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Archive for November, 2010

November 24, 2010

Inside a bike launch

I really admire the technical abilities of guys like Chris Reid and John Bayliss. These two Yamaha legends could probably break down, bolt by bolt, how each Yamaha snowmobile or motorcycle works. I, on the other hand, can only tell you how they handle, or if the seat is too soft. I wish that I could offer more technical insight but, much like my singing ability, I just don’t have it. (Although, my acting skills have received favourable reviews…)

What I can offer you, though, is some insight into the “Launch” of a new Yamaha.


The FZ8 takes in the beauty of Huntsville, Ontario.

Have you ever wondered what goes into a “Press Launch” of a new motorcycle? Not to be confused with the actual development of a bike (John Bayliss does a great job of detailing that process here); I’m referring to the release of a new bike to media and, soon afterwards, the public. As a kid, I drooled over magazines featuring new bike reports. I could only dream of what it would be like to be there, riding brand new machines that hadn’t even hit dealerships yet—and the best part, I wouldn’t be required to fix or wash them!

Most recently, our marketing team organized the Canadian launch of the 2011 FZ8 and Fazer 8. (Actually, I’m lying. Our latest launch was for the new Stryker cruiser and early release 2012 Super Ténéré. But that was a lower scale, one-day deal held at the Yamaha office and not as “exciting” as others.) After all was said and done, it’s safe to say the FZ8 launch was a success. Things ran smoothly, weather cooperated (which is always huge, especially when riding on the street) and media were very positive about the new bikes.

Here is a rundown of what went into Yamaha Motor Canada’s 2011 Fz8/Fazer 8 press launch:

There is usually one guy who leads each event. For the FZ8, that guy was Mr. Renegade, Bryan Hudgin. Actually, come to think of it, he coordinates most of our product launches. (I make sure there is plenty of paper and pens.)


After reviewing comments from the earlier European launch, we knew we needed to find roads that offered plenty of turns, hills, off-cambers, and twisties to really showcase the playful character of the FZ8/Fazer 8.

WHEN
The first step is setting a date. The FZ8 was to be released to public on Wednesday June 9th, along with several other bikes and ATVs,  so we wanted to arrange a press launch at least a month prior. We chose May 25-26. We hold it earlier to allow media ample time to prepare content and include it the most timely issue – cover really sweetens the pot – but not too much headway as they may leak out details … then it spreads throughout chat rooms … and then we get a spanking from the Mothership.

This was not as relevant for this launch, as the bike had already been released in Europe. We often have media sign an embargo or confidentiality agreement that they will not share or publish anything until the official release date … though, that doesn’t always work out.


Le Guide de la Moto’s Bertrand Gahel, and Motoress founder, Vicki Gray, work together to create a nice atmosphere shot for their respective pubs.

WHERE
Due to the FZ8’s sporty, agile and nimble design, we wanted to find a locale that offered long, winding roads, minimal to no traffic and beautiful countryside. Somewhere that best suits “fun” ride character. We settled on Huntsville, ON, and stationed ourselves at Delta Grandview, a beautiful resort which complemented the sleek and sexy sport bike perfectly. The resort and their staff accommodated us well, providing a meeting room for our new model presentation to media, a private dining hall and excellent swimming hole for the wicked heat we were about to experience.

WHO
Time and place, check. Now we need to find people to ride the bikes. For those of you who have planned a wedding, you can appreciate the difficulty in this step. You have a limited number of chairs (budget and bikes) and far too many possible guests. Our budget, unfortunately, doesn’t allow for the “it’s not a party unless everyone’s invited!” theme. You gotta make some cuts.


We’re fortunate to have a very unique and talented group  covering motorcycles in Canada. Each brings their own flavour, especially Cycle Canada’s Neil Graham. His story telling ability is quite impressive, not because he has the best stories, but it’s the way he delivers them. He could make a trip to the grocery store for eggs and milk sound interesting!

We try to include members of the mainstream media (or horizontals, as we call them),  the verticals (or motorcycle specific media) and those who freelance or do a great job of spreading the word through various platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, etc). We also want to make sure our guests are well qualified; riding is one thing, but the ability to ride and analyze the motorcycle’s design, engine and functions is another. We need test riders who can then communicate these changes effectively to their readers.

For this particular launch, we had three FZ8’s and one Fazer 8. We also had a 2010 Stratoliner Deluxe for media to experience for the first time, and many of our newer bikes to ensure everyone’s butt had a saddle (R1, FZ6R, V-star 950).

[Ed note: Danny was particularly excited about this launch, because it was his first opportunity to ride many of Yamaha’s street bikes. His boss, Tim, didn’t feel quite the same way after hearing many of Danny’s “it wasn’t my fault” stories.]

