The mid-November Geezer history post of my 2008 review of the Hyosung Avitar 650 drug out some flashbacks. My poor impression of that mediocre motorcycle flared all sorts of tempers, from the local dealer (Garceau’s Hardware, now closed after 80 years in business) to a full-out temper tantrum from the Hyosung marketing bozo, not to mention a variety of pissed off cruiser riders and, even, friends who resented the fact that I was chosen to test ride a cruiser. Mostly, my skin is pretty thick from 17 years of doing the Geezer with a Grudge column for MMM. My whole raison d'être with the magazine has been to attract fire and generate reader letters. I think I’ve accomplished that mission.
However, it brought up a bigger question that really should have been asked during the bullshit storm that article started. I’ve written product reviews for everyone from pro audio, motorcycle, electronic control, electronic test, live sound, and music magazines, but other than a fluke record review Downbeat Magazine published when I was 13, my first product review customer was a music equipment distributor based in Kansas City and St. Louis. My old company, Wirebender Audio Systems, did out-of-box inspection and repairs for that distributor’s dealer shows. Back in the 70’s, many companies delivered a surprising number of dead-out-of-the-box products and while dealers were used to the hassle they weren’t particularly inspired to take on another crap brand of music equipment if the distributor couldn’t find a working example of a product. So, my partner and I toured with the distributor making sure everything worked when he fired up a demo. After a couple of seasons doing that, the distributor started sending us examples of prospective new supplier products for evaluation and review. The only “readers” for these reviews would be the distributor’s salespeople and I was more likely to lose the gig if I said something good about a bad product than the reverse. Since I was running a test engineering lab for a day job, this kind of review was second nature.
The magazine business is nothing like that. Magazines are not supported by your subscriptions (other than Motorcycle Consumer News). Magazine publishers and editors, by and large, not only kiss their advertisers’ asses they perform thoroughly disgusting ream jobs on a regular basis. This has become such an ingrained habit that when an advertiser says “jump” or “fire that writer,” publishers jump to firing that writer without a moment of thought. The result is that reviews are, mostly, advertising puff pieces. That means consumers are left without critical advice and have to trust word-of-mouth opinions from people who may not be technical enough to be useful. That is a poor state of affairs. I don’t see an end to it in my lifetime, though. As we dumb-down society in general, we’re becoming exactly what the ruling class and corporations want; consumers vs. citizens.
It doesn’t bother me that I won’t be writing any more reviews to be read by a mass audience. I’m old and tired and have things to do that are a lot more fun than riding motorcycles I don’t like and wouldn’t buy under any conditions. It does bother me that I don’t see anyone taking up the challenge to tell the truth to power in motorcycle safety training, motorcycle product reviews, or anything controversial in our sport. I don’t think that’s a healthy sign.