Last week we participated in our first public show. This is was the first time we took the wraps of our project bikes and showed them to the world in the flesh. It was an eye opening experience.
Now, I should preface this by saying that this was an “Urban Street Fair” and not a Motorcycle show. We were situated next to couple crafting girls, and a clothing brand. There was great music, food, and a beer tent. The crowd was amazingly diverse, and was composed of an impressive cross-section of the general public, though with a slighter richer mixture of cool kids than normal. It was not a captive audience of motorcycle enthusiasts. We showed two bikes; Our CB550 “Dry Build” and the CX500 “Wet Build”. The Dry Build shows all the mechanical components and the final assembly in ready and ridable condition. The finishes are provisional, not final paint, polish, or powder. Before the bike gets completely finished, it will come apart one more time.
The wet build conversely, has spiffy paint and powder and looks bitchin’. The first thing that really jumped out at me was that the general public didn’t really understand or forgive the dry build… The reception of the 550 was decidedly lukewarm while all eyes gravitated towards the much more polished CX500. I have to admit sour grapes here; Chris and I work on builds together, but we took the divide and conquer approach. Chris led the build of the CX500, while I worked support. The reverse was true for the CB550. Both bikes are “ours” but the CX was more Chris’ and she was clearly the bell of the ball. We received far more compliments and questions about the CX than we did the CB. I’m not going to lie, I was jealous. Upon reflection, I think I understand my chagrin; To borrow an idea from the great Peter Egan, there’s a certain x-ray vision factor that comes with having intimate knowledge of a machine. Moto-heads have this with bikes in general, but the general public does not. They only see the surface, literally the surfaces. If those surfaces aren’t up to par then that first impression is blown. We had one person ask if the CB550 was “just a fixer upper?”.
After months of pouring over that bike to ensure that every nut, bolt and mechanical component was perfect, I impressed myself with the degree of restraint I had not to leap over the table at them. But that’s the x-ray vision thing again; and it’s really not their fault. I know that the rear brake is perfectly adjusted and bedded, and that the wiring harness is a detailed clone of the original with double insulated connectors… Joe Public only sees that the tank hasn’t been painted. The x-ray vision effect has other corollaries; the CX500 is a pretty unusual bike, being a transverse V-twin with a shaft drive. We Moto-Heads know that this is Moto Guzzi’s signature layout, but it’s pretty unlikely that the North American general public would be aware of Moto Guzzi, and that means the CX looks to them to be something very unusual, maybe even exotic. The CB550 on the other hand is just another 4-cylinder Japanese bike. Without the x-ray vision factor, one does not recognize that it’s one of Honda’s jewel-like SOHC wet sump fours, or that it’s capable of 10,000 rpm, and runs like a Swiss watch on amphetamines.
What I realized from this experience is that my die-hard gear-headedness causes me to see beauty in things that might not appeal broadly. If I see original fork tubes with no pitting, that’s beautiful to me, but not to most people. Having that interaction with the general public was illuminating, even if that light was as harsh as oncoming high beams. If the machines we make are going to be broadly appealing, they have to be pretty on the outside as well as being pretty on the inside, and I will have to ignore my x-ray vision factor to see this. Finishes really are really important. I suppose I should not be shocked by this, and I suppose that I’m not really, but I clearly lost some objectivity while my head and hands were buried in wires and gaskets. The mechanical fitness of a bike is still going to be the top priority, no question, but I now recognize the awesome power of paint.