Against the Grain


When Motorcycles Raced on Wood

Words by Brett Smith


  Photo courtesy Harley-Davidson archive

Photo courtesy Harley-Davidson archive

 

“It is a commentary on American Standards that we take pains to prohibit prize fighting and horse racing in many States, and hold up our hands in horror at the suggestion of bullfights as a national sport, and yet flock in thousands to see reckless young men riding madly around a track sloping at a 50 percent angle glorifying in the thinness of the thread that divides life from death.

—The Washington Post, Sept. 10, 1912

 

 

They saw it coming. They must have. With six motorcycles racing together at more than 90 miles per hour on wooden circle tracks with steep banks, the consequences of board-track racing could not have been a surprise. But the thrills were magnificent. The fascination with seeing and feeling speed was so new in the first 20 years of the 20th century that it led crowds of 10,000 to climb above the courses where only a thin rail made of pine or spruce separated them from the motorcycles that raced counterclockwise on the wooden track below. So scant was the partition between onlookers and racers that young boys often stuck their heads through the opening beneath the guard to be closer to the machines, which were getting faster with every new model. 

 

  Photo courtesy AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame

Photo courtesy AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame

 

In the spirit of putting the action in front of the audience, where the entire race could be seen in one spot—much like the original idea behind supercross—early board-track races were held in small stadiums nicknamed “saucers” and “pie pans,” the latter moniker because of their round shape and continuous steep banks. They were little more than beefed-up bicycle velodromes. In 1908—the same year the first Model T was produced, General Motors was founded, and Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight boxing champion of the world—the excitement factor of watching a motorcycle do a mile a minute was still very fresh. 

On July 5, match races were held at the Clifton course in Paterson, New Jersey, on a “six-lap track, brand new, of wood, fresh from the sawmill and the carpenter’s hand,” according a five-page account in the July 15, 1908, Motorcycle Illustrated. The course, built by former bicycle racing champion and British expat John Shillington Prince, was one-sixth of a mile. After his own two-wheeled racing career ended in the late 1880s, Prince moved on to building and promoting velodrome races. On the velodromes, high-banked 1/6th- and 1/10th-mile courses, motorcycles were originally employed to pace bicyclists for races and in training. Interest in the possibility of what a motorized machine could do on the planks grew and Prince used his velodrome designs to build what became known as motordromes. 

 

  Photo courtesy Harley-Davidson archive

Photo courtesy Harley-Davidson archive

 

In Clifton, because of the tightness of the course and potential for tragedy, only two riders competed at a time. Nothing tragic happened that day in 1908. Jake DeRosier, the Canadian-born, Massachusetts-raised racer who became America’s first motorcycle superstar, hit more than a dozen speed milestones on a prototype Indian, including the 1-mile record, which he set at 56 seconds (64 mph). Despite the 5,000 open-mouthed and applauding spectators, as Motorcycle Illustrated described the crowd, the magazine wasn’t on board. 

 

“Of course, this is not motorcycle racing,” a separate editorial pontificated. “It takes three to make a race and four are better. But neither three nor four will probably ever be raced together on the Clifton Saucer. To permit it would be criminal.” 

 

Prince traveled around the country, convincing residents and city halls to allow him to build a motordrome in their towns. His design changed to courses one-third of a mile in length, and one of the first he built at that spec was the Los Angeles Coliseum Motordrome, in 1909, which was three and a half laps to the mile. From 1909 through 1914, 21 motordromes one-third of a mile or less were constructed across North America (not all by Prince), from Springfield, Massachusetts, to Brighton Beach, New York; Vailsburg, New Jersey; St. Louis; Detroit; Atlanta; Milwaukee; Denver; Los Angeles; and others. Prince was churning out the stadiums in just a few weeks. The Brighton Beach (Brooklyn) course held its first event on June 29, 1912. The New York Times announced the project on May 7 and said, “An army of men will rush the construction.” The project cost $30,000 and was made with 1.5 million feet of lumber, mostly 16-foot lengths of 2x4s, with the 2-inch face up. The length was one-third of a mile, the angle 53 degrees, and the capacity was 10,000 in the grandstands.

 

  Photo courtesy Harley-Davidson archive

Photo courtesy Harley-Davidson archive

 

The motorcycles were developing as quickly as the courses were being built. They had one gear, no brakes, no clutch, no suspension, and the carburetors were set wide open. The engines were total loss, meaning the oil wasn’t pressure fed. An oil tank fed the engine what it needed to consume. Instead of recirculating back into the engine, the used oil was expelled into the air in the form of smoke. 

 

“They hadn’t yet realized they needed to figure out how to cycle the oil down to the motor and pump it back up,” says Matt Walksler of Wheels Through Time. When riders crashed, oil leaked onto the course, which led to more crashing. Performance was entirely by experimentation, and the 61-cubic-inch (1,000 cc) engines were nearing 90 mph in 1911. And that was at only 7 horsepower. 

Dozens of manufacturers competed for market share in the United States: Excelsior, Indian, Thor, Cyclone, The Flying Merkel, NSU, and many more. Absent from the results columns was Harley-Davidson, which did not officially field racing teams until 1914. Arthur Davidson was staunchly against racing. In a 1912 editorial in The Harley Dealer, he said,

 

“Any dealer who contemplates hooking up with a promoter in the ‘murderdrome’ business, I have found it to be my experience, has nothing to gain and everything to lose. The board track game will work out its own destiny in a mighty big hurry.” 

 

  Photo courtesy Chris Price, Archive Moto

Photo courtesy Chris Price, Archive Moto

 

Murderdromes. Arthur Davidson saw it coming. Engineers were quickly learning how to wring more out of the internal-combustion engines. On Dec. 30, 1912, on a 1-mile board track in Playa del Rey, California, riding a big-valved Excelsior, Lee Humiston tucked into his handlebars to record a 36-second lap. He became the first rider to officially set the record for 100 mph (146.7 feet per second) on a motorcycle. Two years later, J.A. McNeil went 111.1 mph on a Cyclone. The bike used overhead-cam technology, new at the time, and put out 45 horsepower at 5,000 rpm. Unfortunately, the Federation of American Motorcyclists refused to recognize the feat on the grounds that the speed could possibly be 10 percent above the existing record. The increase in speed and power and the steepening angle of the courses, which was hitting 60 degrees and producing enough centrifugal force to shoot riders and machines out of the circle, also increased the potential for catastrophe. 

 

  Photo courtesy Don Emde Collection

Photo courtesy Don Emde Collection

 

On Sept. 8, 1912, in Vailsburg, the first of two such major tragedies was splattered on newspapers in multi-stack headlines across the country. On a four-lap motordrome west of downtown Newark, New Jersey, with 5,000 spectators in attendance, Eddie Hasha’s eight-valve, 61-cubic-inch Indian—at 92 mph—veered sharply upward toward the guardrail and grinded along it for 100 feet, killing three boys whose heads were hanging into the barrier openings, according to newspaper reports. It was about 5 p.m., the final lap of the final race on the card, and Hasha was going for the lead. After hitting a post, Hasha was hurled into the crowd and the motorcycle careened back down the course and into the sixth-place rider, Johnny Albright of Denver. He was thrown from his bike and pronounced dead hours later at a hospital from lung hemorrhaging. 

 

Many papers reported that witnesses saw the sprocket come loose from Hasha’s bike and “literally tore off the skull of a little boy who had been one of the most excited enthusiasts at the race,” according to The Washington Post. Hasha, as described in the Post, “was pitched 50 feet into the air, and must have been killed instantly in the collision. His body was shapeless from broken bones when it was picked up almost at the feet of his wife seated among the men and boys in the bleachers.” Six were killed that day, including the two riders and three boys under 18. Two more men died in the hospital days later. 

 

  Photo courtesy Harley-Davidson archive

Photo courtesy Harley-Davidson archive

 

The New York Times had interviewed Hasha before the race and reprinted an ominous discussion about the dangers of saucer racing.

 

“I suppose it’ll get us all each when his turn comes,” he said. “Oh, I know it’s a dangerous game, but I am stowing my money away in the bank and the wife will be fixed up if I go.”

 

The best racers were reported to have been paid $20,000 a year from their teams, a huge sum of money in the early 1900s. But Hasha was only 19 and turned pro in 1911. No doubt, he wasn’t set for life. His wife, Gertrude, later married Al Crocker, a motorcycle manufacturer whose machines bore his surname. 

 

  Photo courtesy AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame

Photo courtesy AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame

 

Opened on Independence Day 1912, the Vailsburg track was never used again for motorcycle racing. Less than a year later, in Ludlow, Kentucky, Odin Johnson jumped the track and struck an electric light pole at the Lagoon Motordrome. The gas tank exploded after coming into contact with a live wire. Eight people were killed and dozens were burned. “Mothers with babies in their arms were showered with blazing gasoline,” wrote The Washington Post

Board-track racing had a short but explosive life in motorcycle history, but not nearly as short as some have erroneously documented. The discipline didn’t disappear after the widely publicized incidents of 1912 and 1913. Following the Kentucky tragedy, only a few more three- and four-lap motordromes were built. Newspaper headlines decrying them “murderdromes” made business difficult. Harry Glenn, who rode for Indian from 1912 to 1924, was the pallbearer for 19 of his competitors. In 1915, board tracks 1, 1.25, and 2 miles in length popped up in Chicago, Tacoma, Omaha, Des Moines, and Sheepshead Bay, New York, and featured automobile racing too. They were the precursors to modern speedways, but they were still made of wood, which made them impossible to maintain for the long term. Jack Prince didn’t get to see the end of the board-track era. He died in October 1927 at 68. The last major motorcycle races on the boards were held in 1928, and the final board track, Woodbridge Speedway in New Jersey, closed in 1931 after deteriorating beyond repair. It was replaced by a dirt oval. 

 

  Photo courtesy AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame

Photo courtesy AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame

 

Some historians believe it was negative press from the board-track tragedies that put motorcycling in the category of daredevilry and gave it notoriety as a dangerous and foolhardy sport, a designation that two-wheel enthusiasts are still trying to overcome. Board-track racing isn’t remembered for the damage it did to an industry; today it’s revered for the incredulousness it impresses upon the people who take the time to learn about it.

 


Read the story in Volume 004


The Blue Ocean


Staring Down the Rear-View

Words by Andrew Campo | Photos by Drew Martin


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“We see the world through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.”

 

These words by Canadian professor, philosopher and public intellectual Marshall McLuhan danced around inside my helmet as I departed Carmel by the Sea, a small, picturesque beach community on California’s Monterey Peninsula. In 1964 McLuhan published a book to challenge our assumptions on how and what we communicate, titled Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Through his writings he proposes that a medium itself, not the content it carries, should be the focus of study. He said that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role, not only by the content delivered, but also by the characteristics of the medium. I had brought McLuhan’s genius along for this ride in hopes of finding influence and greater vision for our future with META.

 

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"Here I will find peace. Here I shall find the strength to do the work I was made to do."

–Henry Miller

 

This journey to Carmel and beyond was a celebration of the platform we have built as an independent publisher over the past four years. It was time for us to slam on the brakes and stare down that rear-view mirror as we wash our souls in preparation for finding a sustained sanctuary in the elusive “blue ocean.” The blue ocean strategy is a business theory that suggests companies are better off gaining uncontested market space than competing with similar companies in a shark-infested red ocean. This luxury time in an incredibly inspiring environment, void of outside communication, helped move our minds into a visionary state.

 

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Heading north from Los Angeles and into the winding Central Coast back roads, we counted off mile after beautiful mile, earnest in anticipation of the beaconing coastal offerings found west of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Mythic in reputation, Big Sur seemed to be the ideal destination for our retreat. Recognized as one of the most beautiful coastlines anywhere in the world, simply put, this place is a motorcyclist’s dream come true. 

Ancient redwoods gently swing above the jagged coastline, casting shadows of enormous stature along the rocks and beaches below. With each twist and turn, the picturesque views never seemed to end. I could spend days going on about how special this region is, and with every stop we made, I could not stop talking about how incredibly grateful I was to be here. Enthusiasm was at an all-time high, and the incredible riding will be remembered in my dreams for years to come. 

 

"It was here in Big Sur that I first learned to say 'Amen'"

–Henry Miller

 

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Influence was abundant along the journey, and our core values surfaced many times throughout the trip. We believe in pursuing a life well ridden, and we stand by our beliefs. Our job is to inspire, relate and connect with our community through documented stories that come to life through our medium. Purpose, meaning and freedom are influences we hope to instill in others by way of example. This is how we measure success. Doing what we love and being able to share this life we have chosen is what fuels our efforts. 

 

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"One's destination is not a place, but a new way of seeing things."

–Henry Miller

 

There is something pure about drawing inspiration and putting it to work. That process is what allows us to keep drifting towards that blue ocean. And it’s something that we hope inspires others along the way.

 


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Read the story in Volume 011


Dauntless Violet


Anya Violet: A Fearless Pioneer for Women Who Ride

Words by Maggie Gulasey


  Photo by Colin Nearman

Photo by Colin Nearman

Within a lifetime, there are limitless paths laid before us, and we often choose (or avoid) the ones we believe to be the most rational, responsible, or admirable.  However, there are some roads we simply cannot resist, and even if we wish to ignore them, it is a guaranteed uphill battle to deny what flows through our veins.  

 

Whether it is the hardware with which we are made, the environment in which we are raised, or maybe a mixture of both, there are some things we are simply born to do, and then there are other talents we develop along the way.  It is how we use those innate abilities and acquired skills in conjunction with one another that chisel us into the individuals we are today.  Anya Violet cannot refute that motorcycles run in her blood – that and a love of adrenaline rushes, a general optimism toward human beings, and an overall appreciation for life.  However, it is what Violet has done with her predispositions that have set her apart from the rest. She has become an entrepreneur in the motorcycle industry, an ambassador for women who ride and an inspiration for carving your own path in life.  Whether she wishes to be or not, Violet is a pioneer for women who ride.  

 

  Photo by Jeff Stockwell

Photo by Jeff Stockwell

 

The environment in which we are born and raised has a way of laying the foundation for who are to become. For Violet, growing up in the small town of Atascadero, California, nurtured her love of the outdoors and optimism in human beings.  She explains,

 

“I think that growing up on the Central Coast played a huge role in making me who I am today.

 

Being a small-town kid, to me, meant spending a lot of time outside. There were no arcades, concert halls or amusement parks near my town, so we spent our time enjoying the natural environment on the Central Coast. My love for the outdoors and my creativity were born in my hometown for sure. There is always this really great atmosphere where everyone kind of knows each other and grows up together. It was a very happy and welcoming environment all together. I am a ‘yes’ person before I am a ‘no’ person, and I consider everyone to have good intentions until they prove otherwise to me. These are two specific characteristics that I think I adopted from where I grew up that I don’t always see outside of small towns.”

 

  Photo by Michael Beck

Photo by Michael Beck

 

If growing up in a small town laid the groundwork for Violet’s desire for being active outside, then it was her family who acted as the catalyst for her motorcycle passion and racing dirt bikes at a young age. She was born into a household that not only embodied an undeniable love for the two wheels, but also an everlasting support system, always encouraging Violet to go after whatever it was that excited her. The fact that Violet was a young girl participating in a traditionally male-dominated sport was insignificant to her supportive family and community – it only mattered that she was pursuing something she loved: “I do think, in general, that women tend to be more careful with themselves than men and not participate in dangerous activities as much. This probably does have biological links that could be traced back, but I am no scientist.

 

There have definitely been adventurous, adrenaline-fueled women since the dawn of time, but they didn’t always get their chance to leave their mark on history.

 

For me, it was never really a big deal that I was a girl that raced motocross. No one ever made a big fuss about it at all. There was a solid group of girls and women that rode and raced in my community. I never gave it much thought as a kid; all I knew was that I loved the feeling of racing and pushing myself as a rider. I am a really competitive person and I do my best when I am on the edge of my comfort zone, so I think I just tried to get to that point as often as I could, and racing was a great outlet for that. 

 

 

Another big factor for me was how supportive my family was. My dad didn’t ride dirt bikes, but he would come to all my races and was super proud of me in all the activities I did. The fact that my mom rode and raced too only further instilled in me that it was just not that rare or special that I was a girl that liked to ride. My parents never pushed me into traditionally feminine or masculine activities.”

