Caveat Lector: Critically Reading Press Launches

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meThe motorcycle manufacturer’s representative is very candid about the press launches, “Really, not a lot of riding gets done.  There’s a day of track time, and then the next day three or so hours of street riding if you’re lucky.  Often that’s lead.”  Neil Graham, in “Confessions from a Press Launch” [April 2006 Cycle Canada], gives us another glimpse of a riding minimal launch. Frankly, it all has me concerned as the latest metal is rolled out in press release form for the 2007 season.

The problem is that we as consumers, and I count myself among OneWheelDrive.Net readers on this, are often basing our bike choices on a track session and what Mr. Graham refers to as a “chin-down 100km sprint”.

After this sprint, Mr. Graham admits, “[I] walked toward my hotel room, with little recollection of the machine I had just ridden.”  Given descriptions such as this, “caveat emptor”, or in the case of Press Launch bike coverage “caveat lector” (let the reader beware) applies.

There is no training for spotting the small flaws in a bike’s design that will manifest as sore points over the course of ownership.  So when handed a bike on a track for the morning we, as writers, do our best based on experience.  There are distractions though; it’s easy to get caught up in the track’s competitive spirit.  It’s easy to start pushing harder and faster, keeping with the pack and forget what is truly important – evaluation of the bike you are riding.  Or, at least so I’m lead to believe talking with other journalists and editors.

Consider too that the track is not always the best place to test a bike.  I’d conservatively gauge that 85% of the GSX-R 1000s sold for 2006 have never touched a circuit, so how much does a track-based review help a potential buyer?  Even if a Press Launch is done on unfamiliar roads, often it’s not at a pace that suits analysis of the bike as Mr. Graham points out.

The important take away of all this is to be patient.  Read the press launches and then hold out for the real world road reviews, since that’s where you’ll likely be riding.  That’s hard in the face of big media marketing machines churning out advertising, press releases, and Press Launch invites that tend and grow the gardens of our avarice.  Looking at the latest offerings even I am drooling, and after turning out 60-plus bike reviews in the past two years I count myself as jaded.

While you’re being patient, watch media trends and ask if your “dream bike” is only receiving coverage in a specific context?  The ZX-14 seems only to show up at the drag strip — I’ve yet to see a touring article on it.  Media have a tendency to shy away from giving bad reviews in North America, instead choosing to bury or not to run such journalism in the face of the advertising dollar.  It’s a tough editorial decision; I ran our review of BMW’s R1200ST despite knowing such a lukewarm reception would likely hurt potential revenues.

Luckily Mr. Graham is a conscientious journalist and should be praised as such; in his confessional he steals away on a bike for a ride on his own.  It’s heartening to hear of such diligence as the 2007 models begin their strut down the runway.  Still, I’ll be leaning towards critical thought when it comes to press launches and waiting for proper road tests to hit later in the season before rushing to make a 2007 model purchase.  I know it’s hard, but like Christmas the waiting makes it better.

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