Uneasy Rider: Disingenuity and the Fallacy of Branded Experiences

We take a bit of good-natured shit now and again for what sometimes looks like a uniform: Aerostich, usually Helimots, often with shorts, long socks and of course boots underneath. It’s a unique “style” that has nothing to do with trying to achieve a certain look, born completely of function. I don’t know anyone who started wearing a ‘Stich because they thought it looked cool, and I’m certain that we—CityBike Wrecking Crew and Bay Area riders who share our sensibilities—authentically arrived at this utilitarian mo-drobe because it works, and though I’ve been referred to as a member of the ‘Stich ‘n’ Helimot Mafia, there’s no organization, no counterfeit community, no joining. Which also means I don’t worry about being “profiled” for wearing my “colors.”

The word authentic is thrown around a lot, rather inauthentically, to the point that—like when “alt” and “indy” stopped meaning alternative bands and artists that were doing things their own way, on independent labels in the case of music, and instead simply referring to every Tom, Dick and Suzy-Q emulating those post-punk pioneers—it’s become meaningless and even insulting.

This lack of creativity is one area where our industry fails us. Adventure bikes became popular because they’re all-round good bikes whether ridden to Fairfield or Fairbanks, and because BMW and its devotees were particularly successful at convincing the every-rider that he or she too could ride to Alaska, or Africa, or wherever they dreamed. Other companies, from manufacturers to accessory makers, wanted some of that ADV cheddar and started indiscriminately tacking “adventure” to their products, as if we moto-consumers are so stupid that we won’t recognize a golden shower as such if the one who’s pissing on us calls it lemonade.

If everything is adventure-ready, how can we tell what’s really ready for adventure? We, “the market,” still bought it, but not without a scoffing smirk and a bad taste in our mouths.

The rush to round headlight, pseudo-retro authenticity was similar—just like adventure, authentic was slapped on every motorcycle and product with even a hint of greaser or biker or rocker or vintage or whatever-the-fuck; an entire industry ignoring the literal meaning of the word, which so ironically is “real” or “genuine,” something that almost none of the machines it’s now applied to are—at least with regard for history and roots.

Unless of course authentic means it’s a real motorcycle, and though we may argue what constitutes a “real motorcycle,” in a technical sense, all motorcycles are authentic motorcycles.

Recent years have seen once-organic events identified by cool hunters as good opportunities for engagement with in-market prospects reworked to accommodate a circle jerk of sponsor “support” and co-branding, often over-commercializing and cheapening the original concept to the point it becomes a laughingstock that people attend because they heard it was cool back when… but they don’t return. “I dunno, man. Wasn’t really that cool. Buncha the same bikes…”

Like adventure and authenticity, events are foisted on us with the keyword of community attached, never mind that the most egregious recent example was a carefully choreographed dance of product placement and co-branded synergy, run by the moto-centric subsidiary of a “multichannel media conglomerate” whose mission statement and values are so riddled with jargon and buzzwords as to be nearly meaningless.

I get that every player in the industry needs revenue to keep on truckin’ and it’s harder and harder every day to find that revenue. As someone who’s paid the bills as a marketer for nigh on twenty years now, doing marketing that is held to trackable results like “did this spend drive revenue?” I question the value of such these events for sponsors, if their goals are anything like “sell motorcycles,” and to go further into the realm of potential blacklisting, like the aforementioned lack of creativity I think name-drop sponsorships that basically amount to brand repetition are exemplary of what’s wrong with how “the industry” thinks of attracting potential new customers, the worn- out, blunted, wrong-sized screwdriver in a marketer’s toolbox. But that’s a discussion for another time, like maybe the last issue of CityBike ever. Blaze of glory and all that.

There’s nothing unique to motorcycling about gathering a bunch of escapist experiential tourists to play dress-up in grimy denim while they listen to derivative bands, consume craft brews and attend workshops on working with their hands, just like there’s nothing empowering about “controlling the conversation” so that all the women that show up on the Instagram feed for an event are skinny “indy” girls with the “right look,” and nothing reasonable or cool about requiring people to dress fancy and ride a certain kind of motorcycle to help raise money in an otherwise admirable and effective fundraising event.

“A hairstyle’s not a lifestyle,” sang Jello Biafra in the Dead Kennedys’ straight talk manifesto, “Chickenshit Conformist,” from DK’s ‘86 masterpiece Bedtime For Democracy. It’s probably a naive dream to think American riders will ever adopt utilitarian motorcycling like so much of the rest of the world, but what our industry needs, what American motorcycling needs, isn’t more pretending, more segmentation by style, but better, concrete examples of why motorcycling is vital, exciting, and fearsomely fucking awesome. Examples that lead to the joy of riding, not the seen/be seen socializing and always-on, live video feed bullshit that too often consumes and detracts from actual motorcycling. Otherwise, to paraphrase Jello, “Motorcycling’s not dead, it just deserves to die when it becomes another stale cartoon.”

This story originally appeared in our October 2017 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.