Fueled by a mother who raced motocross, Violet could not overlook the fact that motorcycles lit the fire within.  She recalls, “My mom rode dirt bikes as a young kid, and it was her that got me in to it. After not riding for many years, my mom got back into riding dirt bikes with her then-husband. We would all go camping and riding together; my sisters and I all shared this 1980s Z50 and took turns ripping it around the campsites. Neither of my sisters were really that interested, but I instantly fell in love with it. For me, it was the feeling of independence and adventure. My mom and I started racing motocross in a local circuit, and I just really enjoyed the adrenaline that comes with racing a dirt bike. I quickly graduated from the 50cc to a 1989 Honda CR80, then a 125cc.”

 

  Photo by Colin Nearman

Photo by Colin Nearman

 

Growing up racing dirt bikes instilled an unwavering passion for motorcycles, and despite an intermission in her riding, Violet eventually took to the streets. She explains, “I sold my 125cc dirt bike when I moved away to college and did not ride a motorcycle again until I was 25 years old. Those years of going through college and trying to start a career don’t really leave a lot of room for expensive hobbies. I have always wanted a street bike. I will never forget the first time I saw a Triumph Bonneville when I was, like, 16 years old visiting San Francisco. I was in love. By the time I was 25 years old, I was pretty well into my career and was able to afford to buy my first bike: a 1978 Yamaha XS 350. His name was Jimmy, and I outgrew him very fast. But it was buying that first bike that reignited my love of riding. I also had met a great group of people that rode, including my boyfriend, Evan.

 

For me, having a community to ride with was important and played a big role in me getting back on two wheels.” 

 

 

Whether it was the dirt or street, Violet was immersed in a community of riders that cultivated a welcoming and encouraging environment for her.  It is not surprising that she would then return the favor and create a similar space for other women who ride.  Though it may have started as a fluke, Violet took her deep-seated admiration for motorcycles and became the co-creator of what is now one of the most popular women-only motorcycle gatherings, Babes Ride Out.         

“Babes Ride Out started accidentally in October 2013. Ashmore Ellis and I planned a camping trip and thought we would invite the handful of other women we knew rode. One shitty Instagram flyer later, we found ourselves reaching out to a bunch more women and featuring them on a WordPress blog that we made as way of getting to know some of the riders who were coming to the campout. The day of the event, originally called ‘Babes in Borrego,’ we thought maybe 10-15 women would show up, and there ended up being 50 from all over. We were shocked and kind of nervous because the camp spot was a few miles down a dirt road on a dry lake bed in the middle of nowhere, with no bathrooms. Needless to say, we had an absolutely amazing time! It was such a mixed group of amazing women, and they all encouraged us to keep it going. We moved the event to Joshua Tree, and five years later we are looking at nearly 2,000 women. 

 

  Photo by Heidi Zumbrun

Photo by Heidi Zumbrun

 

The idea behind the event has stayed the same. It’s really simple: good times, good friends, two wheels! It’s just about having fun adventures and meeting more riders.

 

As the event and community has grown, we have taken on a lot more responsibility, some we are prepared for and some we are not. It is a learning experience like nothing I could have imagined. It has definitely taken on a life of its own, and Ashmore and I are just here to help it on its way. My goals are to provide a really fun experience for women who love to ride motorcycles, encourage people to become more skilled riders, and for it to be as commonplace to see a woman on a bike as it is to see a man. We are getting there!”

Since its creation, thousands of women have participated in this desert gathering.  Packed full of women who thrive in the community Violet and Ellis have fostered, the event’s success makes it obvious that the founders have tapped into something meaningful for women who ride. Because their event has struck a chord among women all over the world who share a passion for motorcycles, the ladies have been able to expand their meet-up to include an annual East Coast event, as well as a dirtbike faction called Babes in the Dirt.      

 

  Photo by Geneveive Davis

Photo by Geneveive Davis

 

Along with her fondness for motorcycles, Violet was born and raised with the knack for creativity. She says,

 

“At this point I am inspired by the utility and by the versatility of self-expression. I have always been a creator of sorts, and I have always liked to work with my hands. I started sewing when I was a kid and have always loved the idea of being able to wear my creations. I think that what a person wears can be a very important form of expression for people, and I like contributing to that outlet.”  

 

Violet observed there was an area sorely lacking for women who ride: safe, functional and fashionable motorcycle gear. With her creative inclinations driving her and a strong desire to resolve this dilemma, Violet, along with two of her fellow lady riders, created ATWYLD.  

 

  Photo by Michael Beck

Photo by Michael Beck

 

Inspired by the void and built for the voyage, ATWYLD is made for the modern woman who rides. Violet explains,

 

“The inspiration for ATWYLD came from the community of women that we ride with. There were so many riders that simply did not wear gear or protective apparel because there was nothing that they had found that fit them or reflected their personal style in any way.

 

Why should someone be stripped of their personality when they put riding gear on? Myself, Corinne Lan Franco and Jamie Dempsey were on a ride up Angeles Crest, and we had stopped for lunch and got to talking about this issue. We were all three wearing fashion leather jackets and regular jeans with zero protective qualities. There was a clear void in the market, which is why we decided to fill it. There are great options on the top tier of protection but there wasn’t anything that looked and felt like regular streetwear but had Kevlar, armor or leather for protection, especially not for women. And so, ATWYLD was born!”

 

Violet, Lan Franco and Dempsey were not only astute enough to recognize the void that existed for female riders, but ambitious enough to do something about it.  The ATWYLD team is setting a precedent for the way we perceive form and function for women’s riding gear.  

 

  Photo by Colin Nearman

Photo by Colin Nearman

 

On any given day, you might find Violet riding her beautiful Triumph Bonneville T100 or exploring the California trails on her Husqvarna FE 250. Or, she might be working away on planning the next Babes Ride Out event or an ATWLYD project. No matter what she is doing, though, Violet has definitely carved her own path in life.  The way she was raised may have encouraged her devotion to motorcycles, community and creativity.  However, what makes Violet a leader for women who ride is what she has done with her predispositions. With a strong work ethic and positive attitude, she has assembled her passions into inventive avenues that benefit and support the community she loves – qualities of a true pioneer.

 


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Read the story in Volume 011


Always Pioneering


The Release of Husqvarna's Vitpilen 701

Words by Andrew Campo | Video by Jimmy Bowron


 

Every journey starts with the first step and in regards to my recent trip to Barcelona for the global release of the Husqvarna VITPILEN 701, that first step dates back nearly three years ago when I walked through doors of Husqvarna Museum while visiting Sweden in May of 2015. 

We were there on assignment for Volume 004 and would spend a couple of days exploring the brands history, touring the country on new enduro models and spending time with the core of the brand as representatives from across the globe had gathered in Jönköping to focus on the brands strategy and future. 

It was here that I learned of the brands early success in road racing and got to witness first hand the incredible machines that propelled Husqvarna to regular visits atop the podium in the 1933 and 1934 road race seasons. A tradition that has endured over the past 80 years of racing. Witnessing this history first hand coupled with the insight of the brands future vision for the street market by way of the introduction of the VITPILEN and SVARTPILEN concept models resonated deep inside. I had fallen in love with a motorcycle that I would not get to ride for years to come.

The VITPILEN 701 was incredibly simple in its design, reduced of any unnecessary excess and at first glance unlike anything I had seen before. It was simple. It was progressive.

Later that year I was fortunate enough to attend the VITPILEN 701 concept release in Milan and my love for this motorcycle continued to grow. The bike was the talk of the show and beyond as chatter of this mysterious machine began to surface amongst my peers and the motorcycle community alike. It was now just a waiting game that was interrupted from time to time with breathtaking concept teases like the VITPILEN 401 AERO THAT features an aerodynamically-styled fairing that creates a look that is simply breathtaking.

I will make no bones about it, this is a love story about man and machine. A story built upon appreciation for design, innovation, progression, and pioneering spirit that has spanned far past a century.

Barcelona was were we would meet at last and it could not have happened in a better location. A city abundant with history, coupled with incredible futuristic architecture created an apparent parallel with the VITPILEN 701 and Husqvarna’s monumental brand history.

The approach was not to make a bike for a certain type of person but rather to make one for any kind of person; thus, opening up an entirely new gateway into the world of motorcycle culture.

Welcome to the gateway.

 

 

Husqvarna's Bold Return to Street

Story by Ben Giese, originally published in Volume 005

 

 The Husqvarna factory road race team | Saxtorp, Sweden, 1934

The Husqvarna factory road race team | Saxtorp, Sweden, 1934

 

The turn of the 20th century marked the beginning of an exciting new era. The Industrial Revolution of the 1800s had kicked humanity’s flair for innovation into overdrive, and the world around us was transforming quicker than ever. The formative years of the early 1900s were packed with groundbreaking discoveries like Einstein’s theory of relativity, the world’s first motion pictures, and the Wright Brothers’ first flight. In the factories, Henry Ford’s Model T would make way for the first production assembly line, revolutionizing industry across the globe and finally making the automobile an affordable commodity. It was a transformative time in history, as new and accessible transportation had given fresh life to the idea of Manifest Destiny. With railway systems connecting cities across the globe, electric trams, and bicycles, people were moving faster than ever. By 1903, with the pioneering spirit the brand has become synonymous with, Swedish bicycle company Husqvarna would join the movement, unveiling their first “motorized bicycle” and marking the beginning of a legendary journey as a motorcycle manufacturer. 

Throughout the following decades, the motorized bicycle would evolve into a range of motorcycles that were sold for transportation and for military use. Husqvarna’s major breakthrough finally came in 1929, when civil engineer and motorcycle racer Folke Mannerstedt joined the team. Mannerstedt was a pioneer, a visionary with one goal in mind: to develop a four-stroke motorcycle engine suitable for racing. Up until this point, Husqvarna had been using a dated English-style single-cylinder engine. Mannerstedt’s vision was to create a V-twin engine with displacements ranging between 350cc and 1000cc to race in all categories, from the International Six Days Enduro to the infamous Isle of Man TT and everything in between. Mannerstedt’s plan was to further develop the Husqvarna motorcycles through racing and ultimately sell more consumer road bikes. By 1930, he would lead a newly formed race team to the famous TT races in Saxtorp, Sweden, where the Swedish riders would walk away with a respectable third-place finish and Husqvarna’s racing heritage was born.

 

 Ragnar Sunnqvust |  Djurgårdsloppet, Finland, 1936

Ragnar Sunnqvust | Djurgårdsloppet, Finland, 1936

 Folke Mannerstedt

Folke Mannerstedt

By 1931, Mannerstedt had been further improving and developing the factory machines, and the team went on to collect more than 180 victories that year. The factory road-race team was led by veteran Gunnar Kalén, a superstar personality with a successful past in motorcycle racing. Kalén’s teammate was a young gun by the name of Ragnar Sunnqvist. Sunnqvist’s career in racing began at the age of 16, when he stole his parents’ checkbook and bought his first motorcycle. His wild riding style gave him a daredevil persona, and his “win or bust” approach often left him either standing at the top of the podium or getting carried off the track. From 1932 to 1934, the Husqvarna riders established themselves as the world’s greatest race team, and the brand’s international clout followed suit as the Swedish riders continued to dominate over the legendary British teams on the European circuit. The superstar duo of Kalén and Sunnqvist seemed to be unstoppable. 

But the trouble with reaching the tip-top is that there is nowhere to go but down. Murphy’s law came into play on a disastrous day at the 1934 German Grand Prix, a day that will live in infamy forever for Husqvarna. The unfortunate events began in practice, when Sunnqvist hit a patch of oil on the tarmac, slamming him to the ground and earning him a trip to the hospital. The doctor insisted that he withdraw from the race, but of course that simply wasn’t an option for the die-hard Sunnqvist. The race started as Sunnqvist took the early lead with teammate Kalén close in tow. Veteran Kalén would soon work his way around Sunnqvist, but shortly after taking the lead, he made an uncharacteristic mistake that caused him to go down in a devastating crash. Kalén’s injuries were catastrophic, and he passed away in the wreck. The incident made conditions extremely difficult for Sunnqvist to carry on, but he charged onward, racing in honor of his fallen teammate—only to have his motorcycle die 150 meters before the finish line. In a race where only four out of 30 riders finished, Sunnqvist pushed his broken motorcycle down the final stretch. Overcome with exhaustion, he passed out just moments after crossing the finish line. Following the tragic events in Germany, the board of directors at Husqvarna decided to pull the plug on the factory road-race program. Mannerstedt eventually left the factory, marking the end of an era.

 

 Engleska TT, 1936

Engleska TT, 1936

 

The dominance of Mannerstedt’s road-race team was reminiscent of the fighting spirit the Husqvarna brand was founded on more than 200 years prior as a weapons manufacturer. Following the events of 1934, motorcycle sales plummeted in the midst of the Great Depression, and the subsequent outbreak of World War II saw consumer sales of motorcycles drop even further. But it’s that fighting spirit that pushed Husqvarna through the trying decade, and the brand was once again revived by a spark of pioneering innovation. Following the war, Husqvarna hit another turning point with the release of the iconic “Silverpilen”: a small, lightweight machine that would help trigger the sport of off-road racing. “Scrambles” became popular across Europe and England, a cultural revolution that eventually arrived in America with the sport of motocross. 

The 1960s and 1970s were the golden era of motocross, an exciting time for Husqvarna that was highlighted by Mannerstedt’s triumphant return. The racing heritage that was founded in 1929 with the road-race team would see the next chapter unfold as Mannerstedt developed an all-new 500cc four-stroke engine. This new design was the beginning of the brand’s most successful motocross era and led to many prosperous decades as a leader and pioneer in off-road racing.

Throughout the following years, the brand’s street heritage would be overshadowed by enormous success in the off-road market, but after 113 years of development, the future vision is clear. That pioneering spirit instilled by Mannerstedt and his elite road-race team is coming back with a vengeance as new boundaries are broken and the next chapter unfolds with a bold return to street. The next generation of Husqvarna motorcycles is a resounding success, with minimal and progressive engineering designed for a more honest and thrilling riding experience. After witnessing prototypes of the 401 Vitpilen and Svartpilen models, and watching the award-winning Vitpilen 701 come to life in front of us, it’s clear: Perfection is not about more or less, but about precisely enough. There is a fine line between too much and too little, and with the new Husqvarna street bikes, you can finally ride that line. 

 

Lotawana


Independent Filmmaking, Living Creativley & Letting Go with Trevor Hawkins & Todd Blubaugh

Words by Ben Giese


 

In our idealistic concept of the American Dream, life should be better, richer and fuller for everyone. Our modern Land of Opportunity provides more access to information and greater tools for creativity than ever before, but somehow it has become increasingly more challenging to live outside the box and carve your own path through life. Society has created a strict set of rules to live by and structured guidelines to follow. But does it have to be this way? Do we have to live by this formula and fall into this trap, or can we rewrite our own rules of modern existence?

Filmmaker Trevor Hawkins explores these ideas in his beautiful new cinematic masterpiece, Lotawana.  In the feature film starring our friend Todd Blubaugh, empty materialism and the constraints of modern culture have pushed an unfulfilled young man on a voyage of discovery. Escaping to nature by living aboard a sailboat on a rural Missouri lake, he is seeking something more, something beautiful, something real. After setting sail on this journey, he promptly catches wind of a rebellious and free-spirited young woman, and their idealistic dreams align. As they let go, they fall head-first into the ambitious, yet unprepared, idea of leaving their old world far behind. 

This is a very relevant conversation for our generation, and Trevor has poured his heart and soul into producing an inspirational film. He has risked everything to follow his intuition, feed his creativity and bring this movie to life. 

Complete trust in the path you’ve chosen and confidence in your vision is an admirable thing. Our pal Todd is very much the same – a talented photographer, writer, motorcycle builder, creative thinker and ramblin’ spirit who has even published his own book.  I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for these two and the lives they have chosen, and these admirable traits become self-evident when watching Lotawana.

For Volume 011, I interviewed Trevor and Todd to learn more about the inspiration behind this story, the challenges of independent filmmaking, and how youth, love, rebellion, nostalgia, freedom and wanderlust are woven throughout.


Read the story in Volume 011


Way-Out


Tyler Bereman

Words by Brett Smith | Photos & Video by Sebastien Zanella


 

They were thinking exactly what he thought they might be thinking: “Who the f#ck is this guy?” It was the fall of 2010, and a group of freestyle riders were at Ocotillo Wells, a popular Southern California riding spot filled with cliffs, hips and ledges. The group was led by Jeremy “Twitch” Stenberg, who is now a 16-time X Games medalist. He was shooting for 420%: All Natural, a movie composed entirely of riding natural terrain. 

