Posts Tagged motorcycles

We Are the Media: Blurring the lines between print, digital, and social media

Print is dead. We’ve been hearing that for what, a decade now? Two? But have you been to a bookstore lately? Or a supermarket? You’ll still see a lot of floor space devoted to magazines and newspapers. Real estate inside those stores is extremely valuable and the people who run them are pretty smart. If print publications don’t make the cash register ring, why are they still there?

Many magazines have disappeared in recent years. Many that are still around are quite a bit thinner than they used to be. And newspapers are certainly struggling. Most of them have tried to integrate some sort of digital edition into their subscription model. Results have been mixed at best.

Yet occasionally we find a respected dead-trees media organization that seems to have figured out how to stop fighting digital media and make it work to their benefit. Recently I got a very inside look at one such example.

Cycle World launched in 1962 and by 2001 was the largest motorcycle magazine in the world. Its founder, Joe Parkhurst, was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame as “the person responsible for bringing a new era of objective journalism to motorcycling in the United States.” In 1995 the magazine published an article by Hunter S. Thompson called “Song of the Sausage Creature.” (Complete with illustrations by Ralph Steadman.) In it, HST wrote a sentence that has been quoted many times and is often seen in the signature lines of keyboard riders on internet motorcycle enthusiast forums: “Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube.” Hunter Thompson created a career out of ignoring the lines between observer and participant.

“Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube.” —Hunter S. Thompson

Cycle World has teamed up with Honda to help introduce a new motorcycle, the NC700X, to North America. The bike goes a very different direction from the rest of the market and Honda is staking a significant portion of its future on this motorcycle. It has drawn a lot of ink in traditional media and is starting to get some traction in the moto forums. Cycle World named it the best standard motorcycle of 2012.

Then they went way beyond the boundaries of the printed page. The magazine took four of its readers, had them ride the new bike for a week, and built a story around them. This story is being written almost entirely in pixels, rather than on paper. The story is called the Cycle World Honda NC700X Adventure Challenge.

And I am one of those four riders.

 

Cycle World and Honda paid all of our expenses for a week in Southern California. They put us up in nice hotels, fed us like kings, supplied more than a few tasty adult beverages, and generally made us feel like rock stars. The magazine even tapped some of its advertisers to hook us up with a bunch of new riding gear. And all they asked in return was for us to talk about the experience. They didn’t tell us what to say and they didn’t ask us to say nice things. Just talk about the experience.

And that’s what we’ve been doing. On Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram, and lots of the other social media platforms. I’ve been asked a few direct questions about the bike and have answered to the best of my ability. Two most common questions: How is the fuel mileage? (It’s better than the specs say it is.) and, How is the bike on the dirt? (I don’t know as we didn’t get to take it off the pavement. But if you want a dual-sport motorcycle, this isn’t it.) I’ve also suggested to a few friends who are looking for a new bike that they might want to have a look at this Honda. If I were shopping and had $7,000 to spend, I would buy one.

While we were out hooning around on these new motorcycles a camera crew shot gobs of video and stills of most of our escapades. They’ve released some of that content on the Cycle World website with more to come. So we four are riders, content contributors, and, the magazine hopes, social media influencers.

Should be interesting to see how this goes.

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Be Your Own Test Pilot

Do you know where the phrase “pushing the envelope” came from? It’s what a test pilot does. An aircraft is designed to operate within a set of boundaries called the performance envelope. How fast can it fly? How high? How quickly can it take off, turn, and land? How much weight can it carry? These are the limits of what it can do.

But when a new airplane is built no one really knows exactly where those limits are. So test pilots fly the thing to find out. They take the aircraft to the edge of the performance envelope and see what happens. If all goes well, they push beyond the existing boundaries. They explore unknown territory to see what they can find.

If they have a good day, and land in one piece, they have successfully pushed the envelope to establish a new boundary. Now the plane can be flown faster or higher. So the next day they’ll attempt to push the envelope out another little bit. If they have another good day, they’ve made more progress and helped create a better product.

Eventually, bad things will begin to happen. Components or systems or people will begin to reach the limits of their own performance. Sometimes, things will break and the pilot will have a not so good day. With skill and maybe some luck, the plane will land safely. The team will study what they’ve learned. They’ll dial things back a bit and establish the edges of the performance envelope. The limits of where the thing can be operated safely and reliably.

But no one knows where those limits are until they begin to go beyond them. They don’t know how fast or high or far they can go until they try.

