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 Alaskan

Built for the Last Frontier

Motorcycle built by Alex Earle | Video by Chris Thoms


This custom motorcycle created by Alex Earle was designed for adventure, and to support long distance, off road expeditions. A middleweight ADV bike with all the necessities and none of the frills, The Alaskan is based on a 2018 Ducati Desert Sled selected for its heavily strengthened frame, longer swingarm and taller suspension as well as the simple air-cooled 800.

Building this machine was not an end unto itself. The concept was to design, build and campaign a bike unsupported through the back roads and trails of Alaska with a select group of similarly crazed knuckleheads and make some memories. You can read the story of this adventure in the upcoming issue (Volume 013) available in a few weeks.

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

Riders for Health

Saving Lives with Motorcycles

Words by James Panther | Photos courtesy Riders for Health


The motorcycle community connects people in a way like no other. When you roll up to bike night or your favorite mountain-road turnoff, everyone embraces you like family. Immediately you talk and laugh with these people like lifelong friends, without ever having even exchanged names. They want to know about your bike, about what you’ve put on it, what settings you’re running, where you’re coming from, and where you’re going. What you do for a living or how much money you make doesn’t matter; there are no social barriers in this community. It’s a shared passion for the life lived on two wheels that brings people together and forms a deep sense of camaraderie.

But where does that camaraderie come from? The relationships that serve as the glue of the community are born from the experience of what it feels like to be riding a motorcycle. Riding gives one a heightened awareness unique to just about anything else in the world. It’s a peace, a dharma of sorts; it helps you take a step back and turn down the volume on all the noise going on in your life, a blissful escape to a world where nothing matters but man and machine.

It’s no wonder, then, that there’s such a tight-knit community that grew around motorcycles and the motorcycle lifestyle. But it’s a funny thing, because motorcycles originally came from a simple utilitarian need: transportation.

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The first motorcycle was created in 1885 by German inventors Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach (who would later go on to merge with Karl Benz to create the company that would eventually become Mercedes-Benz) to serve as a test bed for an early car engine. In the years following, manufacturers like Triumph, Indian, Harley-Davidson, and numerous others were inspired by these designs and created their own. They all recognized that motorcycles were a considerably less expensive form of transportation than automobiles, and that an adventure-seeker lifestyle was quickly forming around them. The outbreak of World War I kicked motorcycle production into overdrive, though, when they were heavily used by the military to transport messages through a trench-laced Europe. With tens of thousands of units being produced worldwide, and motorcycles such as Triumph’s Model H having earned the title of “The Trusty Triumph,” motorcycles became accepted and even embraced throughout the world as a practical form of transportation.

Since then, in the Western world, motorcycles have largely been sectioned off as a form of entertainment, effectively speaking. They’re used for racing, stunting, being shown off, or as lifestyle symbols of the freedom-loving spirit.

In the Eastern world, they’re the most common form of transportation, and for good reason. The Honda Super Cub sold its 60 millionth unit in 2008, and the Hero Splendor has recently sold its 8.5 millionth. This is because they can be modified easily to cross over any kind of terrain, are not prohibitively expensive to purchase, and are affordable to both use and maintain.

Motorcycles can be used to do more than just transport people, though. And I’m not talking about pizza.

In the late 1980s, Barry and Andrea Coleman, a pair of humanitarians and philanthropists, were appalled by the fact that the tens of millions of people living in sub-Saharan Africa could not receive any form of health care because they were widely considered “too hard to reach.” The Colemans were compelled to find a solution so that all those families wouldn’t have to live in desperation.

The answer they found? Motorcycles.

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Thus was born the charity now known as Riders for Health. Nearly 30 years later, Riders for Health has 115 technicians servicing 25 garages’ worth of vehicles, and has health workers traveling nearly 1,400 kilometers per month delivering lifesaving medical supplies and services to some of the most remote communities in Africa. They primarily use Yamaha AG200Fs and AG100s, which are renowned for having near-bulletproof reliability and toughness.

What’s so unique about Riders for Health is that they’re able to use something we’re very passionate about literally to save lives , literally. And they’re doing so in a highly effective and efficient way.

In many cases, a charity that directs 75 percent of all donations received toward its cause is considered a worthy one. Riders for Health commits 84 percent of all donations to their efforts.