Oh and let’s not forget about Yamaha staff; it’s important we have a nice mix of people who know how to talk (marketing) and people who can talk the talk (service). For this event, Bayliss and Dave Shepherd managed the presentation and technical questions, while Huggy, Aaron Dowden and I entertained media with interpretive dance. After that, we looked after setting up a pit area with bikes, stands, tools, cleaners and canopies, and make sure the “little things” are covered.


Patience really is a virtue when it comes to motorcycle photography. You’ve got several riders to shoot, you need shots from every angle and you’ve got traffic to deal with. And riders must remember they are judged on style (not speed) when the photographer’s shooting….

But when do we get to ride?!? Soon. When we arrive, Huggy makes sure all of the media’s rooms are prepared (we usually include a small token of appreciation for attending, like a helmet bag or jacket) and our meeting rooms are booked and clear. Meanwhile, Dowden and I set up our pit area, “Yamasize” the resort and get everything ready to go early the next day. As media arrive, we welcome them, hand them an itinerary, press kit and detailed ride route.

During the ensuing presentation, media learn about Yamaha’s motivation behind developing this new bike, how we did it and what it means to riders. Bayliss and Shepherd do a great job working together on this and their knowledge of motorcycle technology is impressive. Following “class,” everyone enjoys dinner, a few drinks and conversation. It’s a great chance for media and corporate to mingle. Stories are shared and lies are told.

Up and at’em! We like to kicks things off early the next day; trying to organize a group of chatty, excited motorcycle media is like trying to organize a group of girls entering a Justin Beiber concert. We need to nail down photo-ops, video, lunch, and make sure everyone has what they need for their editorial. Each ride is structured according to the group, location/roads and weather. On this day, we began with an organized loop, lunch and then a more laidback, free-ride to cap things off.


Riders prepare for a corner shoot.

In the organized loop, we have Yamaha reps leading and following the pack, along with a rep and photographer (Richie Tripp) behind in a support vehicle. This was my role during the FZ8 event; I was the photographer’s butler. Not a ton of physical work, but it’s a never ending job keeping these artists happy. So demanding…  In between fetching Richie water and escargot, I managed to shoot footage for a short “first impression” video which you can watch here. I’m no Steven Spielberg but it gets the point across.

During the first loop, we stopped 3 or 4 times for Richie to snap pics of the media. During the second loop after lunch, media were free to go where they wanted, unchaperoned by Yamaha staff. I’m sure they all adhered to local speed limits….

At the end of the ride, media return to the resort, pick up a DVD of images, have any remaining questions answered and then they’re free to go. Then we wash the bikes, re-fuel them and do it all over again for media group #2! (Wait a minute, in my childhood dreams, I didn’t wash them!)

There you have it, a glimpse into the glamorous world of motorcycle press launches. If you’re curious to know any other tibits about a press launch, comment here and we’ll do our best to answer.

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November 15, 2010

Labour of Love: Part Deux


“What the heck was I thinking?!”

We rode on to our first stop at the gigantic Manic 5 dam , which is the world’s largest multiple arch and buttress dam. I will admit, talking to the camera is quite unnerving when security feels the need to follow your every move!

As Keith Urban would say, this is “Where the blacktop ends….” The party was about to get started….

Sadly, the party ended about 60km later when I realized that when I moved back on the seat, my butt was no longer hitting the tent I had strapped on behind me. Crikey!

I turned around, looking at the bare, plush passenger seat where my tent had once been. As the dust settled and darkness crept in, Mike and Tyler in the UHAUL made their way closer.

“You guys didn’t pass anything on the road, specifically my tent?” I asked.

“Nope,” they replied.

Crikey.

I rode back for about 10kms, scanning the ditch lines, but … nothing.

This was bad for two reasons: The first being that I no longer had my “free accommodations.” What with all the wild fishers on the loose, sleeping under the stars … in Northern Quebec … in October, seemed a little ambitious. More importantly, this was my wife’s expensive tent that I had already damaged on my God forsaken motorcycle/TV trips the previous year and received a good scorning for.  She was NOT going to be happy now that I had lost it.


Probably the only time Huggy was smiling while traversing the demanding wilderness of Northern Quebec.

Sitting in the middle of nowhere while darkness overtook the valleys was not an option. We pushed on to Relais Gabriel and arrived at the gas pumps with the lights on full blast. We had 317kms under our belts but now came the hard part. Where was I to sleep and what was I to eat? The one thing about riding those long distances is that it gives you time to think, and since I hadn’t ate for about 12 hours, this was my first priority.

I asked Brownie to get the camera and we walked into the restaurant. Approaching the counter with a smile, I gingerly asked the hostess (in what was probably the worst French accent ever), “Je m’appelle Bryan. Tu parlez l’anglais?”  Her response: “Oh Yea! Hi Bryan”

YES! WE’RE MOVIN’ ON UP! Surprisingly, my offer to clean the men’s bathroom for a plate of spaghetti, and the women’s for bacon and eggs in the morning, was warmly received. I would even say that it didn’t require much negotiation. Then again, most people are happy not having to scrub toilets. It wasn’t long before I was twisting my fork, followed closely by my best Cinderella impersonation!