Tyler Bereman, a blond-headed teenager, showed up with Andy Bakken, then a representative for Answer Racing. Bereman had #653 on his number plates and was still riding the high from a college boy title at the Amateur National Motocross Championship at Loretta Lynn’s that summer. Although he’d grown up as the son of a flat-track racer and didn’t race motocross until he was 10, all he’d ever wanted to do was jump. He’d never, however, ridden anything like this, and that became painfully obvious when he took his first crack at an 85-foot gap known as the Pole Line Step Up.

“He came up so short,” Twitch says. “He cased the step up so hard, and I remember thinking, ‘This kid is going to kill himself!’”

Shortly after, the crew migrated to a different, more technical gap jump. While they were scoping it out, Bereman rolled up and claimed he was going to hit it backwards. “I don’t even want to watch this go down,” Twitch says he said to himself. There was no safety deck around the landing, and if he came up short this time, a price would be paid. After a half dozen runs at it to gauge speed, he committed and landed perfectly.  

“He absolutely greased it. I was a fan of the kid from then on,” Twitch says. Bereman made the film, and subsequently, many more. Still, the question lingers for most people: Who the f#ck is Tyler Bereman?


Way-Out.jpg

Read the story in Volume 011


Accidental Legend


Long Haul Paul: Riding a Million Miles for the Cure

Words by Paul Pelland | Photos by Matt Kiedaisch


 

As I slid down a lonely Arkansas highway just as the sun’s warmth was cresting the horizon, I couldn’t help but think this may not have been one of my better ideas. If I managed to live through the next few seconds, not only would the entire world know I was an idiot, I would have one hell of a long walk home.

I slid on my chest in slow motion, my motorcycle just a few feet ahead of me shedding pounds by the foot, marring the pavement while creating a fantastic light show. Bright, colorful sparks, the likes of which no Japanese bike could ever create.

The bike was veering toward the right shoulder like an obedient pigeon, and I dragged my right boot like a rudder to follow it to its familiar home, the breakdown lane. 

Every believing biker knows tractor-trailers would never be allowed to drive past the pearly gates, so inhaling the mingled stench of burnt asbestos-flavored dust and decade-old recycled tread was a welcome relief I savored as if it were a fresh-baked blueberry pie. The 18-wheeler was the only other vehicle on the highway, and the out-of-tune screeching of brittle rubber composed the string section that accompanied the light show. 

 

The year was 2001, and although I had yet to show any of the progressive disabling symptoms of having multiple sclerosis, I was riding a motorcycle that most certainly did. 

 

 

It wasn’t the first time I shouted, “You Commie bastard!” But this time it was forceful enough to fog my face shield. I realized for the first time in almost two years of planning that my attempt to ride a Russian Ural in the Iron Butt Rally was insane, absurd and appeared to be grinding itself to an embarrassing finale. As the Earth beneath me stopped rotating, the sparks fizzled out, and the music died. 

The show was over. Nothing to see here. My attempt at finishing the World’s Toughest Motorcycle Competition was ending in the gutter. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. 

Within hours of the starting pistol, I had experienced a seized motor and the joy of a 150-mile tow in the wrong direction. A stranger with matching DNA transplanted his personal bike’s engine into my frame to help get me back on the road. Not bothering to do a proper test run on the older engine, I rode all night with a rough running motor and electrical issues, including no taillights. After a half hour’s rest in a dingy truck stop, I wasted four hours just trying to start the bike, alternating kicking and swearing with resting and praying before it haphazardly coughed to life. And now, a series of dips in the road caused the front end of my overloaded combative camel to oscillate into a crunchy wobble that intensified into a tank slapper and spit me off.

 

“If life were easy, everyone would get one.” 

 

 

Although the asphalt-polished motor, now spewing oil from a ripped-open valve cover, had been salvaged from the good Samaritan, I had started the event on a very special, completely redesigned Ural Solo. It was one of only two specimens in the country and the very first 750cc model registered in the United States. It had electric start and electronic ignition. I was a sponsored rider – albeit reluctantly, as my request for support was originally responded to by the head of Ural America with, “We’re sorry, Paul, but no one in our office thinks our bike could actually finish the Iron Butt Rally.”  

I’m not sure why I didn’t see that as a red flag. 

It was my first time riding in the World’s Toughest Motorcycle Competition, and I was able to secure a coveted entry spot only after offering to do so on quite possibly the world’s most unreliable motorcycle. At the time my offer was accepted, I did not own a Ural motorcycle and, in fact, I had never even seen one in person!

The Iron Butt Rally is a scavenger hunt on steroids. It runs for eleven days, and the average rider will log over 11,000 miles criss-crossing the country in search of obscure roadside attractions for bonus points. It is not a race, and winning is never about speed. It is about proper planning, routing, fuel management, and proper receipt and recordkeeping, as well as constantly being able to adjust the plan on the fly. It’s about sleep management, and proper diet. It is a thinking game, with unforeseen choices, challenges and obstacles. Most riders choose the latest high-tech touring bikes and outfit them with all the latest gadgets and electronic goodies to prepare for such a grueling test of man and machine. 

Exactly 100 of us left the starting line with hopes and dreams – a few to win the event, some to place in the top ten, and the rest just hoping to make it to the finish. The grueling event runs every other year and draws hardcore long-distance riders from all over the world. More humans have travelled in space than have finished an Iron Butt Rally.

 

At this particular moment, the finish line might just as well have been on mars.

 

Getting up and dusting myself off, I conceded that my ride, my adventure, my attempt at finishing the Iron Butt Rally was indeed over. With the exception of cigarettes and chronic masturbation, I’ve never been successful at quitting anything. Although I was the butt of every other rider’s joke and even scorned for taking away a coveted spot a real rider could have occupied, I was seriously trying to put forth an honorable effort. I was the only one on the planet who thought I had a shot at finishing, not to mention even making the first checkpoint. Creating a contingency plan was like accepting failure was a possibile outcome, so I had none. I scanned the terrain for a remote area where one could drag a motorcycle, scrape off its serial numbers and leave it to die.

As I checked myself over for missing limbs, I could have sworn on a Bible it had been a week since I left the starting line. The face of my watch joined in the global mockery, as I shook it violently in disbelief. Are you f-ing kidding me?

 

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Just 24 hours had passed since the eleven-day rally had begun. 

 

My esophagus hardened as I swallowed a burlap sackful of cinder blocks. My heart was racing; I felt a wave of anger penetrate every muscle from my ankles up. For my own protection, I don’t carry a pistol. I did, however, have my Russian persuasion instrument in hand and was about to hammer intercontinental bodily harm when I saw the flashing blue lights of the Arkansas State Police. 

The trooper looked at me leaning over my borrowed motorcycle steaming in a pool of oil and asked me what had happened. He listened patiently to my story. Without even asking for identification or papers, he offered a simple suggestion.

 “Why don’t you see if you can fix it, and continue your ride to California.” 

The idea that the heap of mangled metal was rideable never crossed my mind, and certainly the thought of being able to stay in the rally would not have occurred to me on my own. I was doubtful, time was running out, reality was settling in and fear was growing. Fear of what an additional ten more days struggling aboard this antiquated piece of recycled tank turret might do to my body, my mind and my soul. I agreed to give it a try.

My uniformed enabler stayed with me while I picked up the pieces of my motorcycle, duct-taped the windshield and JB Welded the side of the motor. I straightened the handlebars as best I could, and eventually tried to kickstart the bike. It started. I was worried that all the oil had escaped from the hole in the motor and asked the officer if he could radio a tow truck to bring me some oil. I clearly explained I didn’t care what it might cost. 

He took a few moments, but when he returned from his patrol car, I inquired about the oil. He shook his head. “The service station wanted too much money.” I started to argue, but he quickly added, “Oh, don’t worry, I called my wife at home, she’s going to the store right now to get two quarts of 20-50 weight oil and will meet us up here on the highway.” 

I love a man in uniform.

 

 

Just two hours after the crash and an all-but-certain DNF, the Angels of Arkansas had me moving down the road, back in the rally, heading to the West Coast with renewed hope and determination to prove everybody wrong. My progression and digression was relayed to the event organizers a couple of times a day or every breakdown, whichever occurred first. Only after the rally did I understand how my brutally painful experiences were sucking up a multiplying audience, anxiously waiting for my next train wreck. I was the funny pages of the Iron Butt press and the headlines of day two’s official rally report read, “Team Lazarus rides again.” 

The unwilling Ural and I continued to wrestle over the next 24 hours with a second tow off the freeway in California, a stripped rocker arm shaft, a charging system failure, intermittent electrical shorts and loose wires. We were sucker-punching each other, bloody and fighting like brothers, when we limped into the Washington checkpoint. All harsh words were quickly forgiven, as Ural America was meeting me and would be repairing the damaged bike. The only other 750cc motor in the country, the one used for EPA testing, became the third engine bolted into my bike. 

It was day seven, and only the checkpoint in Maine stood between me and the Alabama finish line. With a fresh motor, steering head bearings (which apparently had fallen out, causing my crash) and other repairs completed, I felt I was in great shape and wanted to attempt a few of the bigger bonuses, particularly the ones in Alaska. 

Both my Russian pit crew and the rally staff strongly urged me to head directly to Maine. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. I was informed more people were interested in reading about my misadventures on the Ural than the riders who were actually winning the rally.

 

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“You have to finish, Paul, because some of us are secretly betting you just might.” 

 

It was sound advice. Twelve hours later, my new high-tech, redesigned Russian weapon and I were having words in a pull-off area as I disassembled the left cylinder head for the 56th time in the dirt. I had already lost the luxury of electric start, as it now required removing and banging the pinion gear back into its resting position every time I accidentally used the pretty little button. 

Unfortunately, this unplanned rest break was more serious. A poke at the pushrods explained the jingling noises and loss of power. One of the rods spun in an oblong orbit. Bent rod. The cell signal was weak, but the advice from the Russian head mechanic to remove the rod and bang it straight on a rock with a hammer seemed clearly logical. After removing the rod, I discovered the hardened tip had actually snapped off the aluminum shaft. The intake pushrod was broken in two impossible pieces. I quickly called back Ural’s “Golden Hands” Alex on my cellphone. Again, the factory-recommended procedure for my predicament seemed legit. “No problem,” he said, pausing his stout Russian accent,

 

“Just find metal, make pushrod.”

 

Knowing the odds of finding a pushrod for the new 750CC Russian motorcycle engine on the side of the road in Wyoming were unfavorable, I gave up looking and knelt beside my enemy praying for vodka rain. I was quite a long way from anywhere.  Looking through my 200 pounds of spare parts, tools and prayer beads, I got an idea. I knew duct tape would probably not hold the broken pushrod together, but JB Weld just might. Inhaling the aroma of brilliance as I stirred the two parts of epoxy with a coat hanger, I painstakingly glued together the inner workings of my valve train, crafting my way out of yet another sure-bet DNF. 

 

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The pasted-together pushrod lasted 50 miles before the left jug ceased working again. I was limping along at a top speed of 20 miles an hour, this time praying to be hit by a semi. The drone of the one working cylinder began to take on a very curious verse.

 “GU-HUM, GU-HUM, GO-HUM, GO-HUM, GO-HOME, GO-HOME, GO-HOME!”

Depression, anger, anxiety, fear, spitefulness, a bit of hunger and a serious rash on my ass created a perfect storm that could have resulted in any number of felonious outcomes. Fortunately, it did not. Instead, this rally, this day, this particular moment in my life helped shaped who I am, and continues to give me strength to believe in myself at the most difficult and trying times. It was one of those moments.

I stood up on my foot pegs, raised my face shield, and screamed louder than humanly possible, “I WILL NOT GIVE UP, AND I WILL NOT GO HOME, YOU COMMIE BASTARD!” With a grease pencil, I scribed I WILL NOT GIVE UP across my windshield and vowed that no matter what, I was going to make it across the finish line of the World’s Toughest Motorcycle Competition. I just needed a new plan.

Limping into Rawlings, Wyoming, I devised a plan that didn’t include giving up. Look where you want to go and lean (as hard as possible at 20 mph) into the turns. I charged up and down the aisles of a True Value hardware store with Black Friday vigor. I purchased a couple of long, hardened drill bits, and with the unauthorized use of a grinder I spotted in the back room, I fabricated two brand new Ural pushrods. 

 

“Find metal, make pushrod”  

 

Who says I never follow the factory maintenance recommendations?

 

 

Despite a fistful of additional breakdowns, I made it to Maine on time and eventually across the finish line in Alabama, placing 86th in the incredible Iron Butt Rally. I truly had no idea my finishing such an event on such an unreliable antiquated machine would become such folklore, nor did I realize at the time how valuable the lesson was for me. I now travel the country using the story to explain what it is like to go through life with a chronic disease or disability. It is never the bike or one’s body, but the rider, or inner strength and passion, that will get us through all of life’s potholes. I also use the adventure to inspire people with challenges to never give up and to continue to charge toward their goals, no matter what obstacles get in their way. Disease, illness or challenges in life should never confine or define who we are. 

 

 “You don't have to come in first to be a winner.”

 

Two years later, I found myself in first place in the points pulling into the Lake City Florida checkpoint. It was day four of the 2003 Iron Butt Rally, and I was piloting a dependable BMW R1100RT. I should have felt nothing but victory. Instead, I was scared and confused, was having trouble speaking and my hands were numb, and I couldn’t recall where I had been the day before. The rally staff was a bit alarmed at my condition and ordered me to skip the mandatory rider’s meeting and get some sleep. The next morning didn’t change anything. I was in a fog so deep, I couldn’t locate my motorcycle. I couldn’t write because both hands were still numb, and I had lost all dexterity in my right hand. I was unable to plan a good route for the next leg, so I just took off for a known sucker’s bonus in Key West. It was worth a lot of points, but because of traffic, was hard to make good time. I had no other choice. I hoped time in the saddle would help clear my head. 

I’m still waiting. 

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Despite finishing the rally in the top ten a week later, I retired from competing and withdrew from the long-distance community immediately following the event. I kept telling myself it was the harsh riding and stress of pushing myself that were causing my problems, but eventually I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. My experiences during the 2003 Iron Butt Rally had been my very first major attack. With physical and memory issues that were not going away, I sold my bikes and gave up riding motorcycles altogether. I sold my business, gave up on my hopes and dreams for the future and prepared for the absolute worst. 

Multiple sclerosis is a progressive autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the central nervous system. Damage to the coating surrounding the nerves in the brain and spinal cord interfere with the transmission of signals to the rest of the body, causing a wide range of symptoms.

(Imagine if you will, a Cold War-era motorcycle wiring harness made by a 5-year-old child in a sweatshop and then stored for decades in a mesh bag in the Dead Sea expecting to work properly in the frame of a new post-Soviet Union bike while engaged in an endurance competition. I’m truly not bitter.)

Multiple sclerosis targets more women than men, and is usually diagnosed between the ages of twenty and forty. Symptoms, severity and progression will differ for each person. Relapsing forms of the disease are most common where symptoms flare, then subside. Common symptoms can include fatigue, walking difficulties, numbness, spasticity, weakness, vision problems, bladder and bowel problems, pain, cognitive issues, depression and emotional changes. Although we have developed over a dozen disease-modifying medications that can slow the progression, to date we do not know what causes MS, and we do not have a cure.

 

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When passion and purpose collide

 

Seven years went by, and with medication that is slowing my disease progression, healthy living and a positive attitude, I started to realize I might be one of the lucky ones. My symptoms were manageable and I had learned how to compensate for the cognitive deficits with technology and quick wit. I struggled with finding a way I could help those who were suffering from more severe symptoms and progressing disability from this incurable disease. I heard a doctor tell a group of patients at an educational event that he thought a cure for MS was a million miles away. In my best Jim Carrey imitation, I quipped,  “So, what you are saying is, that a cure is possible?”

The idea struck me like a bug splattering my forehead, and five years ago my mission statement and purpose in life became crystal clear:

 

“I once was told a cure for MS was a million miles away, so I figured I would just go get it and bring it back”

 

Although I was unable to compete in rallies again because of the cognitive requirements, I realized I could still ride the hell out of a motorcycle and decided to make my diagnosis public by documenting a million-mile journey chasing the cure for multiple sclerosis. Convincing my wonderful wife that quitting my job, buying a motorcycle and some assless chaps and traveling the country sharing my story to people living with MS while drinking beers, shooting the shit and attempting dangerous feats on a motorcycle without any visible source of income was a smart idea, well, that took some time. 

