Endless

Jimmy Hill: Iceland

A Film by Shift MX


Introducing our first ENDLESS project: The Iceland Collection.

Endless represents the limitless opportunities from new products, to new moments that will define the culture, to the endless places to ride a dirt bike. We were inspired by Iceland's black sand beaches, abundant glacial masses and grey overcast skies and it is reflected in the design of this gear set. But our inspiration didn’t stop at just color. More importantly, knitting in Iceland is a traditional craft that has shaped both the lives of locals and the culture that surrounds it. We incorporated this purpose-driven construction in a way specific and beneficial to moto. The end result, our completely redesigned 3LUE Label 2.0 chassis now utilizes engineered knit in our jersey’s and premium materials throughout the rest of the kit. The Iceland gear set: as unique as the craft, the people and the island that inspired it.

The Catalyst

A Message from ATWYLD

Words by Anya Violet


People find their way to a life on two wheels for many different reasons. For some of us, it is not a choice, but an absolute necessity that is deeply engrained in our DNA. It takes a certain genetic makeup to find joy atop a machine propelling you through space at a high velocity. 

It’s easy to wonder why someone would do something that is considered to be so dangerous. Why do people climb mountains, jump out of airplanes or go to the moon? The answer most certainly is: Because we can. The thrill of the ride outweighs the fear of death. What is life without challenge and risk? Within everyone there is a drive to explore and experience, but it is up to the individual to feed that drive or not. Some of us need a little motivation and inspiration.

Think about the first time you saw someone on a motorcycle. Something clicked in your brain. The aerodynamic curves of the bike shaping perfectly around the human body. The power of the machine placed right in the palm of your hand. The motor growling and beckoning to be pushed further and further. The allure of the bike draws you in, and if you allow it, that can introduce you to a new world.

As motorcyclists, the love for the sport resides in our very souls — an almost primal instinct to reach far beyond our comfort zones to the edge. The machine is the catalyst, forever an inspiration to pursue the unreachable and explore the boundaries of what is possible with human and machine.

You can feel the adrenaline build with the twist of the throttle. The day blows off you in the wind as your mind becomes clear and focused. The person that you are away from your bike is gone, and the ride has taken you to a new level. A version of yourself that you did not know was there emerges as you become one with your machine. 

A motorcycle can ignite a drive and passion within you that may otherwise lay dormant for an entire lifetime. Giving in, and letting the thrill wash over you, provides an entirely new way to see life. All of the senses are heightened atop this perfectly built machine as you escape the norm.  A bond grows with every mile and every turn. Whomever you are in the world can be enhanced with a motorcycle. 

Ryan Cox

Lost in the Details

Words & photos by Todd Blubaugh


As I studied his motorcycle before shooting it, I couldn’t help but notice how much it spoke to what I know of Ryan Cox as a person: He is a calculated man who considers many decisions before making one.

The first time I saw this 39 was in Palm Springs at the Paradise Road Show. It stood out among the usual suspects not because it was loud (visually), but because it quietly held my attention over the rest of the noise. I knew immediately who had built it. 

Ryan has always impressed me. His bikes are concise – he designs them without gimmicks, and every detail has a noticeable function. This 39 is thus far my favorite, so I called him on a Friday night and asked if I could shoot it. Thirty minutes later, he was at my office dropping it off after a long day of work. Ryan is a wardrobe stylist here in Los Angeles, which makes a lot of sense if you are looking at this bike – he does not cut corners when it comes to the smallest detail. Although his bikes are custom, he builds them to production standards … taking the time and money to find the proper vintage for all his components. Ryan tells me that he can’t help his OCD, but it clearly has its advantages when styling a job or one of his bikes.

His introduction to motorcycles started in the dirt: He was born in Astoria, Oregon, where a lot of his family still resides. Motorbikes were a household item, and his father used to ride Ryan around on his gas tank at age 2. Ryan had a mini bike by age 6 back in 1986; after mowing lawns all summer, he bought a brand-new XR 80 for $1,200 from the Honda dealership. 

Most of Ryan’s formative years happened in Southern California after his family moved to Thousand Oaks. He fell in love with racing dirt bikes, but always kept an appreciation for Harleys  (his father had been an enthusiast since the ’60s). In his 20s, Ryan started turning his attention toward Choppers. After building a pan, a knuckle and even a Triumph, he started looking at side valve motors. A friend he knew and trusted was selling an 80” 1939 UH. Ryan decided to start this project the moment he saw the motor. It took him a year and a half to collect all the parts and another 10 months to build.  He finished the night before David Mann Chopperfest, where the bike received the David Mann Memorial Award (the most prestigious honor of the show). Since then, the 39 won Best in Show at the Paradise Road Show and Best Flathead at Born Free 10. In September, the bike will head to Milwaukee for the 115-year Harley-Davidson anniversary party.

He told me it was never his intention to build a celebrated artifact.  But that’s just what happens when Ryan gets lost in the details.

By the time I finished shooting his bike, I felt like I knew him a little more deeply. I still consider Ryan to be quiet, but now I understand why. Who needs to explain themselves when their work can do it for them?

First Ride

A We Went Fast Production

Written & produced by Brett Smith | Cinematography by Spencer Grundler


Do you remember the first time you rode a motorcycle? Your first bike? That magical moment became a lifetime memory.

Kids today are not discovering motorcycles at the rate their parents and grandparents did. The motorcycle industry needs new riders. The dealerships need more youth coming in their doors and the local race tracks need more kids signing up to compete.

When the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame asked for a video to kick off the Class of 2018 ceremony, I pitched a concept that aimed to inspire a future hall of famer rather than celebrate the present inductees

“First Ride” acts out the imagination of one boy discovering motorcycles. One child whose life is forever changed.

The Alaskan

Built for the Last Frontier

Words by Alex Earle | Video by Chris Thoms | Photos by Boyd Jaynes


Exploration. What does that even mean in a time when everything has been Google-mapped? Maybe it’s as simple as getting out of your own headspace and challenging yourself in some less familiar game, eschewing the comforts of the routine. And so you enter the Wilderness. And what a place! Powerfully flowing rivers, vast mountains, glaciers, large animals, bush planes: Alaska. Dramatic weather changes favor the well prepared. The endless summertime daylight encourages movement.

An inspirational landscape matched by the lore of the many rugged individuals who have gone before. An opportunity to get off the grid and truly stretch your legs.

A year prior, I came to this place with Michael Vienne on a scouting trip. Seeking routes and identifying what is required to comfortably disappear for a time. We encountered mid-August temperatures as low as 39 degrees and six straight days of driving rain that turned every track into a slimy river of mud. We never saw McKinley, as its 29,000-foot summit was constantly hidden by the clouds. It was a grueling rental bike marathon, but plans were laid and the course was set.  

Returning to my temporary shop space in California, I began to strip down the Ducati Desert Sled that would be transformed into the “Alaskan.” A very simple and robust machine that proved a worthy foundation for the concept. The great distances between fuel stops demanded increased range, so I set about hand-forming larger tanks. The broken terrain demanded taller, super-aggressive tires. The anticipated rock strikes and inevitable get-offs required skid plate and crash bars, and so on. Months of late-night flogging followed by ridiculously limited testing, and the thing was done. Shipped, unproven, to Anchorage.

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Dan Trotti, Chris Thoms, Boyd Jaynes, Nathon Verdugo, Robie Michelin and I converged and collected our bikes. Not one of us has a great deal of experience off-road with fully loaded bikes. And my bike has never before been completely outfitted. It’s all strapped down. New waterproof riding gear zippered up, and we are off. It’s not until an hour of riding has passed that I start to shed the normalcy and thrill at what is to come. 

A few hours later we are on a glacier. The beautifully marbled, glowing ice is compelling, and I am euphoric like a dog let off the leash, hopping across floating ice blocks. The team scatters across the flow. 

Chris expertly pilots a drone above the team as we cross a deep gorge. Quietly capturing the expanse and just how small we are within it. This new tool reveals weather beyond our earthbound line of sight.  

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Unlike the previous year, the weather is ideal. Never any real sense of menace. Raining only long enough to produce a spirit-lifting rainbow. Combined with the endless daylight, you quickly lose all sense of time. You ride longer, eat later and drink a lot of beer. It doesn’t take long to revert to being a limitless, feral animal. Sitting cross-legged in the dirt, well provisioned and happy — grateful for the wall of campfire smoke that is keeping the mosquitos at bay. 

Day Two, and Nathon is wheelying my fully loaded Alaskan through a massive puddle for the camera.  Looks fantastic splashing past at speed.

The bike is resplendent covered in mud and finally has some trail cred. I am elated! It’s holding up to some serious abuse and sounds great. Very comfortable, but still raw enough. I don’t wish to be isolated from the elements — I want to master them.  

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As luck would have it, Nathon’s mom, Kathie, was spending the summer in a camp near Denali National Park.  Kathie is an accomplished rider herself who could certainly still outride any one of us. I’ll never forget how disappointed she looked while inspecting the tracks we left in the mud leading to our camp. “I don’t see any roost!?”   She hooked us up with cabins, hot showers and a chance to make some required repairs to the bikes. My bike was suffering from a split fuel line. Replaced and rerouted, we carried on.  

The next destination was Manley Hot Springs to the north. Of course, we already had been experiencing mosquitos, but in this place they were truly outstanding. So many mosquitos. We beat a hasty retreat into the surreal tropical greenhouse enclosing Japanese-style tubs of naturally heated water. Amazing.  Refreshed, we spent the night drinking at the bar, while helicopter flight crews kept watch on a nearby forest fire, before returning to our tents. We arrived just in time to watch an immense moose and her three calves swim across a slough and clamber up the bank on the far side. 

It was at about this point that I lost all track of time.  

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We headed south towards Talkeetna and Petersville Mining Road. Dan was occasionally trying his luck with the fishing reel. Robie was on a mission to ride every singletrack bypass, and Boyd tirelessly captured images of everything. We established camp on a hilltop surrounded by low, vibrant green shrubs with Mount McKinley looming high in its own atmosphere to our north. This place was heaven. No deadlines or reception. We were in the middle of a network of mine access roads, river crossings, mud and snow. This is where I fully realized the capabilities of the bike I had conceived and assembled for this very purpose. We spent days just exploring various tracks, and I grew to appreciate the machine. Not merely as a motorcycle, but as a conveyance that affords us an experience such as this. It does not shield us from the elements, but rather plunges us more deeply into them. 

Cruzadores Del Sur

Tacos & Treasure in Mexico

Words by Forrest Minchinton | Video by Cameron Goold


Lace up your boots the same way every time. Laces tight, jeans over the boot. Much like how you saddle your horse. She’s made of steel; her tires got air and the chain seems tight. Grab a jacket to keep you warm and the sun off your back and a helmet to catch your brains in case you crash and don’t end up right. Pack some gloves, a pair of shades, and a bedroll for when the sun goes down. Surfboards strapped to the side of your horse and a bar of wax that’s gotta last ya’ ’til you turn home, if or when you decide it’s right. You’re not the first, nor will you be the last. And as soon as the dust settles across the valley, there comes another rider with the same plight. We’re off in search of gold, diamonds, tequila and maybe a nice woman to rub our feet if she will. You might become distracted as the wind blows you to sea, from the shore and into the ocean. Here everything is real. Try it yourself and see how you feel. The waves will make you dance if you do it right. Swell, wind, the land, everything must be just so. It takes a man a lifetime of searching and waiting to really know. Eventually you will forget why you have started south, but then you paddle back out. Washing away the dirt, the dust, the bugs, and if you’re lucky maybe catch a buzz.  It may just stick around and that’s all right.

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You forge on because nary an idle man has ever found what he was after. The next town south.  It faces the great Pacific. She has weathered many a storm and not much is there except a watering hole. From the distance you’ll hear laughter, fishermen, and ranchers. They’ll give you a long, hard stare as you enter…Who the hell are you? And what is it you’re after? De donde eres? Y porque estan aqui? A motorcycle, a surfboard, and not much else to offer. With that you will become friends when they learn it’s just good times thereafter. Neither the fisherman nor the rancher have any interest in the waves you are searching for. It is not a commodity to them. They cannot box it, they cannot sell it, and their children, these men won’t let go hungry. And so the waves, they can be yours forever after. 

For 1,200 miles the Pacific Ocean kisses this rugged peninsula. The wind is relentless, the desert harsh and unforgiving. Fresh water is scarce, and the farther south you go the worse it becomes. That is, until it doesn’t. Eventually it gets better, the ocean begins to warm and worries of home fade with every sunset and every mile. Tacos get cheaper and your appetite grows stronger. You learn and you adapt. Your motorcycle is made of steel, but not even she will last. So you take it easy and only give her as much as she can handle. The road is rough and long, and you can’t afford to be stranded. You ride long enough until the next bay, the next swell, and when the wind hits just right, take off your boots, and paddle out. You’re headed south and there’s something you’re after. I think it was gold or maybe it was diamonds or tequila?  Once you get there you might realize it’s really just freedom that you have come to master.

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The Chase

Racing Trains in Moscow

A film by Daniel Kushnarevich


Andrey Essaulov is a coach who trains enduro riding in Moscow and he is a close friend of filmmaker Daniel Kushnarevich. They have produced several projects together and Andrey is always willing to help Daniel with his crazy ideas, but this time it was the other way around...

Daniel received a call from Andrey early one morning. He told Daniel that he found a great spot to fulfill his old idea of racing a train. They only had two days before Andrey had to leave Moscow and were only able to shoot in the early morning when the trains run. So two days in a row they woke up at 4am and standing at the first station by 6 waiting for a train. The first day was a "test" day. Andrey and his friend Alex were checking the road, speed, spots where you can go closer/further from train. Daniel shot some footage on a drone and the next day decided to bring a second cameraman, Sergey. As the guys were chasing a train Daniel was riding a Honda CL400 with Sergey on the back at the speeds of 25-30 mph. For the last train ride Sergey sat on the train and filmed the whole ride from the window.

