Friday, July 26, 2013

Moron motorcycle marketing. Oops, I meant 'More on' motorcycle marketing

Forgive me if I rant for a minute, will you?

I followed the Laguna Seca MotoGP round from a distance, lurking on various motorcycle-racing web sites and, of course, getting an extra few pieces of motorcycle spam delivered via email, because it was a race weekend.

MotoGP is a big marketing opportunity and in the course of a few minutes last weekend, I experienced two epic marketing fails. The first came in the form of a photo on one of the popular racing news sites.

The photo was one of the tiresome obligatory images you see every race weekend of umbrella girls, standing around and looking hot. What got me to look at it again was photo's caption...

Honestly, Red Bull girls??? There are at least 20 Monster Energy trademarks or wordmarks visible in this image. Monster's marketing guys must be asking themselves, What would we have to do, in order to not just be slotted into the 'Red Bull' file in the caption-writer's brain? I'd like to think this was a joke, purposely punking Monster, but I doubt that the purveyor of this web site really wants to alienate one of the sport's biggest sponsors.

The thing is, although Monster totally dominates this one photo, the problem that it illustrates is paddock-wide, in the sense that the wild proliferation of logos at events like MotoGP (compare photos from today to photos taken even 20 years ago and you'll see what I mean) has created an environment so cluttered and chaotic that it's possible there isn't anything they can do to be memorable.

When everything's branded, nothing's branded.

Another brand that put a push on at Laguna Seca was Motus. They brought bikes out, which I learned because I got an email from them telling me that they brought bikes to Laguna Seca. It was an email that I opened, because I've been wondering what ever happened to those guys.

Sadly, I wasn't able to glean much from the email. Now, maybe I'm super-critical because I'm a copywriter and companies (admittedly bigger ones than Motus) pay me to write emails like this but I couldn't help but wonder... Who approved this copy?

I mean, come on. You spend what, tens of thousands of dollars going to Laguna Seca, and then you publish this? Read the FAQ section of the email...

Let's go through those questions again, one by one, and translate Motus' answers into plain English:

Q: Where can I see, test ride, and purchase a Motus MST or MST-R?
A: Yes, we have some dealers. But if you can you think of a shop near you that might be willing to take on a Motus franchise, please tell us. Ideally, we'd like you to convince them to take us on.

Q: What are the differences between the MST and the MST-R?
A: We refuse to tell you. Here's a list of ways they are the same. But, you can make them different with lots of options. Call us.

Q: What are the retail prices of the MST and MST-R?
A: MST models start at $30,975. MST-R prices start at... "Look! There goes Valentino Rossi!"

Q: Does Motus have plans for an adventure bike, street fighter, trike, hovercraft, or track car?
A: "Do you believe that Lorenzo and Pedrosa both rode with broken collarbones?"

Q: Can I buy a crate motor?
A: Yes, we're now taking reservations for motors that will be delivered in Spring 2013. (While we may or may not be planning to sell a hovercraft, we've obviously perfected a time machine that will allow us to go back in time at least a month or two, to Spring 2013, when we'll deliver your motor, in the past. So give us your deposit today, and tomorrow you'll open your workshop door to find your build-it-yourself project half-built. Bet you can't wait to see what you're doing with your motor.)

Honestly I wish Motus well. I really do. But what the fuck is the message they're sending with these non-answers? I suppose in Motus' limited defense, they do say that these are Frequently Asked Questions, not frequently answered ones.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Monster of the Salt

Ten years ago, I was in Paris at a vintage bike show. A gaggle of French bikers were gathered around an old Triumph, elbowing each other and pointing at it.

I heard one say, “C’est le monster du lac salé!”

French cartoonist Denis Sire, with bike builder Laurent Romuald in background.
That piqued my curiosity, so I asked the owner–a guy named Laurent Romuald–if the bike was an old Salt Flats racer. “No,” he told me wistfully, “but it’s my dream to run it on the Bonneville Salt Flats.”

Romuald's replica. This bike is known to thousands of French bikers as, Le monstre du lac sale
They say art imitates life, but Laurent’s bike was a case of life imitating art imitating life. His bike was a replica of one that figured in a comic book written and illustrated by Denis Sire. Sire was an avid motorcyclist and a popular ‘bande desinée’ artist in the ’70s and ’80s. His stories were set in Rock ’n Roll-era America–hot rods, flat track, desert racing, Buddy Holly; he loved that stuff.