By the end of 2013, I was speaking and challenging MS patients across the country to recalculate their own road by continuing to follow their passions and dreams no matter what they may be. I have since delivered over 250 presentations, written for various health and motorsport magazines, have set two world records and raised over $100K for MS research, all while logging 300,000 miles as an advocate across the country. 

My first Yamaha Super Tenere was retired with 172,000 miles on the clock and is on display at Barber Motorsports Museum. Last year, I logged 80,000 miles, quickly wearing out bikes, tires, riding gear and accessories at an accelerated pace. Motorcycle seminars, keynote presentations and fundraisers take up the rest of my time; I hold on to the belief that speaking fees will eventually offset my travel expenses. To keep my journey rolling, I am increasing my social media presence on Facebook, YouTube, and my own website. Stories from the road, meet-and-greets and seminars are all posted online. Like, subscribe, follow or get out of my way, because I am on a mission, a million-mile journey, riding every day possible and raising funds, awareness and a bit of hell along the way as I continue chasing the cure.


Read the story in Volume 011


Jeremy McGrath


The Weight of Perfection

Words by Brett Smith | Photos by Aaron Brimhall


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“At one level he’s a simple study in proportions, but at another he’s the expression of an ideal: a human figure whose body is the world, whose mind is its spirit, and whose being represents the power and order of the heavens brought down to Earth. His spread-eagled figure haunts the circular layout of Roman temples and cities, the full span of the globe, even the cosmos itself.” 

—Toby Lester on Vitruvian Man from his book Da Vinci’s Ghost

 

Even the Vitruvian Man wasn’t perfect. Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic drawing is accepted today as a credible image of the ideal proportions of the human body. Based on the work of the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius, Vitruvian Man—a 13.5 x 10-inch pen-and-ink drawing circa 1490—represents the measure of all things. Da Vinci showed that a well-built man with arms and legs fully extended fits perfectly into a circle and a square. But da Vinci had to manipulate the shapes to make him fit. The center of the circle is positioned at his navel, while the center of the square is lower. 

One spring day in 1996, the ideal man of supercross fell short of perfection, and the rest of the world won’t let him forget it. 

 

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On April 27, 1996, Skip Norfolk blew it. Almost 20 years later, he repeats himself ad nauseam in recounting one of the more sour memories in his career as a race mechanic for Jeremy McGrath.

 

"I didn't do my job..."

“I let the guy down…”

“I wasn't able to…”

“I failed him.” 

 

McGrath only recently learned of this burden Norfolk has carried around for two decades. He had no idea his mechanic blamed himself for the 1996 St. Louis supercross loss, the only blemish in a season where McGrath won 14 out of 15 races, including a fourth consecutive championship. McGrath bristles at being asked to discuss the race. Although he’s most famous for his record seven championships and 72 main-event wins, when the 1996 season comes up, nobody asks him about how he dominated, or how he won Daytona for the first time, or led every lap in the wind and rain at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It’s always about the night that he took (sigh) second place. The philosophical argument about 1996 is this: What was more unusual, the fact that Jeremy McGrath had won the first 13 races or that there could be a night where he simply wasn’t the best rider? 

 

“I made a career doing the things that people thought I couldn’t,” McGrath said. “I was fortunate to be good enough to where that type of race—where I got second—was a miserable race. That’s a weird thing to say.”

 

McGrath dominated the ’96 season, but, as with any sports streak, he caught some breaks. In Seattle, he rebounded from a poor start and was passed by Damon Huffman three times for the lead. Attempting a fourth pass, Huffman stalled his bike and couldn’t catch McGrath again. In Indianapolis, Jeff Emig led comfortably at the halfway point, but, in an unforced error, washed out in a corner. What-if talk won’t change history, but it can be fun for discussion. What’s certain is McGrath was not the best supercross racer that one specific night in St. Louis. 

 

“So many things lined up wrong to go racing that day,” 

 

Norfolk says today. None of the parties involved can offer a detail that specifically caused the outcome of this race, but in a season where nothing could go wrong for McGrath’s team, suddenly there was a series of minute details that collectively didn’t seem right. 

Norfolk believes two types of spectators showed up that cool night at the end of April to what was then known as the Trans World Dome: those who wanted to see Superman triumph once more and those who wanted proof that Superman really was Clark Kent. St. Louis was the closest event Emig had to a hometown race in his professional career; raised 250 miles away in Kansas City, he bought a dozen tickets for family and friends, and the 36,717 spectators in attendance were clearly split in allegiance between the champ and the challenger. The 1996 race was the first-ever supercross in St. Louis, and the crowd was impressive considering that two other major sporting events were scheduled on the same day. Six-tenths of a mile to the south, an early-afternoon baseball game at Busch Memorial Stadium was played between the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals. At the same time as the gate drop for supercross Heat No. 1, the NHL’s St. Louis Blues and the Toronto Maple Leafs squared off 1 mile to the west in conference quarterfinal game six. With 20,777 fans, the Kiel Center was at 108 percent capacity. 

Back in the Trans World Dome, as the first heat race of the night was lining up, 1983 AMA Supercross Champion David Bailey was banging on the walls of the press-box elevator while Art Eckman sat waiting for him in the television booth overlooking the stadium floor. Bailey, ESPN’s supercross analyst at the time, was stuck and alone, and the emergency phone was either out of order or yet to be installed; Bailey can’t recall. What he does remember is that he was involuntarily quarantined for 71 minutes and may have missed the start of the race had it not been for Eckman, who figured it out. After being evacuated from the broken lift by the fire department, Bailey was brought into the TV booth, where Eckman sat with a friend, a gentleman in his mid-50s wearing a blue button-down and gray slacks and who also happened to be wearing a studio headset. 

“David, this is Bobby Cox,” Eckman said.

“Cool,” Bailey said as he tried to get into place, straighten his tie, and don his headset. Then he thought to himself, “Who in the hell is Bobby Cox?”

After the ESPN “Speedworld” opening sequence, the supercross telecast opened with Eckman introducing Bailey and special guest Cox, a casual supercross fan and the general manager of the 1995 World Series–winning Atlanta Braves. On air, Cox talked about how the 1982 Braves had also started their season with 13 consecutive victories, a record that has been matched since, but not broken.

“This streak here,” Cox said of McGrath’s own run of a baker’s dozen, “it almost seems impossible to me.” Cox, now a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, had accurate analysis, because three hours later his foreshadowing proved to be correct. 

 

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Gary Emig was excited. He thought his son’s bike looked faster coming out of the turns. Jeremy Albrecht didn’t understand how the elder Emig could eyeball something like that, but he didn’t question it because the mood at the Kawasaki truck was spirited. Despite being trounced by McGrath for 13 consecutive weekends, Jeff Emig still believed that he could win. Albrecht liked that about Jeff, and, being only 24 years old and in his first year as a factory mechanic, he did everything he could to please his rider and team. That week it was installing a power jet on Emig’s KX250, an electronic piece that shot fuel into the carburetor exactly when the engine needed it, typically when its fuel mixture was too rich. Albrecht said electronics were still very new in motocross and they had been testing the part for only two weeks. In practice, Emig had a minor get-off, but he was still upbeat; the track was rutted, the whoops—admittedly a huge weakness for him—were smaller and wouldn’t be much of a factor, and the support of family gave him good vibes. Emig remembers lining up in St. Louis with a tremendous amount of confidence. 

“I was always emotionally motivated,” he says. “Having [family there] inspired me to feel like I was on a date with destiny. I’m funny that way.”

In Heat 1, Emig took a tight line around the left-hand first turn and led all eight laps, but had constant pressure from Yamaha’s Doug Henry. It was Emig’s fifth heat-race win of 1996. McGrath won Heat 2, but spent the entire race chasing privateer Phil Lawrence while both Mike Craig and Larry Ward took turns poking at the champ. With 150 feet to go, McGrath shot by Lawrence for the win, but since his total for the heat was 7:39.830, he was 1.6 seconds shy of Emig’s victory time and would be lining up second in the main event. Emig set the fastest heat of the night only one other time that season. 

Two weeks prior to the St. Louis round, the AMA’s Duke Finch warned all the teams that parking at the new dome would be limited due to ongoing construction. Promoter Pace Motor Sports rented 14 loading-dock slots where the teams with 18-wheelers could park and work. Everyone else was advised to pack light because they would be pitted together inside an open area and had to carry in all their supplies. Team Honda was in their final season of operating out of box vans, and in St. Louis, Norfolk and McGrath set up their camp—a bike, toolbox, lawn chair, and gear bag—in the dank concrete underbelly of the stadium. McGrath was used to this type of setting from all the European races he’d attended, but in the States, with so much pressure building to earn a perfect season, Norfolk was uneasy because he didn’t feel like he was in control of his surroundings. 

 

“We were standing there naked in a sense,”

 

Norfolk says. In addition to maintaining McGrath’s bike every week, he typically ran interference and tried to make sure his rider had the space and time to mentally prepare each night. As the win streak lengthened, the interview and appearance requests ballooned, as did the number of fans and friends stopping by for face time with McGrath. Coming into 1996, McGrath was already by far the most popular rider in the sport. By the end of the season, his dominance had earned him—and the sport—coverage in USA Today, appearances on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and “RPM Tonight,” exposure via local news stations and dailies along each stop, and even a moment on “Hard Copy.” The promoters were also reaching out to “The Tonight Show.” Showtime was in high demand and Norfolk was working overtime to make sure his rider had space throughout race day. 

“It wasn’t up to McGrath to say no,” he says. “He was Superman. Saying no was my job. I just tied Superman’s shoes. That’s all I did. Jeremy had an unbelievable ability to focus and turn things off and on. He could mentally talk himself out of arm pump. That’s how strong he was.” The bike ran flawlessly in St. Louis, but Norfolk’s biggest regret from that night was not being able to create an environment where McGrath could mentally prepare. After the heat races, while Emig was sitting in the private warm lounge at the front of the Kawasaki trailer, studying film, McGrath was a sitting duck in the open-air paddock and was asked by Pace officials to meet with executives from Anheuser-Busch. They were trying to close the beverage giant as a series sponsor, and McGrath obliged. He left the paddock to walk, in full gear, to a room that he thought was nearby.

 

“That never happened,” McGrath says of the mid-program request. “It was a rare situation, but I’m a pleaser. I want to help everyone and then some.” The meeting was in a suite on the other side of the stadium. “It felt like 2 miles,” McGrath recalls. Moving around the most popular person at a gathering of nearly 40,000 is a painfully slow process, and by the time he came back to the bike, he had just enough time to change his gear before walking to the staging area for the main event. Norfolk didn’t get time to talk to McGrath about the bike or go over the heat-race film, and he was irked at himself for not trying harder to keep McGrath nearby. The promoters ultimately didn’t close the sponsorship deal, but six years later, Bud Light, an Anheuser-Busch brand, became the title sponsor of McGrath’s race team.

In the main, Emig had first gate pick, and McGrath, in a move that still baffles him, lined up to the inside of his rival. “I must have felt like I needed to be on the inside of Emig,” he says. “That wasn’t normal for me.” Since McGrath typically had the faster heat race, he was accustomed to seeing Emig line up to his left; he couldn’t control that. But when the roles were reversed, McGrath said he usually avoided being anywhere near Emig, who started well and had a tendency to drift out of the gate. Albrecht says that was often part of Emig’s strategy, and he was also puzzled when McGrath pulled into the inside. 

“I remember races where Jeff would cut a guy off on the start on purpose because that was the only way he was going to beat him,” Albrecht says. 

Because of moves like this, McGrath strongly disliked Emig. Although their relationship is cordial today, McGrath doesn’t edit himself when discussing his feelings toward the mid-’90s version of Fro: “His track etiquette was terrible. None of the riders like racing against him. He chopped everyone off.”

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Norfolk believed that McGrath usually had 17 of the other 19 riders beaten before the gate fell. Mike LaRocco and Emig were the exceptions, and Emig remained hopeful even though he still hadn’t won a race over McGrath in his five years in the premier class. “I had it in my mind that he was beatable,” he says. “It was not easy to be rivals. I appreciate now, at age 44, the struggles and having an adversary and challenger that was such a great champion. As painful as it was sometimes, without that intense rivalry with McGrath, I might not have ever reached the success that I did have.” Before the 30-second card went up, Emig sat stone-still on his bike while McGrath clapped his hands, rolled his head in circles, and rubbed his forearms. ESPN hooked up a microphone to Norfolk’s team headset so the TV audience could listen in to anything he said to McGrath. After the bikes had fired up, Norfolk reminded his rider that he needed only a holeshot and four hard laps and then he could coast: 

 

“You know who is on your right. You know where you need to be when the gate drops. Forget about your heat race.”

 

 

When the gate fell, Emig jumped out well and immediately shot to his left. Exactly as he did in the heat race, he hugged the inside of Turn 1 and rounded the bend in the lead. McGrath was about 10th around the first corner, but was fifth coming into Turn 3. He spent nearly the entire first lap trying to pass Ezra Lusk for fourth, and that was the last outright pass he made for the rest of the race. McGrath sat in fourth place until Lap 9, when Phil Lawrence, who was nipping at Emig for the lead, bounced awkwardly into a hay bale when he cross-rutted on a roller. On Lap 10, McGrath was third and trailing behind two of the most difficult riders to pass: Emig and Suzuki’s LaRocco, a rider who rarely started near the front. 

By the halfway point, Norfolk was in the mechanics’ area with a knot in his stomach. The fact that McGrath had sat in the same position for almost half the race—a position that wasn’t the lead—was foreign to him. He could see that his rider wasn’t on the balls of his feet, was making double foot dabs in the corners, casing small double jumps, losing traction coming out of the turns, and not riding like a four-time champion. Norfolk recalls,

 

“That was not Jeremy out there. You could see it in how he rode. That’s what hurt the most.” 

 

On Lap 12, the lead trio tightened up and McGrath blasted by LaRocco on the start straight when he picked up momentum in the corner after the finish line. LaRocco stayed close, pulled even over the triples, and McGrath glanced over from the inside. In the next corner, McGrath went for the middle of the 180-degree turn while LaRocco darted toward his front wheel. McGrath was slammed so hard by “The Rock” that both feet flailed off the pegs and he weaved to the other side of the track. LaRocco doesn’t remember the specific pass, but says, “Sounds like something I would have done.”

How McGrath’s night didn’t end right there is impressive. LaRocco then passed Emig in the same corner with a similar block, but led for only 150 feet. Two laps later, LaRocco hit Emig from the inside again, this time in a 90-degree corner, but came in at such a severe angle that his left leg popped off the right side of the bike. He remounted without falling, but McGrath swept by. McGrath had about six laps to pass Emig for the lead, but every time he came close enough to make a move, he’d case a jump or cross-rut and miss a double. The track was deteriorating and was heavily rutted and choppy. McGrath’s analysis is that Emig won a fair fight, but he feels that nobody rode very well that night. “It was a survival deal,” he says. 

While being interviewed, Emig pulls up the race on YouTube and offers a different take. “I didn’t make any mistakes from what I can see,” he says. “I didn’t let the emotions of the race affect me in a negative way.” Today, Emig feels loss aversion—the economic theory that people prefer avoiding loss rather than acquiring gain—can sum up his entire supercross career: “I was riding good but conservative out front because I had something to lose…again. I had been in that spot so many times.” 

For the final six laps, while McGrath yo-yoed in second place, Emig appeared not to notice what was going on behind him, but he says he’d be lying if he didn’t admit to keeping an eye on McGrath: “Why would you not? The guy has just won every race. Of course you’re looking out for him.”

 

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After losing his first AMA race since July 30, 1995, McGrath remembers feeling relief, but he was pissed that it was Emig who beat him. He wanted it to be anyone but Emig. Even though he tried to downplay the pressure of the perfect season, in his 2004 book, Wide Open, he said, “It was starting to get to me.” One of McGrath’s greatest qualities as an athlete was that he was confident enough to expect to win every single race, but when he didn’t, he wasn’t upset. Expectations, he says, can sour a career, and he made sure that winning didn’t become a burden. 

 

“At a certain point you get so tired of the expectations that you wish they would go away,”

 

he says of his observations of great champions in motorcycling and other sports. “You like winning, but you get tired of the expectations and retire. That’s about the only way that you can push the reset button.” 

Emig didn’t win another AMA race until May 26, the High Point National. In 1996, the supercross and motocross seasons still overlapped, and Rounds 2 and 3 of the MX series fell between St. Louis and the final round of supercross in Denver. McGrath won all three of those races, and Emig still remembers being on such a high in Denver that he didn’t care where he finished. “That one victory in St. Louis meant the world to me. It’s just one race out of hundreds, but it’s a race that I am very proud of.”

