The Sunday Social with motorcycle industry PR specialist Trevor Franklin
What better way to spend a Sunday than for MCN to sit down with a fellow biker for a chinwag about life and bikes, of course.
This week we caught up with former MCN Chief Road Tester and Harley-Davidson Press Officer, Trevor Franklin.
What’s on the menu for brekkie at the café today?
Toast with strawberry jam, orange juice, a second glass of orange juice (if the first glass is not some reconstituted crap), followed with a cappuccino.
What are you looking for on a Sunday ride?
Now in my late years, to get out for an hour or two of riding on my own along country roads –making good use of roads that I know. The problem is life now is not like when you were younger; being grown up and a house owner means there are a lot of more important things to sort out so time is precious. The upshot is: it would be nice just to have two hours on a bike. That would be it, really.
What do you get out of riding by yourself?
Riding on my own means I’ve got no cares or worries outside of my own sphere. All I have to concentrate on is I and the road ahead. I’m known for being a smooth and fast rider, so I like to ride roads in my own way and at my own speed to get the desired pleasure.
“I like riding on home grown roads, roads I’ve known since I was a kid.”
And what do you carry with you when you’re out riding?
If I ever take a bag it usually contains a camera. There are certain things that I appreciate in life like natural countryside and wildlife. There are always opportunities to see different and unusual bikes to take a photograph of. I’ll also carry a mobile phone and my shrivelled wallet.”
So you do work for Harley PR – Where does that life take you?
My role within PR for Harley-Davidson UK & Ireland on behalf of RBP is varied. Not only do I get to enjoy the company of former colleagues in the media [Trevor used to work for MCN as a Chief Road Tester and for Performance Bikes, to name but a few] but new people as well. Then there are support projects. This week’s project is arranging media to ride the exciting the all-new 2018 Harley Softail range in Barcelona. Think of it as Uncle Trev shepherding feral cats…
Can you help our MCNers understand a bit about what’s involved in doing your job? What are some of the most exciting trips you’ve been on with Harley?
I work for RBP Agency, a specialist media-relations and marketing agency. We don’t just have one client; we have many leading, influential clients within and outside of motorcycling and across the globe. And when you consider the different time zones, we can be working some strange hours to achieve the best result for our clients.
There is a lot of background work involved that people don’t realise is involved with this business… and if they did know they wouldn’t be interested – spread sheets do my head in! But, as I said, you do get to meet all kinds of people with all manner of working roles and titles. One of the perks, in the case of Harley-Davidson, is to ensure media get the exact product information and this includes accompanying them on model launches; I’m all up for taking media to ride bikes in the best possible conditions i.e. somewhere it ain't bloody raining on hole-lined roads.
Do you miss being a motorcycle journalist? Surely it has to be one of the best jobs within motorcycling?
As a bike journalist, people used to say to me, ‘I’d love your job… riding bikes all day’. My usual answer was, ‘Who do you think writes the words that accompany the photos, the tests and features or even the news; who puts it altogether?’ They then go, ‘Oh, I don’t know’, as they then realise it’s not just a simple case of just riding motorcycles. People don’t realise that MCN is like a monthly magazine, but published every week! There’s a lot of work and time involved in producing such a thing. Miss it? I certainly don’t miss the occasional bruising from ‘road-testing’.
What keeps you going?
Cappuccino. Energy drinks. Flapjacks. Good work colleagues who wipe my brow…
How long have you worked for RBP?
For six years. I was assigned the Press Officer title within the agency’s PR team within a month of starting.
What inspired you to go from journalist to PR?
I had done everything in the journalism world, apart from earn the official title as Editor, and I still like to learn things. So I thought, ‘Oh there’s an opportunity here, I’ll take it.’ Plus my body couldn’t take it anymore. Arguably one of my better decisions.
What was one of the best things you learnt as Chief Road Tester?
There’s nothing as queer as folk. People are funny creatures and they all need dealing with in different ways. You’re not just a road tester, you’re a diplomat, a spokesperson, nursemaid, researcher, advice machine for the magazine/newspaper you’re working for. Of course, taking on so many roles means you obviously can’t please everyone all of the time.
What was your journey into being a journalist in the automotive world?
My life in journalism started with Performance Bikes magazine. I started off as a Trainee Staff Writer. Within two months I was Staff Writer and then I just worked my way up. Before that I worked in motorcycle shops…
(Trevor is a trained mechanic)
…and I used to get these cretins from bike magazines come in and say, ‘Can we borrow this bike? Can we borrow that helmet to do a photoshoot with?’ I used to tell them to ‘F**k off!’
Have you come across a bike you couldn’t fix?
Yes, there was a Honda VF750FD. It was a horrible rat bike I had to buy as part of a feature for Performance Bikes, 10-15 years ago and it was sh*t. Everything was broken, worn out or degraded and it nearly sent me completely mad. We had three months to complete the job in our spare time. After three months, the bike still wasn’t running properly and I wanted to torch it.
Old sh***ers aside, what was one of the best bikes that you’ve ridden?
Believe it or not, all bikes that I’ve ridden have been good in one way or another. Be it because they’ve given me enjoyment, laughter or they’ve made me sweat. I was known for riding anything home — 50cc mopeds all the way up to £30,000+ specials. Everything I rode was like a gift to me, so I enjoyed it to the full. I’ve always been known as a sportsbike fanatic, always have been.