Good times in Moscow. Thanks for watching!

Walt Siegl

Enigma

Video by Outsider Media | Words by Andrew Campo


Upon first sight, I stopped and stood back a few feet. I was nervous to get too close, and admittedly was overwhelmed in its presence. It was an instinctive reaction that could be compared to an encounter with something rare and exquisite in stature. As if I were in a museum eyeing down an eminent piece of art. I needed the space in an effort to begin taking it in; there was a lot to pore over. As my eyes wandered, and I soaked in the color system, the chassis and the bodywork, I hastily fell in love.

Standing before me was a Walt Siegl Motorcycles Leggero that belongs to a close friend of mine. After spending a few minutes in a trancelike state, I began to ponder putting together this story. I wanted to learn more about this enigma of a man and the intellect behind the remarkable design and execution unique to his brand. I wanted to share my findings with our readers and dress our pages with images of machines worthy of revisiting time and time again. Walt is a craftsman and an engineer, and his bikes are a tangible expression of both passion and artistry.

Photo by Daniela Maria

Photo by Daniela Maria

At age 19, Walt left art school in his native Austria to join a road racing team. He later worked in France as a shunter in a train yard and as a toolmaker and welder throughout Germany, Austria and Italy. A job with an Austrian steel company took him to Moscow, where he eventually joined the Austrian Foreign Service.

In 1985 he transferred to New York City for a position promoting contemporary Austrian art and culture for the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Walt spent his free time building motorcycles for himself and friends out of a basement across the river in Long Island City.

In 2007 he moved his workshop and his family to an old mill town in southern New Hampshire to build motorcycles full time—and the rest is history in the making.

Success can often be attributed to the people with whom you choose to surround yourself. We turned to one of Walt’s close friends, Paulo Rosas, to help pull together insight from Walt’s cadre, peers, family and esteemed clients, all in an effort to take an outside look into the life of one of the most respected and intriguing people in motorcycling.


Photo by David Goldman

Photo by David Goldman

Laura Carden - Walt’s Wife

My husband, Walt, is a true artist and craftsman of motorcycles. His vision, and then the precision of his implementation of that vision, knocks me out every time. 

I love the sketching phase of a new model design. To see what has arrived in his brain, like magic, fully formed. I like it also because he’s home for that part. He’s at the kitchen table, with our son’s colored pencils spread around him. 

If I could use only one word to describe Walt’s work, I think it would be “pure.” 

Walt takes profile pictures of projects at every stage and then pores over the images at home. He says looking in two dimensions is the only way for him to get the lines right. 

Typical conversation over morning coffee:

Me: “What are you thinking about?”

Walt: “Boxed swingarms.”

At the workshop, Walt will call me from my bookkeeping desk to stand with him at a certain spot, to look at a motorcycle, to get my opinion on the line made by an exhaust pipe held a half inch up or down, for example, or for my opinion of an overall profile. Or at completion, he will ask if there is absolutely anything at all that my eye is tripping on. I love that he really wants to know. These days it’s rare I find anything. Final completion is always breathtaking. 

I love working with Walt and Aran and Brian at the shop—being around these guys who love what they are doing, who have lived and breathed motorcycles their entire lives. I think it’s a dream for all of us!

Chris Hunter - Founder, Bike EXIF

If there’s a phrase that springs to my mind whenever I think of Walt, it’s “class act.” He’s a gentleman with an unerring sense of taste and style: an elegant Paul Newman, rather than a loutish Steve McQueen.  

It shows in his work. There are maybe five builders in the world who consistently hit the mark with every new creation, and Walt is one of them. Generally, when a builder gets in touch with us to say, “I’ve finished a new bike,” we’ll say, “Send us the details and we’ll take a look.”  But when Walt drops us a line, we say “Yes” automatically. You just know it’s going to be well designed, beautifully finished, and carefully photographed.

I suspect Walt’s success comes from the rich experiences he’s had in life. He’s lived in France, Italy and the Soviet Union. His family has a history of artistry. He’s raced bikes. He’s what you might call a well-rounded man.

Last year, I judged the best custom show in Australia: the Machine Show in Braidwood. There were some stunning bikes on display, from vintage British cafe racers to old-school choppers. I noticed a group of people milling around a bike parked just outside the showgrounds, away from the official show area. After squeezing my way through, I realized that it was a WSM Leggero. It was exquisite—as good as any of the machines in the official display.

I’ve seen a lot of custom builds in my time, but since that moment, I’ve wanted a Leggero in my garage more than any other machine.

Photo by David Goldman

Photo by David Goldman

Nicholas Harrison - Customer and friend

In 2012 I realized that I wanted a more personalized motorcycle experience. I started researching builders and saving images of builds that appealed to me. After two years, I noticed a common recurrence. Many of my saves were Walt Siegl-built bikes. 

Walt and I connected in 2014, and our first conversation lasted more than half an hour. We had actually briefly met at a track day in Canada two years earlier and had more in common than I expected. We agreed to move forward with a Leggero build, and my wife and I flew to NH to discuss the details. 

Walt met us at The General Store before taking us on a tour of the shop. We immediately felt comfortable and were happy with our choice of builder. What we didn’t know then was how special our friendship with Walt and Laura would become. 

Our Leggero build took a detour as we met the first WSM MV Agusta Bol d’Or at the inaugural dinner hosted at the shop in 2015. I agreed to buy one. This made it the first WSM bike I would take delivery of. Simplicity, form and balance at its best. This truly was a work of art. 

The experience of the build was flawless. Having the opportunity to design the livery with Walt that paid homage to Agostini was a dream come true. What I didn’t anticipate was the riding experience being as visceral as it was. This bike made every other motorcycle in my garage expendable. 

My donor bike for the Leggero build had already been delivered to the shop the same weekend as the inaugural dinner. On one of my visits to finalize details for the Bol d’Or, Walt mentioned that he was developing an idea for a new build that would be different from his Leggero builds. I decided to wait, and the Superbike that was just unveiled at the Classic Car Club in Manhattan turned out to be breathtakingly beautiful. 

The way Walt sees shapes and is able to put them together, keeping them simple yet beautiful and functional, is magical. There are too many special features on this build to list. I am very excited to ride this bike in anger at the track. 

Just recently, I was lucky enough to also add a Leggero to my collection. This bike is truly a combination of all of the best bikes I own and then some. The weight and handling are incredible. The sound, the clutch, the transmission—all perfection. Wow, just wow!!! I cherish every moment I have riding these incredible, functional pieces of art. 

Walt’s desire to always stay true to the process and still please his clients adds tremendously to the overall experience. His patience and gentle demeanor bring added class, and these experiences are indelibly etched into my memory.

Paulo Rosas - Pagnol

I met Walt and his right-hand man Aran Johnson at the Austin GP in 2015; they were both super easygoing, and we just hit it off. It was such a pleasure to meet one of my design-inspired heroes, but it was also great to see that Walt was equally nice to fans throughout the weekend. He proved to be a genuine and very approachable person who carried a sense of mystic unique to his character.

At the end of the weekend, I asked him if he would like to be a part of the Pagnol creative riders features, and he said that it would be his honor. A friendship was built, and in time Walt introduced me to one of his best friends and customer Nicholas Harrison, and a circle of friends had come to life.

I was always eager to do livery design work in “the new customs scene,” and better yet, with a WSM bike! The opportunity finally came when Walt asked me to do this for one of his MV Agusta Bol d’Or series bikes built for competition at the Barber Vintage festival.

His persona is that of an elegant and tasteful guy, but this might come across as somewhat “serious”—but he has  a great sense of humor and often is very funny.

WSM’s latest series is the stunning SBK bike, for which Nicholas ordered the very first one, and my pleasure of working a livery for a WSM bike was repeated when collaborating with Nicholas—with Walt’s eye alongside on the process for his blessing. 

Photo by David Goldman

Photo by David Goldman

Bruce Meyers - Meyers Perfomance

Part of why I do this is to keep my mind focused on continued learning and to keep exploring new things. I feel very lucky in having worked with some very talented people and advanced companies over the years. Walt is right up there with the best of them!

Back in the ’90s, Walt became a customer of my shop. The good old Ducati 916 brought us together. We became close friends over the years. When he set up shop here in New Hampshire, Susie and I got involved with his new venture. We really want Laura and Walt to be successful.

WSM engines have evolved quite a bit over the years. He has a good eye for colors. The new coatings are very nice, but until a few heat cycles, they are easy to damage, so the process is a delicate one.

I don’t think the guys who bought the early bikes likely understand what a great buy they got.

The new Superbike has made the specs higher again. Now there are some advanced, very high-end builds going on. Especially with the first air-cooled bike.

It’s going to get fun!

Photo by Matt Kiedaisch

Photo by Matt Kiedaisch

Aran Johnson - WSM Lead Technician 

When I first started working with Walt in the spring of 2014, he almost seemed nervous and cautious of my ability to produce the final product he was looking for. He had a way he had done things for a long time that had worked to that point. It was an interesting beginning, but it didn’t take long for us to get into a groove and work seamlessly with each other. 

Over the last four years, our relationship has become very symbiotic; on a daily basis we will bounce ideas off each other, and try to always innovate and improve the bikes with things other builders aren’t doing. Walt has a great imagination when it comes to designing bikes, and I try to always take his ideas and make them a reality, or at least come to some kind of compromise. My background is much more technical when it comes to motorcycles; I love advanced mechanical and electronic features and have been able to incorporate a lot of these types of things into our bikes.

I consider Walt a friend first and a boss second; we have a relationship that allows us to speak freely about design and functionality, sometimes disagreeing, but always respecting each other.  We are not a reality show; we actually like one another and are both focused on the same goals. Anytime I find a new way to improve performance or the process, Walt is on board. He is very enthusiastic about trying something different; even if it doesn’t work out, we’ll give it a try. 

One of the things that sets us apart from some other builders is the fact that Walt genuinely cares about the clients and their input. We always strive to go above and beyond with the vibe they are looking for. That being said, we don’t build things just for a “theme”; it has to function. We talk a lot about how things function at the highest level and inherently look good. Sometimes simpler is better. Clean-looking bikes with the highest level of detail are our priority.

Photo by Matt Kiedaisch

Photo by Matt Kiedaisch

Jamie Waters - REV‘IT!

Walt’s Leggero series bikes are modern-day Fabergé eggs: Each one shares major common design elements, but the results are still somehow wholly unique and special. 

It was obvious from the first few I laid eyes on that he’d essentially perfected the frame/tank/seat/fairing aesthetic, while also allowing enough personalization potential to still achieve machines of differing character. Walt’s experience as a fabricator and racer, in combination with his sculptor’s hand, yields bike of incomparable overall capability and beauty. 

Working with Walt on my bikes was an absolute pleasure. The final product distilled my core wants into a cohesive package, while keeping me from pushing for design elements that would have ultimately hurt the overall design. 

Every time I look at one of Walt’s bikes, I am reminded of the old adage “price is what you pay, value is what you get” ... and then I smile.

In This Wilderness

National Parks: Wyoming

Words by Derek Mayberry | Photos by Jimmy Bowron


Countless unread corporate emails, an obsessive boss, my loving family, and the Denver skyline — all slowly disappeared in my rearview.  Ahead of me, six riders from different walks of life, all with a common focus; the Wyoming National Parks; and the miles ahead of us on a collection of Triumphs.  It wasn’t long after breakfast in Fort Collins that we diverged from the original plan of taking a beeline route to Thermopolis for the first leg of the journey. No one muttered the words, but we all shared the same opinion: Damn the timeline; let the road guide us as it may.  Avoiding the mundane miles I-25 had in store for us, we opted for an indirect route to the Wyoming border by way of a winding ribbon of asphalt that snaked its way through the river valley of Poudre Canyon.

With a timetable as the least of our concerns, we stopped often to soak in colorful characters across sparse Wyoming towns. Split Rock Bar and Café in Rawlins, Wyoming, was an unexpected time warp back to a place before free Wi-Fi and a trendy latte selection were pretentious expectations.  A bar lined with dusty whiskey bottles that have probably been around since Evel landed his first jump back in 1965, and a pool table that had more miles on it than the rusty pickup truck out front. We could hardly pull ourselves away from this timeless Wyoming watering hole.  Across the street at Monk King Bird pottery, a disheveled Byron Seeley eagerly showcased his peculiar handcrafted clay creations.  His skin had a terracotta patina only decades of UV exposure and pottery dust could replicate.  Seeley embodied an authentic connection with the Earth that only Mother Nature could fully grasp.  After a brief stop in the welcoming town of Lander to sync up with a couple of old friends, we carved our way through Wind River Canyon as the sun set, and wrapped up Day One in the novel town of Thermopolis, known simply as the Gateway to Yellowstone Country.

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As we crested the Continental Divide on the second day, catching our first glimpse of the jagged Grand Teton, the rider ahead of me raised his arms as if to give praise to the glory of these natural wonders.  Although tucked away inside a helmet of my own, which meant having no way to communicate with him, I knew what he was feeling at that exact moment: reverence.  With our odometers clicking off the miles, we eventually traded steel skyscrapers for metamorphic crag towers.

Arriving at what would be our home for the next few days at the Pacific Creek campground just outside of Moran, Wyoming, we scouted the river bank, constructed our tents, and lit the obligatory campfire.  Stories of past adventures flowed as effortlessly as the whiskey, and when the laughter eventually dwindled with the last few burning embers, we were left with sounds of nature and an abyss of stars overhead.  