The perfect season was over; Cycle News was finally off the hook from conjuring clever headlines and Fox didn’t have the pressure to keep designing creative butt patches about the streak (“Str8,” “9 Lives,” “Hang 10”). But for Norfolk and former team manager Dave Arnold—being employees of Honda—the pressure to win was always prevalent. 

 

“If we didn’t win everything every day, even if it was a good excuse, I remember hearing about it,” Arnold says. “I’m not exaggerating. [Honda was] tough. They wanted to bitch slap the other manufacturers back in time.” 

 

McGrath doesn’t remember feeling that pressure to be perfect, but the team personnel were careful to shield him, and he also won more races than he didn’t. Norfolk, however, was devastated after St. Louis and he remembers nothing in the seven days between the checkered flag and the morning of the Hangtown National outside of Sacramento, California. The week was a complete fog, and at Hangtown he was directed to park on a camber that required him to do some digging for his truck to be level. It was Sunday morning—race day—and he completely lost it. Standing in the sun with a shovel in his hand, he fumed at the fact that he was being asked to park on a hill in the first place. Why wasn’t there more-level ground? 

 

“I felt like I needed to be perfect,”

 

he remembers, “and if I have to be perfect, everyone needs to be perfect. I remember losing it on a guy that was just trying to help me level my box van.”

 

 

By examination of the record books, the residual effects of the win in St. Louis were huge for Emig. The day before the final race in Denver, he did a video shoot with “MTV Sports,” an irreverent sports program that was interested in featuring the guy who finally beat McGrath. Emig went on to win 16 major AMA races through the end of 1997. He also won all three championships: the ’96 and ’97 250cc (now 450) Pro Motocross titles and the 1997 Supercross Championship. The next-highest win total was McGrath: nine wins, zero titles. 

McGrath chuckles about how the race Jeff Emig is most famous for winning is the same race he’s most famous for losing. He doesn’t blame anyone but himself for what happened in St. Louis, and he doesn’t believe there’s a hole in his résumé. The man already called Showtime later became the King of Supercross, probably the most honorable title anyone anywhere could have bestowed upon him. But kings are still human, and for one night, even this symbolic monarch of sport couldn’t force the cosmos back into order.


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Read the story in Volume 004


Steve Caballero


In the Blood

Words by Eric Shirk | Photos by Evan Klanfer & Eric Shirk


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When we as humans think of the word “addiction,” we tend to have a bad habit of immediately making a correlation to the abuse of potentially destructive substances such as drugs and alcohol. However, for a select few individuals in this world, addiction will be encountered in a form that could never be bought or sold. For these risk takers, soul seekers, life livers, or whatever you’d like to call them, the mundane is not an option. Maybe at one time they could have easily walked slowly and carefully toward their own demise, but not now. No way. That’s no longer an option. Because these select individuals are now hook, line, and sinker on what is possibly the most pwerful drug of all: the pursuit of radness.

Earlier this year I attended an event called “Skatercross” at Milestone MX in Riverside, California. In their own words, Skatercross is “a fun day of riding that welcomes pros from all walks of skateboarding to jump on a motorcycle and have some fun at the track”—basically “just a practice session filled with arm pump and bench racing.” As I pulled in through the gates, I began searching for the man who organized this event: Steve Caballero. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this name, at age 12 in the year 1976, Steve Caballero began his own lifelong pursuit of radness as he picked up a skateboard for the very first time. From that day forward, nothing would be the same.

 

From inventing tricks (the Caballerial) to being sponsored by one of the most influential skate brands of all time (Powell-Peralta) to creating one of the longest-lasting and most popular professional skateboarding shoe models of all time (the Vans Half Cab) and even just revolutionizing the style and finesse of riding a skateboard as a whole, Cab was hooked from day one and is one of the most legendary skateboarders of all time. 

 

So, that being said (and as much as I hate to admit it), I was definitely nervous to even approach the guy—especially since I was about to ask him if he’d be interested in being a part of the magazine that we all work so hard to put together. I mean, this dude has been one of my idols since I was a dirty little skate rat flipping through old Thrasher mags during middle school algebra class, cutting out the pictures to hang up in my room. Hell, just a few months ago I was skating the local pool by my house in Pennsylvania with my homies blaring “Skate and Destroy” by The Faction (the punk band that Caballero played bass and guitar for). What if he said no? Was I about to be denied by the same dude that I used to have a poster of on my wall when I was younger?

 

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Alright, so I’ll quit fanning out and get to the nitty-gritty already. As you can obviously imagine—considering you wouldn’t be reading this if it went the other way—Cab was rad. Not only was he immediately stoked to even be asked about being a part of the magazine, but he took the time to give me a Skatercross shirt and his contact info, then show me cell-phone photos of some of the art he’d been working on. The dude even kicked it with me and talked skating. So yeah, I was hyped, and we ended up making a plan to head out a few weeks later to shoot some photos for the mag and talk about the feature.

 

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“I took a six-year hiatus from mx, then caught the bug again,”

 

Cab told me as he took a break from riding during our photo shoot at the recently reopened Pala Raceway in Pala, California. Cab started riding moto in 2000 and ended up stopping in 2005, shortly after starting a family, out of fear of getting gravely hurt. “Stuff changes when you become a dad, and after seeing multiple people get seriously injured, it definitely worried me,” he told me. However, in 2011 Cab would break out the boots yet again and take on a fresh start to the same exact thing that he thought he’d quit for good. “My best friend, Salman Agah, encouraged me to get back into it, and by that time my wrist was itchin’ to twist some throttle!” Cab told me.

 

“Whether it’s skateboarding, riding, art, music, or anything I’m passionate about, I don’t think it’s possible to just quit completely. Not for me, anyways.”

 

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Even during the short amount of time I spent shooting photos with Caballero out at Pala Raceway, you could just tell how invested in and passionate he truly is about the sport of motocross. All day long he was saying things like, “Dude, did you see that guy whip? I want to learn to do that!” and “Man, I want to learn to hit corners like that guy over there!” So let’s put this into perspective: Here’s a 50-year-old man who has done pretty much everything there is to do on a skateboard, is viewed as an absolute legend across the entire skate community—and he’s worried about dragging bar in a corner or throwing a whip? “I’ll teach you how to whip if you teach me how to do 10-foot-high lien airs out of the deep end of a pool,” I told him jokingly. He just smiled, though, then laughed, and continued to study each and everyone’s riding technique as if he were hypnotized by the riders’ modus operandi.

Sooner than later, though, the day had come to an end. I’d gotten my photos, he’d gotten his shred on, and we’d both gotten covered in dust due to the dry California weather that can leave its track conditions less than perfect, to say the least. As he loaded up his KTM 350 into the back of his pickup truck, I noticed the skeleton graphic on his shrouds that appeared to be crawling out of the abyss. I’d obviously seen this logo before, and I immediately knew what it meant: Bones Brigade. The Bones Brigade was a 1980s misfit skate crew that had included who would go on to be some of the most legendary skateboarders in history, including Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen, Lance Mountain, and obviously Cab himself, just to name a few. But it wasn’t the crew that got me thinking; it was the graphics. This logo being on his motorcycle finally got me to realize after all this time that skateboarding and motocross are one in the same.

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I felt like an idiot. All my life I’d been skateboarding and riding motocross with the mindset that they’re two completely separate things. But, in the end, whether it’s a sport, hobby, art form, or anything that we are passionate about, they are all connected by the exact same thing. All of these things are linked by that one addiction that we all have to our passions. Through trials, tribulations, and difficult situations, once you’ve found your passion, there’s no letting go—no matter what it is. For Cab, whether it’s skateboarding, motocross, painting, or making music, it’s these portions of his life that continue to leave him compelled to keep learning as long as he’s still with us on this Earth.

 

He’ll never quit dreaming, he’ll never quit learning, and he’ll damn sure never quit living.

 

That’s why at 50 years of age, Caballero continues to live for that one pursuit that’s been impossible to let go since he first picked up that skateboard 38 years ago: the pursuit of radness. 

 

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So, this being said, thank you, Steve Caballero. Thanks for keeping it up after all these years, and continuing to inspire us all to never let go of what we’re passionate about. Because just as you’ve said so many times before,

“Once it’s in the blood, it never leaves you—no matter what.”


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Read the story in Volume 003


Dreams Prevail


Roland Sands

Photos by Brandon Harman | Words by Donny Emler


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Perhaps the only thing typical about Roland Sands is the passion he has for riding motorcycles. But Sands is certainly not typical;

 

in fact, the best way to describe him would be “a fucking loose cannon with a knack for designing some pretty amazing shit.”

 

He sees the world through his own unique perspective, and his creative nature allows him to do incredible things with that. 

 

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I met Sands about 10 years ago, and even though I was from the off-road industry and Sands worked more on the street side of the spectrum, our love for motorcycles and shared enjoyment of cold adult refreshments made for an instant bond between us. After our first Daytona Bike Week—where he continuously abused my rental car and slept in my hotel room because of some complications with his own room (he got kicked out)—I realized that this could be the start to a great friendship. When Sands joined in on our annual FMF Baja Bonanza ride, I was excited because I knew he would add some fun flavor to the already awesome group of guys. That was until I remembered how reckless he could be—one broken leg later (from attempting to follow Jeremy McGrath off of a rock jump at the beach), his inaugural Baja Bonanza had come to a screeching halt. 

 

 

Hanging out with Sands is like riding a roller coaster that you have never ridden before: It’s all fun and games until that coaster ratchets all the way to the top and then you see just how high that first drop is.

 

Before you have a chance to back down, you are whirling down the coaster with your head spinning, but when it’s over, you’re ready to do it all over again. A prime example: In 2009, Sands and I had the bright idea to participate in the Red Bull Soapbox Race in downtown Los Angeles in front of 111,000 people. We thought it was genius; with Sands’ design instincts and FMF’s manufacturing capabilities, ours would be a racer like no other. We rolled up to the race with a Delorean-replica soapbox racer and Back to the Future costumes to match, in 100-plus-degree heat. In full character, Marty McFly and Doc Brown descended the steep L.A. street. I felt like we definitely were going to win this race; with Sands at the wheel and me sitting shotgun, we passed the radar speed check heading to the massive bowl turn at the bottom of the hill doing 47 mph. 

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It was then that I realized Sands had no plans for utilizing the brake system we had installed. In that very moment, I had had enough Sands for the day. Luckily for the judges who were propped at the top of the massive 10-foot caged metal berm, Red Bull had been wise enough to have built a three-foot safety wall, because two grown men hitting a berm at 47 mph on bicycle wheels is likely to spell destruction for anything and anyone in range. After a massive rail slide on the safety wall—and somehow not plummeting to the asphalt floor for a cement nap—we made it. Against all laws of physics and nature, we made it.

 

After taking in all the adrenaline, I realized that this is just how Roland lives his life. The creative process necessitates risks, and Sands welcomes these risks in turning his mind’s craziest concepts into reality.

 

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Roland Sands has been at the forefront of the modern-day motorcycle garage revival. Nestled away in Southern California, Roland Sands Design (RSD) has been evolving over the last decade into not just a performance design shop, but an eclectic hangout as well.

 

Sands has laid his skin into the earth in the name of motorcycles, building his own style and brand. Be it asphalt or dirt, Sands has raced it on two wheels. His pedigree is deeply infused with motorcycle culture.

 

His father, Perry Sands, is the man behind Performance Machine—a design shop that also helped usher iconic style and design into the aftermarket world—and growing up around him, Sands always displayed an eye for style. A former AMA 250GP national champion, Sands is no stranger to racing, winning, and setting track records. This has all played a huge role in shaping Sands as a person and as a designer. Over the years, Sands has built some unbelievable custom machines—bikes that can actually be ridden and ridden fast—for a number of A-list celebrities and other high-profile clientele. 

 

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But building custom bikes is just a small piece of the puzzle that is Roland Sands Design. Sands has diversified his business into product design and consultation for the motorcycle OEMs; RSD works with major motorcycle manufacturers to design concept and prototype motorcycles and promote benchmark product in the motorcycle industry and beyond. The company also promotes its own full line of custom apparel.

 

As a proponent of living life to the beat of his own creative drum, even Sands can get in his own way sometimes, and that’s oddly enough when some of his most amazing designs surface. 

 

Motorcycle culture is flourishing right now, and as so often happens in American society, the motorcycle has come full circle from the early years and once again sparked a major trend, exemplified by Red Bull Media House’s revival of the classic motorcycle documentary On Any Sunday with the major 2014 release of On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter. It’s a trend that Roland Sands and his band of misfits have helped influence by making their mark in style, design, and function. Now is a great time for garage tinkerers to show off their creations. In the past, bikes and going riding were much simpler; the motorcycling of yesteryear was characterized by maintenance-friendly bikes and days of riding right from the garage. Machines of today are the most advanced forms of production motorcycles the world has ever seen—fully equipped EFI, air forks, traction control, and even ABS braking.

But riding a motorcycle is about the inevitable adventure that follows throwing a leg over the seat and twisting the throttle. Enthusiasts all over the world love to ride; it’s a visceral feeling ultimately accompanied by a spark in the soul and a smile on the face.

 

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Roland Sands was born to shift gears and pop wheelies and has been doing so since he was 4 years old. Parents tell their children to dream big and do what they love; for Sands, starting a successful design and manufacturing business was no easy task, but sometimes dreams prevail, and a little bit of recklessness can catapult one idea from mediocrity to pure genius.

 

Sands continues to share his passion with fans and friends by racing Harley nights at his local speedway, even building custom Mad Max–inspired bikes to compete at and help promote the IV League Flat Track, a “run what you brung” event that encourages racers of all types to come out to the track. RSD has also dedicated countless hours to helping promote the Kurt Caselli Foundation, a group whose mission is to promote safety in the world of off-road racing.

Roland Sands has put his heart and soul into creating a brand with a vision that hasn’t lost track of the simple things that make riding a motorcycle fun. So here’s to Sands and the creative nut jobs of the world. Cheers! I am always ready to ride that roller coaster again!


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Read the story in Volume 003


Ill-Advised


Jason Lawrence

Words by Eli Moore | Photos by Mike Emery


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“J-Law was one of the last of a dying breed: the guys who seriously could not give a fuck what you thought about them. He is a dude who would rather head-butt a studded tire than behave in a manner that is ‘safer’ or ‘more consumer friendly.’”

 

I wrote those words in 2012, in a little blog that I managed in my spare time. I worshipped Jason Lawrence even then, two years after his unexpected departure from professional motocross. Whether people felt similarly or hated his very soul, it is an indisputable truth that J-Law impacted this sport in a way that no one in the modern era has matched.

Jason Lawrence is the man who rolled a rental car the night before a national, and people still rooted for him; he’s the man who said “fuck” on the mic in front of a full stadium after his first Supercross podium, and people still rooted for him; he’s the man who skipped a full season to serve a sentence in prison, and people still rooted for him. Then he left the pro scene behind, and five years later people still wonder if he will come back, so they can root for him. The world did not love Lawrence because he was a rogue who constantly got into trouble; plenty of riders have partied too much and made dumb mistakes. The world loved J-Law because he could do all that, then hop on a track the next day and run with anyone in the world. Even some greats of the sport have exclaimed that Jason Lawrence is one of the biggest talents they have ever seen. In just a few short years, he left his permanent mark on motocross.

 

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In preparation for writing this article, I spoke with Lawrence on the phone. His exceedingly aloof tone straight from the word “hello” provided the unnecessary confirmation that this would be a far different phone conversation than any I’d ever had with a rider. His first words only further cemented that notion:

 

“I do not give a fuck about being in a magazine.”

 

My immediate thought was that this was going to be an uphill battle, trying to get Lawrence to open up at all when he initially seemed very hostile and standoffish. But stories I had heard of the legend of J-Law all indicated that he is a mercurial character, and once I had established a rapport, the conversation flowed much more smoothly. I had sent Lawrence some preparatory questions via email, something I dreaded doing because I knew with every fiber of my being that he would hate me for sending such cookie-cutter questions. He reinforced my fears quickly, exclaiming that the questions were “fucking horrible” and that he had considered axing this whole idea. Luckily, he felt that META was a solid platform for him to get his word across in an industry seemingly so concerned with where he is going. We established that this would not be a normal interview—just a simple conversation.

