I, and the rest of the WMB test team, have been spending a lot of time away at press launches of 2008 product over the past month or two. This is all well and good in terms of going to nice places, often places with real mountains, to ride a bunch of apparently great new bikes but I'm not sure whether publicising next year's bikes in July is necessarily a good thing.
Sure, it means that a few select manufacturers get a big hit of publicity (although never as much as they'd like to get because they're all doing it and there's not enough space in the mags without cutting something else) but it's often publicity for product that's not actually going to be fully available for ages and it's often just superficial first impressions because we don't actually get to spend much time actually riding in the mountains they've kindly flown us out to. I don't know whether this is a good thing for anyone... us, them or the magazine readership.
Spending two days flying, driving and recovering from flying and driving in order to spend a day or so dabbling with a bunch of bikes that aren't quite ready yet needs to be questioned on all sorts of levels. Don't get me wrong. I'm not ungrateful. I love this job. I just can't help thinking that all this travelling to look at bikes is fundamentally flawed. I guess that's why I tend to ride locally rather than travelling to ride too.
Inevitably, there's always plenty of interest from magazine readers about what's new... and presumably interesting... and presumably better than this year's product. But I really feel for the bike shops, and for some of the other manufacturers, who've only just started to gather momentum in promoting this year's stuff. The last thing they want is riders deciding to ignore it because next year's stuff appears to be on the way already.
I'm not sure whether there's a solution to this. I'm certainly not going to refuse to go to the press launches... partly because everyone else will still be there, and partly because it's often the only chance I get to talk to the guys who actually design the bikes rather than just the people who control the marketing drive over here.
In theory, it would be nice if 2008 bikes actually started to appear just before 2008. It would give the mags something to write about in bleak winter months and would give enthusiast shops a chance to put in a full season of selling and sales back-up on current models. It might even give the manufacturers a chance to make running improvements to the current models without feeling obliged to make something totally new just because everyone else does.