Photo by Ansel Adams

Photo by Ansel Adams

I found myself alone, staring immensely into the majestic star-filled sky. I had anticipated this moment for some time now, but was hardly prepared for the grand display overhead. My thoughts drifted roughly ten miles upstream, as the crow flies, and 76 years back in time as I recalled a photograph Ansel Adams had taken back in 1942, known simply as “The Tetons and the Snake River.” The photograph is one of 115 image files located on the Golden Records aboard the Voyager 1 and 2 interstellar spacecrafts launched in 1977. 

The phonographic records containing image and audio information were made as a message in the hope that any intelligent extraterrestrial life forms might be affected by humanity and its position in the universe, even if the likelihood of this is extremely low, and humanity may no longer exist by the time it is discovered. With an estimated lifetime of 500 million years, the records should at least bear witness to the fact that we existed on a planet that I find incredibly beautiful.

These records are somewhere out there deep in the universe, and as I lie in the valley cradled by the Tetons, I remind myself of a quote by General Omar Bradley that truly hit home: “...we steered by the stars, not by the lights of each passing ship.” The meaning is simple: It is meant as a reminder to set goals according to things that remain constant and that we can for sure rely on. If we set a course based on moving targets, we’ll never reach our intended destination. 

I let this sink in and say a prayer or two in hopes of warding off a bear attack before closing my eyes in anticipation of tomorrow’s ride. At that moment, I was unequivocally connected with the Universe. 

“Wherever we go in the mountains… we find more than we seek”

—John Muir

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As dawn broke against the Tetons the following morning, and we shook off spirits from the night before, we hustled to get our bikes pointed toward the Yellowstone South Entrance. We had a full day of riding ahead of us, and the sense of exemption that a motorcycle can provide had never been stronger. Throughout our tour of the Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, it was as if I had clicked down through the gears of time and slowed to appreciate what has always been here, this grand landscape and the way our national parks system has framed it so well.

Struck by the sheer vastness of the nearly 4,000 square miles these national parks encompass, I was reminded of an Eckhart Tolle piece in which he analyzed how we identify with an object through the illusion of ownership: “The absurdity of owning something becomes even more apparent in the case of land. In the days of the white settlement, the natives of North America found ownership of land an incomprehensible concept…They felt they belonged to the land, but the land did not belong to them.”  This resonates even more so after experiencing these parks in person.  Studying the route on a two-dimensional map filled with borders and boundary lines provided a very limited perspective.  But standing there, at the foot of the Tetons, I quickly realized the absurdity behind the concept of owning such a boundless creation.  In awe, I willingly surrendered myself to the mountains’ omnipotence.

Human history of the Grand Teton region dates back at least 11,000 years, when the first nomadic hunter-gatherers began migrating into the region during warmer months pursuing food and supplies. Grand Teton National Park is an almost pristine ecosystem and the same species of flora and fauna that have existed since prehistoric times can still be found here.  Having this knowledge helped me to see this landscape from a unforgettable point of view. Out here, life is neither long nor short. This place is freedom, and this grand show is eternal.

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“I declare this world is so beautiful that I can hardly believe it exists.” 

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Experiencing it all behind the bars of my Bonneville couldn’t have been more gratifying.  From the caustic aroma of sulfur pools to the crosswinds sweeping into Hayden Valley, the sensations came at nature’s will, unfettered and pure. Witnessing the connection between this wilderness and humanity was even more apparent through the expressions of wonderment on the faces of both young and old as the crowd’s collective attention focused on Old Faithful erupting yet again, right on time. 

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This was the first journey of its kind for me, and it presented an interesting dichotomy.  On one hand, there’s an undeniable sense of individuality when you’re on a motorcycle, a solo pilot in full control of your own personal destiny.  At the same time, there’s that common thread among fellow riders, stitching together a unique tapestry of the visceral experience shared across each and every person in the group.  At times, the pack would stretch out, seven riders in tandem equally spaced over a quarter mile; the gap between us was physically apparent as the road would sweep and bend around the Wyoming landscape. However, I knew we were all there in the same space, ever present in the moment. 

Today’s civilization continues to migrate to these places, but to get our souls fed, instead. Many who have come before us have so eloquently captured the grandeur, whether through the lens of Ansel Adams or the words of John Muir. We are reminded of our connection with what’s existed for millions of years and will remain long after we’re gone.

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A few days into the excursion, it was time to begin our return trip back to Denver. Back to life as we know it. The road home provided ample time to reflect on the national park experience, with a renewed sense of gratitude and appreciation we headed out through Wyoming’s southern plains and into the Colorado night.  

Seven of us had come together to venture out with our sights set on a temporary reprieve. We all know that we have a finite time here, yet we have a difficult time living that way, struggling with the transitory nature of our lives. This was an opportunity to put those difficulties aside and to focus on the now, to remind ourselves of how grateful we are to live in this land and in this moment.

Because in this wilderness lies the hope of the world.

Little Monster

A Story About Kelana Humphrey

Video by Cameron Goold | Words by Nathan Myers



The bike was just there. Whenever he was ready for it. 

No pressure.

By four years old, Kelana Humphrey had already been around motorcycles a lot. Two years earlier his dad, Dustin – better known by his surf photography credit “D. Hump” – had opened the Bali division of a new surf and moto brand called Deus ex Machina. 

The shop was a monument to all of Dustin’s passions: custom motorcycles, hand-shaped surfboards, live music, photo studio, full bar, and even a barber shop. Surrounded by rice paddies and waves, the shop became a lightning rod for the town of Canggu, transforming the once-quiet village into one of Bali’s hottest travel destinations. They called it the Temple of Enthusiasm.

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Photo by Keli Bow

Kelana grew up in The Temple, surfing his skateboard between the clothes racks and eavesdropping on the pro surfers, moto-riders, musicians and other adult children perpetually passing through on one journey or another. The placed buzzed with adventure. And Kelana was enmeshed. Raised on enthusiasm.

But the bike just sat there. 

No pressure.

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“One day when he was about 6,” says Dustin, “me and some friends were going for a ride on the beach and Kelana says, ‘Can I come?’ After that, he never got off the bike.”

A few miles outside Canggu, there was this overgrown little motocross track by the beach. The Deus crew cleaned it up, and before long it was their daily spot. They’d surf in the morning, moto in the afternoon, then jump into the ocean for a sunset bodysurf and ride back home along the sand. 

Within the year, Kelana – now 7 years old – began competing on the fledgling Indonesian racing circuit. His mother is Indonesian, but dad was born in Huntington Beach, California. Dustin moved to Indo two decades earlier where the exotic waves and vibrant culture became the hallmark of his photography. Traveling around the islands came naturally to him, so they made a run at the national racing circuit. 

“I’m no stranger to hard travel,” says Dustin, “but spending 24 hours on the road just to reach some tiny village with a really bad track was not much fun. Especially when there’s no ocean to jump into at the end of the road. Just dirt. And not even good dirt.”

But their efforts paid off. After his first year of competing, Kelana was the 50cc Indonesian National Motocross Champion.

Sorry. That’s not true. 

Kelana finished Second. But the kid who won was too old for the division, and Dustin always resents the kid’s cheater parents. Kelana shoulda won. Whatever.

The following year, Dustin took Kelana to California to train with professional coach Sean Lipanovich. It was intended to be a father-son experience, but just before the trip Dustin broke both of his legs on an overly ambitious jump, so it turned into a one-on-one training session for Kelana. 

“He’s a smart kid,” says Lipanovich, who’s still coaching Kelana three years later. “He remembers everything. I like how he acts mature when he’s around adults, but still acts like a kid around other kids.”

During this period, Dustin connected with Huntington Beach moto-surfer Forrest Minchinton. Forrest’s dad Mike used to shape Dustin’s surfboards back in the day. Now his son was evolving into a talented shaper/rider … which Deus was looking for. Soon enough, the Minchinton father-son duo was on their way to Bali. 

“It’s funny thinking back to when I first met Kelana,” says Forrest, now a Deus team-rider. “He was shy and quiet. I mean, he was only 7 years old. But then he took me to his track by the beach, and that’s where I really got to know him. He reminded me of myself at that age.”

Before he left Bali, Forrest told Kelana he’d show him his secret spot when they made it back to America. Kelana had no idea what that meant.

As Kelana grew, so did Deus. The brand expanded to America, Japan and Europe. And Dustin — always more focused on creating imagery than stocking clothing racks — took on the roll of Global Media Director. These days he directs films, runs photo shoots and dreams up wild events. And Kelana — child of the Temple — is along for the ride. 

It’s a unique opportunity. He’s been raised by pro-surfers like Harrison Roach and Zye Norris. Mentored by motocross guys like Forrest and Sean. He’s camped, paddled out, fixed bikes, designed boards and absorbed the strange rhythm of getting the shot. And while he’s focused on motocross, he’s had equal experience riding enduro, flat-tracking, vintage bikes, and just riding the beach at low tide. 

And then he found the desert. 

Painted in Dust was a Deus film about Forrest and his survivalist compound deep in the Mojave Desert. Dustin’s team spent a few weeks filming Forrest’s spot, where he was shaping surfboards and riding dunes whenever the waves are flat in Huntington. Kelana, of course, came along. 

But the desert is no day care center.

Photos by Harry Mark

Photos by Harry Mark

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“If you wanna ride with the big boys,” says Forrest, “you better be able to keep up. If you can’t start your bike, you can’t ride it. When you fall out here, your daddy ain’t gonna be there to pick you up.”

Forrest isn’t being mean. He’s teaching Kelana the only way he knows how. The hard way. The desert way. “If you can’t take care of yourself out here,” he says, “you’re going to be in real trouble when something goes wrong.”

Keeping up with Forrest is no small task. This desert is his second home. His ultimate playground. Kelana spends the week with his little 65cc pinned across the shifting sands, climbing hills like mountains, and hopping boulders bigger than his bike. 

Eventually, he goes down. Over the bars and into the rocks. Splits his face wide open. Then stumbles around. Knocked silly. 

Four hours later, Kelana knocks on the door of Forrest’s cabin and asks him if he’s ready to ride again.

“That right there is what it takes to be a champion,” says Forrest. “You gotta fall down and get back up. And each time you get back on the bike, you’re a better rider for it.”

At night, when the adult-children gather ’round the fire drinking beer and shooting guns at the stars, Kelana hangs in the cabin watching a weathered VHS of On Any Sunday for the 327th time. It’s no accident that the only cassette out here happens to be his favorite. It’s Forrest’s, Dustin’s and Mike’s as well. The machines may change, but the heart of moto remains the same. On Any Sunday knows this best. 

Photos by Harry Mark

Back in Bali, Deus throws these parties. They’re technically “races” or “festivals,” but anyone who’s attended will tell you it’s a party. There’s the annual “Dress-Up Drag Races,” “The 9-Foot & Single Surf Festival” and, topping the list, “Slidetober Surf-n-Moto Fest,” which includes a beach-n-jungle enduro race, Indonesia’s first flat-track course, and a motocross event at Kelana’s home track. While the racing is competitive, the vibe is all about shenanigans and laughter. 

Kelana grew up around these events. Even before he could ride, he sat on his dad’s gas tank. He’s become like a mascot. The only kid there. The only kid competing. Cute and well-mannered. Hanging with the adults. He learned to love an audience. After winning this year’s moto-event, Kelana one-hand claims the final jump, then victory dances in the straightaway. The crowd eats it up.

“That’s just where I grew up,” he says. “Everyone there is like my uncles and aunties. It’s a family reunion.”

But Bali is Never-Never Land. To the outside world, the lost boys of Deus ex Machina are more fairy tale than real racers. So when Kelana shows up at “real” competitions, it’s always a bit unsettling. Where’s the music? Where’s the foul-mouthed commentary? Where’s the joy? 

Dustin feels it, too. The last thing he wants to become is another motocross soccer mom. He does not want results to determine our overall experience at the races. He says “it’s a balancing act; I want him to win and at times I will push him to be his best, but I don’t want his race results to determine our overall experience at the races. We all know the percentage of kids who actually make it, so we have to enjoy this time.”

“You see a lot of these young kids burn out after years of living out of a motorhome,” says Donny Elmer, marketing director of FMF racing.

“It’s cool how Dustin and Kelana are approaching it, because they’re taking it seriously, with coaches, training and all the racing … but at the end of the day, their focus is still on having fun and being a kid. Kelana’s got the skill and the speed to take it to the next level; the trick is just sustaining that high level of motivation.”

“We founded Deus around the idea that motorcycles are for fun,” says Dustin. “That’s how we feel about ’em. You ride alone, but you ride together. It’s a community.”

But the racing is in Kelana’s blood. When he puts on his helmet and goggles, the sweet little boy is gone. Out on the track, Kelana throws a block pass, wheelies through the braking bumps, then hits an 80-footer. “When I’m racing,” he says, “everything else just disappears. It’s just me and my bike. And I love that feeling.” 

As much as Kelana is gunning for the big leagues, Dustin’s wary of holeshoting his childhood. “We raced motocross when I was a kid, too,” he says, “but then my parents had to sell our bikes to pay the rent. This sport isn’t cheap. We’re not rich, but I can afford to give Kelana the opportunities I never had. And, yeah, maybe parents live our dreams through their kids … but that’s not necessarily a negative thing. I had my time, and this is his. I can enjoy watching the journey and being a part of it.”

Photos by Harry Mark

So they move back to Huntington Beach. Dustin never imagined he’d be back, but now it makes sense. Life moves in circles. Here, he’s closer to coaches, sponsors and real competition. Kelana puts in four days a week on the track, as well as gym and cardio training. Posters of Roczen, Bereman and Dungy decorate his walls. Rows of trophies line the dresser. He’s been winning local races and cracking the Top 10 of the nationals, but equally important are the bicycle rides to the beach and sunset skate sessions. Homework and tutors. Just being a kid. 