Denis Sire, in his Paris studio.
This was the photo that Sire used for inspiration. That's '60s drag ace Nira Johnson, on the bike.
One day while he sat in his studio seeking inspiration, he flipped through an old car magazine and found a photo spread, of action on the Bonneville Salt Flats from 1967. A single, grainy, black and white photo of a guy on a Triumph motorcycle, captioned with the name ‘Nira Johnson,’ caught his imagination. With nothing else to go on, he made up a little story about an American racer with that name, and a fast Triumph he dubbed, ‘Le monstre du lac salé’. That translates as, the Salt Lake monster. (Salt Lake and the Salt Flats are a hundred miles apart, something Sire might have known if he’d ever actually been to the United States.)

A spread from Sire's bestselling graphic novel 6T Melodies, with detail of the drawing, based on the old photo of Nira, below...
The story appeared in a comic book called 6T Melodies. It was so popular that Laurent decided to build a replica of the bike in the comic. I was born in 1959,” he told me, “the same year as the Bonneville.” He grew up to become one of the top French experts on British twins, with a beautiful shop on the outskirts of Paris called Machines et Moteurs. He called Denis Sire to tell him his plan.

“Good luck,” Sire told him. Then he explained that he’d made it all up based on a single old photo. “But,” he went on, “I think I still have the magazine, I’ll bring it over.” The two were soon fast friends. They blew up the magazine photo but there wasn’t much detail to be seen there. They also searched for any mention of Nira Johnson in other old magazines, hoping to trace him, but came up empty. So in the same way that Sire had imagined his American stories, Laurent had to imagine the bike.

“I could see it was an early Bonneville motor in a rigid frame,” he told me. “It looked like a drag bike, so as I built it, I asked myself ‘What would an American drag racer have done in the ’60s?’” The French have held America in special regard since the days of Lafayette; deep in their subconscious, they see the American Revolution as the one that worked. I loved the idea of these two French guys creating an in-the-metal version of an imagined bike, ridden by an imagined rider, in an imagined version of the ’States.

I promised them that I’d do what I could do to help them live out their fantasy about bringing their bike over to run it on the Salt Flats. When I got back here, I did my own search for Nira Johnson and also drew a blank. I wrote about Laurent, Denis, and le monstre du lac salé on my blog, and forgot about them for years.

Then, out of the blue, I got an email from a stranger that read, “I’m a friend of Nira Johnson, and I have his old motorcycle. Call me.”

Nira Johnson, at MMP in 2008, with his bike (now in the collection of Rodd Lighthouse.)
I just about crapped. The stranger–a consulting engineer and AHRMA racer from Nevada named Rodd Lighthouse–had grown up with Nira as a family friend. He’d recently convinced Nira to sell him his old bike. He told me that Nira had been quite a successful drag racer in Southern California in the ’60s. “You may not know that he was a black man,” he added.

He gave me Nira’s phone number, and I called him up. He laughed when I told him that he was famous, at least to French motorcyclists, as a white guy.

I finally got the American side of the tale, from Nira Johnson himself, in September, 2008. The occasion was a round of the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association’s road racing championship, held at Miller Motorsports Park, about twenty miles from Salt Lake City, in Utah.

Nira was there, doing a little wrenching for Rodd Lighthouse and his dad, Ken. Since they knew I was coming to the race, they brought along Nira's old bike, which was known to thousands of French bikers as ‘Le monstre du lac salé’.

Nira was born in New York of African-American and Native-American parentage. He went to a vocational-technical high school, and joined the Air Force after graduating. He flew on B-36 strategic bombers.

“That’s when I got into motorcycles,” he told me. “I learned as I went. I threw a primary chain through a case when I had my first BSA. An Air Force buddy had a background with hot rods. He was from California, and probably inspired me move to California when I was discharged.”

In ’58, Nira did just that. He got a job at an aerospace company that became Rockwell International, where he helped make Minuteman missiles, and hold the Russkies at bay. In his spare time, he hung with two bikers who raced a twin-engined Triumph dragster they’d bought from Joe Dudek, a legendary Los Angeles tuner. One day when their rider–a fellow named Bill Johnson–didn’t show, they said, “You’re about the same size as him, why don’t you ride it?”

Johnson only went to Bonneville once. His natural habitat was the SoCal drag scene. Note the exquisite front engine plates. Keepin' it light!
Nira was hooked. He bought his own bike in ’63, from a guy who’d started to build it then lost interest. What he acquired was basically a rigid, pre-unit Triumph frame that had a Cub front end and a tiny, trick fuel tank with no filler cap. He bought a few hot rodding books and built his own 650cc motor. Another famous tuner named Shell Thuett had one of the only dynos around, and Nira did a lot of his tuning in Thuett’s shop.

