The Top 5 Things Motorcycle Reviewers Need to Get Over

Exploring the Difference Between Write & Wrong

A new Harley-Davidson Pan America motorcycle launches of a jump in a desert during the North American launch.
Image Via Harley-Davidson
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At first glance, reviewing motorcycles and riding gear for a living may seem like a bit of a dream job. You can probably imagine an all-expenses-paid trip to some sunny location just for the sake of riding brand new bikes along some exciting stretch of road. Heaven on two wheels, yeah? Well not quite. And that’s because reviewing bikes for a living comes with some solid caveats that mean it’s not all wine and roses at the end of the day.

The harsh reality is that there are a bunch of expectations placed on motorcycle reviewers—be they self-imposed or set up by industry heavyweights—that mean the accuracy and truth behind the articles of these mostly male, mostly middle-aged writers is probably less than you’d expect. So let’s take a deep dive into the world of professional motorcycle reviewers and see why they aren’t always on the money.

A big launch event with plenty of smoke and coloured lights for a new Triumph motorcycle
Bike launches are big, expensive exercises for manufacturers. Image via rescogs.com

5. THRASHING BIKES

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the world’s greatest motorcycle rider. As a marketing executive from a major Japanese manufacturer once told me, “That guy there used to race bikes for a living. He’s a much better rider than you, so his thoughts about our bikes counts for more than yours.”

And while there is some truth in that sentiment, there’s also a big, gaping hole in the logic. And that’s the fact that only one percent of the general public can ride like he does. And the other ninety nine percent? Well, they ride a lot like me.

A Triumph Motorcycles Launch event in the UK
A Triumph Launch event in the UK. Image via rescogs.com

Fast forward to the press launch of the new bikes, and these pros are now riding the absolute bejesus out of the bikes. This is fuelled partly by ego, partly by the fact that they don’t own the bikes, and also partly by the knowledge that speeding camera fines on launch events are dealt with by the organisers. Soon, they are likely complaining under their breaths about how the bike’s suspension set-up is too soft or how the bike lacks power.

That’s the equivalent of getting into a Toyota Corolla and then bitching about how badly it’d do in an illegal street race. Sure, some of them understand the logical disconnect and will review the bike with an understanding that it’s not intended to win the MotoGP, but I’ve seen plenty of reviews that don’t, too.

4. MISSING THE BIGGER PICTURE

Without naming names, many established manufacturers have been trying to tap into the seemingly lucrative commuter and beginner motorcycling segment in a more proactive way for years. A highlight of this push has been the opening of factories in countries like Thailand and India.

Intended to both provide cheaper bikes and to sell directly to locals, it turned out to be an interesting insight into just how manufacturers balance a marketing-lead design decision with the basic tenets of their brands. Put simply, they are walking a fine line between selling a ton of cheap bikes in developing countries and not tarnishing their reputations in the West.

A Harley-Davidson Street 500 motorcycle rides downs a street during a launch event in America.
Rest in peace, Street 500. Via Harley-Davidson

There have been some bad missteps here. Yes, I do have the luxury of 20/20 hindsight, but I’m not afraid to say that more than one bike made to take advantage of this market seemed doomed to failure from the get-go. Even regular riders would’ve been able to tell you that the bikes were bottom-dollar marketing exercises and time has shown that they were not a whole lot more.

Furthermore, some brand diehards were up in arms about how far off the mark these bikes were. So you’d assume that the professional reviews for the bikes would have raised at least some of these concerns, yes? But they didn’t. Not at all. Which leads me to my next point…

3. TREATING MANUFACTURERS WITH KID GLOVES

For all the things that I loathe about Jeremy Clarkson, I have to admit that he was never afraid to take on the manufacturers. If he was tasked to review a car, and he decided that it had a flaw, he’d bring it up for everyone to see. Yes, he was the biggest name in the business—and yes, he’d sleep well at night knowing that he wouldn’t wake up the next day unemployed. But herein lies the rub with the two-wheeled automotive industry.

Press events that allow journalists to test bikes are organised and paid for by the manufacturers themselves. They are also invite-only events, and no invite equals no exclusive. So no prizes for guessing what happens when you piss off a manufacturer’s marketing department with your latest motorcycle review, then. No soup for you.

Richard Hammond attends a Triumph Motorcycles launch event in the UK.
New bikes have to be given the best possible chance to succeed, but where do you draw the line between solid promotion and media bias? Via drpgroup.com

Now think of the last time you saw a bad review for a movie. If you’re anything like me, you’ll see them regularly. That is because the movie reviewers don’t rely on the studios to pay their salaries. But I bet you that you’ve rarely if ever seen a motorcycle review that says, “There are better options out there for your money. Don’t buy this bike.”

