Well hello. This is the very first submission to my new blog.
But being of a certain age, I don’t really feel comfortable using words like ‘blog’ and so, in future, I’m going to refer to my occasional jottings as entries in my “Motorcycle Diary.”
Anyway, basically, over the coming months, and hopefully years, I’ll be airing my views on a whole host of motorbike related issues, and reporting, in particular, on what’s new in the world of motorcycle apparel.
I don’t know if the latter subject sounds a little dull. I certainly hope not because, for me, the gear one wears on a bike is often every bit as interesting as the bike itself.
Most of us ride bikes that are more or less off the shelf, and therefore there’s little scope for self expression, and so it’s often through the gear we wear that we can demonstrate our individuality.
Anyway, I know that sounds a bit pretentious, wanky even, but there’s some terrific motorcycle clothing out there, and I know that there are people who want hear about it, so being first with the news and information about new products and trends is going to be one of my missions. Like it or not!
Today, though, I’m writing about my recent visit to the Indianapolis motorcycle trade show; a once a year event where American, and sometimes European, suppliers and manufacturers show their wares to the country’s bike dealers.
There are lots of hard parts on display; everything from exhaust pipes and seat fittings, to workshop equipment and computer software systems, but obviously my particular interest in visiting the show is to find new and interesting clothing and accessories that haven’t yet found their way across the pond.
Although he might not have been the originator of the saying, it was Winston Churchill who spoke of England and America as two nations divided by a common language.
Visiting the show, it was clear what he meant. We may speak the same lingo, but we still do many things differently. No more so than when it comes to motorbikes.
Harleys and V-twins are everywhere. For many Americans, it would seem, motorcycling is no more than a Harley Davidson, and therefore much of what is on offer is related to making your piece of Milwaukee metal look different: special seats, luggage, all-singing-and-dancing music systems, trailers, leather chaps, shortie helmets and so on.
It’s funny, in the UK, I’m not a huge Harley fan, but over here a Harley Davidson does kind of make sense. Long, straight highways, huge distances, and a Jack Kerouac love of the open road.
I’m back over here in July for a week with some friends, and we’ll be hiring bikes for our trip. Of course, we’ll ride Harleys. Nothing else seems quite right.
The other big thing here is off-roading. It’s huge, and again, it’s related to the fact that there’s so much space over here.
You’ve got to be quite motivated if you want to ride off-road in the UK, but in America it’s so much easier. You load the pick-up with bikes, and you, your boys and your neighbour go off biking in the nearest national park.
Which explains why, here at the show, there are loads of stands full of lairy motocross shirts, off-road helmets, and heavy duty boots.
Personally, I love going off road. I did the Baja 1000 trail a couple of years ago and loved it, and some of the most fun biking I’ve ever done was in the sand dunes in Morocco, but I’ve not come all this way to look at this kind of gear because, as a company, Motolegends is far more road bike focussed.
But the truth is that, here at the Indianapolis show, there just aren’t that many European style road bikes to be seen.
Sports bikes seem to be completely absent from the exhibitors’ stands. Just about the only Japanese bikes I see are ridiculously pumped-up Hayabusas with enormous wheels and neon lights. Road bikes they might be, but you wouldn’t want to try and go around a corner on one.
It’s clear that American tastes and attitudes are different to our own, but this is a big country that thrives on diversity and niche markets, so it’s still worthwhile pounding up and down the aisles looking for stuff that might just appeal to our more refined European palate!
Our first step is to visit Roland Sands, who has taken a corner of the Bell Helmets stand. Roland Sands is a Californian based custom bike builder, and even though he offers lots of hard parts to bling up your Harley, on a personal level he’s much more into the café-racer scene that’s growing hugely in popularity in the US.
We love his take on rider wear and on his booth, as they call it over here, he takes us through his new styles for 2013. There are a couple of new leather jackets, some new gloves and a really cool looking denim jean jacket that will take armour. The plan is to feature it all in our April catalogue.
