Bike India - - CONTENTS FEBRUARY 2013 - Story: Glynn Kerr

De­sign guru Glynn Kerr talks about the rat-race among bike mak­ers to fol­low a ‘success for­mula’

SURE, BE­ING A PIONEER PUTS YOU RIGHT UP THERE in the his­tory books and cap­tures the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion at the time – if all the plan­ets are aligned. But in purely busi­ness terms, be­ing num­ber one isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. For ev­ery success, there are a hun­dred fail­ures and get­ting it right pre­sup­poses you prob­a­bly got it wrong

There was a fa­mous story, told to me by a staff mem­ber on an ear­lier trip to Ja­pan, that Yamaha once came close to over­tak­ing Honda in sales, but de­lib­er­ately held back. Be­ing num­ber two may be less pres­ti­gious, but it’s is a far safer po­si­tion to be in. Why take the risk that all your R&D in­vest­ment is go­ing to­wards the right projects? Far bet­ter to let some­one ad­dresses the short­com­ings of the orig­i­nal at the same time.

In re­cent years, mo­tor­cy­cle cat­e­gories have be­come ever more so­phis­ti­cated, with the ba­sic groups – street, sport, cus­tom, on/off-road, etc, – bro­ken down into ever more spe­cialised sub-di­vi­sions. Take dirt bikes, for ex­am­ple. This cat­e­gory is now di­vided be­tween trail-bikes, scram­blers, su­per­mo­tard, ad­ven­ture tour­ers, Paris-Dakar repli­cas... and that’s just the road-go­ing models.

Within each mi­cro­cosm, cer­tain models man­age to hit the mark, by good de­sign, good tim­ing or just plain luck. It is en­tirely log­i­cal for ri­val man­u­fac­tur­ers to want to cash in on the trend and copy that same for­mula, – and so they don’t get sued for copy­right in­fringe­ment. It may not be the most eth­i­cal phi­los­o­phy or move the world of mo­tor­cy­cling for­wards much, but, to the bean-coun­ters, it makes per­fect sense. The ul­ti­mate aim of all

When it’s just one ex­am­ple of im­i­ta­tion, it may be over­looked. But when part of an en­tire com­pany’s mar­ket­ing strat­egy seems to be based on an­other man­u­fac­turer’s model range, it be­comes less ex­cus­able and that com­pany is in dan­ger of los­ing its own iden­tity. Tri­umph’s Tiger 800s are also ob­vi­ous Mu­nich com­peti­tors and the lat­est Tro­phy has so much BMW de­sign lan­guage in­cor­po­rated into it that it’s al­most an in­sult to su­pe­rior in some ways to the models it’s try­ing to em­u­late (the de­sign seems to be a ho­mogenised mix of BMW’s two-, four- and six-cylin­der tour­ers all in one). But, again, that’s im­ma­te­rial. When I look at the Tro­phy, I im­me­di­ately think ‘BMW’, not Tri­umph. And if that makes some mar­ket­ing man­ager clap his hands and say, “Yes, we have achieved our goal,” then it’s some­thing of an own goal. Why pay all that money and not pre­fer the fresh styling di­rec­tion some of them have been tak­ing in re­cent years and, I’m sure, many are tech­ni­cally su­pe­rior at a lower price point. But just don’t pre­tend you own a Har­ley. That would make you and your bike a fake – and that’s the op­er­a­tive word here. To copy some­thing openly de­val­ues the copy.

Since the com­pany’s res­ur­rec­tion un­der John Bloor, it’s ac­tu­ally been Tri­umph’s phi­los­o­phy to mould it­self on known suc­cesses. This started with Kawasaki, in­clud­ing an in­tense study of Ja­panese en­gi­neer­ing and pro­duc­tion pro­cesses, then po­si­tion­ing it­self mid-point be­tween Honda and BMW and later get­ting into Du­cati ter­ri­tory with a few as­pi­ra­tions on Har­ley-David­son’s turf too. The com­pany has de­lib­er­ately es­chewed an in-house de­sign de­part­ment all along, pre­fer­ring to out­source styling fa­cil­i­ties which have changed on a cyclic ba­sis to as­sure a fresh change of

style while prevent­ing any long-term de­pen­dency.

And yet the most mem­o­rable re­cent Tri­umphs have also been the most unique. The triple en­gine, which started life as a ba­sic build­ing block for the mod­u­lar 750/1,000 short-stroke and 900/1,200 long-stroke models in­tro­duced in 1990, was noth­ing more than a means to get more vari­a­tions out of a com­mon pis­ton de­sign. But it came to rep­re­sent some­thing uniquely Tri­umph – a han­dle that no other man­u­fac­turer had at the time and which made a lot of en­gi­neer­ing sense. Laverda had moved away from triples and Yamaha’s XS750/850 was also long dead, so Tri­umph man­aged to spear­head the new re­vival in three-cylin­der en­gines, with Benelli and MV Agusta fol­low­ing years be­hind. For­tu­nately, Tri­umph’s man­age­ment re­alise they have chanced on some­thing unique and have al­lowed the triple to re­main a cor­ner­stone of the range.

Like­wise, the twin cylin­der ‘clas­sic’ bikes have held on to ear­lier decades of her­itage. In par­al­lel, they have also mor­phed into the cur­rent US-style models, which are unique enough that no­body could ac­cuse them of be­ing Har­ley clones. And the Rocket III was so out-there that we can over­look the ob­vi­ous V-Max over­tones. So there’s clearly plenty of in­de­pen­dent spirit in the com­pany, which is, per­haps, why the few forages into play­ing look-alikes seem so un­nec­es­sary. John Bloor has now re­tired, failed to keep the old com­pany alive, but, thanks to him, Bri­tain now has a mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try again. Per­haps, we should al­low them the oc­ca­sional de­lib­er­ate er­ror.

Iden­tity is the han­dle that sep­a­rates prod­ucts bought from the heart, rather than through con­sumer report mag­a­zines or fac­tual com­par­isons. Mo­tor­cy­cles be­ing highly emo­tional prod­ucts, that’s not some­thing to take suc­cess­ful, di­lutes that iden­tity and de­tracts from any orig­i­nal­ity that’s left. When a large part of a com­pany’s range starts to fol­low an­other man­u­fac­turer’s for­mula, that can have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on its en­tire brand im­age.


I D Would the real ad­ven­ture tourer please step for­ward?

No prizes for guess­ing which models Aprilia had in their sights when de­vel­op­ing the Dor­so­duro and Caponord There’s more than a lit­tle BMW in­flu­ence in Tri­umph’s 800 Tiger models too

Tri­umph’s most mem­o­rable de­signs are also the most in­di­vid­ual

The amount of BMW de­sign lan­guage in Tri­umph’s lat­est Tro­phy is no­tice­able and de­lib­er­ate Some peo­ple will go to ex­tra­or­di­nary lengths to bor­row from an es­tab­lished iden­tity. That’s a hum­ble Yamaha XV535 un­der the fake en­gine cov­ers Hopefully, this cre­ation is meant to be tongue-in- cheek

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