Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Urban Camping and the Long Beach Bike Show

Our Malibu Beach Coffee Spot
With one riding day left to make it to the Progressive International Motorcycle Show, we rode in the direction of Long Beach for as long as our fingers, toes and eyelids could manage… Eventually stopping in a small town just off of the highway, tucking into a Denny’s to get warm, and “stealth camping” in a nearby park that evening. The extremely cold temperature made it difficult to make the most of the 5 hours we had until the sun was due to rise and we would need to be on our way. (Just as Roel emerged from the tent at 6am, a park ranger drove by, putting a little extra kick in our step: we packed up the tent in record time.)

We had heard about this motorcycle show only a week before and had made the decision to cut short our time in Northern California in order to attend. Not only is it always good to meet other bikers and expand our biker network, but a number of our favorite companies were going to be exhibiting… Twisted Throttle, Scorpion, Touratech… not to mention Honda. And since we’ve heard rumors of Honda bringing the Africa Twin out again in 2014, AND bringing it to the USA, we thought Honda might be interested in utilizing our bikes/stories in some way.  

It was a longggg day of riding (about 350mi on bikes that don’t happily exceed 65mph/105kmh), and we had to stop several times just to warm up. During one of those times, I noticed that Roel’s front tire had a bald spot. So along with stopping to get warm, we stopped to look for tires, the entire way… and we came up completely empty handed upon arrival in LA County. 

Our plan had been to stay with friends of mine in the LA area the night before the show, but since we didn’t quite make it before it had gotten dark and we didn’t want to battle the 5 hours of rush-hour traffic to get South of LA, we set out to find a place to pitch our tent just North of the city. Having spent a decent amount of time in Southern California in my former life as a meeting planner, I thought that Roel and I would really have difficulty finding places to camp in the area. However, after enjoying a final warm-up at a Starbucks along Highway 101 (thanks to Judy and David), we rode into the Santa Monica mountains. After only minutes of looking, we pulled off the road and headed up a short dirt track to a plateau completely hidden from the road below. 

Camping in the Santa Monica Mountains, hidden from the rush hour traffic below 
The “where to sleep” problem had been solved, but the “where to shower” one was still on the table… until, on the way to Long Beach the next morning, we passed through Malibu and noticed all of the lovely little surf beaches… with surf showers… 

Surf Showers... not warm, but free and widely available in SoCal
Never mind it was 42f/5c degrees and the surf showers are cold. I got it done. And was rewarded by a nice French Press coffee, courtesy of Roel, to warm me up afterwards. 

There were only a handful of bikes in the parking lot of the Long Beach Expo Center when we arrived, as the show hadn’t yet opened to the public, but our bikes still got a lot of attention; before even entering the Expo, we had made several new friends. I had reached out to the Motorcycle Show organizers earlier in the week, in hopes of being connected with Honda in advance. While they couldn’t assist us with that, they kindly comped exhibitor passes for us so that we could enter the show before the public and speak with Honda, etc, beforehand. We headed into the exhibit hall to have a peak at all of the cool custom bikes, new models from the main motorcycle companies and peruse the selection of gear and apparel in the hall. 

Sizing up the Gibbs Quadski and getting ideas for the Darien Gap ;) 
We checked out the awesome booth that Twisted Throttle had set up, with Wolfman Luggage, every super powerful driving light you could imagine fitting on a bike to see and be seen, and a nicely kitted out touring bike. I met my apparel idol, Gear Chic, Joanne Donn, in person (previously, we had a very helpful Skype session where she helped me decide on my awesome Macna riding suit from Twisted Throttle); she will soon be making the move to Revzilla in chilly Philly, where they’ll be lucky to have her and hopefully will feature her in all of the women’s apparel reviews ;). I visited Touratech to check out their fuel bottles; my tank is smaller than Roel’s so it’s always been slightly annoying that we only have to stop for me to fill up and now that my fuel pump is
On the "must have list" for the Darien Gap!
gonzo, I’ve been in the market for a little more spare fuel as the 1 liter MSR just isn’t cutting it. Matt, at Touratech, who happens to be a former Transalp owner, and wanted to help me out, promised me the fuel can from the floor at the end of the show. And then we headed for the Honda Booth.

The pinnacle of our purpose for attending the show. A meeting that Roel had been looking forward to for months, since hearing about the new Africa Twin. 

