Cycle World Managing Editor Matthew Miles told me the other day that he never expected his work in motorcycle magazines to include embedding video in a road test. Nevertheless, he, like everyone at the magazine, knows the importance of trying to capture more and more of the motorcycle experience in images. Sometimes, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
That’s why, back in June of ’79, when I was at Cycle Guide, the staff and I cobbled together an angle-iron frame to bolt onto the BMW R100T we had for a couple of weeks as part of a comparison test with a Honda Gold Wing. Dave Clark, our art director, and I saw the potential of getting a dynamic still photo of the BMW’s cylinder head and crashbar virtually on the ground in a turn with the road rushing under the footpeg and rider’s boot, and the horizon tilted crazily ahead in the picture, drawing the viewer’s eye into it and creating the impression of speed and the unique kinesthetics of riding.
We bolted together the frame in our shop and got the camera angles right, using my then-new Olympus OM-2 SLR camera and a motor drive with a push-button trigger taped to the left-hand grip, ensuring that the gray wire for the trigger and the red push-button were out of view with the bike on its centerstand and a rider on board. The frame was just three pieces of rusty angle iron bolted to the BMW’s rear subframe, passenger footpeg bracket and left-rear saddlebag mount. We knew we’d get a lot of vibration but we figured that, as art directors have been sternly telling their photographers for ages, “Film is cheap. Don’t whine about the conditions; just get the shot I want.”
The road we used was Palos Verdes Drive East, then a two-laner on the Palos Verdes Peninsula of Los Angeles that snaked up the coastal Palos Verdes Drive South to upscale housing developments atop a steep hillside. The shot we were after would be available only on the two uphill left-turning hairpins, where speeds were low and lean angles high (from the vertical, that is).
The goal was to have a photo that could be used for our contents page as the background for the text. The design that former Car and Driver art director Jim Williams and I had conceived for the relaunched Cycle Guide contents page required that each month would have a new color background photo illustrating some aspect of motorcycling. The idea was that the page would look transparent, as though the text were on a sheet of glass through which the viewer saw close-up shots of Ducati SS fuel caps or an MXer leaping a sand dune or anything else that captured something of what we do on and with motorcycles.
Dain Gingerelli, then associate editor and a veteran roadracer, was the rider, and after he ran three rolls of film through the camera, we figured that at least one would provide the shot we wanted. When the film came back from the development process, we were amazed at how many potentially useful shots we got. And the one Dave Clark and I chose needed only a little retouching by airbrush (yes, kiddies, this was decades before Photoshop became a verb!). After all that effort, the cropped photo, showing the left cylinder head of the R100T and Dain’s Dingo-style boot, appeared in our August, 1979, issue.
Was it worth the effort, in the same way that Cycle World’s efforts in editing and embedding a testbike video is today worth the effort? We thought so.