A simple motorcycle, like the ones used by Riders for Health, is inexpensive to maintain and use. Therefore, a small amount of money donated to Riders for Health can go very far: $3 can buy a spark plug, $10 a tank of fuel, $100 can train a health worker to ride and maintain a motorcycle, and $1,000 can keep a health worker delivering supplies and services to communities in need for a whole year. For Riders for Health, a tank of fuel means that desperate families can receive the care and medical supplies they need to survive. A new spark plug means a bike won’t break down while getting across a flooded trail or a long sand wash and prevent parents and their children from receiving vital health care. A health worker who can receive the funding necessary to stay on the road for a year means that many more communities can be touched and helped more regularly, and thus more lives saved.

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Charities like Riders for Health subsist on the generosity of donations, and the best way to champion a charity’s cause is to mobilize one community willing to aid another. Riders recently connected with British Customs, a lifestyle brand and designer of aftermarket motorcycle parts, to help raise awareness in aid of their efforts. British Customs then put together a team of sponsors including GoPro, Nixon, Simpson Race Products, Stance, and others to support Riders for Health. Chippa Wilson, professional surfer and lifestyle icon, will be carrying the torch as the team’s ambassador.

“It’s such a great solution to a difficult problem,” Wilson said in an interview about his new role. “The people living in those parts of Africa are in serious need, and there isn’t anybody who can help them because they just can’t get to them—except Riders for Health.”

This team’s mission is to raise as much as possible for Riders for Health, because they’ve put things in perspective and they know that the efforts of groups like Riders for Health are what’s important. Besides helping to raise awareness for Riders for Health globally, they’re contributing things that can be put to use in the same way that Riders for Health put motorcycles to use. Stance is donating 400 pairs of socks to the organization. GoPro is donating cameras to help them document their efforts. Wilson will be going to Africa himself with members of the team as part of Riders Experience Africa, an opportunity Riders for Health offers for anyone to get on the same motorcycles used by the organization’s health workers and deliver medical supplies alongside them.

Giving back is what makes the world a better place. It’s so easy nowadays to get completely absorbed in your own life. It’s what today’s culture of mass materialist consumption encourages. But it’s critical to not forget that we’re all part of a greater community of human beings who need to look out for each other. We are all our brothers’ keepers, because if we aren’t, then no one is.


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Story featured in Volume 005

John Penton

A Conversation with the Legend

Words by Brett Smith


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John Penton opens his front door with a slight look of confusion on his face; he knows about the scheduled visit, but he’s still clearly puzzled why a young man from Baltimore would drive 400 miles to Amherst, Ohio, to chat. Now 90, Penton’s peak height of 5 feet, 5 inches has been rounded off with age; the athletic build he once had as one of the greatest motorcycle racers of his era is gone, now immortalized in the engravings of the plaques and trophies that bear his name and in the book and movie about his life, both created by other men who admired him. Penton has never asked for any of this attention, and it still makes him chuckle that people continue to find his life interesting. 

Wearing a long-sleeved Husaberg T-shirt with tatters and holes from more than two decades of use, and black suspenders that hold up green cargo shorts, he turns and waves me inside to a small kitchen table that has room for three. His wife, Donna, washes the dishes from breakfast, and Penton sits and shuffles a stack of papers. The tick-tock of the grandfather clocks in the house fills the dead space while Penton waits for me to explain why I’m here. Of all the deals, victories, awards, and milestones that made him an international motorcycle-industry legend, I want to talk about only one; of the nearly 33,000 days John Alfred Penton has been alive, I’m here to discuss slightly more than two: the 52 hours, 11 minutes, and 1 second of his life he spent riding from New York City to Los Angeles in June 1959. His transcontinental ride, which annihilated the existing record by more than 25 hours, has always seemed like an incompletely told story. It was one page in his biography and a few minutes in a movie more than two hours in length. He laughs, tilts his head back, and says, “Oh, my.”

“The little incidences that naturally happened along the way, so many of them are gone,” Penton says after several moments of pause. But then he immediately jumps to the end of the 1959 ride, to a moment on Route 66 west of Needles, California. “I never saw [Earl] Flanders. In fact, I never knew he was following me until he did catch me up.” Very few people knew Penton was attempting the record—only his brothers and Al Bondy, the U.S. BMW distributor with whom he’d stayed the night in New York before his departure. Flanders, the Western BMW distributor, got a call from Bondy and waited for Penton in the Mojave Desert west of Needles to help guide him through Los Angeles to the Western Union office, where his time was recorded. A photographer took photos, the news went out on the AP and UP wires, and soon the entire world knew the name John Penton.