But then, one year, I rode a Harley-Davidson Rocker C in and around New York. I then got one as a long-term test bike for MCN. Everyone thought I’d gone mad. Those who saw me ride the A15 on it would think I was riding a sportsbike! There’s an R6 rider somewhere who probably still hasn’t forgiven me for showering him in sparks and tarmac chippings…
One of the best occasions on the job was when I was in Japan at Twin Ring Motegi Motorsport circuit, riding a Honda NSR 500 GP500 bike, a Suzuka 8-Hour RVF750 (I think) and a load of other bikes. That was a very special occasion because you never really got all those sort of bikes in one place let alone ride them.
Have you ever had anything embarrassing happen to you on a motorbike?
I really don’t remember and that’s the truth. One of the downsides of being a motorbike tester is that you do sometimes have accidents – either through your own fault or through someone else spoiling your day. There was an occasion, I don’t remember exactly when, on track in Spain for a manufacturer and I crashed, which radically changed my way of life.
My memory is err… buggered. Or as my consultant said at the time, ‘your hard drive is fragmented’. I still ride bikes, it’s just my memory that’s affected. Oh, and eating – smashing teeth and cracking my jaw bone means toffees are no-no for fear of my false set coming adrift.
Do you think that was the last time you were scared on a motorbike?
No. The funny thing about riding bikes since about the early age of 11 — where you ride anything you can find — you develop a sixth sense of awareness. You instinctively know the situation you’re in, you know what the car driver in front is like from their driving attitude, you automatically judge junctions to think, ‘a car is going to come out there’ and sure enough a car does pull out.
To become so very aware of your surroundings only comes with experience and that experience heightens the enjoyment of motorcycling. I know plenty of people who have bought a motorbike, then practically given it away because they just don’t have time to ride, learn and then enjoy.
Are there any initiatives at Harley which are being implemented to encourage new riders?
Yes, they’ve looked into this and conducted worldwide customer polls and surveys. One of those surveys led to the release of the affordable, easy to ride Street XG500 in America and the Street XG750 for the rest of the world. The lower capacity bikes are not full-on cruisers in the traditional sense, just very good motorcycles for gaining experience and also a brilliant intro to the brand.
What excites you the most about this industry?
The clock hitting 5.30pm – even though I work from home most of the time.
HA! What annoys you the most about the motorcycling industry?
The extreme rules and regulations to getting a motorcycle licence. That really annoys me. Such things were never around in my day so why has it changed to the way it is now? I see it as a way of reducing motorcycling to a minimum, that’s what really bothers me. Everything is geared to not getting on a motorbike and enjoying motorised two-wheels. The price and complexity of the test, the price of insurance… it’s all geared not to help people ride motorbikes. That’s a pain because there’s nothing like riding two-wheels to enjoy yourself.
So to put some inspiration and #Ride5000miles goals into riders, what are the most amount of miles you’ve ridden this year?
To be honest, I’ve probably flown more miles this year, such is the nature of the beast. Back in MCN days it wasn’t uncommon to ride back to Blighty from Bologna in one day. It was in excess of 1000 miles and about 15/16 hours of riding. I did it twice, once on a BMW 1200RT and then an R1200GS. I’ve done similar mileage on sportsbikes, too. Their riding position doesn’t bother me either. My body is geared for riding sportsbikes, but I don’t really give a flying monkey as such to what type of bike is to be ridden. I’ll ride anything.
So you started riding when you were 11 years-old. What was the first bike you rode?
I think it was a Lambretta or a Vespa, then probably some old British bit of sh*t. There was also a Ducati Desmo 250 somewhere along the line. I can’t really remember… it was all so long ago.
And did your parents get you into riding?
No, my mother didn’t want me to ride a motorcycle. So when she heard I was going to buy a bike she threatened me with a knife because my cousin died in a bike accident. I still went and bought one and rode home on it. She looked at me, didn’t say a word. Then when I went to go out on it that evening she said, ‘Please be careful’. That was it.
What did she think of your career into motorcycling?
She was really proud of me. Even before biking became my career she knew I was happy riding bikes and trusted me. She even plucked up the courage to go pillion on my Honda CBX1000Z at the grand old age of 50-something to visit her sister in Lincolnshire. We had a lovely day.
What would be one tip for aspiring motorcyclists?
Always lift your chin up when someone’s taking a photograph of you! As journalists we used to have an expression that was, ‘Chins up lads’, whenever we were in photos so you didn’t see our double chins.
Riding wise, I would tell new riders to use the front brake more. A lot of people still use the back brake to a greater extent because they just don’t know that a back brake only slows the weight ahead of it, when the front brake actually tries to stop its forward motion. I can also say if you look after the bike, the bike will look after you.
If you could change something about your riding, what would it be?
Nothing. There is nothing about my riding style I would change, because it’s served me so well to this day. It might not agree with some people, but I couldn’t give a f***!
And what’s next for you?
I’m looking forward to helping a gentleman who’s suffered post-traumatic stress disorder through a bike accident to get back on the road to biking for a campaign being run by an RBP team working for Minster Law. There have been two phases so far, one was meeting a psycho-analyst. The second involved a day with riding instructors on a secure off-road learning circuit.
The next phase is taking him for a road ride around Surrey. All being well, hopefully, he’ll get the taste and thirst back for riding motorcycles again. I’m there as the friendly voice of experience… not bad for a tw*t from the Fens.