“It’s a lot of commitment for a 10 year old,” says Dustin. “So, I let him decide if he wants it or not. At the end of the year he gets to choose if we continue or not. If he makes that commitment and he’s in 100 percent, then I’ll be there 200 percent. But it’s his choice. And we also make sure to keep it in balance. Keep it fun.” 

Recently, they put the bikes away and spent a couple of months in Dustin’s favorite little Indonesian surf town. Off the grid. Long, gentle pointbreaks out front and a skate park up the road. Here Kelana goes surfing, skimboarding and skating. To be just a normal kid. 

Because that’s what he is.

And because maybe there’s more to life than riding motorcycles. And if not, the bike will be right there for him. 


No pressure.

Gratitude

A Special Thank You From the Team at META

Video produced by Superbird Studios


A little over five years ago we took a massive leap of faith when we introduced the idea of a specialty motorcycle magazine with Volume 001 of META. At the time, print publications were in a transitional state and the big question was: “What do the magazines of tomorrow look like?” Our answer to this question was an outlet for creativity and a platform to preserve our adventures and the stories that inspire us in a high quality print collection unique to our ethos. 

This Thanksgiving we have a lot to be thankful for, but most of all we want to give thanks to all of our readers, supporters, fans, followers and brand partners for joining us on the ride so far. Your support is what has made this journey so special. 

Five years into this amazing dream we felt that it was necessary to take the time to look back and reflect on the journey so far. We have so much gratitude for the opportunity to ride motorcycles across the globe and work with a network of amazingly talented creatives while documenting stories of the incredible people and places that inspire us. We are proud of all the milestones we’ve reached within the first five years, and we are so excited about the infinite possibilities for META’s future.

META came to life through YOUR support and when all is said and done YOU have helped define an amazing chapter of our lives that has been one hell of ride. So thank you. Here’s to next five years and beyond.

 

Happy Holidays from the team at META

Fragments from the Road

America, America: Precollapse of Capitalism

Words by Justin Chatwin | Photos by Dean Bradshaw

With quotes from Bruce Chatwin’s “The Songlines”, 1987


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Seems to me that the most challenging thing to take a trip is a reason.  A purpose.   A yearning for something that symbolizes something bigger than our day-to-day lives. A daydream fantasy. Something that, even when you’re hung over and exhausted from nights of no sleep, you still are pulled forward to get to that place, or person, or fantasy.

Once you have that reason, the rest of the trip takes care of itsself. I once delivered a pair of white motorcycle gloves to a girl on the other side of the country. I once went because a friend bought a new motorcycle. I once went because of a pig roast 2,000 miles away. Or an unseen national park. Or a hot spring. Or a dry lake bed. Or an old miner’s camp. Or a job. Or a funeral. Or that girl ...    

Or simply “for no good reason.”  

In this case, it was a combination of all of them.

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June 22nd. 5:45pm  

No cell service.  Hot pipe on upper lumbar. 522 miles today. Three states. Four gas stops. Oil floods the cracks on the white lakebed. Alkali-caked fingernails. Corn nuts in my beard. Still no cell service. Raccoon goggle lines. Used underwear flaps from the end of the Tenkara rod. No rivers round here. Homemade airplane runway. I need to drink more water. Chewing tobacco in my right rear molar. Sand-caked eyes are stinging. Heart rate is uncomfortably low. Shoulders won’t go down.  Humming of a Cessna from the high mesa.

 

Still no cell service.

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“Psychiatrists, politicians and tyrants are forever assuring us that the wandering life is an aberrant form of behavior; a neurosis; a form of unfulfilled sexual longing; a sickness which, in the interests of civilisation, must be suppressed. Nazi propagandists claimed that gipsies and Jews ‑ peoples with wandering in their genes ‑ could find no place in a stable Reich. Yet in the East, they still preserve the once universal concept: that wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.”  

I could hear the bending groan of aluminum from the wind. My cousin’s airplane. The Airstream. Our motorcycles. And the belly laughter of my strange group of friends echoed. Men from all different corners of the continent. Looking for an escape. To nowhere.  That was soothing. So, I put down my book, closed my eyes, and farted.  

And I finally felt my shoulders drop.

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Why must a man with enough money to live on, in happiness in his life, feel drawn to divert himself on long sea voyages. Or to sleep in the dirt? To dwell in another town? To go off in search of a rare goat? Or to go off to war and break skulls? Anarchists were always the gentlemen of the road.  

 

Gypsies saw themselves as hunters. The world is their hunting ground.

Our nature lies in movement, complete calm is death.  

However, romantic ideas may put you sleeping in a ditch.

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America, America. America the great. America the big. America the lost. America the I will not shed a tear nor have regret for our past. Sparkplug America and his broken rodeo. The cracked mirrors. Shiny cars. Crop-top lattes.  And social media ambassadors. We are begging the youth to smash down the current walls. The broken dreams. It was a trap!! It did not work! So let’s rebuild! Rebuild! And ride as far and as fast as you can before the wolf of America catches you. Drinking. Sucking. And Fucking. And licking his pearly chops at your idea of a quick fix into cheap happiness that will rise momentarily then fall into the same hole as the Navajo and the Lakota. All of the cities and wars and selfies and greedy little daydream fantasies that one day I will be OK will not help you sleep better at night.

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Bottom of the rucksack. Pebbles. Sand. One switch blade. Origin: Nevada. One Argentinian dollar coin. Origin: Patagonia, 2 years prior. A rosary given to me by a woman in Texas who felt Jesus would come help me one day. An unopened condom.  Origin: my roommate’s toiletries bag.  And a piece of folded rice paper that read:

“Go west young man! Go west! Away from the cities and the government camps. Away from glue, hash, smack, gaol. Out! Back to the desert from which grandfather was hounded” Origin, unknown. 

 

And last, A little white pin that read

“A journey is a fragment of Hell”

Origin, Hell.

The road is my home.


 
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Read the story in Volume 013

The Ones He Left Behind

A Tribute to Kurt Caselli

Words by Megan Blackburn


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A cool morning welcomed August 24, 2013. It had rained all week in Panaca, Nevada, and the 100-mile course for Round 9 of the 2013 AMA National Hare and Hound Series would be prime for the guy who could muster the speed to be out front all day. This round was a deciding race for the champion, and all he had to do was finish in front of the guy who was second in points.

Hundreds of racers rolled up to the line of the bomb run, ready to transfer their nerves into speed. Dark clouds of thunder rolled in just minutes before the banner was to drop, and soon raindrops small enough to be a nuisance on the riders’ goggles fell from the sky. The banner rose and the raindrops grew, falling heavier and faster. Claps of thunder roared from above and lightning reached across the horizon. The intensity was at an all-time high, as if nature knew a champion was about to be crowned.

The banner dropped and the rider on the #1 Factory KTM 450SX-F quickly lit his electric start machine, winning the duel against his peers. Instantly the heavy rain turned into hail, pounding against the helmet, hands and back of the #1 racer. In his own iconic way, he held the throttle wide open and stared with tunnel vision through the raindrops to the banners that marked the course. With nothing to fear in his heart, he left his friends and fans behind as the adrenaline pumped through his veins. He pushed faster and faster through the mountains and valleys, over rocks and brush. There was nothing that could hold him back. His innate ability and poetic speed separated him from the riders he left behind.

 

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Every turn was calculated, every sprint was timed and every motion was precise. His mind raced faster than his bike could carry him, because to be a thought ahead of his actions was key. In this moment, his mind was free and his clarity of purpose allowed him to be the best possible version of himself. He trusted his team to refuel him, and they did it perfectly without hesitation. He was the one no one could catch, the lesson to be learned by those he left behind.

 

"There was nothing ahead that could hold him back; that's what separated him from the ones he left behind."

 

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"The rain cleansed the desert of it's imperfections, and he would pave the way for the ones he left behind."

 

This course was like no other he’d seen all year. The rain had dampened the dirt beneath him and there was no tread that lay before him. His lines were smooth as he positioned his body with grace; a racer couldn’t be more perfect. The rain had cleansed the desert of its imperfections, and he would be the one to pave the way for the riders he left behind.

 

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Kurt Caselli became the champion that day. Nature greeted him at the finish line in the same way she had at the start, with a sudden burst of heavy rain that came now in a cheering fashion. He accomplished what many had come for, but failed to achieve. His smile beamed from east to west while his team, friends and fans walked up to him, proud of their champion. Caselli sat respectfully at the finish line, waiting for the riders he left behind. He took more wins in three years than any of his peers who finished alongside him in his Hare and Hound career.

Kurt Caselli’s racing life began in the desert just as it had ended: victoriously. Born into Prospectors M/C of District 37, Caselli began riding alongside his father, Rich Caselli, to ribbon enduro races in the Southern California desert. By age 14 Caselli had become the mini-enduro champion with a firm hold on the 1L plate (now known as K1). In 1998, at age 15, he had earned the K1 plate in desert. In 2000, Caselli put all his cards in and took the C1 plate in enduro, desert and GP. The year 2002 brought even more excitement to Caselli’s progress when he took the overall win at the Vikings MC National on a 125. The following year, the H1 Heavyweight award went to Caselli in GP. Through his growth as a racer, Caselli also dominated worldwide and garnered a list of accomplishments in ISDE beginning in 2003, including his revolutionary efforts to bring Team USA to the event. 

 

That was truly just the start of Caselli’s career, as he moved beyond local competition to nationwide and worldwide events. After reaching the professional level, Caselli took his first WORCS championship in 2007 against the likes of Nathan Woods, Robby Bell and Ryan Hughes. In 2009 Caselli switched gears and committed to racing the GNCC series, but came home after realizing that the Western desert was where he truly belonged. He returned to WORCS in 2010 and worked hard for the championship over Ricky Dietrich and Mike Brown. The next year was Caselli’s final one in WORCS, and he concluded his year again with the championship.

 

However, WORCS wasn’t Caselli’s only success in 2011. The Factory KTM rider decided to go back to his roots of true desert racing and committed to the AMA National Hare and Hound Series. Caselli officially dethroned JCR Honda/Red Bull rider Kendall Norman after taking almost every win of the season. A repeat performance in 2012 secured his second consecutive National Hare and Hound Championship ahead of Dave Pearson and Destry Abbott. Caselli decided to give the Hare and Hound Series one last run in 2013, and of course he completed his season just as he had in years past: in the number-one spot. 

Before his final victory in Panaca, Caselli and KTM Europe made the decision that he would be moving on to new endeavors—this time in rally racing, after finding himself able to challenge the front-runners at the 2013 Dakar. Caselli even won the Ruta 40 in June of that year. But to complete his 2013 season back home, he had to take on the SCORE Baja 1000 finale with teammates Ivan Ramirez, Mike Brown and Kendall Norman for KTM North America. Ultimately, this would be Caselli’s final run, both in racing and in life. He left this world after colliding with a large animal, a horse or a cow, that caused fatal injuries. Caselli is survived by his mother, Nancy; sister, Carolyn; fiancée, Sarah; other family members; and countless friends and fans.

Simply put, Kurt Caselli left this world doing what he loved: racing off-road. And those in the racing world are grateful such a man didn’t go out any other way. From the desert to Dakar, from his family to his fiancée to his friends, and everyone and everything in between, Caselli gifted this world with a legacy for the ones he left behind.

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“I know the truth, and I will tell you now: he was admired, loved, cheered, honored, respected. In life as well as in death. A great man, he is. A great man, he was. A great man he will be. He died that day because his body had served its purpose. His soul had done what it came to do, learned what it came to learn, and then was free to leave.”

- Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain

Indefinable

Drake McElroy

Words by Brett Smith | Photos by Scott Toepfer


With a garage full of motorcycles, helmets, sketches, drawings, Post-It notes, and projects in various stages, it’s clear that Drake McElroy is one of those enviably hip people, the type who invents new words or redefines language use. By the time his interests spread and you, dear wannabe reader, have finally caught on, he’s already moved on. McElroy (that’s MACKEL-roy) is an artist, a builder, a rider, a trendsetter, and an agitator who will do things with the intent of inciting confusion and making people ask questions to which they’ll receive a response that solves nothing. 

Yet for all Drake McElroy is known to be, he’s indefinable. Go ahead and give him a label. He’s fine with that. Buzzwords, he calls them. “People love labels,” he says. “They don’t like shit they don’t understand.” It’s that confusion that gives him the urge to unbolt the front fender from his dirtbike, run flat-track tires in a freestyle motocross show, and ride in a denim jacket with no shirt underneath: he knows you’re going to ask him why he does that. And when a satisfactory answer never comes, you’ll stop asking questions and accept the scene for what it is. 

McElroy represents the unorthodox side of motorcycling, which led him to found the Smoking Seagulls, described (with a straight face) as a time-traveling bike cult, “a bridge between likeminded people who don’t fit perfectly into the mainstream motorcycle market.” That’s an ironic thing to say, since motorcycling in North America is far from being mainstream. Yet there’s a curious side to McElroy. He’s unexpectedly cerebral, which is why he jumped at the chance to create and host a guerilla-style travel show called “Drake’s Passage” in 2011. With only a cameraman, a producer, and a “fixer” (local guide), McElroy used the location of each Red Bull X-Fighters series stop to explore the non-touristy sides of Mexico City, Cairo, Moscow, and other major cities. It was an out-of-character experience for McElroy, who is shy and quiet, but the chance to explore global underbellies was too good. The result was a cross between “No Reservations” and “An Idiot Abroad.” At one point, McElroy—who is only 5 feet 8 inches tall and 135 pounds—found himself in a Mexican fighting ring getting slapped and body-slammed by luchadores (wrestlers) twice his size. The show had very little moto presence (although he did ride a German Horex motorcycle in Madrid), which made its placement on action-sports-oriented Fuel TV odd. It was a fun and quirky show with daring, exploratory qualities, but it lasted only one season and now lives online. 