 

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He knew what was on my, and every reader’s, mind, and before I even had the chance to ask, he gave me my answer.

 

“Let me clear things up: I have no plans for a comeback,”

 

he quickly blurted out. Even though he has been back on the bike and blowing up Instagram feeds with riding photos and videos, there is no J-Law comeback in the immediate future. Or so I thought, until he clarified: “If the right ride came, I would come back. I would love an opportunity to race outdoors. But I’m done sucking off the industry.” Somewhat puzzled, I mulled over his statement and was not too surprised by it. All J-Law wants to do is ride his dirtbike. Even when I asked him about his departure from the pros in the first place, he offered one simple answer:

 

“After I got out of jail, I tried to race, but I wasn’t ready. I decided then that I was done.”

 

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In speaking further with Lawrence, it became clear that he is not a bad guy; his are modest pleasures. His refusal to play into the increasingly scrutinizing eye of professional motocross does not even seem to be deliberate. Lawrence was never groomed to be a professional athlete; he was just really great at racing a dirtbike. “I’ve been riding since before I can remember,” he said. “My grandpa would always take me to the track.” Estranged from his father, young Lawrence found some coveted normalcy at the motocross track with his grandfather, Don Heider. A former racer himself, and a motorcycle-shop owner, Heider took Lawrence under his wing, escorting him around the local New Jersey tracks. The young J-Law’s talent was undeniable, even back then.

 

“My goal from day one was to make it on TV in a main event. The championship and wins were all just icing on the cake,”

 

explained Lawrence, segueing into his professional career. J-Law is satisfied with what he did in the sport, and rightfully so; very few racers will ever have an AMA #1 plate sitting on their mantle, and even fewer can ever say they straight-up beat Ryan Dungey to get it. 

Lawrence explained, however, that it was a different Ryan who motivated him in his championship season. “In 2008,” he shared, “I decided that I needed to step my program up because I got beat by Ryan Villopoto in all but one race in 2007.” His rivalry with the perennial AMA Supercross champ was never a secret; even as amateurs, Lawrence and Villopoto butted heads, and Villo was famously awarded the AMA Horizon Award at Loretta Lynn’s in 2005 even though Lawrence beat him in three out of three motos at the Ranch that year. Then, of course, there was Hangtown 2007, where Lawrence was able to push Villopoto’s buttons enough in practice to drive Villo to try to punch him in the face with a Bridgestone. It was probably the only time that Villopoto was pushed over the edge in a professional setting. 

 

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For Lawrence, it was part of the game. He was well aware of the mental aspect of motocross and sought to use that against his competitors. His 2008 championship year saw him pitted against Ryan Dungey, where Dungey famously blew a massive points lead to relinquish the championship to Lawrence. Lawrence explained how Supercross played out that year:

 

“Ryan Dungey is a great rider; he’s very consistent. But he’s very easily shaken. Ryno [Ryan Hughes] and myself, we shook him that year and we got in his head; that’s why he threw those races away and that’s why I won that championship. A lot of what I did to play with Dungey was in practice, with the lap times. I’d taunt him a little bit, anything to let him know that I’m onto him.” 

 

But even before the mental warfare, Lawrence’s campaign in 2008 was different from any other season he’d had, because he was actually training. “Yamaha of Troy funded me the money to hire my own trainer. I got to choose the trainer, and my choice was Ryan Hughes. I felt that he was the best trainer in the game. It’s crazy how much that guy was able to step my program up. I owe a lot of credit to Ryan Hughes. I had things that I wanted to do my way, and he had things that he wanted to do his way, and we met in the middle. I’m really happy that we could do that, because if we hadn’t I’m not sure that I’d have that championship,” said Lawrence. 

 

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Following his Supercross championship, Lawrence got himself another first as a professional, winning the first 250 moto at the 2008 Outdoor National opener at Glen Helen, California, and beating the Ryans Villopoto and Dungey in the process, just before Villopoto set off on a 16-moto winning streak that season. “That was the only holeshot I ever got in [pro] Supercross or motocross, and it was the only win I ever got outdoors,” Lawrence said. But even though his biggest accomplishments have come in the stadiums, J-Law feels a deeper connection to the old-school roots of outdoor motocross:

 

“I like outdoors more, man. It’s all about the fans; they’re right there [next to the track]. Growing up as a kid, I never went to watch a Supercross. I went to many outdoor nationals—Budds Creek, Unadilla, Steel City, Broome Tioga—back in the day. I’m definitely more an outdoor fan, even in the way I feel about riders. Outdoors gives you more time to play people out and get past them. Supercross is like a sprint; it’s crazy.” 

 

Perhaps it is his own past with motocross that keeps him in his comfort zone in the outdoors, far from the glitz, glamour, and spotlight of Supercross. Motocross is where it all started, and for a guy like Jason Lawrence, it’s where he is happy, even now. “Right now, I just do local Florida races,” he explained, “and honestly you can hear the fans [on the sidelines]. Everybody is hyped on the pro moto at these local races. I love it when the people are hyped for what you’re doing. If you’re not doing it for the people, and especially the little kids, what are you doing it for?” Lawrence’s time now consists of simple days at the track, pounding out laps with whomever will ride with him, and giving back to the younger generation. “I used to always think that training kids would be like lowering myself,” he admitted. “But now I see that these kids have so much they can learn from me, and why would I not share that? I’ve helped out a few little Cobra kids from the Northeast.” But even a career as a trainer is not something that is on Lawrence’s mind, nor is a serious play at a comeback to the professional scene. The hype is gone, the fame and the money gone too. But Lawrence still gets to go to the track every day and ride his dirtbike. That’s where he started, and that’s what he wants to be: just a kid enjoying his dirtbike.


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Read the story in Volume 003


Evan Hecox


Featured Artist: Volume 003

Photos by Andrew Paynter


 Talum Taco Shack | Artwork by Evan Hecox

Talum Taco Shack | Artwork by Evan Hecox

I have a daily commute. It takes about 15 seconds from the back patio of my house out to the small, modernist cabin thing that I call my studio. Most days it takes at least two cups of coffee before I can do it. The journey can be made with shoes or barefoot, depending on the weather. The space is filled with a good amount of natural light and it’s just about large enough to park two cars if the glass garage door that faces the yard were actually used for vehicles. I also have a storage room that was labeled “motorcycle garage” on the architectural plans; this was my architect’s clever idea so that the zoning department would allow more square footage. I only have one old Vespa that doesn’t run, and it sits outside under a tarp. 

 

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Every day, I’m glad to be in my studio no matter how much work I have ahead of me or how stressed out I happen to feel. This is my place and mine alone—my cave, my island, my mini-empire—and I’m thankful to have it. I have two small dogs and a collection of vinyl to keep me company through the day, and that’s about all I need. My favorite days are ones when I’m starting a new piece of work first thing. I put on some mellow music and stare at the blank wooden panel or sheet of paper lying on my worktable. At this stage the art is perfect, genius, full of potential; by the evening it will all have changed. Nothing is ever quite as good as I imagine, but it’s important to start with a vision and a positive attitude. 

Looking at one of my drawings is sort of like looking in the mirror: I can’t get away from how my work looks any more than I can get away from the appearance of my own face. Sometimes this is fine; sometimes it bothers me. I’ve always felt that art, at least the good stuff, is a natural extension of the person who makes it. Inventing a style of art is like inventing a personality for yourself: It comes across as less than genuine. I just have to let it happen, even if what happens sometimes makes me feel weird about who I am or what kind of message my work conveys. 

 

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I’m the kind of person who likes materials, things you can put your hands on and appreciate how they look and feel. Weight, texture, mass. I like to hold a record, set it on the turntable and drop the needle on it. I like to load film into my camera and wait three weeks before I get my pictures back. I like the look of quality paper, just plain paper all by itself. The smell of sawdust and paint thinner. I feel good about the dry, cracked skin on my hands, stained from ink and seeming like it will never get clean again, like some sort of naturally occurring tattoo that marks me as an artist. Sometimes I like art more in the making of it than in the finished product. The way a vivid streak of paint glides onto the paper and dries to a perfectly even surface. A pool of watercolor drying slowly in the air, leaving a mark that no technology could well replicate. My books and magazines are the worlds I get lost in, studying a drawing that someone did a hundred years ago that I could never hope to match. It feels like everything has already been done, but I have to make my little contribution too, just have to; the things inside my head would make me crazy unless I had some way of making them into marks on a surface.

By the end of the day, the light is fading in my studio and I feel tired but good. I would never want to tell someone like a construction worker that what I do all day is difficult, but somehow it is. It’s difficult because I care. It’s personal and it’s nobody’s business when I’m making it, but then I know it will be seen and judged by other people sooner or later, which is confusing at times. It takes a lot of thought and often involves some frustration, all of which drains me, so at the end of the day I do feel tired, even though I mostly have been sitting and moving paintbrushes around. 

 

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About this time I may grab a beer out of the mini-fridge in my studio and study what I’ve accomplished for the day. The things I tell myself are usually too extreme, like “You’re an idiot” or “Damn, you really nailed it.” I know that real truth is somewhere in between. Eventually this thing will disappear from my studio and, with any luck, be replaced by a check from a gallery, which in turn will be replaced by things like food and car payments, all of which I’m grateful for. It always seems like some sort of clever trick I’ve pulled off. I’ll miss the work all the same and I’ll be excited to get to the studio to do it all over again.


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Read the story in Volume 003


Painted in Dust


Forrest Minchinton Shapes Surfboards in the Desert, and the Desert Shapes Him

Words by Nathan Myers

Photos by Harry Mark, Aaron Brimhall & Drew Martin


 

“At first I was just shaping surfboards to pay for motorcycles,” explains Forrest Minchinton.  He elaborates, “Way out in the desert, somehow that made perfect sense.”

 

The road to Johnson Valley high desert passes through a few small towns. Smaller and smaller, until there’s just one store. And it’s closed. There are a few homes outside of town… then a few abandoned trailers… then nothing at all. Beyond that, there’s the place Forrest calls home.

 

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The Compound resembles a scene from Mad Max: a ramshackle outpost of scattered structures and curated debris. Forrest and his dad call it the “what-you-got construction” style, inspired by the scavenger aesthetic of Baja, California. Everything on this high-desert property has a story. Some from previous lifetimes when the property was an illegal grow operation. Others salvaged from back alleys of Huntington Beach or yard sales between here and nowhere.

Back in the “real world” of Huntington Beach, Forrest’s dad Mike is a respected surfboard shaper. A humble priest of the sport, underpaid and wholly devoted. In an age of foreign pop-outs and Walmart foamies, Mike builds his boards entirely by hand, even doing his own glasswork. 

 

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Despite his longstanding reputation, it’s a hard way to make a living. So their tumbledown shaping operation in the desert offers respite from the distractions, inflations and restrictions of the city. This is the Wild West. They come here between swells, to wait out the tides of life and disappear into the dust. Out here, hours from the ocean, he taught young Forrest to shape surfboards. And he bought him a bike. The rest was up to the desert.

 

“We didn’t have any internet or phones out there,” says Forrest. “Just this one VHS copy of On Any Sunday that Bruce Brown gave my dad. That movie pretty much became my bible. 

 

“The adults would be out drinking beer and shooting guns by the fire, and I’d be in the trailer reciting the narration word-for-word for the ten-thousandth time. I still watch it every time I come out here, at least once.”

By day, he’d ride. First, endless circles around the camp. Then, way, way out on his own. Earning it the hard way. Breaking down or getting lost, then pushing home across miles of sand to start again. 

 

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“The desert teaches you things,” says Forrest. “Real life lessons that they don’t teach in school. And I embraced it. I loved it.”

 

Once, on a remote dune, he went over the bars and broke his arm and leg. With his little YZ80 too mangled to ride, all he could do was lie there helpless in the sand. In the sun. Eventually (miraculously), a random dune buggy came along and saved his life. 

“My leg hurt so bad I didn’t even realize my arm was broken,” says Forrest. “But I had these new Alpine Star boots that I didn’t want them to cut off, so I had the dune buggy guy pull them off me, even though he said I shouldn’t. He took me back to camp, and Dad drove me three hours to the hospital back in Huntington.”

From a young age, he spent half his year in Costa Rica surfing and the rest in California riding. But over time, his two-wheel obsession consumed him. He rode, mostly alone. He rode a lot. Pushing his limits across the empty wastelands. Progressing for no one to notice.

 

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His talent never added up on paper. He qualified for the Loretta Lynn’s at an early age, but couldn’t afford to attend. Sometimes he’d ride on his own out to compete in the local Hare & Hound events. It was a 5-mile ride from the compound across the desert just to reach the start line.

 

“I’d arrive dusty and rough to the start line,” he says, “while everyone else was clean and fresh from their box-truck. Then my dad would show up with a tank of gas for me, and off we’d go.”

 

He did well in those events, but what did it mean? Forrest was better off pushing his luck alone. His solitary communion with the dust. He rode everything. Different bikes for different feelings. Dad’s vintage bikes on the turn track around the compound; a TT Flat Tracker for the dry lake bed; his beloved custom 2005 Honda CRF 450 that he bought for $800 and built specifically for the desert; or his modern-day 450 for the MX Track. Like his long-gone heroes from On Any Sunday, Forrest’s riding transcends genre. Different tools for different jobs. 

 

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In 2015, he competed in the Baja 500 as part of an all-Mexican racing team. Dad was his crew. No rig. No chase car. No radio. No GPS. They camped out for the pre-race training weeks and survived until the main event. “That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” says Forrest. “We were going pretty good until the bike blew up.” Just another day in the desert. 

he surfing caught up to him again. Eventually. All those boards. All that shaping. All that dust. They’d stay in the desert just to wait out the swells. Dry their gills. Then back to the beach to deliver the boards, score some waves and reconnect with humanity. 

 

“Most people struggle to see the comparison between surfing and motorbikes,” says Forrest, “but for me it’s all about reading shadows, drawing lines and connecting with the flow.”

 

Forrest shapes like he rides, defying the genres that cuckold the sport. He’ll shape a high-performance shortboard one day and a down-rail log the next. A classic fish or a hybrid single fin. Different tools for different jobs. It’s all about chasing a feeling.

 

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These days, the surfboards spend more time than ever underfoot. Aside from his yearly sojourns to Central America, Deus Ex Machina has been taking him surfing around Indonesia, Australia and Japan, while his moto skills help lead their surfer/riders deeper into the jungles and uncharted coasts. He’s expanding his horizons. Discovering new dreams. Evolving.

But the desert remains unchanged. Unevolved. Timeless. And it’s here that Forrest always returns. The trips get longer. The leaving gets harder. He wonders sometimes whether he shouldn’t just stay there full-time. 

No, not yet. That’s not his line. The shadows are leading him elsewhere. More flat track racing. The Baja 1000, perhaps. More Indonesian treks, for certain. Japan. Europe. Australia. The desert travels within him. A frame of mind. An answer to any question. A tool for a job. 

 

“Some people look at this place and see a wasteland,” he says. “They might wonder why anyone would want to live out here. But I look out there and all I see is fun.”

 

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Featured in Volume 010


Related content

Desierto
Magic in the Spanish Desert

The desert is our troubled state. It is the dwelling place of our demons. This is a land of illusions and thin air, the vision is so cleared at times that the truth itself is deceptive...

 

The Turtle and the Fox


See See x Fox

A collaboration between See See Motorcycles and Fox Racing


 

Fox Racing and See See Motorcycles bring the two worlds of performance motocross and mxculture together with a limited-edition product collaboration. This partnership was cultivated through the creative engine of Fox Moto-X Lab.

"Putting two unlikely things together has always been our favorite thing. It’s taking something we all know and understand, flipping it on its head, and making something new. That is when the fun starts, that’s what we want to be known for."

- THOR DRAKE FOUNDER/CO-OWNER SEE SEE MOTORCYCLES

 

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Travis Pastrana


Grounded

Words by Andy Bell


  Photo by Matty McFerran

Photo by Matty McFerran

“My life is 100 percent about competition,”

says Travis Pastrana, sort of yelling above the sounds of the raucous Nitro Circus Live crew partying around him deep in some bar in Nagano, Japan. It’s 5 a.m. my time and something like 11 p.m. his time. I’m sober as can be driving up the 405 freeway, headed to LAX to catch an early-morning flight, and his scene—at least for the people he’s surrounded by—is for sure on the exact opposite end of the spectrum right now. I can hear in his voice that it’s been a long couple weeks’ worth of partying—something that happens a lot for the riders with the Circus, a nightly celebration after succeeding in not killing yourself while trying to one-up the top athletes and gnarliest kids on the tour. I’m not sure if “meat hucking” is a real term or not, but if it isn’t, I’m coining it now as the explanation for what happens every day of the Pastrana-led freak show that is the travelling Nitro Circus Live tour. 