He’s lucky! The guys first stop featured a very generous hostess, who provided Huggy with a bite to eat, but not before he shined the porcelain!

My belly full, and the bathrooms sparkling, I stepped out onto the porch. The next order of business was sleep. I cast my eyes on the UHAUL in all it’s glory (kind of like in cartoons when a dog looks at a chicken and imagines it grilling on a rotisserie) and started looking on the bright side of sleeping in the cargo box. Off the ground, mostly water resistant, fisher-proof … it would do. I spread out my sleeping bag and got comfortable (sort of). For the first time in my life, I sure felt like an old-time Hobo! Now where to put this stick and handkerchief…….


Huggy’s new sleeping quarters after losing his tent. What’s the saying, “He who endures, conquers…”

Stay tuned for Parts 3 & 4.

For more photos please visit: facebook.com/yamahamotorcanada and click on the “photos” tab.

The season premiere of A Motorcycle Experience will be on Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 11:30AM EST. All shows are broadcast on TSN.

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November 4, 2010

Labour of Love: Part 1

Bryan Hudgin begins his Trans-Lab road trip

Labrador Labour of Love: Part 1 of 4

Labour of love? Now that’s an understatement. It was 585km of gravel road, trees, lakes and mountains (and not much else) just to get to the Trans-Labrador highway! This road is not for the faint of heart, and that’s why the ‘Labrador Labour of Love’ would be my toughest challenge yet. Let me walk you through this trip from the start…

I met Mike Brown (A Motorcycle Experience’s trusted cameraman) and Tyler Hawley (producer) at the airport with my little Ford Focus rammed to the gills. To their credit, airport security didn’t pull a heavy on me when I unintentionally tried to smuggle a Swiss Army knife and matches in my carry-on luggage, which was a camping tent. Seems I forgot the knife and matches were included in there with the pegs (insert sheepish grin here). I shuddered as I imagined how a similar situation would play out, in a US airport, with an over zealous rent-a-cop.

Why the heck was I taking a tent as a carry-on? Well, ego is a powerful motivator, and I had agreed to another challenge for A Motorcycle Experience.  The host, Dave Hatch, had dared me to complete the same challenge as last year, albeit on the remote and rugged Trans Labrador Highway. So there was no food, no accommodations and no money (except for fuel) from Monday morning until Wednesday night. Just me, my Super Ténéré, some fishing and camping supplies, and 1140km of barren road. This is how the ‘Labrador Labour of Love’ name was coined. The payoff? If I successfully made it to Point B without breaking any of the rules, Hatch would host an entire show with the word ‘Yamaha’ written across his forehead.

The camerman and producer were allowed to eat...

...But Huggy wasn't!

We arrived in Baie Comeau Sunday night after a layover in Montreal. Through a series of hand gestures, broken french and a bit of charades, we 3 Anglos managed to get a cab for transport to the hotel. I settled down to sleep a little later, but not before sharpening my knife and reading up on edible plants.

Monday morning brought some confusion, including a last minute run to Wal-Mart for an SD card, and another cab to get to the UHAUL dealer (which was odd as they were also a competing motorcycle dealer. Seeing as I was dressed in full Yamaha regalia, and after waiting an inordinate amount of time, I was sure to check the brake lines and lug nuts before I left.) Patrick from Baie Comeau Motorsports had “Tenny” perfectly prepped for the long trip. Since we were doing the lion’s share of the ride on gravel road, I had opted for knobby tires instead of the more pavement-friendly versions that are stock on the Super Tenere.

The roads are nothing to write home about, but the landscape sure is!

My tentative agenda had the Labrador Labour of Love crew leaving at 9:30AM to make our way towards our first stop 216km down the road, arriving at the Manic 5 dam at 12:30PM.

At 12:15PM we rolled out of Baie Comeau Motorsports parking lot… Yes, quite a bit behind schedule already. Oh Brother.

The road to Manic 5 dam turned into remote in a hurry. It wasn’t long before a combination scent of freshly cut wood and thick diesel fumes were confusing my olfactory system, “… smells …so…sweet…but…[ahem]…why…is…it….hard…..to….[cough]…breath?”

The logging trucks were going by fast and furious and, as such, I increased my speed to stay out of the way. It wasn’t long after that I crested a hill and narrowly missed a plodding porcupine on the other side. Meh, no big deal. About 10kms later I rounded a corner and saw some sort of cat/fox/coyote hybrid. After more thought, I realized it was probably a fisher which was confirmed by almighty Google when I returned home. It was then I realized, ‘Tenny, we’re not in Kansas anymore!’……

The story's not over! Stay tuned for parts 2,3, and 4 to find out if he made it.

For more photos please visit: facebook.com/yamahamotorcanada and visit the photos section.

The season premiere of A Motorcycle Experience will be on Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 11:30AM EST. All shows are broadcast on TSN.

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