“He’s got a sixth sense where he knows what’s cool,” says Dave Mavro, who was the show’s videographer. “I would never think this dude would be so worldly. He’s refined.”

Unconventionality is part of McElroy’s credo, and that’s why those who know him were not surprised when his 2015 X Games Real Moto video was the only entry to drift from traditional freeriding on dirt and ramps. In six locations, covering 6,000 miles from San Francisco to the Salt Flats of Bonneville, McElroy rode nine different bikes (street, off-road, moto, vintage, flat track, Franken-bike, etc.) in a 90-second video titled “Dérapage”, the French word for “skid.” The opening scene is as startling as it is disturbing. McElroy, completely nude (not even boots), rides a ’70s-era small-displacement Yamaha enduro bike across the salt flats, his face and body covered in flecks of white. A sword running up the left side of the bike is actually a suicide shift lever. It was…um, odd, but here we are, over a year later, and we’re still talking about it “because people remember that shit,” McElroy says. He earned a bronze medal for the video, his first X Games medal in 13 years. Winning is nice, but making an impression is more important.

“I’m just a kook like everyone else,” he says. “Some stuff I do is outlandish, some stuff I do is totally trendy. Depends on the day, I guess.”

Now 35, McElroy has spent nearly his entire adult life as a “professional two-wheel dude.” Since he was a teenager he’s been on a program he likes to call “fabricated employment.” It started with amateur motocross, then freestyle motocross in the late ’90s when the sport was on a meteoric rise, then demo riding, judging, bike building and designing, and shaping two-wheeled trends overall. And he’s been doing it from an unlikely location: Reno, Nevada.

The McElroys have always been a motorcycle family, and Drake, raised in Fernley, Nevada, 35 miles east of Reno, is a third-generation rider. He and his father, Al, still hit the tracks and trails together. His grandmother gave him a Yamaha YZinger for his first birthday and McElroy claims he learned to ride the motorcycle without training wheels before he could do the same with his bicycle. A motocross racer until the year 2000, McElroy grew up with the “775 Crew” of riders living in the Reno/Carson City area: Dustin Miller, Matt Buyten, Mike Mason, and Brian Foster. All five of them went on to compete in Moto X disciplines at the X Games, with all but Foster earning multiple medals. 

In 1997 McElroy started throwing tricks for fun, aping what he saw in the magazines, especially from Mike Metzger. The freestyle epicenter of Southern California, however, may as well have been as far away as Mars. McElroy felt disconnected from the whole scene and he kept on racing, which was getting expensive. At 18 he attended Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) and worked two jobs: unloading UPS trucks from 4 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and then as a custodian from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. At an arenacross race in Northern California, he entered a jump contest, took second, and won more money than he did racing. “Let’s see, stick to the side of a stucco building in the middle of the summer washing windows or jump your motorcycle for money,” he told ESPN in 2002. “What would you rather do?” He left TMCC before the end of his first semester. He had the 775 Crew, however, and they were able to feed off each other. For McElroy, freestyle motocross still had the unconventional, nobody-quite-understands-this status.

“We were on the forefront of things that didn’t exist before we were there,” McElroy says. “Everybody kind of wanted to ride it, see where it was going, make a few bucks. You only get one lap at a time, you know?

Within two years of laboring for money, McElroy was considered one of the top young riders, heralded by veterans such as Tommy Clowers, who liked the “snap” and style of the kid’s tricks. The whole family was behind McElroy; his mom and dad even posted on freestyle internet forums under the username “fmxma&pa” to give fans updates. In the summer of 2002 in Philadelphia, McElroy earned an X Games bronze medal in Freestyle with his signature trick, the Dead Body (an extended horizontal bar hop), and his favorite trick, a whipped-out nac-nac. It was the same year that Metzger won gold in Freestyle and Best Trick with a flurry of backflips, a trick that only a few riders were able to land at the time. While McElroy did learn to flip, he hasn’t landed one since 2004. It was a trick he was never thrilled about, and the fact that he needed to have it in his runs to place well soured the contest scene for him. With an injury history that already included long layoffs for a broken leg, jaw, heel, back, and more, he wasn’t looking for more hospital visits. 

“I wasn’t into it enough to be wholeheartedly focusing on it, and you have to be, because at some point it’s really dangerous,” he says. “It needs your focus and attention and drive to make it happen.” At the same time, McElroy thought he could see where the sport was headed. With a propensity for overthinking everything, he couldn’t get his mind off the risk-versus-reward debate: “I saw what was happening and what you had to do to make the few bucks that we were making, and we were already underpaid. I never saw that getting any better.”

He started racing supermoto, became a judge for the X Games and X-Fighters series, immersed himself in his artwork, and founded the Seagulls. Around 2008, he was drinking beer in his garage and looking at all of the dirtbikes that he never took the time to sell. There were two-strokes he used for freestyle and four-strokes for supermoto and motocross. A 2003 YZ450F sat next to a vintage Ducati 250; a swig of ale was knocked back, a light bulb went off. He decided to turn the Yamaha into a café-racer-style street bike. Then he met builder Roland Sands, “scammed some extra metal” and “picked some brains” and ended up with something that, of course, prompted people to ask questions like, “What is that?”

“When I built that first bike, everything [at the time] was ‘chopper, chopper, chopper’ with the stupid big fat tire, but the café stuff was really cool to me,” McElroy remembers.

Sands, who has built custom motorcycles for Brad Pitt, Mickey Rourke, and Anthony Kiedis, was impressed by McElroy’s creativity and his ability to execute ideas. 

“It’s rare for someone to have his take on riding, racing, and creating custom bikes,” Sands says. “Put all those together and you’re going to get some interesting stuff. He’s the type of person that our industry needs.”Around the same time, McElroy met Thor Drake, a Portland, Oregon-based motorcycle enthusiast with similar two-wheeled tastes. Their wee-hour beer-drinking sessions yielded what became See See Motorcycles, a retail/custom/coffee shop and brand representing the more inclusive side of motorcycling. McElroy has creative energy into the business, but not a financial stake, and he’s one of See See’s pro-team riders. Eight years after seeing that a discarded dirtbike can be street worthy, builders all over the world are churning out vintage customs using a variety of dirtbike motors. McElroy has long moved on from that trend, however, as he’s currently enjoying the movement that is putting street bikes on dirt ovals. Yet if Santa Claus is real, McElroy says he’s asking for a new skeleton and a 2017 Husqvarna TX 300.

So how does a “two-wheeled dude” make actual money? It’s getting tougher. Few freestyle contests are left to compete in, which means fewer judging and travel opportunities. Even the show/demo circuit is thinning. For two months in the spring of 2016, he joined the UniverSoul Circus as part of a two-person motorcycle-jumping act. Since travel and accommodations were not included, he lived in his van in the parking lots of arenas in Oakland, California, and metro LA. 

Two months away from home, away from his kids, and getting hassled over payment led McElroy to the conclusion that maybe this chapter of his life is over. A good payday for a freestyle demo rider is $1,000 and some gas money, nothing less. But the opportunities are either not there or some younger kid with little to lose and more to prove is willing to do it for less. McElroy left the circus, went home, and did what he’s done many times already: started working on a new skill. Combining his love for drawing, painting, and tattoos—don’t ask how many he has—he has joined a local ink shop as an apprentice. Being a tattoo artist is something he’s always wanted to do but has never stayed in town long enough to be able to commit to. With two kids under 10 years old, he also wants to spend more time at home. 

He’s not done with motorcycles, though. Hell, he can’t be, because “Forever Two Wheels” is tattooed across his chest. He’s grateful that “FTW” has a special and more positive meaning for him than what is traditional. “I’ve had uncountable enlightening moments on motorcycles throughout my time. And an equal amount of ‘fuck you’ moments!” he says to huge laughter. “Nothing is for free. You gotta keep balance.” There are dreams to ride across the 500,000-square-mile Gobi Desert and rip motorcycles through Morocco. 

“There are a lot of places I haven’t been,” McElroy says. “Once you add bikes, it’s just that much more fun.”


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Read the story in Volume 007

Shrimp

An Indian Scout Sixty Tribute by Anvil Motociclette

Words, photos & video by Anvil Motociclette


The project with Indian Motorcycle became real right before Christmas 2017 when we read the email sent by Melanie Dubois, Indian EMEA marketing manager, saying that the project was accepted by Grant Bester, Indian EMEA director. Soon after we received the Scout Sixty to customize.

Like all good Christmas stories, that email was like a gift. In that moment we were still unaware of what we were facing: not only was it a unique project, but also the chance to work with an incredible brand, precise and innovative. We soon learned that Indian is like a big family, where everybody works to improve the brand everyday. It is not easy to find this kind of commitment.  

 

 

Let’s take a step back... 

This project started a long time before that email.  It started when we were doing some research on the story of Albert Burns, a motorcycle racing pioneer that lived in early 1900s.

Not many people know of him, and before this project he was unknown to us inside an old dusty book, forgotten in the library.

But his story deserves to be remembered.

“Albert Shrimp Burns” was born in Oakdale, California and since he was a child he was been enchanted by motorcycles. The first time he rode a bike was in his fathers dealership. He started racing when at 15 on a bike he built himself against adults. He frequently won and eventually they decided to ban him from entering the racetrack because he was too young.


Related content

Against the Grain

When Motorcycles Raced on Wood

 

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 this didn’t stop young Burns from racing. He simulated alternative starts from the side of the track and then he jumped onto the course and finishing first, even thought it was illegal.

In 1915 Shrimp won three of the most prestigious races in Pleasanton, but would get injured in a pile up at a race in Marysville. None of the other injured riders would race again, but Shrimp attended and won the following race with a broken shoulder and collarbone.

 

 

His strong personality made him stand out and in 1910 he was hired by Harley-Davidson as official pilot. He raced with the brand only one season and then he became an official Indian pilot until the end of his short career. In 1921 he died during a race, only 2 days after his 23rd birthday.

Albert "Shrimp" Burns was born in August 12th 1898, and this year is the 120th anniversary of his birth. It might just be a coincidence, but we deeply believe that he wanted to be discovered by us. Shrimp would have been a friend of ours.

Indian liked the idea to pay a tribute to this great pilot of their own historical heritage. The project of Indian Shrimp Mille has been made on a Scout Sixty base and took us six months to build. The bike still has the original engine, part of the electrical system and the throttle housing.

All the other parts have been redesigned and reprojected specifically to develop a flat track special to use in major European events.


Build Details

 

FRAME: The frame has been reprojected thanks to engineering studies to make it more competitive. We have been inspired by the old Ron Wood flat track frames, keeping the headstock inclination 25 degrees. 

 

STEERING PLATES:  They are made in aluminium, with a specific offset for flat track. 

 

FORKS: we chose Ohlins, the same forks they use in the USA AMA, as well as the two rear shock absorbers. We replaced the mono to give a vintage touch. 

 

THROTTLE HOUSING: it has been moved externally thanks to a steel collector and it is connected to a K&R filter.

 

TANK, FENDER AND PLATES: they are handmade and they have been projected as unique pieces in wrought-aluminium.

 

GEARBOX: we transformed the classic belt drive into the chain drive and we reprojected the sprocket.

 SEAT: it has been made by an Italian craftman following our design. We got inspired by the flat track seats from the 40s and the made a contemporary modelWe used black and white cow leather, giving the typical striped pattern of our racing team.

BRAKES: the rear brakes have been substituted with a Brembo one, with pads and disc made by Newfren.

 

RIMS AND HUBS: they are 19’’ with Tubeless technology by Alpina Raggi.

 

RADIATOR: the original one has been substituted with two off road radiators.

 

LIQUIDS: engine oil is specific for races and it has been provided by Pakelo

 

WORKING TEAM:

Further than our usual working team, we have integrated: one engineer to study the frame geometries, a framebuilder, a sheet-metal workers that made the tank and plates, an upholsterer for the seat.

 

In the beginning the bike weight was 248 kgs, now it is 180 kgs and 90 kgs are only for the engine.

 

PARTNERS OF THE PROJECT:

  • ALPINA

  • NEWFREN

  • OHLINS

  • PAKELO

  • ZARD

  • RIZOMA

  • ARIETE

Adventure is the Name

2019 BMW F750GS & F850GS First Ride

Words by Derek Mayberry | Photos by Kevin Wing


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Set against a wild west backdrop of red towering mesas and sweeping valley floors, Gateway Canyon Resort played host to a two-day event where a chosen few were selected to put the all new BMW F750GS and F850GS bikes through their paces.  Situated between Grand Junction and Moab, this Western Slope oasis was perfectly suited to test both on and off-road capabilities of BMW’s newly revised middle weight adventure bikes.   

BMW of North America Event Manager, Jim Faria, said it best in his product launch presentation, “Adventure is in the name.”  True to the nature of adventure riding, not all the bikes got away unscathed.  A handful of battered and bruised GS bikes were a testament to the fact that the two-day riding experience was nothing short of an adventure.  Jim crafted the perfect route to showcase the abilities of the new BMW middleweights and it was obvious this wasn’t his first rodeo.  Fully staffed with a top tier BMW mechanic, a certified medic, and a spare GS bike in tow, we were ready for hell or high water.