 

  Los Angeles,CA |   May , 2009  |  Photo by Garth Milan

Los Angeles,CA | May , 2009 | Photo by Garth Milan

“You know me better than probably anyone on the face of the Earth,” he says to me when I ask him for some insight into his life lately and what keeps him ticking even after just having his second daughter. “Besides my wife,” he quickly adds. He is so damn competitive that he probably had to have another daughter because I had one, and he wanted to beat me at that as well.

 

“When I’m around Bilko, all I want to do is compete with him at go-carts; when I’m around Kenny Bartram, all I want to do is beat him at foosball; and when I’m around you, all I want to do is try to drink more beer than you,”

 

he says—his reasoning behind what pushes him in his life. Adding daughter Bristol to his already girl-filled family of wife/skateboard phenom Lyn-z and almost 2-year-old first baby Addy has actually fueled his drive to live and act more passionately—no, not the 50 Shades of Grey kind of passion, but the passion to live life to the fullest, to push the sports that he is involved in to the absolute and total limit (and beyond, most of the time). 

 

  Photo by Matty McFerran

Photo by Matty McFerran

Outsiders usually see this kind of behavior as a death wish, or as coming from someone who is playing with fire—a practice many would say is reckless or not conducive to being a father. But Pastrana sees it as the opposite: He sees it as a way to teach his girls passion and competitiveness, two traits that he values more than anything else. He brings up Shane McConkey as we discuss this—a top skier, BASE jumper, and Red Bull teammate who was a huge inspiration to Pastrana (and myself), tragically killed living his passion for ski BASE jumping. Many people can find fault with McConkey for risking his life and paying the ultimate price for following his passion while having a wife and young daughter at home, but not Pastrana; for him, McConkey was the kind of man and father that Pastrana wants to be (and is). Holding back and not following what you believe in is more detrimental to your family than the slight possibility of paying the ultimate price.

To Pastrana, there is no better feeling than being on the Nitro tour and having his daughters on his lap as they watch Mommy huck a 65-foot backflip on a skateboard off the Giganta Ramp. That is passion, and it’s empowering for his girls to see what a family sport any of our “action sports” can be. As Pastrana talks about his drive to share this with Bristol and Addy, he starts to wonder out loud what will happen if the girls end up being more into museums and libraries than ollies and backflips. He worries that his competitive nature will compel him to learn more about history and art, to know more about these subjects than the parents of the other kids in their classes. Knowing him, I already know that the girls’ science-fair projects are going to be so far over the top that I would hate to have to compete with what he helps them build.

But back to the original task of this article: to write the story about how Pastrana has remained grounded to his friends and family even after the almost 20 years of superstardom that this “kid” (as I still think of him) has enjoyed (endured?).

 

I first met TP in 1997—or ’98, I don’t really remember; it was a lot of beers/concussions ago—filming Terrafirma 6 up in Canada when he was 14 years old. That kid I met 17 years ago is still almost identical to the dorky, overly nice and polite, absolutely useless at mechanic-ing, big-grinning and pretty sure prepubescent from the late ’90s who begged me to show him some of the big jumps and free riding territory we had up there. I knew who he was, of course, from his sections in the original Crusty and Terrafirma videos, but when he asked if I could show him how to change his air filter and fix his broken clutch lever, I laughed out loud. Talk about FRS (Factory Rider Syndrome): Here was this superstar racer kid who didn’t even know how to do the most basic of all moto maintenance. 

 

  Photo by Garth Milan

Photo by Garth Milan

 

As anyone with parents knows (and that is all of us, just FYI), our folks are the single biggest influencers on how we will grow as kids, then young adults, and then again as adults. Seeing from the outside Pastrana’s relationship with his parents and how they brought him up, there is no doubt in my mind that he will forever remain grounded. Has anyone ever seen a video of Robert “The Drill Sergeant” Pastrana? He would have no qualms about kicking Travis’ ass if he didn’t show respect to everyone in his life at all times. And then there is Debby, his mom. If you think Pastrana (or I, for that matter) is scared of Robert, you do not want to mess with Debby. Her fierce commitment to her family and son is second to none and right there with a momma bear. I love Debby, and it is not hard to see where Pastrana’s sense of values comes from once you spend a little time with her. When she found out that Pastrana had asked me to be the minister at his wedding—yes, I am qualified by the almighty Internet, if you are wondering, and Pastrana actually married my wife and I as well—she walked right up to me on rehearsal day and very straightforwardly asked if I had a piece of my “sermon” dedicated to God. I, of course, said, “You know I do, Debby,” and then scrambled like a madman to look up some good, pertinent psalms to read during the ceremony as soon as she turned her back to me.

 

The Pastranas come from a small town and a big family where the focus was always put on family coming before anything, period, and I think this shows in the way that Travis lives his life.

 

I find that people always have massive misconceptions about famous people—why they do certain things and how they live their lives. Pastrana is for sure no different when it comes to being on the receiving end of these misperceptions. My favorite is when people tell me how nice it must be for him to fly private jets all across the world. This is always the best one, as Pastrana is way more likely to be stuffed at the rear of a Southwest plane in a crappy middle seat beside the bathroom, crammed between two 450-pound farmers, than to be living the high life on a private jet. The best part about it is he really doesn’t give a shit. At all. He doesn’t care about the comforts or the cool-guy-ness or anything else that people in his position could and probably would care about. For him, the motivation is where that crappy middle seat is taking him and what random bets/contests he can make up and try to change the rules of until he wins. That, for sure, has always been a Pastrana specialty. If he starts losing a bet or contest, he somehow convinces people that the rules need to change to make the game more “competitive” (read: in his favor). No one has more house rules on their beer-pong table, and each and every one of them has been added mid-game to make sure that he has a better chance of winning. Pastrana will try to convince anyone who will listen that he is trying to make everything “more competitive for everyone,” but by “everyone” he always means himself. 

  Photo by Matty McFerran

Photo by Matty McFerran

As Pastrana creeps up in age, I keep waiting to see signs of maturity showing through in the way that he attacks the progression that he can bring to his chosen sports—and by “maturity” I mean being like myself and most other failed professional motorcycle racers, finally realizing that being hurt sucks and that it starts not to be worth the pain at some point. But then he drops a video on the Interweb of himself attempting a triple backflip. So much for that thought… But Pastrana is still only 31 years old, so if I am comparing him to myself (and I always figured I was way smarter than TP), he’s got a few more years left of pushing the boundaries at the level that he does. I really have no idea how far he can push not only himself, but also the people around him, in the coming years, but I do know that he is finally seeming so much more at peace with where he is in life. His daughters in his arms, watching his wife shred on a skateboard: This is the life that he has always wanted, one that has brought more happiness and fulfillment to him than I think even he had ever imagined it would.


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Read the story in Volume 003


2.8 Seconds to Legend


The Day Doug Henry Fell From the Sky

Words by Brett Smith


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Everybody reacted differently. Some of the sunbaked spectators were slow to process what had just happened. Others were quick to respond, but clearly unsure what exactly they were supposed to do; one shirtless man, holding an aluminum can wrapped in a koozie in his right hand, ran from out of the camera’s view, hurdled the fence like a horse in a steeplechase, and stood near the rider’s feet. Some spectators just stood there, slumped over the fence, motionless; others slowly raised their disposable cameras to their eyes and snapped a photo. Many pointed back up the hill as if they were still trying to convince themselves of what they just saw and where it came from. 

Stacey Henry saw it happen from the back of a Honda box van. She was watching the race and evading the oppressive Father’s Day sun and humidity that always blanketed southern Maryland in mid-June. Her angle was head-on and far enough away that she said to herself, “What kind of line was that?” A couple of seconds passed and she wondered why her husband hadn’t gotten up yet. Henry always bounced right back up. Then John Dowd’s wife, Trish, came over and told her to get down to the track.

 

 

Jeremy McGrath didn’t understand why he was hearing Doug Henry’s engine accelerating through the braking bumps. McGrath had moved slightly to his right to avoid the uphill chatters and thought if he ran it in deep on his teammate he could gain a few tenths of a second. He looked to his left and saw Henry hanging off the back of his bike and then floating away like a Nordic ski jumper. McGrath let up. Henry was still gaining velocity and height by the time McGrath started descending from his own jump. “I thought he was dead,” McGrath says.

Davey Coombs turned around just in time to see something fall out of the sky and hear what he called a “sickening thud, the sound of metal breaking and a bomb hitting but not going off.” He was shooting photos and writing for Cycle News. He and Motocross Action’s Chris Hultner were loading film in their cameras. They looked at each other and then raced toward the fence. 

Jonathan Beasley had been awake for two days preparing his racetrack for this day, the fourth round of what is now called the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. He faced the course but was engaged in a conversation with someone his own height: 6’4”. Chatter from his two-way radio filled the other ear. Suddenly, the chatter died; he saw the whole thing and today calls it one of the scariest moments of his life. He was 80 yards away and jumped on his ATV. “He was probably 70 feet in the air at the height of his jump,” he says. “It was just sad seeing how he fell like a rock.”

 

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Brian Austin knew he was being lapped. The leader, Mike LaRocco, had just passed and he knew that second and third would soon follow. Then he heard something that wasn’t quite normal and he looked over his right shoulder. Nothing. Then he looked up—way up—and saw another rider in the air at an obscenely abnormal height. He didn’t know who it was until impact. He was 10 to 15 feet away from where Doug Henry landed, and Austin’s most vivid and disturbing memory was that he actually felt the ground shake. “I could feel it, hear it, and taste how much compressive force happened,” he says.

Shelton Hines, a lanky construction worker from Columbia, Maryland, was the first person to reach Henry’s side, within 10 seconds of him landing. Hines jumped the fence and in long strides walked to Henry and picked up the purple Scott goggles that had been discarded. “It looked like his eyes were rolling into the back of his head,” Hines says. “It was pretty bad.” He remembers being asked for water and then dropping the goggles and attempting to remove Henry’s helmet. Within seconds, an EMT shooed Hines away. He and three other random spectators, who all ran in from different directions, scattered. 

An obvious statement: Doug Henry’s June 18, 1995, crash at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland, is one of the most infamous and bizarre motorcycle wrecks of all time. But to merely describe it as a crash is a gross misrepresentation of what actually happened. It was more like a flight, then a plummet. In trying to learn why this incident will be just as memorable another 20 years from now, understand that Henry did something that had no possibility of yielding a benefit. “If he had landed it…” was not an option. He didn’t crash attempting a unique jump combination or endo or high side or swap out of control; he sent himself into the atmosphere seemingly on purpose. For everyone who witnessed the crash, it was completely nonsensical. For most of the spectators, Henry had come from completely out of view to suddenly five to seven stories in the air. People were forced to make their own conclusions. In 1995 there was no live TV at motocross races, or even a TV truck from where team and race officials could get answers. ESPN aired the footage in a tape-delayed telecast. 

 

In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, a book that examines the factors that lead to high levels of success, there is a chapter that makes the argument that plane crashes do not happen as the result of a single catastrophic cause. Instead, Gladwell says, plane crashes are a subtle process that begin slowly and gradually overtake the pilots until the plane ends up in an unredeemable crisis. Doug Henry, the only person who truly knows what led to his own crash from flight in 1995, would agree. From small mistakes to fatigue, pride, determination, a wardrobe issue, and even bike setup, a series of factors led him to be dropped from the sky that day.

Henry was battling McGrath for second place. They were halfway through the second-to-last lap and the defending series champion, LaRocco, was less than two seconds ahead of them. In a rutted left-hand corner, on a secluded area of the course, Henry took the inside, McGrath the outside. McGrath saw Henry make a mistake in the corner and he gained a little time. Then Henry, on a No. 4–emblazoned Honda HRC 250, cased the downhill double out of the corner and nearly landed on a car tire that served as a crude track barrier. McGrath cleanly landed on the downside and closed more distance on his Honda teammate. Riders then raced into the bottom of a valley before climbing another steep hill. After hitting the midpoint between the hills, Henry started to climb and then hit a bump with a square edge; the suspension compressed and his whole body position shifted. While McGrath was in a smoother line and in attack mode, elbows out, head over handlebars, Henry’s butt patch was rubbing the stickers off his rear fender. His feet were also hanging off the backs of the foot pegs.

 

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It was late in the moto and Henry was understandably fatiguing; arm pump had affected his grip and the temperature that day was 88.9 degrees. He couldn’t relent; he was in a battle with not only his teammate, but with the championship points leader. Henry had won the previous round at High Point Raceway a few weeks earlier, his first career win in the premier class of AMA motocross. Beating McGrath meant taking over the points lead. Hanging off the back of the bike while simultaneously on the throttle with his fingertips, Henry’s last resort was to get his foot on the rear brake to slow himself down. 

If only he hadn’t been wearing John Dowd’s right boot that day. Henry tweaked his ankle in practice days prior and it hurt so badly that he borrowed a size 11 boot, one size too big, and asked Honda tech Cliff White to fit a steel plate to the insole. It was flex that caused him the most pain, and the plate eliminated the flexing—including when he really needed it. 

The last thing working against Henry was his own bike setup. In normal conditions his Honda 250 was perfect for his riding style: a shorter front end with more weight bias and a looser rear shock. Henry was tall and lean and didn’t like too much rebound in the shock. According to Dave Arnold, Honda’s team manager in the ’80s and early to mid-’90s, the looser damping, lesser rebound, and amount of speed and torque a factory Honda could produce was lethal in that specific moment on that specific track obstacle. A different bike setup wouldn’t have saved Henry from flight, but he may not have flown as high or as far. 

“Everything happened in reverse for Doug at that moment,” Arnold says. “Everything happened that you didn’t want to happen.” 

The one thing that did go correctly for Henry was his decision to stay on the bike. He debated letting go upon takeoff. Once the decision to stay on the bike was made, he then thought maybe he could make it to the retention pond that was in the infield. 

 

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“[I thought] that [would] be a soft landing, not realizing I was only a quarter of the way there,” Henry says. “I decided to get control of the bike and just land it and see what happens. I remember going off that jump in the air and it was like one of those dreams. It wasn’t real. I’ve always had dreams where I’m riding and I land and I wake up. It really felt like that. It was really just a dream.”

It wasn’t. Once airborne, he was able to pull his body weight forward. With the front end high, he looked like Evel Knievel jumping the fountains at Caesar’s Palace. After 2.8 seconds of airtime, Henry’s rear wheel touched down first, about 20 feet shy of reaching the corner at the bottom of the hill. To this day, LaRocco claims that he saw Henry’s shadow and thought to himself, “What is he doing?” The sprinklers at Budds Creek are spaced 60 feet apart and Henry came down next to the third one from the top. He traveled more than 120 feet downhill, nearly to the flatbottom. Beasley has since had the land surveyed and discovered that the vertical height of that track obstacle is 112 feet. 

When the front wheel slapped to the ground, Henry’s body was violently slammed into the seat; his torso folded completely in half and his head was drilled into the front end. His right arm was blown from the handlebar and tossed out and behind him as if winding up for a pitch. The force of the impact was so great on the bike that the load was transferred from the suspension into the bolts that held the shock into the frame. Cliff White remembers that the bolts were bent and had to be beaten loose from the frame. Surprisingly, the wheels were intact. 

 

When the suspension rebounded, Henry was sprung over the front end and he did a forward somersault with the motorcycle. It was like he was wrestling his bike to the ground. His hands were tangled in the flailing bike and he was knocked in the head. When he finally stopped rolling, he immediately took off his goggles with his left hand, paused, evaluated himself, realized that he could move his legs and feet, and then tried to roll onto his back. A sharp pain sent him back to his side. 

His spine was bent so far on impact that his L1 vertebra burst, causing spinal-cord compression. Doctors said it was miraculous that he retained full movement in his legs. At the hospital, when Stacey Henry asked one doctor to explain the surgery they were going to perform, he said, “You wouldn’t understand.” She handed him a piece of paper and a pen and asked him to draw it. He drew a crude stick figure that didn’t explain much.

“‘He’s young, he can find another job,’ Stacey remembers a second doctor telling her. “How he dismissed all the hours and heart this guy had, I thought, ‘He has no clue what this guy’s been through,’” she says. “‘He thinks it’s just a backyard accident.’ So I knew immediately that I had to get him out of there.”