Sure, modern manufacturers just don’t make bikes that are truly awful or downright dangerous like they may have done in the past; they’d be litigated to death if they did that these days. But as I mentioned in the point above, some modern motorcycles are just straight up bad ideas that may lead to owners eventually regretting their purchase. And if it isn’t the job of all these professional reviewers to warn potential customers of these facts without fear or favour, then whose is it?

2. NOT THINKING LIKE CUSTOMERS

There’s a very good reason why press events are organised around great roads. And that’s because some of that greatness will always rub off on the bike that’s being reviewed. The sunshine. The amazing corners. The beers at the end of the day. What a treat!

Unfortunately, ‘real world’ riding is the exact opposite of this. You have to do boring things like wash the bike. And top up the oil. And ride it in horrible conditions on your way to work in heavy traffic.

The Harley-Davidson LiveWire motorcycle launch event in India with a row of new bikes waiting to be ridden.
The Harley LiveWire launch in India. Image via Harley-Davidson

This disconnect has been partially addressed by reviewers doing ‘long term’ reviews of bikes where they get to experience them in much less salubrious surroundings. Sadly, this kind of ‘in-depth’ analysis of a bike is something that modern motorcycle journalism cannot afford to focus on.

The rise of social media and the demise of magazines has in part meant that consumers are no longer interested in reading 3000 word reviews. Similarly, publishers just don’t have the time nor money to pay reviewers for the weeks of work it takes to develop really informed opinions and to look past the bike’s initial impressions.

An official photograph of Harley-Davidson's "Bronx" Streetfighter that has since been 'disappeared' from the harley website.
There’s a long haul between amazing prototype and a big-seller that’s also amazing to own. Image via Harley-Davidson

1. ASSUMING ALL RIDERS ARE JUST LIKE THEM

Unless you’ve just emerged from an ill-advised quarter century in a prepper’s bunker, you won’t be surprised to learn that not everyone who rides a motorcycle these days is a middle aged man with a wife and 2.5 kids.

The people who ride have changed, much like the world itself has done. But take a look at your average, garden-variety motorcycle reviewer, and I’ll guarantee that they are almost all still the same old white males in their 30s, 40s or 50s that they have always been. And so am I.

A Yamaha track day launch event for their R3 motorcycle
A Yamaha track day launch event. Image via Yamaha

So how much value do you think their review of a brand new motorcycle will have for, oh I don’t know, say a 20-something woman? The answer is pretty obvious, at least for me. I know nothing about what this woman might want in a bike or a riding experience. But until the people reviewing the bike more closely resemble those riding them, then what they write about the bikes, their insights, and the advice they give will always be somewhat redundant.

A BMW Motorrad launch event in Australia for the brand's R18 cruiser motorcycle
A BMW Motorrad launch event in Australia. Image via BMW

In the end, better motorcycle reviews surely mean a smoother, more enjoyable purchasing experience for new riders getting into the sport. And it’s these very same new riders buying new bikes that is such an important part of keeping the industry alive. Not only that, it also means more money for research and development—which makes better new bikes for us all.

Likewise, it’s not helpful to be anti-manufacturer just because they are the ones with all the cash and taking all the risks. But it is helpful—for both us and them—to ensure they are held to account for their design and marketing decisions, and that they know in their heart of hearts that tricky marketing and fancy launch events are never a viable substitute for time and effort spent on designing and making great motorcycles in the first place.

Leave a Reply

  1. I’ll take exception to points 1 and 5. Taken to it’s logical conclusion, should I only read reviews by slow old white guys with red hair? Of course not.

    A good journalist will be able to write to different perspectives; a top-level rider who is also a decent journalist will be able to tell us both how it handles when flogged and what it’s like to commute on.

    Nor does one need to be of a specific race/gender/culture/heritage/age to understand what is important to that demographic; that’s what research is for … which is another hallmark good journalism.

    1. Watching a female friend of mine ride my FZ6 was an interesting experience. She had observations/feedback that would have never occurred to me. Not sure how you can “research” your way into/out of those types of conclusions.

  2. Any one can read the spec sheet and look at the pics of a new model, I would hope the test riders have enough riding skill and experience to push the bike to be able to comment on its performance and handling and of course be able to compare it to other bikes. What I do not need is a ‘journalist’ that reads the manufacturers hype to me or that comments on the appearance.I can read and I have eyes too.