Although BMW touts the latest design as “dynamic and masculine”, the new models still carry familiar GS styling cues. From the asymmetrical LED headlight to the beak-like upper mudguard, BMW adventure bike DNA is unmistakable.  Those familiar with the GS line will quickly notice the all new steel bridge monocoque frame in place of the earlier model’s exposed trellis style framework.  Keen observers will also notice the exhaust has been relocated to the right side of the bike, keeping the hot parts out of the way since most riders handle the bike from the left side.  BMW engineers also found room for improvement in the use of a front mounted fuel tank in contrast to earlier models’ rear positioned tank, allowing for better weight distribution, improved center of gravity, and a slightly narrower saddle.  Riders familiar with the F800GS predecessor will notice increased power through a 50cc bump in displacement and decreased engine vibration from the implementation of counterbalance shafts.  Other notable 2019 model improvements include optimized suspension geometry, a quick-shifter option and an anti-hop (read slipper) clutch.

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Over the course of two days and nearly 280 miles, we experienced a myriad of terrain challenges, inclement weather conditions, and enough elevation changes to make even the most seasoned veterans light headed. Both bikes chewed up every bit of loose rocky terrain the trails threw at them.  The F750GS handled the first day of off-road duties surprisingly well even though it was fitted with Bridgestone Battlax Adventure tires that are far better suited for paved roads.  BMW’s Enduro riding mode was remarkable, offering up the perfect balance of stability while letting the rear tire spin up just enough to help steer the bike around tighter corners.  After 45 miles off-road, we eventually found our way back onto pavement.  Carving our way through Gateway Canyon, the F750GS hammered through the twists and turns of Hwy141 with confidence inspiring road handling.  The bike tipped into corners effortlessly and held a solid line as the punchy parallel twin delivered a surprising amount of grunt while exiting the corners.

The second day of riding was accomplished aboard the F850GS machines.  Poised to devour over twice the distance as the day before, I was confident the new GS would tackle the gnarliest obstacles and return me home safe and sound.  The first 50 miles were chocked full of loose rocks, deeply rutted dirt trails, and nearly thirty water crossings within a ten-mile span through Onion Creek.  The 21” front wheel and slightly taller ride height made light work of obstacles as we pushed through some of the more challenging sections.  I was pleasantly surprised with the performance of the Metzeler Karoo 3 tires, both on and off-road.  It wasn’t long after transitioning back to pavement that I quickly forgot the bike was shod with adventure style tires.

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After a much needed lunch break at Sorrel River Ranch in Utah, the bikes got a splash of fuel and we remounted for the second stage of the day’s journey.  Flicking the GS through tight asphalt switchbacks, we gradually gained elevation and climbed past La Sal Peak while being pelted by frozen rain.  With a couple quick clicks of the ride mode button, I had the F850GS in the rain setting allowing for softer throttle response through the sketchy road conditions.  As snow collected along the roadside, the large 6.5-inch TFT display beckoned my attention, flashing temps that hovered just above freezing.  Dialing up the heated grips to full tilt, we rolled on.  After one final roadside stop in Bedrock, CO to down a hot cup of coffee and wring out our gloves, we eventually broke free from the cold rain and arrived back in Gateway with just over 200 miles on the trip odometer.  Chatter amongst the journalist later that evening at the Paradox Grille echoed a common theme; both GS bikes demonstrated supreme off-road ability with no sacrifice to sport-oriented road riding.  I couldn’t agree more. 

Every mile we log on two wheels makes us better riders and the 2019 BMW GS experience in Gateway, CO was no exception.  A considerable degree of my success along the challenging Colorado/Utah border routes can be attributed to the bleeding edge technology BMW packs into these middleweight contenders.  From Dynamic Traction Control, ABS Pro, and a multitude of riding modes, BMW engineering inspires confidence across all levels of experience.  You’d be hard pressed to find a better companion when discovering remote corners of the world by motorcycle.

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Look for these new models on the showroom floor of your nearest BMW Motorrad dealer and learn more at the link below.

The Moto Beach Classic

Roland Sands Takes Over Huntington Beach

Video Courtesy Tucker Powersports


Roland Sands and his crew created the Moto Beach Classic with the idea to showcase the Southern California motorcycle, music, and surf cultures. Held at Huntington Beach State Park, the second annual Moto Beach Classic and Surf City Blitz was once again a celebration of motorcycles, music, surfing, and art with a laid-back festival vibe in an idyllic beach setting. This year, the crew from Tucker Powersports decided to join in on the fun and experience firsthand the mash-up of motorcycles and Southern California culture that is the Moto Beach Classic. Watch and see why the Tucker team will be heading back again next year!

Skin to Win

The Rollie Free Story

Words by Brett Smith


Did you ever hear the story about Rollie Free?

The guy who had the Harleys up that well known tree?

Rolly was a racer and it wasn’t all talk.

For he’d race you for money, marbles or chalk.

Speed is what he lived for, records were his aim. 

And the way he’d work to get them, put the busy bee to shame. 

—Excerpt from a 1942 poem by Ray Stearns called “Right Next Door” 

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The origin of the tired phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” is convoluted—and actually pre-dates photography—but it might be the first thing that comes to mind when seeing what is, arguably, the most famous motorcycle photo ever taken. You know the one: In black and white, a faceless white male is stretched out prone on a dark, exotic-looking motorcycle with minimalist form-fitting bathing trunks as his only article of clothing. The absence of visible spokes in the wheels suggests he’s traveling at speed, and a straight black line under the tires with stark white surroundings gives away the location as the Bonneville Salt Flats in western Utah. The distant Silver Island Mountains look as if they’re drawn in charcoal under the hazy, off-white sky.  

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He’s not naked, but he’s also, relatively, wearing nothing. The brain bucket makes his ride legal and the size-12 plimsolls on his feet only make his sojourn from the mounting studs, where foot pegs used to be, to extended beyond the fender, just slightly more comfortable than if he’d been barefoot. The canvas coverings might also prevent the tops of his feet from being shredded by the tiny but jagged pieces of salt kicked up by the tire of the motorcycle. The sliver of white space between the gas tank and his face draws attention to the fact that he can’t actually see where he’s going and that the only indicator keeping him from drifting off course is the black line he must keep directly below. His rib cage points to the unique rear-suspension system and his gut follows the curvature of the rear fender. Not visible is the block of wood attached to the fender and squeezed between his bare thighs. His lower legs are extended beyond the end of the fender and his knees hover above the rear wheel, which is receiving a request from the transmission, via the 998cc twin engine, to spin faster. Faster! The goal: 150 miles per hour. For perspective, the wind speed of a Category 5 hurricane is 157 mph, a force that has touched the United States only three times since 1851. On the fuel tank, the Mobilgas Pegasus logo flies in the rider’s direction and the H.R.D. insignia indicates that the motorcycle is a Vincent, an innovative English marque. 

What we can’t see is the reason, the motive that drove a 47-year-old Midwestern-bred man—a former racer, dealer, Army Air Forces major, gas-station manager—to shed his protective gear in hopes of extending a motorcycle land-speed record that he, technically, had already earned earlier that same morning. “This is more than a motorcycle picture. It’s a picture of a man’s life,” said Jerry Hatfield, author of the 2007 book Flat Out! The Rollie Free Story, in his prologue. So it’s fallacious to consider that a photo—this photo—could be worth only a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand words. This photo is an existence, a being, and a representation of one man’s life ambition. You would never know Roland R. Free just by looking at this photo, yet, simultaneously, without this photo you would never know Roland “Rollie” Free.

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If not for Hatfield, Rollie’s—pronounced with a long O, like “holy”—life story would probably be folklore, limited to the day on which he was the subject of the Bathing Suit Bike photo—specifically, September 13, 1948. But even Hatfield admits he almost missed his opportunity. With timing that was either impeccable or accidental, Hatfield had driven nearly 90 miles from Edwards Air Force Base, where he was stationed, to Bud Ekins’ shop in North Hollywood, California, to shoot photos for his first book, American Racing Motorcycle. It was Saturday, September 13, 1980, exactly 32 years after the now-famous photo of Rollie Free was taken at Bonneville.

A man named Mike Parti visited the shop while Hatfield was working and a conversation about Indian motorcycles was struck; Hatfield became an authority on Indian motorcycles and their history, and the majority of the 16 books he has authored have been about the Springfield, Massachusetts, brand. Parti said if Indian was part of the book, then Rollie Free absolutely had to be involved. When Hatfield learned Rollie lived only two miles away from Ekins’ shop, he was dumbfounded. He thought Free lived in Indianapolis, where he once ran a successful Indian dealership. Hatfield said that at one point he was in the Midwest for interviews and photos and regretted not making time to seek out Free. 

After finishing his shoot in North Hollywood, he drove back to the desert, where he lived, and hemmed and hawed about contacting Free, wondering if he should ask about doing the interview immediately. Free was 79 years old at the time and Hatfield worked a nine-to-five job during the week. Something tugged at him about this second-chance opportunity and he felt he had to act immediately. He called the number and, 36 years later, remembers the conversation going something like this:

Hatfield: “Can I interview you?”

Free: “Yes.”

Hatfield: “How about tomorrow?”

Rollie: “Come on over!”

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The next morning, Free answered the door, skipped the preamble, and launched into motorcycle-related anecdotes. Hatfield laughs about it today and says he had to put his subject on pause while he sat down and set up his recorder. He missed a few minutes of conversation, stories he regrets he didn’t get the chance to follow up on later. 

“[Rollie] was a wonderful conversationalist,” Hatfield says via telephone. “He would use sound effects; it was like he was there. It was so real.” With a sharp and clear memory, Free relayed details that took him back eight decades to a time when Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Despite all of that, the seed for going 150 mph on a motorcycle was really planted in 1923 at the Kansas 100, when Free felt Harley-Davidson seriously wronged him. The motor he bought from the factory turned out to be far slower than what riders such as Jim Davis and Ralph Hepburn were running, which then caused the slower qualifiers to fall victim to political waffling by the American Motorcyclist Association and get dropped from the lineup. To cap off the weekend, Harley refused to take back unused racing wheels they had previously promised to accept; Free took out a lifetime grudge on Harley. He started his revenge campaign immediately, marching into Al Crocker’s Kansas City Indian dealership and, despite no sales experience, asking for a job selling motorcycles. In the 1980 interview with Hatfield, Free recalls telling Crocker, “I’ll work 24 hours a day. You give me a fast Indian and I’ll fix your town for you.”

For the next 15 years, Free chipped away at Harley by being an excellent mechanic and tuner of Indian motorcycles, then a representative for the brand, covering four states, then as a dealer in Indianapolis. He heckled those loitering in front of Harley-Davidson dealerships and sought out challenges and races any chance he got, but his most publicized coup was his pair of land-speed records in 1938. 

In Daytona Beach on St. Patrick’s Day, Free took down two Class C (owner-operator) records despite a choppy post-storm beach surface and crosswinds between 14 and 17 mph. He rode a stock Indian Sport Scout 45 to a two-way average of 111.55 mph, beating Harley’s record by 9.5 mph, set only one year earlier. He also ran a stock Indian Chief 74 at 109.65. Both were set riding in the flat-out position, of course, but Free was bummed at the 45-cubic-inch record because he’d promised his wife, Margaret, that he would smash Harley’s record by 10 mph or more. The Class A record, also set in 1937 by future Hall of Fame Harley-Davidson racer Joe Petrali, was 136.183 mph on a 61-cubic-inch (1,000cc) Knucklehead. The right bike—and opportunity—didn’t roll Free’s way for a dozen more years. 

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It had to be 150. The temperature was creeping toward 80, the salt was getting moist, and it wasn’t yet 8 a.m. on the unseasonably hot September day in 1948. Harley-Davidson’s record was gone, eclipsed an hour earlier by nearly a dozen clicks, but 148-plus didn’t have the same panache as saying 150 mph. Rollie Free, now a 47-year-old gas-station manager living in North Hollywood, didn’t need to keep trying. Maybe he remembered coming up short of his Class C goals in 1938 and vowed not to settle. Whatever the justification, Free stripped his wind-tattered leathers and removed all clothing except for tight swim trunks because he thought he could cut the wind resistance even more and hit his mark. He borrowed a two-sizes-too-big pair of rubber-soled shoes and donned a bowl-shaped helmet that would pass Snell ratings about as well as a Styrofoam cooler. 

With his pasty white legs exposed, Free straddled the stripped-down 998cc prototype Vincent H.R.D. Black Lightning, which was owned by John Edgar, a wealthy journalist/photographer and motorsports enthusiast who wanted to be able to claim he owned the fastest motorcycle in the world and rode it recreationally. Free took on the mountains of paperwork to make the record run a reality and made the final adjustments when the bike arrived in Long Beach, California, via boat. The headlight, tachometer, speedometer, seat, brakes, kickstarter, and even the tiny cylindrical foot pegs, which would seemingly be innocuous against the wind, had been removed. The handlebars had several inches hacked off each side and the only additions to the bike were stronger rear-fender supports and the block of wood for Free’s thighs. The fuel tank had enough alcohol in it to make a two-way attempt. On his fourth and final push for 150, Free left the paddock, white flesh against black metal, his toes clinging to find a place to rest on the foot-peg mounting studs. 

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A Vincent motorcycle is an engineering anomaly. The late-1920s brainchild of engineering student Philip C. Vincent, who later hired a chief engineer named Philip Irving, the Vincent H.R.D. twin—Howard R. Davies was a British Royal Flying Corps Pilot and Isle of Man TT racer—could hit 125 mph out of the crate. Its design, using the engine as a stress member, meant that there was no frame in the traditional sense; the engine hung from a spine. The package was decades ahead of its time and the sound was guttural, angry, even scary. Although the bike Free was on could hit 90 mph in first gear, it had impeccably smooth handling.