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The first person to cross the United States on a motorized vehicle was George Wyman, in 1903. Riding a California Moto Bicycle, he spent 50 days traveling from San Francisco to New York. The Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review reported on his progress and Motorcycle magazine contracted him to write five articles about his journey. The most famous name associated with transcontinental rides, and to whom the term “Cannonball Run” pays homage, is Erwin Baker, who set dozens of long-distance records, including a motorcycle ride across the country—San Diego to New York—in 11 days, 12 hours, and 10 minutes, in 1914. Like Wyman, he wrote about his own journey in a 10-page, detail-rich article for Motorcycle Illustrated; in the desert, he put a pebble beneath his tongue to keep him from wanting to exhaust his water supply. He ran out of gas in Arizona and carried a .38 caliber gun, which he used to kill the animals that attacked him. 

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In 1958, after spending a month on his bike soul-searching in Mexico following the death of his first wife, Katherine, Penton concluded that journey with a straight-shot ride from L.A. to Amherst, stopping only for fuel. His older brother Ted encouraged him to try to beat Earl Robinson’s transcontinental record, which had stood since 1935 at 77 hours, 53 minutes. Penton liked the idea of the challenge; the pair also thought it could help them sell more motorcycles at the family dealership. Proving that one of their brands could reliably cross the country would be good for business. “My brothers played a big part in my mind,” Penton says. “They always encouraged me forward. They had lots of faith in me.”

Penton trained for the ride by slipping through a hole in the fence bordering the Ohio Turnpike and running end to end through the night. Tim Masterson, who has crossed the country 25 times, who rides at least 50,000 miles a year, and is the president of the Wyman Memorial Project, says endurance riders call it “extending their riding horizon.” “People ask me how I can ride 1,500 miles at a time,” Masterson says. “One gas tank at a time. Each time you reach for a challenge, it’s always wrought with uncertainty.” Like ultra-marathoners and other endurance athletes, long-distances riders (LDRs) see what they do as a physical challenge to conquer. “It’s the experience of the ride and not the destination or things along the way,” he says. “It’s all about riding the bike.” 

Penton’s riding horizon was already built up through all the miles he spent in the saddle traveling to the major enduro races, competing on the same bike—a German-built NSU—and then riding it home. He also realized his knack for LDR in the weeks he spent riding and mourning the loss of his young wife. By the time he rolled away from the New York City Western Union office on Broadway and into the Lincoln Tunnel at 5:59 a.m. on the morning of June 8, 1959, Penton was more than ready to cross the country in one sleepless dash. Although he admits today that he had no set time or goal, interviews given to Cycle magazine indicate that he was shooting for 54 hours. Riding a 600cc, 35-horsepower BMW R69 with two small modifications—a 6-gallon fuel tank and a fender rack—the 33-year-old rode across the newly built turnpikes of the Eastern United States. He remembers waving to his brothers, who were on the side of the Ohio Turnpike near Amherst, and vividly recalls the moment he saw the flashing lights coming into St. Louis. Word was passed from New York and a motorcycle dealer in St. Louis arranged for a group, which included two police officers, to help guide him through the city. They handed him two ham sandwiches and two cups of milk without stopping.

At the turnpike tollbooths, he hurriedly asked the operators to stamp his letter to further legitimize his run; with the gas-station attendants, he was short in conversation. “As I went across the country, those stops were so brief,” Penton says. “As I would leave, I’m sure those people wondered, ‘What’s wrong with that guy?’”

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In Oklahoma he encountered 200 miles of driving rain and strong winds, and 110-degree heat in Amarillo, Texas, but overall he remembers the weather being exceptional. The only blemish of the run was a rest stop near Flagstaff, Arizona, about 500 miles from L.A. The road was blacktop and Penton was seeing double in the night. “Those lines were getting closer and closer together and I was getting into trouble,” he says. He stopped, set two alarm clocks, and shut his eyes for 45 minutes. At 8:10 a.m. on June 10, still wearing his rain pants from the Oklahoma showers, Penton stopped in front of the Western Union office in downtown L.A. to record his official time: 3,051 miles in 52 hours, 11 minutes, and 1 second, traveling at an average speed of 58 miles per hour. Motorcyclist magazine reported that very little fanfare greeted Penton. He handed his tattered and stamp-filled letter to Miss Jeanon Smith, a Western Union employee, and posed for the camera of George O’Day of the Los Angeles Herald-Press. He gave reporters a few quips, “Some people like to climb mountains” and “Just for kicks,” when asked why he rode across the country so quickly. After 12 hours of sleep, he met with Floyd Clymer, publisher of Cycle and a future fellow AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame member, attended flat-track races at Ascot Speedway, and was introduced by announcer Roxy Rockwood. There he met Rodger Ward, who had recently won his first of two Indianapolis 500 races. “That must have been a lot tougher ride than my 500 miles,” Ward told Penton. After visiting friends in Riverside, Penton rode home and moved on to the next challenge, which was to try to earn a gold medal at the International Six Days Enduro, the one racing goal he regrettably never achieved. Nine years later, a 22-year-old Hungarian named Tibor Sarossy bought a BMW from Penton’s dealership and rode from New York to L.A. in 45 hours, 41 minutes. With more interstate options, Sarossy’s ride was 2,687 miles, nearly 400 miles less than Penton’s. The details of his ride were documented in a Cycle World feature in December 1968. By that point, Penton was importing motorcycles with his own last name emblazoned on the gas tank. 

