Opinion: The curse of Zac

Poor Zac. He’d never been to British Columbia before last month and was excited to see the mountains. When he finally went, to be a part of the KTM Adventure Rally high in the Rockies, the weather gods dumped a pile of snow on the area and closed most of the roads. In September. On his birthday, even. He went for a ride anyway but froze, because he’d not properly grounded the wiring for his electric vest.

The snow’s gone now, melted in the October sun, and Zac’s back at sea level in New Brunswick, trying to warm up.

“Can someone please get Zac out to a good event where everything just goes as planned?” wrote Matt Bubbers in the story’s comments. “I’m sure he’d find that boring and easy and not-much-of-a-story but dang! Bad luck man.”

This is September in British Columbia, and the KTM Adventure Rally. Zac must be somewhere close.

It’s true – Zac attracts terrible weather. It doesn’t even matter what season it is. He rode home from Toronto in November a couple of years ago and his heated gloves started shorting out in the rain, sending intermittent electric shocks through his hands. That was a great story. He froze in the spring on a similar ride. He got totally drenched in the summertime at last year’s Fundy Adventure Rally, and of course, only Zac would take a motorcycle shopping for a Christmas tree. He’s broken down more times than anyone can remember, usually in the most obscure places. I’m really reluctant to ride with the guy, because he attracts misfortune wherever he goes, but I love to read his stories. This is why we asked him to write this week about staying dry in the rain, because he’s got so much experience of it.

I also thought about Zac when I read a comment from reader Rick O’Brien on Facebook, opining on Cycle Canada’s move to become an all-digital magazine. “I think that one of the factors that helped sink print moto-mags was the move by manufacturers to ‘press launches’ where new models were tested en masse by journalists who flew in to some exotic location (usually somewhere warm during the North American and European winter so the results were available in print in time for spring fever). This led to reviews in all magazines becoming virtually a copy and paste operation from manufacturer promo material. It must have also driven up the cost of magazine production.

Just another fancy launch in an exotic location: the Harley-Davidson FXDR in Greece last year.

Moto mags have always had invitations to press launches, and if anything, they keep down the cost of production because the expense is usually covered by the bike makers. They’re an opportunity for multiple people to ride each motorcycle – bring lots of journos to a few bikes, not take the bikes to the journos – and to do so at any time of the year.

The irony is that the motorcycle events usually pale in comparison to the car events. Automotive journalists often fly Business class on longer flights, so they can work on the plane during what would otherwise be a lost work day devoted to travel, and they often stay in hotels that befit the lifestyle of the vehicle. Makes sense. There’s no point in Rolls-Royce hoping for a media story that extolls the glories of lambs-wool carpets and softly ticking clocks if the journalist is crammed into the back of a 737 on the way home from a night at the Red Roof Inn.

This is the way most of us like it – clean, simple, comfortable.

Bikes though – well, most riders don’t like fancy hotels. We like hotels that let us park right outside the room. We like clean sheets and a little table and chairs out front, so we can drink a beer or a coffee while looking at the bike we’ve been riding all day. Motorcycle makers know this, so more often than not, the hotel is a straightforward business hotel and the flights are economy class. Which sucks when you’re schlepping around leathers and boots and a helmet.

(Costa says he’s figured out how to fly in his bike gear, without having to pack it, but most other journos just pray their checked luggage doesn’t get lost or delayed.)

I know about these differences because I also write about cars for various publications. Years ago, I attended a press launch in Austin, Texas, for a new Lexus, and found myself on the same flight as then-Cycle Canada editor Neil Graham, who was flying down to a Ducati launch at the Circuit of the Americas. I was in Business and Neil was in Economy, and I asked the attendant to take my appetizer back “to the unfortunate gentleman in seat 24D”. Score!

The thing is, there are some car journalists who attend events but barely drive the vehicles, but for motorcycle journalists, it really is all about the riding. We endure whatever’s necessary to sling our legs over the saddle of an interesting motorcycle and crack the throttle. Sometimes, the event is glorious, and sometimes it’s not so much. Like motorcycling in general, it’s all down to the weather. Just make sure that when you reach for your helmet, Zac is nowhere nearby.

Every now and again, Zac gets to ride a decent bike in a warm and dry place, without rain gear or heated equipment. Not often, though.

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