Anyone remember this advertising slogan? It was for Marlboro cigarettes and was always accompanied by images of a rugged cowboy type out in the wilds of Marlboro country. It is that image that has stuck with me after a visit to my local Honda dealer early in 1987. I’d gone to see the all new ground breaking release from Honda that year, a 600cc model too, but of course it was the CBR. At the back of the shop and under very poor lighting was another new model, the Transalp. Above it hung a poster which was probably of an alpine pass with some clever slogan about “meeting the nicest people on a Honda” but I remember it as looking like Monument valley and featuring Marlboro man, that’s just the passing of time I guess.
The ‘Alp wasn’t going to set anyone’s trousers on fire that year, (the common view was “what’s it for”) when it was viewed next to the Dominator it looked plain ugly. The V-twin slung low in the frame spelled winner of a pie-eating contest and was at odds with big trailies of the time (Dominator, Tengai, XT, etc). Proper dual purpose bikes of that era were mainly two-strokes, I myself had a KMX200. Yamaha’s XT500 of ten years earlier (despite being universally hailed as fabulous) had made very little difference to the sale of strokers. It was Europe that took these bikes to heart and while on a bike holiday in France in the summer of ’91 I was amazed at how many big trailies I saw including the even bigger Yamaha SuperTen (I was on an FJ12, so still way out of touch). Funnily enough the first time I saw aluminium hard luggage it wasn’t on a BMW but on a French SuperTenere.
So the ‘Alp arrived in ’87 was regarded as ugly, too cumbersome for off-road, too slow and wayward for on-road and when in ’89 it was given a face-lift it sold so poorly that there was no ’90 model (in the UK). Time has been kind to the ‘Alp with it gaining the status of a classic, which, when you consider other models that carry this title, is wholly deserved. Now the ’08 model causes much consternation with its’ radical changes, ( smaller front wheel, weight gain and dodgy headlight) surely it remains faithful to the ’87 concept of ‘just build the bloody thing and let the buyer worry what it’s for’. The hallmarks of the original are here: the shotgun tailpipe, rear carrier, plastic sump guard and all.
The marketing people long ago decided that good packaging, not product, maintains brand loyalty, just like cigarettes. Let’s hear it for marketing.....