Roland works closely, it is clear, with the people from Bell helmets which, by the way, is a totally different company to the Bell company we deal with in Europe. It’s a shame, because some of the graphics on the American open face helmets are stunning. Lots of seventies gold flake stuff. Very retro. Very cool.
But the big deal on the Bell stand is a new, very aggressive, open face helmet with an integral face mask. In concept, it’s quite similar to the new Shark Streetfighter. Called the Rogue, it looks incredibly cool but we can’t import it because it would be illegal on the UK roads; it’s a shame, a real shame.
Next up is an American boot brand called Bates. They’re a really rugged looking boot designed for Harley folk, but in talking with them we learn about some footwear the company makes for the American Special Forces. They’re not designed with biking in mind, but we think they’re pretty hardcore and would go down well with bikers looking for an aggressively styled, around town boot.
A meeting is set up in London to discuss the details with their distributor when we get home.
Our next rendezvous is with Olympia, who make a great one-piece riding suit that proved a big hit with our customers last year.
Well, for 2013, it’s been updated, albeit more with the US than the UK market in mind. It no longer has a thermal liner, so it’s lighter and easier to wear. And they’ve made some improvements to the zips to make it more waterproof.
We’ll bring it in, but if you’re going to wear it in the UK in the winter or when it’s cold, you’ll have to layer up.
We also agree to bring into the UK a new Olympia jacket and trouser combo.
Walking past the stand of a general wholesaler of products that were of no real interest to us, we come across a rather nice display of gloves.
Eventually, we get to talk to the man in charge, Jérome Giraudo. He’s actually French, a former rider and now a maker of gloves based in Avignon in the South of France. They are superb and there’s nobody bringing them into the UK. The brand is called ‘Five’ (the number of fingers?) and we hope to also get them into our April catalogue.
Visiting a show like this, one doesn’t usually expect to find a huge new, unknown brand. With the internet, we live in a global village and word tends to get around. But what we do hope for is to find a few little pieces that will make our catalogues a bit more interesting to leaf through, and that will give our customers some more choices.
And that’s what has happened on this visit, we feel.
In addition to the products I’ve spoken about, we found a neat helmet lock from an Australian company that was exhibiting at the show, and a bike disc lock in the shape of a hand-grenade. It looks unbreakable, but the truth is that we just thought it was fun.
And we found a set of cargo straps that are very clever, and in a different league to anything we’ve seen before.
All in all, it has been a worthwhile trip.
We’ve met some old friends, re-inforced some more recent relationships and found some interesting new bits and pieces.
Most people would think it’s a long trip to undertake for a handful of products. But we would disagree. It’s easy to sell the same stuff as everybody else. It takes a lot of effort to be different, and so I feel it was time well spent.
In fact, we were feeling pretty good about our little excursion until we got to the airport and started the dreary process of having all our bags scanned by the US customs.
I take out my iPad and put it in a plastic bin, remove my shoes and belt, and put my toothpaste into a plastic bag. I watch as the bins disappear into the machine and then go through the metal detector.
Whilst this is going on, I notice a flurry of activity around the conveyor belt and when I pass through the body scanner I suddenly seem to be surrounded by some very tall fellahs with shiny grey suits and equally shiny heads.
I’m taken into a room and asked whether I packed all of my own luggage. I’m then shown a picture on a screen of what looks like a hand grenade lodged in the middle of my carry-on, trolley bag.
I start to giggle and explain that what looks like a hand-grenade is actually a motorcycle disc lock, but nobody seems to share my sense of humour!
A supervisor is called and then the supervisor’s supervisor is summoned to examine the offending article. Eventually, it all gets sorted out, but it’s clear that I’m not going to be allowed on to my British Airways flight with a replica hand-grenade.
Next time, I ask, should I put items like this in my checked in luggage? Only, I’m told, if I want to see my bag destroyed in a controlled explosion!
It’s a shame that I can’t bring my new product back to the UK, but obviously it’s understandable that I wasn’t allowed on the plane with it.
I’m still keen on bringing the product to the country, but I do wonder how difficult it’s going to be to import through customs a box of what is going to look like 144 hand grenades. Only time will tell!