 

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Stacey moved her husband to George Washington University, where a young neurosurgeon named Charles Riedel teamed up with an orthopedic surgeon to clean up the bone fragments that were still dangerously close to the spinal column and to rebuild Henry’s L1, a procedure that, at the time, was still new. “In place of that vertebra, we then placed a titanium mesh cage, which we filled with grafted bone so it would grow and replace what used to be there,” Dr. Riedel says. Had the two doctors at the first hospital been more compassionate and empathetic, Stacey Henry today believes that she would have allowed them to perform a more traditional and safer operation with rods that would have fused six to seven vertebrae together. Henry’s career as a professional motocross racer would have been over with. 

As emergency responders knelt near Henry’s head in the Budds Creek dirt, trying to ascertain the location of his pain, the rider struggled to remove his gloves. He pulled his left Fox Pawtector off, which revealed a gold wedding band. Henry didn’t remove it even while racing. Exhausted, he stopped moving and rested in the fetal position while the EMTs and Honda staff worked to stabilize him. 

 

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When a transport vehicle wasn’t able to get into the valley to drive Henry up to the ambulance, four EMTs and two Honda team members picked up the stretcher. With his legs and torso taped down, his neck in a brace, his jersey cut off, and his mouth smothered with an oxygen mask, he was carried right back up the very hill that dropped him from the atmosphere—now called Henry Hill. Maybe it was at his request, maybe he wrestled them loose, but Doug Henry’s arms were free. When he raised his two bare arms into the air and held a double thumbs-up, the crowd at the fence, which had swelled, knew a legend had been created, and the reaction was unanimous: euphoria.

 


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Read the story in Volume 003


Snowquake


Last Minute Trip to the Italian Alps with Harley-Davidson

Words & photos by Forrest Minchenton


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There are perhaps, serendipitous moments in ones life where your desires align with opportunities that arise.  It is in those moments that a feeling of deja vú, an almost precognition comes over you.  This feeling, those moments, have happened to me more than this once and in those instants I know that I am indeed on the path that I am meant to be. That the peaks and valleys of life that have led me to this trailhead, in fact had a purpose. Although, research and scientific approach reject this explanation of déjà vu being a prophecy. In science, déjà vu is seen as an anomaly of memory, but life is in fact full of unexplainable anomalies and I therefore, continue to embrace and trust in this mystical sensation. It is this approach to life that has led me along a unique path and one that is sometimes difficult to put into words exactly what it is that I do. When people ask, I usually answer with something along the lines of, “I make surfboards or ride motorcycles” or? Well truth be told I’m not exactly sure what my “career” is in the traditional sense of the word. Maybe I don't have one per say… I suppose I made a life out of what I liked to do for fun. Neither my family or myself are wealthy; it is quite the contrary really. They did, however instill in me a mindset to be creative, not just artistically, but in the design of life.  A life that needs no vacation.  A life that has a certain freedom. Like when META calls you just three days before this very trip and asks, “Want to go race Harley-Davidsons on Ice in the Italian Alps?”  and you answer, Hell Yes! It is that type of freedom!

 

 

 So how do I pack or prepare for a trip to race Harley-Davidsons outfitted with metal studded tires on ice in the Italian Alps, (something I have never done before mind you), with just three days notice? Well, like every other trip I go on, I fucking wing it! Stuff a Bell Helmet, some Alpinestars Tech 10 boots, and every damn Deus jacket in my closet into my gear bag.  Passport in one hand, ice cold beer in the other, my camera and some 35mm film dangling behind my back. Because after all life is a vacation. Right?

 

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Planes, trains, automobiles, twenty hours and four bottles of red wine later, I arrived to a hazy Italian morning.  At least I think it was morning? Jet lag had me spinning, or maybe it was the vino? Either way, there I was in Italy albeit a bit cold. But I was here for the free wine, I mean the racing.. and straight ahead lay the Ice circuit, situated in a deep valley framed in with the steepest mountains I have ever seen, nearly sheer cliffs by the looks of them, which made my local mountains in California look like mere bunny hills in comparison.  As I descended down into the venue and upon the scene that would be the day one of the two day ice racing extravaganza, it was through a cloud of smoke that I saw it all. Not marijuana smoke people, no we aren't in California anymore, this was of the two-stroke variety. Vintage Husqvarna, CZ, Bultaco, Yamaha, Honda, Beta, 8 brand new Harley-Davidsons and a Jalopy? Yes, Yes and Yes. From comedic sidecars to a drool worthy period correct Bultaco in ice racer spec, to Steve McQueen’s personal Husky Cross 400 now in the loving hands of an ice racer.  Still being used, still being raced, on any Sunday. Mcqueen would be proud. Did I mention it was cold outside? Yet, still there were over 50 racers on the track, undeterred by the frozen feet and hands after half a lap. 50 racers, that means 100 buzzsaws in the form of studded motorcycle tires chasing each other down. One wash out while leading the race out front and your buddy running second place is running you over, tenderizing your backside, but that’s what motorcycle racers do. They lay their lives on the line and risk it all for…. well absolutely no prize money! Nope. They actually paid their own hard earned money to be here! They paid to be here to rub elbows, bang bars, yell and laugh at their buddies and fight tooth and nail like their life depended on it for a second to last place finisher spot. Because hell, its fun! 

 

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Day one was the Deus Swank Rally on Ice.  Having won the Deus Swank Rally Bali beach edition at Deus Indonesia over the Italian boys back in October I was familiar with the format, and seeing that I had arrived after signups and practice was underway I got to beer drinking and bullshitin’ and catching up with the crew. Meanwhile I lost all feeling in my toes as they turned to ice blocks. The Deus Swank Rally Is about a 1.5 mile course set through ice and snow in a timed format and the fastest time wins. A few of the lads were really hauling the mail, getting unbelievable traction on the ice with those studded tires.  I obviously got excited and next thing I knew the Deus crew had me suited up in a set of their leathers and aboard their 2wd Yamaha Wr450f ice racer. Having not signed up, I had no racing number or paperwork, but hell no one cared! Pin it, they said! So with 1 glory lap I was one and done and ended up 5th place on the timed leader board. Satisfied, I headed back to the hotel to defrost and come back ready the following day to race.

 

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The morning came around quick, but this was the day I had traveled so far to experience. Eight 2018 Harley-Davidson Street Rod 750s all identically built in Ice racer spec. Ohlins piggy back shocks graced the rear, Continental studded Ice tires, A flat track style seat and tail section, Twin Air air cleaners and Renthal grips were the first things that caught my eye. Orange and Black color scheme on the tank paying homage to the XR1200 race bikes of yesteryear. The bikes were unique and a stark contrast to the rest of the DIY race bike builds in the pits and on the track.  The Harleys growled to life and easily drowned out the rest of the two smokers that were within earshot.

 

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The rag tag crew of motorcycle journalist, professional road racers, and a surfboard shaper (me), all lined up and politely jockeyed our way into position to be the first to ride these bad boys.  I ended up in the third wave and once out on the track was blown away at how responsive the 750 motor was. It felt like flat tracking, but on ice.  I hole shot my first heat race and held the lead for a few laps before Pro road racer Corey Alexander blew by me on the last lap, crushing my short lived glory.  A few heats later and a couple terrible starts and I was relegated to watch the main event from the sidelines, but I wasn't complaining. The fire pit was warm, the beverages were cold and the boys were racing! 


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Jeremy Lacy


Downshift Studio

Words & photos by Ben Giese


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As I circle around the block of a charming suburban neighborhood in Broomfield, Colorado, I pull up to a house with an open garage full of motorcycles. I grab my camera and shut the door of my car as I am greeted with an enthusiastic smile and friendly handshake from my pal, Jeremy Lacy. Jeremy is an exceptionally talented industrial designer and artist who eats, sleeps and breathes all things moto. I’ve known Jeremy for a few years now, and although I have always been a fan of his work, we have never had the opportunity to hang out one-on-one. He welcomed me into his home with open arms and gave me a tour of his studio.  Perusing through the garage amongst a variety of dirt bikes, street bikes and custom builds in different stages, my eyes fixate on a desk plastered with sketches and inspiration hanging on the walls.

 

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This is Jeremy’s happy place. He tells me this is where he finds his Zen. Where he can get lost in his head in the midst of his motorcycles and his artwork as he sketches out his next creation. 

 

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Jeremy works a day job at an industrial design firm to pay the bills, but it’s clear that the relationship between his artwork and these two-wheeled machines is more than just a hobby; this is a passion that runs deep.  On top of being an amazing artist, he might be the nicest, most down-to-earth person you will ever meet.  In the current world of Instagram “influencers” and trendy motorcycle wannabes, it seems increasingly harder to find genuinely talented and passionate people like this. The world could use more people like Jeremy Lacy.


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Featured in Volume 010


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Airforce


An Aviation Inspired Custom Motorcycle

Presented by Death Machines London | Photos by Ivo Ivanov


 

They say convenient is the enemy of right. Mr. Giovanni Ravelli, a co-founder of Moto Guzzi, was not a man to take the convenient path. WW1 fighter pilot, aviator and motorcycle racer, he was so fast he became known as ‘The Italian Devil’. We hope he would have appreciated the fact that our Moto Guzzi Airforce, built in his memory and released on his birthday, was the most inconvenient thing we’ve ever made.

 

For Giovanni Ravelli. 14 January 1887 - 11 august 1919

 

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From the hand-formed bodywork, to the aviation-inspired chassis and wheels, Ravelli’s influence has shaped Airforce. In fact, pretty much every design decision began with ‘what would Giovanni do?’.

The donor motorcycle, a 1982 Moto Guzzi LeMans Mk2, was discovered in a yard in southern Italy, having been involved in an argument with a truck. Left outside, it was quietly corroding away in the sun and salty air.

Despite its condition the potential was obvious and upon delivery back to our works in London, the strip down began. The engine was found to be in remarkable condition, with no major problems discovered. A full forensic inspection, vapour cleaning & reassembly, along with replacement bearings, seals gaskets completed the main engine work. The cylinder heads were subjected to a total refresh, along with our signature gas flowing. Carburation is through a pair of modified 36mm pumper Dell’Orto carburettors. The package is completed with our in-house velocity stacks and open slash cut headers.

 

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Guzzi’s legendary ‘Tonti’ frame works. That is a fact.

They handle well, you pick a line and they follow it, so any modification had to be limited. Our ‘what would Giovanni do?’ version of ‘limited’ was to radically modify, in the spirit of those pioneering times of course. Giovanni would have approved. As well as the obligatory de-lugging and subframe modifications, a custom in-house head stock was manufactured, to increase the rake by 3 degrees to 30. The original swing arm was swapped out for a heavily modified Moto Guzzi California swinging arm which was braced and coupled to a mono shock cantilevered system. Not something we’ve seen done before.

The frame and front wheel were then coated in our custom ‘Airforce Grey’, mixed specifically for this project. The wheels are modified California Hubs, laced to 21x3.00 aluminium rims, the rear utilising hand spun aluminium disc covers. Tyres are period Firestone items. The front end is a highly customised Aprillia RS250 arrangement, re-valved and refinished, while the rear suspension unit is an aviation-inspired bespoke item courtesy of Hagon.

Braking is taken care of by a pair of billet four pot Brembo calipers, operated remotely via cable to a Brembo RCS master cylinder. Designed and built in house, the 300mm rotors are one off DMOL designed steel items.

 

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Engineering that has more in common with watchmaking, than with motorcycle building.

All the controls on Airforce are custom-made: clip-on tubes, grips, and internal throttle have all been fabricated in-house with pegs and controls working on modified Stucchi gear change linkage. Airforce also features our first set of completely custom levers: the inverse Lever Type IN01. Precision machined from aviation grade aluminium, the IN01’s will soon be available to buy as a part.

An M-Unit and custom loom controls the machines electric functions, with a single Xenon projector light working both hi and low beam and an LED rear light housed in our custom cluster. The speedometer has been redesigned and precision etched in nickel silver and brass, with dimmable radial illumination through a dedicated controller. Now, we know they didn’t have electric guitars and amps back in Giovanni’s day, but we like to think he’d be into his Foo Fighters, so ignition comes courtesy of a ¼ inch guitar jack with a built in immobiliser proximity sensor. Because hell yeah.

 

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Hand-beaten aluminium bodywork that says one thing: Speed.

And finally to that bodywork. Beaten and welded by the hand of DMOL’s master craftsman, all the panelling has been built using the classic buck technique, where a wood skeleton is wrapped in aluminium - something Giovanni would’ve appreciated. This process, for obvious reasons, leaves imperfections - tiny hammer dents, small weld holes and the like. These are usually covered with filler and paintwork, but instead we chose to leave the metal raw and simply brush it - reminiscent of the WW1 fighter that was our inspiration for the project.

The front fairing slots into the side of the fuel tank, creating uninterrupted flowing lines. The lower concave curve of the fuel tank is mirror polished to reflect the high-gloss paint finish on the inside of the front fairing - the only part of the bodywork that is given this treatment. The belly-pan is double-skinned, enclosing the exhaust pipes. Finally, the Italian leather seat features a hand-stitched pattern based on air-flow to enhance the impression of movement.

Airforce was built in 112 days (just in time for BikeShed 2017). So why did we wait so long to tell anyone about it? Because it needed to be better. There were parts we could’ve left alone without anyone noticing, except we noticed. It would’ve been far easier to not remake the belly pan or re-engineer entirely new levers. That would’ve been the convenient thing to do. But as Mr. Giovanni Ravelli knew: the meek are seldom remembered.

 

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Dirt Wolves


An El Solitario Story

Produced by El Solitario MC


 

The original idea for this film was just to show the world how bored and tired we were of road and traffic regulations, as well as all conventionalism propagated by selfish politicians that the only thing they really care about, is to leave their seat with deep pockets and a big grin. Also we wanted to show some love & respect to the awesome people that have helped us jump into the world of off road riding and showed us how its done.

But later with the deliberate burn of all the forests surrounding our schools, bars, houses and our studio, we realized it was time to rise the volume and join the fight to preserve our lives. Motorcycles have a horrible image around the world because we don’t obey, but we are among the most sustainable communities I know. We suffer the elements in our face though love and respect them. We don’t take them for granted! Of course most idiots will think that it is us, off roaders and other people that pursue their freedom in the wildlife, that are responsible for the loss of our ecosystems. Now, policymakers will try to ban motorcycles, bicycles or people walking their dog in our forests so that they can continue making money with the future of our children, unwatched.

At El Solitario we understand the need to evolve to keep it real, but human evolution has become a path of destruction. Our world is being looted and vandalized by greed and a ferocious excess of human population. Our immediate answer was to scape civilization and blend into one of the most remote and least populated areas of the country. Still human stupidity caught up with us and brought its destructive ethos along, burning our habitat. No we know that we shall do what we can to stop this. And if we need to get political and radicalize our activism on the way, so be it. This vital journey we embarked 8 years ago was intended to leave a positive imprint in our world and so we it will be!

 

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Project Dirt Wolves, is a logical consequence of a change of paradigm for El Solitario, that kicked off with E.S. Desert Wolves. Once we got a taste of the off road life, in the African Sahara, we understood there was no way back. We still love our vintage and one-off machines, but with the escalation of road & traffic regulations they’ve become outlawed and the hassles of riding them in the open roads makes it not fun. Motorcycles have no future amigos…

So how to age recklessly, remain emotionally immature and have fun without getting arrested? Ride dirt bikes! As the letters KTM stand for, you will Keep Throwing Money every year to hurt yourself, then come home smelly, dirty, exhausted, and miserable because as usual you failed in your ongoing battle with gravity on a motorbike.

The E.S. Dirt Wolves started life as a pair of 2017 KTM EXC350/F which we modified to make overnight rides in the safest possible way. Off road riding at your 40s is a risky endeavour, so protection and functionality are the top priorities when you are set to design the perfect ride. Unlike we used to do, when designing custom bikes, when you leave the conforts of asphalt, form must follow function 100%. Even the subtlest change can make a huge difference on your performance so you need to be cautious and follow a strict plan.

As Adventure Oz says, there is no evidence of motorcycles in the after life, so we’ve decided to ride every day like if it was the last! With this clear in mind, we grabbed paper and pencil and jotted the following wishes: We want to get so lost that even the GPS quits in a puff of smoke. We want to jump into rivers, so cold, that your balls disappear for months. Also want to drink whisky around the fire, while camping under the stars. These were our plans and these are the motorcycles we designed for the task.

 

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