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I naïvely believed that there was unpublished information to be gleaned from Penton himself, that maybe the many (and more knowledgeable and talented) historians before me didn’t ask the right questions or didn’t read his journal from the ride. But Penton didn’t keep one; he wrote nothing down, which was the exact opposite of his younger sister, Patricia Penton Leimbach, a member of the Ohio Agriculture Hall of Fame, who wrote a column for the Chronicle Telegram for 40 years and three books, which all contained private details of her life. For Penton, when one challenge finished, he looked for the next. “I rushed all my life,” he says. “That’s what I did.” When asked why, he tries to explain, but after a few minutes concludes with, “I can’t answer that question. I don’t know why.” 

I came to Amherst to talk about a single motorcycle ride, but the conversation often veered into World War II, where Penton crossed the Atlantic three times with the Merchant Marines and risked the wrath of German U-boats; he watched ships go down, rescued former schoolmate Mack Mackenzie from the Mediterranean Sea, and sailed to Okinawa and Korea in the Navy, where he waited for the defeated Japanese to leave Seoul. We got into a discussion about what he believes to be the most revolutionary product in off-road motorcycling history: the O-ring chain. Never mind the fact that it was Penton who introduced the small-displacement off-road motorcycle to the U.S. in the form of a 125cc, 15.5-horsepower, 185-pound two-stroke called the Penton. No, he’s more fascinated by how riders like Kailub Russell and Taylor Robert can race for a week in the ISDE and not swap a chain. “They don’t even have to think about it!” he exclaims. The chain conversation then causes him to bring up a product he feels stupid about not having invented himself: hand guards. “Look at these hands!” he says, holding up his wrinkly and bumpy 90-year-old paws. The knobby knuckles and deep purple lines tell stories of the many trees that were unfortunate enough to be in the path of one of his motorcycles. 

And then, after three hours of discussion that weaved in and out of the transcontinental ride, it’s obvious that the minor details have simply been lost to time. Penton has done so much that the record run to L.A. can be seen as a footnote, and it’s almost as if he’s being asked to recount the details of a long-passed routine trip to the grocery store. He leans forward to examine a piece of paper on the table. “I have a tax problem that I have to take care of today,” he says. And that’s it. The next challenge, while minor, waits at the Lorain County Courthouse, and John Penton rushes off to face it. 


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Read the story in Volume 004

HD115

Harley-Davidson’s 115th Anniversary Celebration

Words by Ben Giese



When the folks at Harley-Davidson called and invited me to attend their 115th anniversary celebration in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, initially I wasn’t all that excited.  Sure, I knew the trip would be fun, and I can recognize the impressive legacy of this American manufacturer and the massive influence it has had on American culture.  But for some reason I have never really felt a personal connection to the brand. I’ve always had an image of the Harley-Davidson rider to be like something from the movie Wild Hogs.  Weekend warriors and outlaw bikers wearing leather vests with club patches, chaps, bandannas, and tassels hanging from one place or another while riding a gigantic motorcycle. Obviously that was a very silly stereotype, and there is much more diversity to this iconic brand than I ever realized.

I went into this trip feeling like an outsider, not really knowing what to expect. Little did I know that the experience and the people I was going to meet would completely change my perspective on what it means to ride a Harley-Davidson.

 


When I arrived at the historic Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee I was greeted by Harley-Davidson’s very own, Jennifer Hoyer.  Jennifer went above and beyond to arrange some amazing accommodations for me and assure that this weekend would be one to remember. Upon meeting the warm and welcoming staff, and when Jennifer handed me the keys to a brand-new Sport Glide for the weekend I immediately went from feeling like an outsider to becoming part of the Harley-Davidson family.


