An invitation to a new model press launch is considered a plum assignment. Whisked away to exotic locales, wined and dined by well-meaning hosts, and finally handed the keys to an important new motorcycle, participating journalists are accorded rock star treatment. That doesn’t mean things always go well.
Getting paid to ride new motorcycles around exotic locations, dear reader, is probably close to your definition of utopia. Mine too. So an invitation to a press launch is always welcome. But sometimes there’s trouble in paradise.
How about riding a new Vespa around Rome in springtime, for example? It sounded good to me, too. So for this, my first foreign press foray, I stuff my new AGV helmet and expensive Rukka jacket into my checked bag with my street clothes. After all, I only have one connection to make. What could possibly go wrong?
However, my 737 goes “technical” on the tarmac at YVR, and I have to sprint between the terminals at LAX to make my connecting flight. And though I’m aboard just in time, my luggage isn’t. It’s finally delivered to my Rome hotel—four days later and an hour after I’ve left for my return flight. It then sits for another three weeks at Rome’s Fiumicino airport before being shipped home—minus the helmet, the jacket, and any chance of compensation from the airline. Meanwhile I shiver my way around Rome in a golf shirt and a borrowed helmet. Since then, my helmet and jacket always go carry-on.
Next comes a Moto Guzzi launch in Siena. When we tour the Piazza del Campo on the first evening, the moonlit Torre del Mangia and Palazzo Pubblico leave me speechless—which is exactly how I feel next morning when, true to national stereotype, the Italian organizers have misplaced the ignition key to my allotted Breva, and an enterprising German photographer has appropriated it. Evaluating a motorcycle by following it around in a car has its limitations.
To the fabulous twisties of California Highway One just north of San Francisco on a Triumph Rocket 3. At most press intros, journos take it in turns to ride through a series of bends for the hired lensmen, and the goal is to make the bike look as impressive as possible. I’m following another Canadian scribe through a tight bend when the big bike’s footpeg snags a cat’s eye in the road. The peg ricochets across the road after violently parting company with the bike—which, but for some heroic hanging-on, almost sheds its rider too.
California again, and this time the Kawasaki Vulcan. I’m wearing a new Joe Rocket jacket delivered just for the occasion. Nice threads—except there’s just one tiny inside pocket. I stuff in my cellphone, notebook and pencil and set off. Later, when I check the pocket back at the hotel, it contains just the notebook and pencil …
Utah next, and the BMW F800GS launch. Most of our day is spent strafing gravel and dirt roads in the La Sal range above Moab, and all is going well until I crest a rise and discover a T-junction with a berm dead ahead. Rather than risk a front end lockup on the loose surface, I step on the rear brake, intending to slide into the turn. But I’ve forgotten to turn off the GS’s default ABS system. ABS doesn’t work on dirt: fortunately, the berm is relatively soft.
For some reason, European press launches seem to be highly competitive. Maybe it’s international rivalry or perhaps a more crowded marketplace. But what often shows up is a group of testosterone-stoked (usually) male motorcycle journos, sleep deprived from a long flight and hung-over from partying until late on their hosts’ tab. After a breakfast high in sugar and caffeine, they’re given high-powered motorcycles to play with.
Professionals or not, the ensuing melee can sometimes become a pissing contest, with the Brits often the ringleaders. It’s a difficult situation to manage: no one wants to cause offence and risk a negative review; and a cover shot of the featured bike performing an outrageous stunt is good publicity.
So perhaps it was just a matter of time. But not because of any high-jinks, just a tragic, unpredictable accident. And the victim was no 20-something tearaway: instead, a mature, intelligent, experienced and skillful rider, perhaps the most respected motorcycle journalist in Europe and, in the past, a frequent CB contributor.
Former technical editor of Motor Cycle News and for the past 15 years motorcycling correspondent of the London Daily Telegraph, Kevin Ash was at a press launch riding the new BMW R1200GS on a gravel road near the town of George, South Africa when he died.
Exactly what happened is unclear, and BMW has, out of respect, declined to release details. But based on comments posted online by other riders at the same intro, the gravel road was lined with deep ruts and extremely dusty, meaning visibility was compromised. It’s been suggested that Ash may have momentarily lost control: his bike is said to have “overturned.” A local newspaper, the Oudtshoorn Courant, reports that a second rider was injured at the same spot and may have hit Ash or his bike, likely after the initial incident.
I met Ash a couple of times at press intros. As befits a qualified engineer, he was knowledgeable, objective and erudite, and also universally popular. His writing on motorcycles was authoritative and widely respected, especially his blog, Ash on Bikes. He’ll be missed at many levels: by his myriad readers; by his friends and colleagues in the media and the motorcycle industry; and most of all by his wife and family.
So yes: press intros are definitely fun, but they’re potentially dangerous, too, even for seasoned professionals. Rest in peace, Kevin.