“I liked to keep things reliable,” he recalled. “The pre-unit Bonnevilles had a three-piece crank, and when they went to unit construction, they put in a better, two-piece one. So I used that. I polished it, and took off some weight. I ported it; lightened and polished the rods… I wanted to put in bigger valves but it was too expensive.”

His bike wasn’t overly powerful; he remembers it making about 56 horsepower, but it was light. He even thinned all the gears in the transmission. And, it was reliable; in six years of racing it almost every weekend, he blew up one motor.

“I ran what they called Class B/Gas. In the beginning I ran in the high 11-second range, with trap speeds around 110 mph. At the end its development, the bike was hitting 116-118 mph. Sometimes, when other guys saw that I was there, they’d just roll their bikes right back onto their trucks and go home!”

The time that Nira was photographed on the Salt Flats was the only time he ever raced there. “I was using Harmon-Collins cams, and they had some they said were ‘too radical for drag racing’ so I got them to grind me some of those. Other than that, I just swapped the rear tire and gearing. My bike ran good, but the record was set by Dudek and Johnson, at speeds that were unattainable on gas–they were either running alcohol or fuel–so they ran in the high 140s, and my best runs were in the 130s.”

Not long afterwards, Nira moved to the East Coast for his job, and he had no time to drag race. Ironically, he traveled to France for work in 1983, when Denis Sire’s comic book was a best seller.

“I had no idea I was a character in a comic book over there, until Rodd clued me in,” he told me, adding–surely an understatement–“I was kinda’ surprised.”

This is why I don’t write fiction. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

The first half of this story was one of the first Backmarker columns that I posted on the old site. Even that part of the story was cool enough that, when I returned to the U.S. from France, I hoped to get a documentary filmmaker sufficiently interested to bring the replica 'monster' to the Bonneville Salt Flat. When the blog post about the replica resulted in my finding the original monster - and Nira - I updated the post and again begged documentary filmmakers to get in touch with me.

Well, after all these years, I'm now working with Tom Guttry, a veteran producer of documentary and reality TV content, to bring Monsters of the Salt to the screen. Tom recruited Kevin Ward, the cinematographer who shot 'Dust to Glory', and the three of us agreed to work on this film for free, in order to ensure that this heartwarming and inspiring story gets told while Nira (who is in his 80s) is still alive. I got back in touch with Nira, Laurent, and Denis to make sure they were all still interested, and still had access to their bikes. They're all game.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tracing the origins of "The Pass" to the source: Alex Zanardi

So, I note that you can watch the replay of Marquez using the, uh, "extreme inside line" at The Corkscrew, in order to pass Rossi. five years ago, Rossi pulled the same move on Casey Stoner. Marquez obviously knew about Rossi's pass, but probably doesn't know that Rossi had been inspired by a guy who won a gold medal in the London Paralympics.

Ex-F1 and IndyCar driver Alex Zanardi lost his legs in one of the most horrific motorsports incidents ever, but he continues to inspire with his personal strength and courage. As an ex- (and admittedly crap) TT racer, I've dissed plenty of car racers in my time, but not this guy. Legs gone, 'nads apparently fully intact.

Most Backmarker readers remember Rossi's epic pass on Stoner, through the gravel in the Corkscrew in 2008. Photographer Andrew Wheeler certainly does. The expat Englishman lives just up the coast from Monterey and calls Laguna Seca his home track. So, he was perfectly positioned to shoot Rossi's move, and the resulting photos cemented his reputation as one of the top photographers in MotoGP.

Rossi-Stoner Laguna Seca 2008 Battle - Images by Andrew Wheeler

Stoner thought Rossi should've been penalized for cutting the course, but Rossi was well aware that Alex Zanardi had gotten away with the same stunt on the last lap of a CART race about 10 years before that.

Check it out here...


UPDATE... Monday morning crew chief, Tuesday edition: But wasn't it against the rules? 