So we approached the salesmen in the booth, and Roel introduced himself and then began to explain, who he was, how he’s been traveling around the world for four and a half years on a Honda Africa Twin and just as he asked if they would be interested in using his bike to create "booth buzz", the only “salesman” in the Honda booth wearing an entirely black getup, cut him off, folded his arms, looked the other way and said “we’re not interested.” Roel tried again, explaining that he had heard that they were going to be introducing the new Africa Twin soon — “Not interested.” Roel: Oh. Er… well, I heard that Honda would be introducing it in America for the first t — “NOT interested.” 

The “salesmen” seated to the left and right of the gnome in black, looked at us with eyes wide, shrinking back so that they wouldn’t be seen, and shrugged their shoulders and shook their heads, also completely perplexed and horrified by the rude reaction of their colleague. 

Roel, stunned and quite upset, stalked off. I was a bit slower to get the message and couldn’t believe what I had just seen/heard.  I was flabbergasted. The Ogre still had his arms crossed over his chest, nose held high, chin jutting out… I uttered, “But I thought Honda was supposed to be “the power of dreams”” trying to remind him of his company’s motto. 

This caught his attention a bit. Apparently I had reminded him of something he had forgotten. But he just shook his head as if to shake me off and block me out. I looked from one salesmen to the next, seated around him, each of them as stunned as I, but not willing to stand up to someone who was obviously (by some fluke) a senior salesman (or perhaps the owner of the local dealership?). I walked away. 

It’s not like we expected Honda to roll out the red carpet for us, or anything like that, but to be treated like the scum of the earth and dismissed without so much as a “thanks, but no thanks” was preposterous. After making such an effort to get to this show and have this conversation with Honda, we felt completely deflated. Crushed. Disillusioned. 

We wandered around the show for a little longer and decided to have a quick bite next to the bikes, rather than pay concession prices in the Expo Hall. As we munched on carrots, bikes and bikers gathered in the lot preparing to enter the show. Again, the bikes were surrounded by motorcycle enthusiasts, we passed another hour chatting away to excited bikers and our spirits were lifted. 
Making friends in the parking lot
We returned to the expo hall to have one more look around before leaving, and as we made our way to the back of the hall, one of the Honda salesmen, who had witnessed the exchange between us and the Ogre, spotted us from the Honda booth and raced over to catch up with us. He apologized profusely for how we had been treated and tried to explain that Honda won’t be bringing the Africa Twin into the USA and so the adventure riding world just isn’t interesting from their sales perspective. While we appreciated the gesture, it probably would have been more effective from a  sales standpoint for someone to take the Ogre aside and gently explain a few things to him…

As a brand ambassador of a major corporation, competing in an industry that relies upon excess income in a tough economy, can you really afford not be interested in a story that speaks to the durability, reliability and dream-making-reality of your brand?  

And yes, every biker has a dream… it doesn’t matter if it’s a dream to ride the world, or to escape the doldrums of daily life for a few hours on the open road… if your sales team can’t recognize the synonymity of these two dreams, and the value of leveraging one to produce sales related to the other, then perhaps you need to learn to think outside of the box, Mr. Ogre. 

More simply, and what bothers me the most, how can you treat a visitor to our country in this way and furthermore, how is it logical to treat potential future customers with such disregard and condescension?  

This unfortunate encounter with Honda USA doesn’t change the way we feel about Honda as an international brand. We have had many positive experiences with Honda dealerships across Canada and the USA. We still love our bikes. We believe the Honda brand still stands for durability and reliability.  All we can hope for is that our future experiences with Honda will reaffirm that they are the power sport producer that is “The Power of Dreams.”

Fortunately for Roel and I, we made other wonderful friends in the parking lot and expo hall. Like Triumph and BMW of Anaheim, who were particularly enthusiastic about and supportive of our journey, (BMW even said “we don’t care what you’re riding, we just love what you’re doing); Touratech gave me a new fuel can, Gear Chic introduced me to some
Racer Gloves USA
sweet new gloves at Racer Gloves USA and Twisted Throttle, an awesome New England based company, offered to help us sort out some more rubber to get us on our way around the world : ) As always, the good far outweighs the bad and we’ve been really touched and encouraged as supportive e-mails, Facebook messages and posts have come through from people we met at the show or who noted our web address on the bikes in the parking lot. We’ve had more offers for ridealongs, lodging and dinner than we could possibly have time to take people up on, but knowing they’re there is a wonderful feeling, so many thanks to those of you who have reached out to us!

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