, especially Roy and Danny, and I have to tell you that they made attending the show a fantastic experience. Having been a veteran of trade shows myself for over 30 years, I know it‘s their job to do so. But they went above and beyond the call of duty getting me interesting in what was going on, answering my questions about the different Kawi models, and demonstrating their personal enthusiasm for motorcycling. I guess the people at Kawasaki really do let the good times roll.

Up Next: Part 4 – The Show