All three moves beg the question that Stoner asked in 2008: Wasn't the move illegal? Every racing organization has a rule to the effect that a racer should not gain an advantage by leaving the course. All three of them were all already ahead of their victims when they entered the second part of the Corkscrew (it's usually listed as turn 8A on track maps.) So in one sense, no one “gained an advantage” by leaving the track, they already had the advantage and just maintained it.
That said, look closely at the Corkscrew. It’s a left-right flick over the crest. I haven't raced there since 2001, and haven't tested there since about 2008, but I think I remember it pretty clearly; and if my memory serves, the slowest point through the complex is the left, not the right. You can carry a ton more speed through the first part of the Corkscrew and make your pass there, if you’re prepared to straight-line it across the gravel, inside the apex of the second half of the complex. 
Marquez took Rossi on the outside of the left, and was ahead but not fully past him when Rossi used all the track on the exit line of the first part of the Corkscrew. Unlike Rossi vs. Stoner, Marquez could have argued (if needed) that he’d been pushed wide but that wasn’t really the case, his momentum was simply too great at that point.
Rossi (and Zanardi before him) took the inside line in the left turn. They were fully past their rivals and weren’t forced wide, they were just going too fast to complete the direction change and keep it on the asphalt. Inside or outside, it makes no matter; in all three cases, blowing the right turn was a consequence of intentionally carrying too much speed a second or two earlier. All three racers gained an advantage by leaving the track. If there’d been a wall there, or even deep gravel, they would either not have tried the move, or not have succeeded.
Still, none of them were penalized. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, eh?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Riding Man, textbook?

I got a couple of cryptic emails and phone messages earlier this summer, from the manager of the Austin College bookstore in Sherman, TX, enquiring about stocking Riding Man. It turns out, my book's on the reading list for course entitled 'The Irish Sea', taught by historian Hunt Tooley. Cool, eh?

Here's a screen cap of the course description (click to enlarge)...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Indian punks Harley with clever launch ad

It's not often that ADWEEK pays attention to the motorcycle business. Why should they? Most motorcycle industry advertising is lame. But ADWEEK perked up this week when it noticed this great teaser ad for Polaris' new Indian.

Indian Motorcycle ~ "Choice Is Coming" from Pagoda Pictures on Vimeo.

This ad was created by Colle&McVoy, an ad agency based in Minneapolis. Ironically, Carmichael Lynch, another Twin Cities agency, produced great Harley advertising for decades. I'm not sure where this ad is running, but I assume it will air quite a bit between now and the worldwide unveiling of Polaris' 2014 Indian Chief, which will take place in Sturgis in the first week of August.

A smart concept and tight execution already distinguish this from most of the dreck advertising in our category. Licensing Willie Nelson also indicates that Polaris is taking the launch seriously. Is Harley?

Monday, July 8, 2013

The motorcycle industry's charitable efforts are full of shit, er, misguided

This is a repost from last spring. I'm putting it back up again, because again, with the recent injury to AFM veteran Dave Stanton, I'm reminded that as motorcycle riders & racers, the one charitable cause we all need to back is spinal injury research.

However, before you read on, there's something I want you to do: go here, and PayPal $10 to Dave Stanton.

Here, then, is what I wrote in April 2012 (which is itself a rehash of one of my old columns from the Road Racer X web site, but I'll keep harping on this until as a group, motorcyclists focus our charitable efforts on something closer to home than Toys for Tots or Pediatric Brain Tumors.

It's been a bleak early season for the World Superbike Championship in terms of injuries. A fellow Canadian, SBK racer Brett McCormick just barely dodged a paralyzing injury at Assen, throwing a huge downer on what had been a fairy-tale story. (McCormick showed up in Europe last fall to ride all the SBK contenders' bikes at a press day, as the representative of a Canadian bike mag. He ended up being recruited by the Effenbert team to ride in the European Superstock championship and was then upgraded to SBK.) Being sidelined for several months so early in the season is a bummer for the Canuck, but at least he'll make a full recovery.

Kawasaki rider Joan Lascorz has been relocated to Institut Guttmann, a Barcelona hospital specializing in the treatment and rehabilitation of spinal cord injuries. It remains to be seen just what degree of recovery Joan will make; Institut Guttmann is a world-class facility, but the hospital's logo, in which the 'G' is formed out of the wheel of a wheelchair, makes it clear that serious spinal injuries are still resistant to treatment.

The so-called 'back protectors' that most of us wear offer some protection from impact, but little or no protection for the sorts of compression, extreme flexion, or hyperextension injuries that result in spinal cord injuries. All they really do is give you a false sense that you've taken a step to protect yourself.