The following day I woke up early and rode to a nearby coffee shop to feed my caffeine addiction before starting the day.  Sitting on the curb outside drinking my coffee I witnessed literally thousands of motorcycles ride by within 30 minutes.  I spent that morning riding the highways and back roads surrounding Milwaukee getting familiar with the motorcycle and that experience was much the same. There were thousands upon thousands of bikers and each one of them would give a wave, thumbs-up, peace sign, or some sort of a “hello” acknowledging that we all share a common thread and these motorcycles bring us all together.  No matter who you are, what you look like or what model of bike you are riding, we are a community.  That’s pretty cool if you ask me.  

That afternoon I met up with Harley-Davidson’s VP of Styling, Brad Richards to talk all things design and motorcycles.  Brad leads a team of designers responsible for the design and styling of Harley-Davidson’s motorcycles.  Listening to Brad explain the Harley-Davidson design process, philosophy and vision for the future left me feeling inspired and buzzing with excitement.  He then proceeded to walk me through the features and design of Harley’s new Pan America adventure bike and Livewire electric bike and it was clear that the next generation of Harley-Davidson motorcycles are forging a bold new direction.

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One of the most exciting aspects of Harley-Davidson’s 115 Year Anniversary was all of the racing action happening throughout the weekend.  The competition started with Flat Out Friday, an indoor flat-track race on a Dr. Pepper syrup soaked surface inside the UWM Panther Arena featuring several different classes ranging from the highly competitive Open Expert and Open Hooligan classes, to the more fun and light-hearted Boonie & Goofball classes. The following morning we woke up early and drove about 45 minutes north, in the rain, to watch the Harley-Davidson Hill Climb at the Little Switzerland ski resort.  The event featured several different classes starting with many of the same hooligan riders that were competing the night before in Flat Out Friday on the same machines.

And as soon as the action at the Hill Climb in Little Swizterland was over riders loaded up and headed straight to the Bradford Beach Brawl for some old fashioned beach racing! 

For the first time in over 100 years, bikes were battling it out on the sandy shoreline of Lake Michigan.  Vintage and new bikes battled it out on the oval paying tribute to the early days of racing.  The race classes included Walksler's Period Modified, TROG 45" (w/brakes), 45"(brakeless), Hollywood's 80", Open Hooligan, Hooligan Amateur-Pro, Vintage Sportster, Dealer and Employee.

Watch all the racing action below!

One of the most special moments of the Harley-Davidson 115 year experience was meeting the Harley-Davidson Museum Curatorial Director, Jim Fricke and museum PR Director Tim McCormick.  During one of the busiest weekends ever at the museum with literally thousands of people swarming the complex to enjoy the brand’s rich history, Jim set aside a few hours to personally walk us through the beautiful museum the he curated. The brand’s impressive heritage goes without saying, but what I was most impressed by was the immense archives and preservation of that history. The folks at Harley-Davidson have saved everything from 100+ year old photography, advertisements, and at least one of each motorcycle they have ever produced including Serial Number One, the oldest bike in their archive built 115 years ago.

Not only has this trip completely shifted my perspective on the Harley-Davidson image, but meeting Jim Fricke has opened my eyes to the diversity, rich preservation of history, and legacy of this legendary American Motorcycle manufacturer. My conversation with Brad Richards has filled me with excitement for the new direction Harley is taking with their next generation of motorcycles, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future as a newfound Harley-Davidson fan and rider. Thanks to Jennifer, Brad, Jim, Tim and the entire Harley-Davidson staff for giving me an unforgettable experience at the #HD115.

Land of Discovery

Finding Inspiration in Portugal

Words by Ben Giese | Photos by Luca Gambuti


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A desire to explore new territory is part of human nature, and our innate craving for discovery is something that is hardwired into our DNA. Much like Christopher Columbus’s first voyage across the Atlantic or Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon, this curiosity is something that continuously drives humanity forward. And that thrill of breaking new ground is what sparks our imaginations and helps expand our understanding of the world we live in. 

 

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As the infamous ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau once pondered, “What is the origin of the devouring curiosity that drives men to commit their lives, their health, their reputation, their fortunes, to conquer a bit of knowledge, to stretch our physical, emotional or intellectual territory?” He continued: “The more time I spend observing nature, the more I believe that man’s motivation for exploration is but the sophistication of a universal instinctive drive deeply ingrained in all living creatures. Life is growth – individuals and species grow in size, in number, and in territory. The peripheral manifestation of growing is exploring the outside world.”

