Donovan Fourie: How to bribe a motorcycle journalist


Last week, Harry Fisher posted a road test from the launch of BMW’s new G310 GS, a bike he rather liked. A lot. In fact, he went as far as to say that it is one of the best adventure bikes he has ever ridden.

This caused quite a stir among the social media, forum and general internet communities – a small BMW built in India is one of the best adventure bikes, classing it with the likes of the 1200 GS, the KTM 1290, the Ducati Multistradas, the Super Tenere and a host of hugely competitive motorcycles, he as ever ridden? The cheek! Blasphemy! Heresy! Burn him at the stake!

These people have read the spec sheet and seen the photos. It produces 34hp from its single motor so must be slower than an ox cart, and it’s from India and therefore it is basically a dressed up delivery bike. It stands to reason.

Obviously, the indignant comments poured out as people attempted to explain this outrage towards the mild mannered Harry – the good, old-fashioned “BMW obviously gave him a bribe to say that” line came up a good few times. Or the evergreen “he just wants to get invited to more launches so he will say anything is good”. This is backed up further by the commenter with “show me one bad bike review from a launch”.

This might seem plausible when Harry sings praises for a contentious motorcycle like the G310 GS, but such logic isn’t reserved only for bikes like this one. Last month, I rode the Ducati Panigale V4S, a bike that tops the spec sheet war hands down. On the track, it was even better than the specs suggest, and I took great liberty in expressing such success by the Italian brand. The responses were what is now becoming monotonous:

“Ducati obviously gave him a bribe to say that.”

“He just wants to go to more Ducati launches.”

“Show me one bad review from a launch.”

And it isn’t just The Bike Show that is subjected to such condemnation – chatting to Rob Portman of RideFast Magazine revealed that he experienced the same accusations after his rave review of the V4. And the same goes overseas as my media brethren from across the waters have confirmed whenever they give any bike a rave review.

Is there some truth behind the accusations of journalistic corruption? I’m certain it has happened before, in very rare cases, but I it has never happened since I’ve been a journalist, and it’s not happening right now. Lets look at what is at stake – the reputation of the manufacturer and the journalist. Let’s say that, for example, BMW did bribe Harry to say that the G310 GS was good. Said bribe funds are not something that could be parted under a table. It would require a good deal of dosh before any journalist would even consider it. And BMW South Africa is not run by a chain smoker in a vest, it is a giant corporation owned by the factory. Any funds paid would require various levels of authorisation meaning a good chunk of people would have to know about it. That makes it risky.

Image the story that BMW is bribing journalists got out. BMW would be ruined, the staff that instigated said bribe would be on the streets. The Bike Show would be ruined and Harry would never be able to show his hair again. Honestly, how much value do you think BMW put in a good review from a journalist, and would Harry really throw his whole career on the line for a few extra bob in his pocket? I think not.

There are those people who would site some sort of conspiracy between the importers and the media, but these same people say that the Queen killed Diana, man never landed on the moon, Bush instigated 911 and the world is flat.

Then there is the question of a shortage of bad reviews from launches. The answer to this is simple – bad motorcycles are few and far between these days. In fact, they are bordering on extinction. Especially bikes at launches – if a manufacturer is going to go through all the effort and expense of hosting a launch, they are going to do it for a model they are extremely confident in. If there is a hint of scepticism, then they will simply provide a demo unit that the press can test at their leisure. For some models, they won’t even do that.

So you can be pretty certain that a bike at a press launch is going to be good, but if you must press up for an example of a bad review from a launch, fine. You shall have one.

BMW SA launched the 2013 R1200 GS at a luxurious resort in the Limpopo Province, with excellent riding, both tar and dirt. We were treated to five star food, an unlimited bar tab and some of the finest accommodation available. Sounds fantastic. It was ruined somewhat by the fact that the motorcycle tried to kill me a few times. I caught a tank slapper on the first bit of dirt road, and that was scary enough. One of the launch staff got to work adjusting all the electronic suspension and power delivery settings on my bike, and assured me that the problem was now cured.

A while later, on another wide open dirt road, it tank slapped again, this time much bigger, to the point where I legitimately thought that hospital food was imminent. Some people might fault my riding, but my good friend and competitive enduro racer, Gavin Morton, had exactly the same issue. So did most of the journlists on the launch.

My review reflected this, as did those from most of the journalists from that launch. There was some outcry from the public, ironically accusing us of being BMW haters.

Some more examples of bad reviews – one of the updated S1000RRs felt heavy to turn and had a tendency to push the front end at high lean angle, the original KTM 690SM was heavy, clunky, underpowered and ugly, the original Honda NC700 was a sure cure for insomnia and the 2007 GSXR1000 was brilliant in every way provided you never showed it a corner. Or tried to stop it. Or tried to change gears.

If you want to see a scathing attack on a motorcycle, go and see Harry’s review of the Honda VRF800.

And Mat is mostly unimpressed with the world at large. To get a properly good review out of him is rare. Probably impossible.

These are some examples of reviews where the bike came out less favourable. If I rattle my brain I’m sure I’ll find more. But they are rare for the simple fact that motorcycles these days are damn good. And after we gave these criticisms, we were still happily invited back for more launches. The PR people know that there is a risk of negative reviews, and sometimes they happen. If there were to ban journalists every time they receive a bad review, the launches would soon become very lonely events.

Harry genuinely enjoyed the G310 GS, without any monetary persuasion. We know this because when we met at Rim & Rubber to shoot the studio links for that episode, Harry had just returned from the launch and was grinning like a four year old with a fresh bag of Fizzers. He raved and raved and raved about it. Then we started shooting for the show and he raved some more.

I haven’t ridden the G310 GS yet, but it’s possible, as often happens, that I might disagree with him about it. Or I might not. All I do know is that something about that bike delighted him.

Obviously, if you have half a brain, you will know that the opinion of a journalist is just an opinion. But you, reading this right now, definitely have more than half a brain, otherwise you would have simply read the heading and started ranting in the comments section.

If you want to bribe motorcycle journalists, give them something good to write about. Nowadays, that isn’t difficult.

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