Leatt and Alpinestars, which make neck braces for riders of sit-up-and-beg-type motorcycles are, presumably, working on similar devices for  road racers and sportbike riders. And the increasing availability of 'airbag' racing suits shows that companies are actively working on improved injury prevention strategies.

That's great, as far as it goes. But.

For the foreseeable future, all motorcycle riders and racers will continue to expose themselves to high risk of spinal injury. The only thing we can, collectively, hope for is progress in treating those injuries. And that hope is not forlorn; there's a real chance that spinal lesions that currently cause incurable paralysis will be healed in our lifetime; there's promising research on several fronts.

IF THERE IS ONE CHARITABLE CAUSE WE SHOULD ALL CONTRIBUTE TO, IT'S SPINAL CORD RESEARCH. For most of us, a paralyzing injury is the ultimate downside to our sport; something we fear more than death itself. And yet (or, I suppose, because of that fear) the motorcycle industry seems determined to pretend that there are other causes we should support.

So Kyle Petty's big charity ride collects funds for a sick children's summer camp. And every fall, there's Toys for Tots runs. There are rides to raise money for pediatric cancer research, Bikers Battling Breast Cancer, and a Ride For Autism. (I guess most of the participants in those rides are Harley guys who don't even wear crash helmets; they have less to fear on the paralysis front, since they'll typically be killed by brain injuries.)

Leaving aside the obvious criticism that it should be a ride against autism, not for it, I'll point out for the nth time that sending sick children to camp, gathering toys for poor kids, and defeating cancer or autism are all great causes.

For other people.

Riders for Health is probably the highest-profile charity for the helmet-wearing set. Yes, getting health care delivered to people who need it in Africa is great, too. We should support Riders for Health enthusiastically.

After we've found a cure for spinal cord injuries.

Motorcycle riders and race fans should support spinal cord injury research, and that's all we should support, until technology to heal those injuries is widely available. I'm pretty skeptical of Red Bull generally, but I admire Red Bull founder Dieter Mateschitz for -- almost alone in the world of action sports -- confronting the reality of spinal cord injuries face-to-face.

Red Bull's Wings for Life program collects money for spinal cord research and distributes it to researchers working towards a cure. If someone knows of a better umbrella group specializing in spinal cord research, please let me know. Until then, contribute to Wings for Life here.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Why can't American Honda make an ad this good?

ADWEEK recently raved about this brilliant, two minute-long commercial for Honda UK. As far as I know, that spot is running only in Britain (notwithstanding the use of Garrison Keillor for the few words of voiceover.)

This in not an ad for any one product or even any one division of the company. It's a view of the whole brand from 30,000 feet, which pays homage to the ingenuity of Honda's R&D and engineering. It's all about the engineers' imaginations; the background is, literally, a clean sheet of paper.

The spot's running on Channel 4 over there, where Honda is sponsoring a documentary series. The 2-minute length makes it impractical to run on U.S. TV, and frankly I hope that American Honda doesn't adapt it, because I'm sure they'll cut most if not all the motorcycles! But I'd love to see them run the full-length spot in American cinemas.

Anyway, the spot is loaded with stuff motorcyclists and motorsports nuts will appreciate, like the Honda RC143 125cc Grand Prix bike from the '60s, and the snippet of voiceover mentioning John McGuinness.


Oh, to have a full corporate brand ad here in the U.S. pay such homage to the company's motorcycle roots. The ad does have some indirect American content, in the sense that it was produced by the London office of the U.S. agency Weiden & Kennedy.

Backmarker kudos to Honda UK marketing boss Olivia Dunn, and W&K's highly regarded creative team of Chris Lapham and Aaron McGurk. Apparently the creative team's working on an even longer format piece that will appear online.

I'll try to highlight that, too.

In the meantime, while we're on the subject of great ads, here's two minutes worth wasting, in the form of another Honda long-form ad, also voiced by Garrison Keillor...

And, for those of you who know I'm also a dog lover, a follow up to 'The Cog', in the form of this new spot. Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. Or is it 'plagiarism'?

Hero, Buell, and Indian traffic: context

It's always a little weird hearing about motorcycle manufacturers, like Hero, that are virtually unknown in the U.S. market, but huge in India, China, or Southeast Asia.

With annual revenues in the $4B range, Hero is almost as large as the Buell brand's previous owner, Harley-Davidson. And, if one considers the two companies' model ranges--most new Heros are under 200cc and retail for about $1,000--it's clear that Hero sells far more units than H-D.