Back in March Ducati had invited me to Portugal for the release of their new Scrambler 1100, and while riding through the historic city of Lisbon those profound thoughts of human exploration, instinct and our natural desire for adventure were racing inside my helmet. During my visit I stopped by the impressive Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries). This monument was constructed in 1939 on the northern bank of the Tagus River to celebrate Portugal’s Age of Discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries. The monument pays tribute to all of the fearless navigators, particularly the Portuguese explorers who once departed from these banks.   

Portugal spearheaded early European exploration of the world, and Portuguese captains of the era quickly became the best in Europe, sailing the most maneuverable ships and using the latest innovations in navigation and cartography. The monument includes depictions of many groundbreaking explorers, including the likes of Ferdinand Magellan — a Portuguese explorer who led the first voyage to circumnavigate the globe.

 

Crews of men numbering in the hundreds would depart on massive wooden ships to venture across the ocean and return years later with only a fraction of the crewmembers surviving. In those days, if the ship didn’t sink, crewmembers would likely die from starvation, disease, pirate raids or even attacks from the aboriginal tribes occupying the land they were exploring. Many people believed in sea monsters, huge whirlpools and a searing sun that produced boiling waters in the outer regions of the Atlantic Ocean that would kill anyone who came close. Yet amongst all that terrifying folklore and the loss of so many human lives, these bold navigators ventured onward into the unknown to discover new worlds.

 

  Photo by Nathon Verdugo

Photo by Nathon Verdugo

Feeling inspired, I start up my Scrambler 1100 to depart from the monument and ride through the historic city of Lisbon. The significant architecture of this city still echoes the Old World, and I can’t help but think about how these old cobblestone streets I am riding are the same those great explorers once walked.  As I reflect back to that time, and to those people, I come to the realization that the modern-day motorcycle adventurer is not all that different from those early explorers.  Sure, our expeditions might be a bit more calculated, and with a much higher survival rate, but ultimately we share the same passion for adventure and curiosity for the unknown.

Portugal will forever be known as the Land of Discovery, and much like those early wooden ships, my Scrambler 1100 is a vessel for discovery. It’s a tool for exploration and a means for seeing the planet from a new perspective.  With this newfound perspective I saddle up and ride south down the beautiful Portuguese coastline.  And who knows what I might discover… 


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Read the story in Volume 012

Reverb: Steve Caballero

Volume 012 Music Selection

Curated by Steve Caballero | Photography by Evan Klanfer


 
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For Volume 012 we asked our friend and skateboarding legend, Steve Caballero to curate a selection of his favorite albums. What we received was a mix of punk rock ranging from the late 80s to 2,000s including legendary bands like Bad Religion, Minor Threat and an album by Cab's very own band, The Faction.

 
 

 
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Read our story on Steve Caballero in Volume 003

The Moto Bay Classic

Motorcycles, Music, and Art at the City by the Bay

Words by Dale Spangler | Photos by Jacob Vaughan

Presented by Tucker Powersports


 

It’s no coincidence that motorcycles, music, and art give us a similar type of rush. All three help us to escape the routine of daily life, allow us to feel more alive—and free. That’s why when we heard about the inaugural Roland Sands Moto Bay Classic in San Francisco, we knew we had to be involved. Moto Bay was inspired by the 2017 Moto Beach Classic held in Huntington Beach that combined motorcycle flat track and drag racing with a surf competition, art show, and music. The event was an overwhelming success and for 2018 Sands decided to create a second Classic in the motorcycle-friendly city of San Francisco off the Embarcadero at Pier 32. With its urban setting and spectacular views of the Oakland Bay Bridge, San Francisco Bay, and downtown skyline, Pier 32 is a picture-perfect place to hold a motorcycle event. With racing, stunt riding, music, and art on the schedule, Sands created the Moto Bay Classic to have its own unique festival atmosphere with the same focus on fun as Moto Beach.

 

 

No stranger to motorcycle action, Pier 32 is the same location where the 2000 Summer X Games took place—the first to include Freestyle Moto-X. It was here that a then 15-year old Travis Pastrana recorded the highest score in X Games history with a 99.00 Gold Medal run. Less talked about, is that Pier 32 is also the location of Pastrana’s (in)famous jump into San Francisco Bay. Having just won his first X Games Gold, Pastrana donned a life vest under his riding gear and proceeded to launch himself (and his Suzuki RM125 motorcycle) off a four-foot high berm into San Francisco Bay much to the delight of the fans in attendance. Needless to say, the city of San Francisco (and EPA) were not as impressed, and Pastrana’s leap into the bay is something that’s not talked about much to this day.

