Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ash(es) to ashes in South Africa, the 'Gardiner Rule', and a belated round up...

I scanned my Facebook page this morning, and saw posting by my fellow-Canuck, Costa Mouzouris, who was obviously attending one of BMW's famous R1200GS launches in South Africa.
Costa had good timing, as Eastern Canada, where he lives, is enduring a brutal cold snap right now. But as I kept scanning my morning news feed, I saw a story from the Telegraph newspaper, in England, explaining that their motorcycle correspondent, Kevin Ash (also a columnist at MCN) had been killed at a motorcycle launch in South Africa.

BMW seems to favor South Africa for launches; reliable weather in the middle of winter, great scenery offset mind-blowing travel costs for the assembled corps of motorcycle journalists. Judging from the photo above, they've gone with the luxury safari theme. Don't be fooled by the tents' exteriors, such digs are very chichi and more expensive than most world capitals' luxury hotel rooms. Getting invited on one of these trips is the ultimate motorcycle journalist perk.

But, if I recall correctly, BMW has bad luck at these things. Isn't Ash the second motojournalist killed at a GS launch in South Africa?

A lot of people want to get a motorcycle writing gig. When I was getting invited to launches, I was barraged by bikers telling me, "I'd pay to do your job." The truth is, a lot of us were doing it almost for free, and the job wasn't as easy as it looked. I can remember times that I flew half-way around the world, landed jet-lagged, and went straight to a track I'd never seen, jumped on a bike I'd never touched, rolling on unfamiliar tires. Then we might have had a couple of hours track time to form a coherent impression of the bike and return with suitably-dramatic riding photos. It's a lot of pressure. And while manufacturers eat the cost of crashed bikes, freelancers like me did it without any medical coverage.

The track stuff was intense, but it was nothing compared to some of the open road rides. I remember doing a Pirelli gig in Sicily, where Pirelli's test riders -- who are based there -- led us out of town, from a hotel in downtown Salerno at rush hour one morning. Even the Italians on the trip warned me that Sicilian drivers were completely crazy. I shit you not, we had to lane-split on the centerline of main streets in a big city, with traffic going the opposite direction on our left side, and other lane-splitting motorcyclists coming the other way. Chicken.

Every now and then, the job really bites someone, but there will always be a line forming at the right, for people willing to take it. I'm sure the Telegraph's already getting resumes...

It's over for this falcon, sadly.

Stephen Pate, of Restoration Werks, passed through Kansas City on the way home to his shop in Louisville KY (the state, not the lube).

Stephen spent a good chunk of the last few years building the Vincent motor that was installed in Falcon Motorcycles' last creation, 'The Black'. He's since had a falling-out with Falcon (especially with the female half of the partnership, Amaryllis Knight.)

That, from what I've heard, is a pretty common theme. Falcon brings in expert craftsmen, then alienates them. The difference, in this case, is that unlike other disgruntled suppliers, Stephen never signed Falcon's draconian non-disclosure agreement.

After their relationship soured, Falcon went to some lengths to claim that Pate's motor had to be extensively re-rebuilt. Amaryllis' posts, appearing on places like Vincent message boards, came close to slandering Pate. Thus far, he's avoided getting into much public he-said-she-said recrimination.

As an outsider looking in, the impression I have is that Falcon's done, anyway. After its initial splash at Pebble Beach, it's emerged that all the bikes look about the same. This is not to take anything away from Ian's impressive skills as a designer and stylist, but it's the same trick. I've heard stories that the bikes don't work, sometimes failing in spectacular and dangerous ways. I've heard that the prices they command are far lower than the values originally rumored. And that Falcon's burning out the few craftsmen capable of actually doing such admittedly-fine work.

Sitting over my kitchen table with Stephen, we debated the merits of getting into a slanging match with people who are, obviously, media-savvy. Then, he said something that really grabbed my attention:

I've thought about just challenging them; we'd each build a bike, then take them to Bonneville and race them. If we limited the budget, say to $5,000, it would be a test of what they can really build.

What a great idea! A biker build-off ending in our version of a duel. Bike vs. bike on the salt.

Of course, the challenge would only be meaningful if each participant did all the work themselves. That's how Stephen always works -- he does virtually everything at Restoration Werks, except for the occasional piece of specialized machining. But insiders at Falcon have told me that they're really designers and publicists, who do little if any hands-on mechanical work. (An impression that is furthered by those non-disclosure agreements with suppliers, who've been alienated when their contributions are played down.)

That's when I proposed The Gardiner Rule. On arrival at the Salt, both bikes will be completely torn down, and must be reassembled by the competitor alone.

Will Restoration Werks' Stephen Pate be the one who finally calls out Falcon? Watch this space for details.

I got a cryptic phone call a few weeks ago, from a long-time sponsor and racing paddock insider. The call came after AMA Pro Racing issued a press release saying it had installed Michael Gentry as Chief Operating Officer.
You didn't have to read too far between the lines, to get the impression that Roadracing World -- probably the smartest and best-informed independent news source about AMA Pro Racing -- is worried.
That COO position, along with the still-vacant position of President, was previously held by David Atlas, who stepped down while remaining on the Managing Board of AMA Pro Racing.

My caller asked, archly, whether Gentry -- a guy who'd risen up through the ranks of the holding company while running the concession business -- was a smart choice as the guy who'd run all the day to day operations of national motorcycle series, including our premier road race and flat track series.

I don't know the answer to that question, but I can certainly understand why it was asked.

Mick Kirkness (left) with Brad Baker and Jake Johnson. Get used to racing with guys like this, and there's no one in Australia who's going to give you much trouble in a short track race.
While some may question what's going on behind the scenes at AMA Pro, the flat track championship's honor was recently upheld as Mick Kirkness handily won the first Troy Bayliss invitational short track race way down in Australia.

Both Mick and Troy are Aussies, of course. But Mick's flat track edge has been honed up here in the U.S.. Fans loved Bayliss' event, which he promises will become an annual thing. To win it, Kirkness dispatched a star studded field, including GP heroes like Chris Vermulen and Randy de Puniet. Down in Australia, the media reports were, like, "Of course he won it, he's been racing in the American Grand National Championship." It's as if he was a pit bull in a poodle fight.

Kirkness' GNC results haven't quite been as good as he probably deserves; he's been plagued by unlucky injuries. But, I hope he'll be back for 2013.

1 comment:

  1. Love reading your articles. Honest and direct. It would be wonderful if truly insightful leadership would run the AMA Pro Racing. The racing recently has been pretty awesome, especially in the DSB class. Too bad there is not TV coverage of the Bayliss event.