Last night a co-worker and I went to the local introduction event for Triumph’s new Bonneville Bobber model, or by Triumph’s marketing, the “Brutal Beauty Tour.” That name should have tipped me off to what lay ahead. I expected to pop in after work, look at a couple of bikes on display, perhaps ask a few technical questions of knowledgeable factory reps, and be on my way. Instead, I got an excruciating dose of everything that motorcyclists do that turns off just about everyone—even more than a few who, themselves, ride.
The event was held at a local coffee roasting plant, and Triumph required attendees to pre-register. The various communications my buddy Tom and I had received listed conflicting start times, so I was unsure if it started at 5PM or 6PM. I split the difference and arrived about 5:40. Tom, who needed to stop home after work, would arrive later.
Upon arriving, I was handed a glossy black swag bag at the door that contained a product catalog, a can coozie, a cheap black stocking cap, and a raffle ticket. A new Thruxton stood beside the doorway. When I went inside the hall, there were four motorcycles. At the back of the room were a new Bonneville T120 and T120 Black, decked out with various factory accessory add-ons. Up front was the new Bobber we were all here to see, and in the center was the new Street Scrambler, which frankly I didn’t really care much about. To my dismay, the last two were covered with black lycra shrouds. I guess the start time was six o’clock, I thought to myself.
Unfortunately, the top of the hour came and went, and the covers stayed in place. A guy finally asked the staff when the wraps would come off. “Seven o’clock,” they said. Oh crap, they were going to get all dramatic about this. The bikes had already been plastered all over the Internet; there was no mystery to what they looked like. At that moment, the black shrouds seemed like a stupid, unnecessary affectation. I would realize later that they were a crucial element of the evening.
Arranged around the room were a couple of bartenders and a catered spread of hors d’oeuvres and small sandwiches. The caterer hovered about, stressing to everyone that the food was American fusion. She was obviously very proud of that term. “Excuse me, do these sliders have onions on them?” “Yes, they’re American fusion.” People drank and snacked, and the room grew more crowded. I stuffed the hat in my pocket and tossed the rest of the swag, and then found a place against the wall. And waited. And waited. Uncover the bikes already!
As I stood there, I looked around. From the crowd, I could tell that Triumph has a winner on their hands. There was an impressive mix of young hipster types and old, crusty guys. I listened to the conversations around me. And I realized that nobody was talking about bikes, at least not specifics. They weren’t discussing why they liked this or that motorcycle, what trouble they’d had with theirs, or why they’d purchased the one they owned. Everybody, younger and older, was talking about motorcycling in a vaugely abstract sense — why riding was so great, and how cool it was to be a biker. Everywhere were vests and jackets and t-shirts covered in logos and patches. You know that rule about not wearing a band’s T-shirt to their concert? Nearly everyone here was being that guy.
I realized that everybody here was busy convincing each other that they got it. Every conversation included how long somebody had been riding, and/or how many motorcycles they had owned, or perhaps currently owned. There was a whole raft of passive-aggressive posturing, from the old gray-hairs and the young guys in plaid flannel: I’m a real biker. I deserve to be here, damn it. I belong in the club.
Tom arrived. He’s the kind of industry insider who has an impressive list of famous names in his contact list but would have zero interest in name-dropping. “I had hoped to just stop by for a quick look,” he said when he found me. “Here, have my raffle ticket; double your chances.”
Shortly after seven, the speech-making began. Eventually, the Scrambler was uncovered. The rep on the mic went through a couple of the features and benefits, but kept sliding into cringe-inducing phrases like “don’t worry, we’ll let you fondle it” and “I know you want to take it home and make love to it.” That’s when I realized that the black shrouds were not there to make the bikes seem special, they were there to make the audience feel special. They weren’t there to see a new motorcycle; the new motorcycle was their excuse to be there. Their aim was spending an entire, blissful evening knowing they were participating in the “biker scene.” Whatever that is. This wasn’t about selling a product, it was about selling a lifestyle that was only tangentially related to actually going down the road on a motorcycle.
By about 7:30, Tom and I were bored and had wasted as much of our evening as we were willing to sacrifice. We both headed home. The Bobber was still wearing its black shroud when we left.