 

 Travis Pastrana's jump into the bay, X Games 2000 | Photo spread featured in META Volume 004

Travis Pastrana's jump into the bay, X Games 2000 | Photo spread featured in META Volume 004

 

As the Tucker crew arrived at Pier 32 on Saturday morning, for final set-up, it was apparent from the laid-back vibe that we were in for an epic day. With our Tucker tents placed in ideal locations near the hooligan track, gymkhana course, concert stage, and art show areas, we were ready to entertain some of our bay area dealers and treat them to a VIP fun-filled Saturday afternoon in the city.

Practice for the hooligan racers kicked off the program at 11:00am. If you’ve never been to one of these races we suggest you go if one comes to your area. The sound of these bikes alone is something else!  Probably like the first time you hear a MotoGP bike or a Formula One car—startlingly impressive. The roar of the twin-cylinder engines combined with the smell of burnt rubber is infectious, and we laughed out loud like little kids as the raw, guttural sound reverberated through our chest like a bass drum.

Although hooligan racing has been around since the 70s, “run what ya’ brung” racing has really taken off in the last few of years, and as a result, a national championship series was created. With events scattered throughout the western half of the country, the 2018 Super Hooligan National Championship Series (SHNC) is comprised of nine races. With a limited set of rules, racers must show up on a 750cc or larger street bike, from any manufacturer, and the rules focus on minimal fabrication to keep costs low. For example, a stock production frame must be used, and no geometry changes are allowed unless they are not bolt-on.

 

 

The result is an accessible form of racing with a more level playing field and closer racing. In addition to the premiere Super Hooligan, other less-serious classes include Run What Ya’ Brung, Air-cooled 2-Stroke, Mad Monkey Mini (150cc or under), SuperMoto, and even a small-bore XR class. Part of the allure of hooligan racing is that the bikes the riders race are typically not meant for the racetrack. Instead of exotic and expensive factory race bikes, these are everyday motorcycles—which only adds to the grassroots street-cred appeal of hooligan racing.

As the racers burned in the hooligan track, at the same time over on the gymkhana course, the finals of the fifth annual San Francisco International Police Motor Skills competition were going on. The competition started on Thursday with Semi-finals on Friday and the finals Saturday. Think these policemen just sip coffee and eat donuts all day? Think again! These guys can ride! Seeing the bike handling skills of these policemen possess was impressive—especially the ones riding police-issue baggers.

 

 

A stroll around the venue around noon revealed the other Moto bay activities going on such as the “Kidkhana” electric strider bike demos for kids, the “Architects of Inspiration” art and bike show sponsored by Husqvarna (with content provided by META), and bike demos by several of the OEMs. Vendors were scattered about selling their wares, and Tucker distributed brands Roland Sands, Arlen Ness, Vance and Hines, Performance Machine, Burly Brand, Progressive, and Dunlop were all in attendance to display product and interact with the fellow motorcyclists in attendance. Around this same time, the local punk band The Nerv kicked off the music line-up, followed by fellow bay area bands Lujuria and the Screaming Bloody Marys.

 

 

One of our favorite events of the day took place around 2pm, the Cops vs. Hooligans Gymkana Showdown. The irony of these two groups coming together didn’t go unnoticed, and despite the requisite smack talk between the two groups, the competition was a show of mutual respect and camaraderie between brothers from the same motorcycle tribe. In true ‘run what ya’ brung’ fashion, riders from both teams took to the course on scooters, dual sport machines, Groms, hooligan bikes and police baggers in an all-out timed battle of bike handling skills. The cops held their own against the hooligans, fun was had by all, and Tyler O’Hara recorded the fastest time by 0.08 seconds to give the win to the Hooligans. Look for the cops to return next year with a vengeance (and for redemption) at the second annual Cops vs. Hooligans Gymkana Showdown.

The main show kicked off at 3pm with the national anthem followed by a fireboat water cannon display put on by the San Francisco Fire Department. Hooligan racing commenced and Long Beach punk rockers T.S.O.L. hit the main stage for their set between the heat races and finals. Andy DiBrino took a close-fought win in the Super Hooligan final with Robert Bush and Mikey Hill rounding out the podium. A crowd-pleasing display of tire-shredding burnouts followed the finish and the air filled with smoke while shards of flying rubber peppered fans lining the race course. It was awesome!