It's hard to believe now, but there was a time, in the U.S., when motorcycles outnumbered cars. Then, Henry Ford released the Model T, which was more practical than any motorcycle of its day, and less costly than top-of-the-range bikes. It sold for $851 when introduced. Corrected for inflation, that's about $21,000 today. That was a tipping point for cars in the U.S. market.

It took a lot longer for that to happen in the U.K. Motorcycles provided the only affordable day-to-day transport for working blokes until the '60s. Scooters and motorcycles outnumbered Italian auto registrations into the '70s. But in those markets, too, small affordable cars like the Fiat 500 gradually became the default choice for working-class transportation.

I just saw a chart of vehicle registrations by type for the city of New Delhi. Scooters and motorcycles outnumber private autos by 2:1. (There are about 2.3M cars and 4.6M bikes in that one Indian city!)

What's telling, though, is the rate of growth in registrations. While two-wheeler registrations in the last decade have increased 6.4% on average--good news for Hero, which is the largest Indian motorcycle manufacturer--auto registrations have increased even more; on average, 7.9%.

The Indian auto industry has its sights set squarely on consumers who are now buying scooters and small motorcycles. The Tata Nano, for example, bills itself as 'The people's car' (=volkswagen?). It's powered by a fuel-injected 600cc twin motor and sells for about $3,000.

The Tata Nano is probably easier on the environment, on balance, than a lot of motorbikes. Luckily for Hero, road congestion will probably slow the automotive juggernaut there. The ability of bikes to filter through clogged streets may continue to appeal to a lot of commuters who will in the future be able to afford cars.

Even in India, however, cars will eventually shoulder aside motorbikes.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Hero buys half of Erik Buell's company for $25M

India Today and other Indian financial news sources are reporting that Hero, India's largest motorcycle manufacturer, has just completed a deal to invest $25,000,000 in Erik Buell Racing.

According to India Today...

The country's largest two-wheeler maker Hero MotoCorp on Monday said it has picked up 49.2 per cent stake in US-based Erik Buell Racing (EBR) for USD 25 million (about Rs.148 crore).

The company has incorporated a wholly-owned subsidiary in the US by the name of HMCL (NA), Inc for the purposes of investing in Erik Buell Racing Inc, Hero MotoCorp (HMC) said in a filing to the BSE.

"HMCL(NA) has agreed to invest USD 25 million in EBR for a total stake of 49.2 per cent in the share capital of EBR. The first tranche of USD 15 million has been invested by HMCL (NA) on June 28, 2013," it added.

The second tranche of USD 10 million is proposed to be invested within the next nine months, the company added.

Last year, Hero MotoCorp had entered into technology sourcing pact with EBR as it looks to strengthen presence in the high-end bike segment.

The development is a part of the Indian firm's strategy to enhance technological prowess, post the break-up of the erstwhile joint venture with Honda - Hero Honda.

The idea behind entering into partnership with EBR was a part of HMC's overall strategy to have multiple technology source for different segments and enhance its own R&D capability.

In December 2010, the Hero Group and Honda had agreed to end their 26-year-old relationship, with the Indian partner agreeing to buy out Honda's 26 per cent stake in Hero Honda for Rs.3,841.83 crore.

The two erstwhile partners had, however, signed a new licensing agreement under which Hero will pay Honda 45 billion yen (about Rs.2,450 crore) till 2014.

Shares of HMC were trading at Rs.1,677.55 on the BSE in morning trade, up 0.92 per cent from their previous close.

This makes a lot of sense to me. Hero, like several other Indian companies (Mahindra leaps to mind, too) is making the jump from building Japanese designs under license to creating its own machines from scratch. And despite the fact that there are hundreds if not thousands of small, garage-building operations run by guys who'd claim they're capable of designing a bike for mass production, there are in fact a very small number of guys who can actually do it. More to the point, there's a very, very small number of guys who can say, "I've done that."

Erik's one of them. Hero effectively gets a proven R&D operation, albeit one a long way from its Indian base. I wonder if you can get a decent curry in Wisconsin? (Note to Erik: Don't even try to find a decent brat in India. And forget about their cheese curds.)

$25 million will also give EBR some breathing room. I'm not sure how much mass production that will buy, and how much as a result, EBR will be able to lower prices. But getting more bikes to market, sooner, and at more competitive prices, is obviously a key to that company's long term survival.

I'll shoot Erik a message now, and see if he cares to expound upon what, exactly, this means for EBR. (Besides the fact that the company's July 4 picnic will be damned cheerful.)