    Next thing I do not need is to read why the bike is ‘worth’ whatever price it is. At that point the journalist has become a salesman for the manufacturer. And I am pretty sure many or most of those journalists would not themselves be so free with spending their own money.

    Back in the day magazines often arranged comparison test articles of bikes, also sometimes of just the latest in tires. those articles were worth reading IMO
    A frequentlu overlooked detail in test articles seems to be carrying an adult passenger for a decent distance, From what I see very few current bikes would be as comfortable for the passenger as most any late ’70s large UJM or BMW. I would love to see some genuine criticism! Broad and mostly flat seats on those old bikes usually were better than most of what todays bikes come with; today repaling the seat is super common. The road testers should be the first to make that coment /complaint.
    Another complaint, we often read some reference to ‘this bike is better in such and such way compared to so many other bikes’ haha , How come all of us readers have never seen any of those faults called out in the past? Writers seem worried to offend the makers, but the makers need the articles written that many of us read to generate interest in their products.
    Most publications at some point for a while now have employed a female test rider presumably ‘to give a females point of view?’. Well I want to read what an experienced tester has written and frankly I do not care about their age or gender but I will modify that with the idea that if a certain new model is aimed at a certain market sector than a person representative of that market sector is more likely to view the product suitably. ha, Like I do not expect a guy to write authratively on women’s riding gear and how it fits!

    I have owned over 100 bikes in since 1968, some bought new, many bought near new. Nearly all those purchases were significantly influenced by articles I read and the enthusiasm those articles generated in me. I write this to show my appreciation and the value I have in Motorcycle Journalism reviews, even after my complaints.

  3. Well said. Bikes these days just suck. My garage contains a 1991 and 1983 model. I’m too old to rev bikes to seven grand before the engine makes power and too proud to ride an overweight V-Twin that runs out of breath at four grand.

    1. There has never been more choice of motorcycle than right now.
      This is truly a golden time for bikes.
      From the cheap single cylinder to the outrageously expensive adv, there is choice, variation and excellence in every segment.

  4. Agree totally. I am sick of seeing reviewers doing wheelies and burnouts as if the customer needs to do likewise. Who really cares how a bike performs on the limit under ideal conditions on a track? Pseudo knee dragging is another painful wank to see in reviews. I am a 75 year old motorcyclist who has ridden continuously since age 16 and am disappointed to see a lack of info on practical things like night time lighting, ease of maintenance, etc (I do most of mine). I am not impressed by TFT displays and half a dozen maps on a bike. Of course I appreciate useful stuff like ABS and maybe even TC, but Keep it simple. Keep it real

    1. In that case, please limit your top speed to 30 mph at all times.
      I hereby forbid any free thought, excitement or enjoying the ride just for the sake of it.
      In light of current fuel supply and pricing issues, you are obliged to use public transport only.
      Enjoy.

  5. Great article! So right about the “test pilots” vs. the average rider, the ” sunshine, the corners, the beer” and the mondaine closed world of manufacturers marketing dept. who lacks respect towards their real customers. Just look at the way they treat you at a bike show…. Real Snobby people. Anyway, jeep it up AJ!! Great work!

  6. I have to agree with the author on almost every point he made. Especially his comment on ignoring women riders. The entire industry has pretty much ignored and lost out on an entire market. I have had to modify most of the motorcycles that my wife rides, due to the seemingly fact that the manufacturers seem to think every rider has a 34 inch inseam. in case anyone wonders, her latest ride is a GSXS-1000SFA. Set up for one up touring. I did this long before Suzuki ever thought of doing it.

    1. There is nothing stopping women getting their moto fix.
      There is, however, massive disparity in interest in gadgets, tech, bikes, cars between men and women.
      To ignore this overwhelming point reduces any conversation of the issue to pointlessness or agenda driven stupidity.
      Given free choice, men and women fundamentally CHOOSE DIFFERENT THINGS.
      This is a well observed fact of science.

  7. PERFECT, and spot on. You forget to mention that last year’s bike was the greatest ever until THIS year’s bike which as .25 MORE inches travel and 1.2 MORE pounds feet of torque, which means it’s fabulous and the “old” one is shite!

  8. There’s a ton of people doing rider videos. It’s simply them and a go-pro telling you their opinion. It’s not a review because you have a camera. Possibly the most heinous act of reviewing a motorcycle. Unfortunately motorcycle.com and Missenden Flyer do this also. It seems an attempt to get through as many bikes as possible for Youtube ad revenue. The best course of action is to down vote these into oblivion. They need to know these suck or they’ll keep doing it.