You can do this in your own life. In your business. You can be your own test pilot. How do you know where your limits are? Have you pushed your own envelope lately?

I used to be afraid of heights. Then one beautiful San Francisco day, I took a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Traffic hurtled by a few feet away. The bridge moved under my feet. The wind felt like it would sweep me over the rail. But nothing bad happened. I had a really good day. And now, I’m a lot less nervous about being in high places.

A few months ago Arlene Battishill, the president of GoGo Gear, rode her motorcycle the entire length of the Baja peninsula. She met up with some scruffy-looking guys in Southern California, crossed the border into Mexico, and rode all the way to Cabo San Lucas. Eleven hundred miles in five days. With some traveling companions she really didn’t know.

I’m pretty sure Arlene told us in the first days or maybe hours of that trip that this was by far the biggest ride she had ever attempted. She said she would be doing something she had never done before. She planned to push her own envelope.

We had a great trip. Arlene proved to be one of the best riders in the group. She was definitely the most fun and now she and I are good friends. Recently I read about how she jumped on her bike and rode north, to San Francisco; 575 miles in a long weekend. She shared a picture of herself and her motorcycle at the Golden Gate Bridge. I could feel the wind and smell the ocean. I wanted to tell her about the time I went there and came back different.

Arlene Battishill at the Golden Gate Bridge

Arlene celebrates another day of pushing the envelope.

I originally wrote this as a guest post on the GoGo Gear blog. When Arlene published it she also said some very nice things about me. Here’s her version.

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Success in a Tough Economy: Launch a Luxury Product in a Niche Market

Ready for some good news? How about a startup launched in 2009 selling something that no one can honestly say they need, manufactured in Southern California, based on a design from more than 50 years ago? Suggested retail on the product starts at about $5,000. Most buyers spend more than that by adding a lot of custom bling. And the company sells them as fast as they can make them, is looking to expand the model line, and is pursuing export opportunities.

Meet the California Scooter Company. They build a little motorcycle that is big fun, very cool, not cheap, and is extremely popular. The California Scooter is powered by a Honda-designed 150cc four-stroke, single-cylinder engine that can deliver 98 miles to a gallon of gas. It sports a lot of machined aluminum, stainless steel, and chrome. The brakes and electrical system are modern and efficient. It’s got an electric starter for reliability and a kick starter for some extra fun and panache.

Think of it as a sort of retro 1950s-style chopper that anyone can ride, is easy to maintain, and doesn’t cost as much as a decent car. The bikes are inspired by the Mustang, a small motorcycle built in Glendale, California from 1947 until 1963. That bike had the classic long and low chopper look and was so fast on the race track that it was banned from competition.

The founder of the California Scooter Company, Steve Seidner, bought an old Mustang intending to restore it and give it to his father as a gift. Instead he ended up creating a new American motorcycle company. The bikes and the company have been well received, are getting great media coverage, and are enjoying tremendous success.

Joe Berk rides his California Scooter

Joe Berk rides his California Scooter in the hills above Los Angeles

Some of that success is due to engaging their prospective customers with a robust social media marketing campaign. The company is very active and accessible in a lot of online motorcycle enthusiast communities. If you’ve spent any time in the forums, you know they can be brutal. Opinionated and uninformed haters can quickly bring the signal-to-noise ratio to near zero. You can get assaulted with charges that your product is overpriced offshore junk from people who have never seen it. And it can be tough to jump in and contribute without sounding like you are just trying to sell your stuff.

The California Scooter Company has managed to avoid all of that danger, rise above the chaos, and actually tell their story well. They make good use of Facebook and Twitter and the company blog has new, engaging content several times a week. The guy behind all of this social media success is Joe Berk, a business management consultant, author, and motorcycle enthusiast. Joe is a good friend of mine and that’s how I became such a big fan of the California Scooter Company.

So the bikes are cool, Steve’s got an awesome business, and Joe is fun to hang out with. He also likes adventure travel, especially in Baja, Mexico. In about a week, we plan to throw all of that together into a big mashup involving fish tacos, cactus, and cold beer. Joe has put together a little group ride to the tip of Baja and back, on 150cc California Scooters. And I’ve managed to get myself invited along. I’ll be driving a big, comfortable pickup truck with a really good air conditioner. And a fridge in the back seat for cold drinks.

We figure we’ll get some good pictures and have a lot of fun. We’ve got some interesting characters along on the ride and I think we’ll come home with a few good stories. I hope to share them with you when I get back.

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