Heading north toward the speed trap, Free moved into his streamlined riding position at 130 mph, pressed his left cheek against the back right corner of the fuel tank, opened the throttle to the limit, and kept the black course line directly beneath him. At the turnaround, he stopped and took off his helmet; his one-mile speed-trap time was 24.00 seconds—150 mph exactly—but being miles from the referee, he didn’t yet know that. He handed the helmet to a friend who had followed in the chase car and he was given Margaret’s swim cap in return; Rollie would have shed a layer of skin if he reasonably could have. Streaking southward through the speed trap, his cheek pressed even more firmly into the tank without the metal lip of the helmet impeding his positioning, Free clocked a 23.90-second mile, 220.9 feet per second and 150.6 miles per hour. His official and final reading (two-way average) was 150.313, ending Harley-Davidson’s 11-year-long reign over the Class A national land-speed record. Free had ridden an un-supercharged motorcycle faster than anyone in the world. The news was in that evening’s editions of the Salt Lake City dailies and the Chicago Tribune, Indianapolis News and Indianapolis Star the following morning. The October 4 edition of Life magazine featured a half-page photo and caption, titled “Fastest Motorcyclist.” The photo chosen, opposite a Campbell’s Soup ad and above two snapshots of other American oddities, was an aerial view of Free from one of his first three attempts while he was still in leathers. The Bathing Suit Bike photo appeared on the cover of the October 1948 edition of Motorcyclist. After decades of toil, Free got his record and his revenge. John Edgar got his bike. Vincent H.R.D. had validation to continue marketing itself with the motto it had already been using for years: “The World’s Fastest Standard Motorcycle. This is a Fact Not a Slogan.” Unfortunately, the company from ceased production in 1955. 

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Photography is so ubiquitous today. We may scroll and scan through hundreds, thousands of images in a single day on our mobile devices, rarely slowing our frenetic thumbs long enough to really look at most photos. Today, a photo like the one of Free might just be dismissed as another shameless grab for likes and followers. But the patina that oozes from the iconic moment, captured nearly 70 years ago, still resonates, still holds meaning. While there were several more trips to Bonneville, where he ultimately extended his own record, and many more photographs taken, Free’s life is frozen in one instantly recognizable frame. 

In his diary, Free wrote the most scant entries for what would be his most well-known achievements. He probably never planned to write a memoir. That was Jerry Hatfield’s job, something Hatfield spent more than a third of his life completing. “I was a local yokel who was very lucky,” Free told Hatfield in their only interview. 

There it is. Free lived a life worthy of being immortalized by Hollywood but was careful not to overrate himself. Like a vet from WWII, Free was just doing what he had to do. He didn’t go out of his way to talk about it. Humans will always push boundaries; Free wasn’t unique in this way, but an endeavor like his could never happen again. Riding-apparel rules aside, stunts do not happen today without a full contingent of video-production equipment—on and above the ground—a gaggle of photographers, and dozens of camera-phone-wielding gawkers. Rollie Free’s accomplishments can’t be duplicated because the simplistic quaintness of the era doesn’t exist anymore. No matter how many vintage bikes get restored, hipster beards are grown, and photographic recreations are shared, that world is gone. And that’s what makes this moment, that photo, that much more special. 


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Read the story in Volume 006

Perseverance

Ernesto Fonseca

Words by Brett Smith | Photos by Aaron Brimhall


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If you don’t already have a nickname, Ernesto Fonseca will give you one. In some cases, two are required. Nicknames are more than handles; in his eyes, they’re an identity, a badge of honor doled out only to those who are a part of his crew. When Fonseca came to Florida from Costa Rica in 1992 to race in the Mini Winter Olympics, he remembers, he saw a blazing-fast redhead whose Fox boots were so tight at the calves that they were held together by duct tape. The rider’s butt patch said “Chubbs.” In later years the two became friends, and even though Ricky Carmichael became a lean and chiseled champion 10 years after their first meeting, to Fonseca he was still just Chubbs. 

Nobody is spared a jocular moniker. Alex Ewing is Cheddar Bobby, often shortened to just Cheddar or Bobby. Next Level Management’s Tony Gardea became Spermie and Panzon (Spanish for potbelly); Andrew Short: Whitey; Nathan Ramsey: Jimmy Neutron; Erik Kehoe: Peter North; Lars Lindstrom: Sars. Travis Pastrana was Pastrami and Cheese, a name he didn’t even know he was given. Although the nicknames have nothing to do with the level of respect Fonseca has for you, mountain bike legend Brian Lopes may have the most desired: Chingon (a Mexican colloquialism for badass). 

Entertaining has always been part of his personality. Fonseca is the type of instantly lovable person who makes one feel they’ve been best friends forever, even if they’ve only recently met. It’s for that reason people like Debbie and Robert Pastrana took him in for extended winter visits over 20 years ago to ride and race with their son, Travis; why Yamaha chose him to go to Japan to develop their new YZ250F and be one of the first to compete on it; why American Honda honored his two-year contract that ran through 2007 even though he suffered a career-ending injury in March 2006. 

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Fonseca lightens moods, brightens rooms, and makes people laugh. Travis Pastrana particularly recalls Fonseca’s quick wit. In the mid-’90s, Fonseca spent winters in the Pastrana family motorhome at the Tall Pines RV Resort in Brooksville, Florida. They raced and practiced at Croom and other motocross tracks. Fonseca is two years older, so for Pastrana, an only child, it was like having a cool older brother to hang around. When the 1994 punk-rock hit song “Come Out and Play” by The Offspring aired on the radio, Fonseca, still learning English, liked to use an alternative version of the track’s most popular lyrics, “You gotta keep ’em separated.” Instead, he’d say, “You gotta clean your carburetor.”

While Fonseca was fiercely competitive on the track, Pastrana said he was extremely polite and gracious, always using “sir” and “ma’am” around adults. At 13 Fonseca traveled alone to America, and it was quite apparent that he was raised well. “He was very unassuming,” Pastrana says. “He was humble.” 

Years later, Fonseca befriended American Honda engine builder Alex Ewing. Ewing had developed a drinking problem, was hemorrhaging cash and running up debt buying rounds at the bars and purchasing toys at home. Fonseca noticed and asked questions. The joking stopped, the conversations turned serious, and the empathy was real.

“He wanted me to be a better version of me,” Ewing says. “He was telling me to grow up. I think he knew I needed that. Even though I didn’t change right then, I had someone asking me and trying to help me. I had somebody in my corner.”

Ewing is two years sober now and cleaned up his financial life. When Fonseca checked in via a telephone call, Ewing, who now lives in North Carolina, broke the good news. Fonseca said, “I’m so happy for you, Bobby.” 

Problems come and go, but the nicknames live forever. To American racing fans, Fonseca became known as The Fonz. The industry affectionately knows him as Ernie. Close friends have personal nicknames for him: Carmichael calls him Smooth, Ramsey refers to him as Fuzz, and to the nearly five million residents of Costa Rica, he’s Lobito (Little Wolf). 

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Ernesto Rodriguez Fonseca was born in 1981 and raised in Heredia, a Costa Rican province seven miles west of central San José. Raised by his mother, Catalina Rodriguez, and stepfather, Edwin Lobo, he played youth soccer and rode a Honda QR50 when he was 5. Lobo raced motocross and owned a bike shop. The Costa Rican motocross community is small, and Fonseca estimates that maybe 350 riders belong to the federation, Moto Club de Costa Rica. Motorcycles are costly—a used 2015 Honda CRF450R sells for $10,000—and the tracks are poor by United States standards. Since Costa Rica has two seasons, rainy and dry, optimal riding conditions rarely exist. Fonseca spent the majority of his early youth riding the same “boring and crappy” course. 

“When I first got into it, nobody knew who I was, but they knew I was Lobo’s kid,” Fonseca says. That’s how he became Lobito. (“Lobo” is Spanish for “wolf.”) In the early 1990s, a huge opportunity materialized for the more talented racers of the era. The Costa Rican Kodak film importer was a fan of motocross and he started a team to support young riders. Fonseca was one of the athletes invited. “My mom and dad were not wealthy,” Fonseca says. “If I hadn’t had that sponsor, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did.”

In 1992, wearing neon-yellow Sinisalo gear with red Kodak logos, a contingent of Costa Ricans popped up at the 21st annual Winter Olympics in Florida. They were hard to miss on the track, and Fonseca (listed as Ernesto Rodriguez in the results) won five of the seven overalls in the 65 7-11 classes, besting riders like Ivan Tedesco, Jeff Gibson, and Jonathan Shimp. Carmichael remembers noticing them and thinking to himself, “This is a legit team!”

Fonseca found ways to keep returning to America. He met benefactors who wanted to help: the Pastrana family, Scott Taylor, former champion Johnny O’Mara, Beach Sportcycles Yamaha (BSY), and others. “I just took advantage of the opportunity,” he says. “When you’re good at something, there are people that want to help you.” 

He flew back and forth from Costa Rica to America to race in select events, juggling his schoolwork and somehow keeping his talents on pace with his competitors in America, who had access to better tracks and faster competition. While simultaneously stacking up professional Costa Rican and Latin American championships, he won four titles at the Amateur National Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn’s and many other big U.S. amateur events. At the end of 1998, Fonseca signed with Yamaha of Troy for $30,000 plus $500 a month to pay rent for the room he occupied in mechanic Kenny Germain’s house. 

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In 1999, Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Nick Wey was the expected favorite in the 125cc SX East series. Carmichael had moved to the premier class and Wey was entering his sophomore season. Nobody, even Fonseca himself, expected him to dominate the series. Fonseca was more than just a skilled rider; he studied, made inquiries, and, in short, was a team manager’s dream rider. “He’s eager to learn,” Erik Kehoe told Cycle News in 1999 when he was the YoT leader. “When all the other guys are out there, he asks questions, he watches different things.”

That year, Fonseca won not only the first supercross race of his career on his first try, but the first four—something no 125cc (now 250SX) rider has ever been able to do since the support class was formed in 1985. Eddie Warren (1985), Damon Bradshaw (1989), and Trey Canard (2008) were all stymied after three in a row. Fonseca was 17, a kid far from home, learning a second language and living out a fantasy. 

“It was easy once it started,” he says of winning. “I would have been happy with top-five finishes, but I did work hard and I just loved it. It felt like a dream.”

Carmichael and Fonseca hooked up and trained together in Florida in the summer of 1999. The Pro Motocross series wasn’t as easy for Fonseca, and he didn’t crack the top five at a single race that first year, but Carmichael liked Fonseca’s story. Even though RC ran a guarded program throughout his 10-year-long professional career, he and the kid from Costa Rica remained uncommonly close. 

“I really respected that,” says Carmichael of Fonseca’s ability to beat the odds. “A lot of guys can’t answer the bell in all sports. He answered the bell and it opened opportunities. There was only one person who could do that. It was himself.”

In the winter/spring of 2000, Fonseca struggled in supercross after a crash the previous November left him mentally unprepared. At A Day in the Dirt, Fonseca was airlifted from the event following a multiple-rider wreck that left him with nerve damage in his left shoulder and a concussion, but no broken bones. He won only a single main event in 2000. In 2001, riding Yamaha’s new YZ250F, he won five supercross races and the championship. In 2002 he moved up to the premier division (now 450SX) and signed with Honda, joining his old friend Chubbs. He finished third in his very first race for Honda, the 2002 season opener. While he didn’t win a premier-class main event or overall, he finished on the podium 18 times in his four-plus years with Honda, taking third overall in the 2003 supercross championship and also the 2005 motocross championship, despite being one of the few riders still competing on a two-stroke 250. 

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The insurance papers sat in his garage, waiting to be signed. “I know, I know,” he said in response to his agent’s pleas. It was the winter of 2006 and Fonseca, slightly obsessive-compulsive about neatness, order, and organization in all parts of his life, knew that he had to finish this unpleasant but necessary piece of business. The supercross series was young, but Fonseca was having a mediocre year. At Round One in Anaheim, he pulled up to his mechanic, Jason “Gothic Jay” Haines, and said, “I think it’s time for me to retire. I feel like a squid!” He was competing on a 450 four-stroke for the first time and trying to find harmony between the bike’s explosive power and his smooth, scrupulous riding technique. “I wasn’t having any fun anymore,” he says today. It was a recurring feeling that started months prior, in preparation for the 2006 season. The night in Anaheim improved, however, and Fonseca qualified well and then led the first four laps of the main event. But instead of focusing forward, he felt like he didn’t belong there. “That’s when you know something isn’t right,” he says. On lap five, with a nearly three-second lead over Chad Reed, Carmichael, and James Stewart, he went over the bars; he finished sixth. The following races were worse: seventh, sixth, 17th, seventh, and ninth, finishing behind even the semi-retired Jeremy McGrath.

Fonseca was only 24, but “what’s next” was already on his mind. He was committed to Honda until the end of the 2007 season, but the future beckoned. He had already inquired about becoming an Oakley distributor in Costa Rica. This was pure Fonseca, always planning, saving, preparing.

“I just pictured myself and I knew it was coming to an end,” he says. “I was training super hard and the results weren’t really there. When you’re as competitive as I am, that takes a toll on you.”

The papers in waiting were for a catastrophic-life-insurance policy. From 2000 to 2003, Fonseca carried Lloyd’s of London insurance that would pay him a one-time lump sum of $1 million if his career unexpectedly ended. The premium was $35,000 a year and Fonseca said the brokers wanted to raise it to $70,000 for the same payout. “That’s just dumb,” he says. “You’re betting that you’re going to get hurt.” He let the policy run out. 

When Fonseca started working with Tony Gardea in 2005, he asked him to find an alternative policy. Through an investment colleague, Gardea located one designed for geriatrics who require long-term care. The policy had narrower limitations than the Lloyd’s, but Gardea remembers the premiums being very inexpensive—about $2,000 to $3,000 a year—because his client wasn’t even old enough to rent a car without special provisions. For Fonseca to receive payout, incapacitation would have to be his outcome; receive payout, incapacitation would have to be his outcome; that was fine. He had been wise with his earnings, but the catastrophic policy brought more peace of mind; the payouts would be monthly and he wouldn’t have to worry about money. In February 2006, he signed the policy and got it back to Gardea. When the series shifted east late that month, he broke through in St. Louis and scored a third place behind Reed and Ivan Tedesco (nickname: “Poison Ivy”). Momentum was shifting and he was adjusting to the bike. 

On Tuesday, March 7, 2006, Fonseca was preparing for the Daytona Supercross at a private Murrieta, California, track he had rented with his teammate Andrew Short. They paid $10,000 for unlimited and exclusive access between January and May for a short and tight track with dark, rocky dirt; it was something different and fresh. It was a pleasant day in the low 80s and Alex Ewing remembers wearing short sleeves and shorts. The agenda was testing header pipes. Fonseca’s motor had been detuned, but he was still looking for mellower power delivery, so the goal was to find a suitable header-pipe length that paired with the engine settings; the longer the pipe, the less abrupt the power. Changes were made in 20mm increments. Testing started at 10 a.m., and by 1 p.m. they had tried four different pipes. For each test segment, Fonseca would run five to six laps and come in for adjustments. Between 1 and 2 p.m., Fonseca felt he had made his selection, and he headed back onto the track to confirm his pipe choice to pair with the engine setting, a completely normal procedure. After testing several variations of a single part, riders will look over their notes, reapply the setting they liked best, and retest it. 

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At the end of his confirmation-test segment, Fonseca came up short on a rhythm section triple jump. End to end, the lane was four single jumps, a tabletop, then six single jumps. Lap after lap, Fonseca’s line was to roll the first jump out of the corner, double the next two, triple completely over the tabletop, and triple then double the remaining five jumps. It was automatic on all but the final lap. Fonseca cased the third-from-last jump in the section. The bike punched him in the rear end and he was ejected over the handlebars. He lost his air awareness and didn’t get his hands out in front of him. As his body flipped, moving forward the entire time, the back of his head drove into the tall berm at the end of the lane and his neck pressed into his chest. He settled at the base of the 90-degree corner, his hips pointed toward the clouds, his body shaped like an upside-down U, face in the ground. Ewing was 15 feet away and witnessed the crash. He was the first person to reach Fonseca, but he didn’t scramble with anxious urgency. Even 10 years later, Fonseca remembers it as a rather minor get-off, not violent at all. It took only a few hastened steps for Ewing to get to the corner, but the crash he saw didn’t prepare him for what Fonseca said: 

“I don’t want to end up in a fucking wheelchair. I’ve crashed a million times, but I’ve never felt like this.”

The circumstances punched Ewing. Fonseca wasn’t moving and he wasn’t getting up. Although twisted in a heap and not in control of his own body, he stayed calm and even took charge of the situation. He told Ewing to call his wife, Carolina, then started doling out orders to others: call 911, call his doctor, make sure his truck is taken care of, etc. 

“I wasn’t too scared, but I was in shock,” Fonseca says. He had no feeling from his nipples down, and that remains the same today. What he did feel was a burning sensation. When his body started shaking, his trainer, Michael Johnson, tried to gently soothe him with his hands. Fonseca screamed; the touch made him feel like he was on fire. He was taken to the Riverside County Medical Center; the call from the field was a cervical spine injury with neurological compromise. 

The human spinal cord consists of 33 vertebrae stacked on top of each other like building blocks. They’re divided into four sections from top to bottom: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral. The cervical region comprises seven vertebrae, with C1 being closest to the head. The spinal cord is protected by the spinal column, which houses the pairs of nerves that branch out through openings and carry signals and information from the brain to the rest of the body (e.g., feeling, movement, breathing).

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The trauma to Fonseca’s spine was actually a pair of injuries, as are most spinal injuries: bony/ligamentous and nerve damage. According to Dr. Paul Reiman—he wasn’t the surgeon, but provided oversight and communicated with Fonseca and his family—Fonseca’s C5 vertebral body 100 percent dislocated over the C6 vertebral body, caused 100 percent dislocated over the C6 vertebral body, caused by the abrupt flexion of his neck into his chest. His nerves below C5 were disrupted. “Around every nerve, there is a coating called myelin,” Dr. Reiman explains. “It’s a little bit like the plastic coating around a copper wire. His myelin sleeve was disrupted. The nerves were stretched so much that their continuity, although still there, [was] essentially non-functional.”

Fonseca’s C5 nerve is intact, which gives him the ability to flex his elbows and extend his wrists. The fine motor movements that would allow one to spread fingers and give a thumbs-up gesture are below C5, which are both minimally functional and non-functional. He has some use of his triceps, and his shoulder movement is good. Fonseca says his hands feel and function like big mitts and his right works better than his left. He has very little grip, but he can handle light objects up to 2.5 pounds. He types and texts with his thumbs and he drives a Mercedes SUV in Costa Rica that is outfitted with hand controls. Categorically, he’s a quadriplegic and requires daily part-time care.

When Fonseca went into surgery at Riverside, he was talking. When he came out, he was intubated because he contracted pneumonia. For six weeks, he was in the ICU on a ventilator with a tracheotomy. A dire situation became worse and Gardea remembers watching one of the fittest athletes he’d ever worked with seem to wither away. “I literally watched the muscles melt off his arm,” Gardea says. 

On top of coping with paralysis and learning to use what movement he had left, Fonseca’s only method of communication was an alphabet board, which required him to spell out words by tapping on letters—an incessantly frustrating task. Ewing, who spent four days and nights sleeping in the hospital waiting room and hanging on every piece of news about his friend, remembers their first “conversation.” Slowly and deliberately, Fonseca tapped on the letters of the board, getting more and more frustrated at how long it took to say what was on his mind. 

“M - O - T - H - E - R - F - U-”

Ewing cut in. “Are you trying to say ‘motherfucker?” he asked. It’s Fonseca’s favorite way of starting a sentence when he is annoyed or trying to get a point across.

“T - H - I - S - S - U - C - K - S”

Despite so much loss, his wit and personality were still strong. 

“You have to deal; there’s no choice,” Fonseca says. “You give in and let yourself down or work your way around it. It’s not a secret to anyone that being in a wheelchair is not fun. There have been good and tough times.” 

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David Bailey thought it was a bad idea at first, and he gently tried to talk Fonseca out of it. It took Fonseca over eight years to commit to being an athlete again, and Bailey flashed back to how difficult it was for him to adapt. Bailey’s neurological function is compromised down at T4/T5, and his mobility and strength allowed him to train for—and win—the chair category of the Ironman World Championships in 2000. His function is far greater than Fonseca’s, but that’s the plight of a wheelchair athlete: Their abilities vary greatly, but there are not enough competitors to justify a category for every single level of function. When it’s time for athletes to be classified, it’s up to a committee and a doctor to decide an athlete’s fate. There are very few competitors at Fonseco’s exact neurological level, and he is more active than others with similar compromise. Because of the variances, the classifications become a mixed bag of abilities. 

Bailey is a former supercross and motocross champion, paralyzed in 1987. His analogy to understanding the classifications is to picture a supercross main event of 22 riders. All the athletes have different skill levels—a given. But what the fans can’t see by watching on television or from up in their seats is that one rider doesn’t have a front brake; another doesn’t have a shifter or a clutch lever or enough oil in his suspension, or he’s got a moped motor in his frame. That’s the predicament of the wheelchair competitor, even at the Ironman level; to the uninformed, their situations at the starting gate all look the same. Internally, they’re dealing with wildly different circumstances. 

“I didn’t think Ernesto would be satisfied with the result versus all the effort, but he proved me wrong,” Bailey says of Fonseca’s current push in wheelchair racing. Bailey and Fonseca first started working together in 2009, when they met at an L.A. Fitness; Fonseca wanted to show Bailey what he could do in the pool. Bailey couldn’t help but think, “How is this going to work?” He demonstrated how to swim using fists; Fonseca asked a few questions and plunged in. “He’s fun to teach because he asks good questions and then he quietly goes home and works on it,” Bailey says. “You won’t hear from him and then you’ll see on Facebook that he went and did a triathlon.”

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The outpouring of support for Fonseca in 2006 was enormous. The motocross community camped in the waiting room at Riverside during the first six weeks of recovery. Nathan Ramsey set up his motorhome in the parking lot so Fonseca’s family could be more comfortable and as close as possible to their son. At Craig Hospital, Fonseca engaged the determination and work ethic that made him one of the best motocross athletes in the world in order to try to get back as much movement as he could. Part of him wanted to rest. He had been training his entire life, but he knew he had to take advantage of the early rehabilitation sessions. There were no dramatic gains, but he figured out how to get stronger at using what he did have. 

Cards and letters poured in, his competitors ran decals of his signature in recognition—Carmichael still does today, on the right breast of every jersey—and Fonseca was embraced into a large support community. In the fall, Alpinestars sent him and his wife to Valencia, where he watched his good friend Nicky Hayden clinch the MotoGP championship. 

August 2007 was the toughest point. He and his wife, Carolina, had been married less than two years, but were having difficulties. Living a “normal” life was everything but normal, and Fonseca sensed depression in Carolina. “I couldn’t understand how an able-bodied person could be depressed,” he says. He said Carolina was steady in the months immediately following the injury and handled the adjustment well. After the first year, she started to seem worn down. “She may have needed a rest,” he says. “Maybe I wasn’t flexible. I’ve always been pretty hard on the people around me, and myself. I try to be a winner. I said [to Carolina], ‘Hey, I’ve had enough.’” He made the decision for a divorce, which was final in March 2008. 

From 2006 through 2014, he worked in various positions with Answer, Oakley, and Troy Lee Designs in both the United States and Costa Rica. Six years after the accident, Fonseca wasn’t clear on where he was heading with his life or what his goals were. Around the end of 2012 he started forming a routine, exercising more. Before that, he had even started dating again. In 2014 he met Laurens Molina, a Costa Rican adaptive athlete who was born without bones in his lower legs. When Fonseca started showing up at running tracks with a racing chair, the Costa Rican press noticed. One of the largest daily newspapers, La Nación, wrote a feature, accompanied by a video; he appeared on radio programs; Estilo Ejecutivo, a national style magazine, ran a spread. 

The message was unanimous: Little Wolf is back. 

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“I got that feeling back that I was able to do things,” he says. “It gave me something to look forward to. I wish I’d gotten into it sooner and learned about it more and not wasted as much time as I did. It is what it is. That’s easy to say now; I needed that time, too. [Competing] has been tougher than what I expected. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I enjoy the process.”

His biggest shock came in the fall of 2015, when he traveled to Japan to compete in a marathon. He thought he was ready, but it was a blow to learn that he wasn’t. He had completed marathons in training on an oval running track, but the variables on public streets are different, and after eight miles it was determined that he wasn’t meeting the four-minutes-per-kilometer pace required to continue. He hadn’t failed like that in a very long time. While in Japan, he met with Honda engineers, who measured him for the mold of a new racing chair. He recently took delivery of the carbon/aluminum race craft, which is 14 pounds—two pounds lighter than his old chair—and worth $6,000. The good relationships he built in his motorcycle-development trips to Japan between 2000 and 2006 are still paying off. If he continues to improve and advance, Honda will equip him with a $22,000 one-piece all-carbon-mold chair that is the equivalent of a factory bike. 

Fonseca’s next goal is to qualify for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, which will be held in September. He has selected the 100- and 400-meter track events, where he will compete in the T51 classification. (The track wheelchair events have four divisions, T51 to T54. T51 includes athletes with the least neurological function.) These racers wear special gloves and use the strength in their wrists to propel the chairs forward via the contact rim of the wheels. Fonseca’s wrist flexes when he tires.

“In wheelchair racing there’s nothing to hide behind,” Fonseca says. He recalls competing on a motorcycle and squeaking by on talent and mental strength on days when his body wasn’t cooperating. “It’s the chair and your arms, and if you’re not feeling it, you’re done.”

Bailey has been trying to pass along some of the techniques and efficiency tips he’s developed. He’s been in a chair longer than he was able to walk. When he works with a new athlete, he knows to first observe and see what the abilities are; then a plan can be built around those. “I let the effort part be up to them,” he says. “Structure is my strongest point.” Fonseca has been very coachable, and with enough volume and reps, Bailey believes he could be competitive, even if his limitations make him a long shot.

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“The thing I like most about him is that he doesn’t complain and he’s always trying to improve—and with a smile!” Bailey says. “I drive home from meeting with him and I think, ‘Man, I need to take a page out of his book.’ He makes me wonder if I’m doing all I can do. He’s Ernesto Frickin’ Fonseca and he knows his shit. It blows my mind that he’s doing this.” 

Fonseca has completed seven sprint-distance triathlons (700-meter swim, 20k bike, 5k run) and he’s determined to finish a competitive marathon. First, however, he’s focused on qualifying for Rio. Suffering might be required to pull it off, but he’s used to that. In the summers of 1999 and 2003, he ran his body into the ground trying to hang in Carmichael’s training program. He was so tired he would fall asleep on the 30-minute commute to and from the track. Looking back, maybe that suffering was in preparation for something much more difficult later in life. When asked what he will move on to if Rio doesn’t happen, he quickly and confidently says not making it is not an option. Twenty-five years ago, when he was a kid in Costa Rica watching American supercross races on TV (one year after they had happened), Fonseca was a child with an impossible dream, considering his odds and opportunities. In that sense, he’s been here before. 


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Story featured in Volume 006