 

 

The show wasn't over yet, and with the crowd pumped up after the Super Hooligan main event, The Vandals hit the stage for some Orange County punk rock before the stunt riders took to the hooligan course for an entertaining display of wheelies, powerslides, burnouts, and impressive demonstration of bike handling skills. Sands joined in on the fun with his custom-built “Squatch” Polaris Sportsman ATV retrofitted with a Toyota Tacoma front end and old couch welded to the back. Sands cranked off wheelie after wheelie around the hooligan course with two passengers onboard surrounded by the stunt riders. The Sands wheelie show shenanigans ended with an unsuccessful attempt to smoke the tires off The Squatch.

But wait, there’s more! The remaining crowd headed to the main stage for a brief awards ceremony before the Eagles of Death Metal brought down the house with an energetic and engaging set. Lead singer Jesse Hughes is a character on stage and the epitome of a rock-and-roll entertainer. He’s also a fellow motorcyclist and a friend of Roland Sands. To see Hughes and his EODM bandmates enjoy the company of fellow motorcyclists, in such an intimate setting, was a rare treat. As they tore through their set and closed out the day’s show, it seemed like the fitting end to a unique event.

 

 

With its mix of motorcycles, music, and art in a laid-back festival setting, the Moto Bay Classic had all the right ingredients for a perfect day of fun. As the event’s description states, “the RSD Moto Bay Classic promises something for everyone. With a constant flow of activities and participation from attendees, you’re not just watching the show, you’re a part of it.” Based upon our personal experience, and the fun we observed, we’d say the RSD crew hit the mark.

Body & Motion

How the Motorcycle Influences Architect Antoine Predock

Words & photos by JC Buck


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It’s six in the morning, and Ben is picking me up outside my garage in Denver. We are about to embark on a six-hour drive from Denver to Albuquerque to meet renowned architect and motorcycle enthusiast Antoine Predock. 

Last year I discovered the work of the New Mexico-based architect, who is celebrating 50 years of architecture, and have been photographing his buildings since. 

I work as an architectural photographer, and I am fascinated by Antoine’s career. So much so that, in my own time, I have photographed his buildings in Arizona, Wyoming, Las Vegas, Minnesota and Colorado. 

 

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Antoine has designed award-winning museums, libraries, university buildings and private residences all over the globe. He has been awarded the prestigious AIA Gold Medal (joining the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Kahn), among many others, and is considered to be one of the most notable American architects of our time.

His buildings are works of art and come out of the ground like geological events. They truly become part of the landscape, with canyon-like approaches, mountainous shapes, dramatic sloping rooflines, and a deep and thoughtful respect for place – historically, culturally and geologically. 

 

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We arrive at his Albuquerque studio shortly after noon, and there he is waiting for us with a diverse trio of his motorcycles on display (Vincent, Ducati and Zero Electric), one for each of us! 

He resembled a rock star more than an international architect, with his steampunkish sunglasses, beanie, black-on-black outfit, skateboard shoes, and Ducati T-shirt. Antoine is particularly fond of Ducati motorcycles, we soon come to learn.

He greets us like old friends, invites us into his studio, and gives us a quick tour. The space provides us with a glimpse into his design process, with tables displaying clay models, 3D-printed models, gallery walls of sketches, paintings, large-format handmade collages, photographs, awards, and stacks of books upon books. 

Antoine proceeded to show us his large collection of motorcycles, from a 1929 Indian Scout to numerous Ducati and BMW sport bikes, to his current favorite: a custom electric Zero motorcycle, which had been raced in the Colorado Springs Pikes Peak Hill Climb. 

 

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Following the tour of his studio and my lusting over his beautiful collection of motorcycles, we crack open some S.Pellegrinos (it’s still early in the day) and settle into a small, comfortable seating area in a window-filled corner, with expansive views of the Rio Grande river valley and Sandia mountain range. 

We asked Antoine all kinds of questions, and he talked to us like friends – explaining his process, designing architecture, and passion for motorcycles. He shared with us his body-and-motion philosophy, a tale of a recent motorcycle crash and the archives he recently donated to the University of New Mexico.

It was a time I will cherish: The three of us talking about motorcycles, architecture, design, and life all while overlooking the most beautiful otherworldly and iconic New Mexico landscape.  

 

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Antoine is fascinated with the idea of body and motion. Throughout his career, he has studied how the body moves through spaces and landscapes. For him, the motorcycle embodies this philosophy more so than anything else. 

As he poetically says,

 

“The connection to place, to the land, the wind, the sun, stars, the moon ... it sounds romantic, but it’s true – the visceral experience of motion, of moving through time on some amazing machine – a few cars touch on it, but not too many compared to motorcycles. I always felt that any motorcycle journey was special.”

 

We all know this feeling, and it’s a sensory experience like no other. I can see how this influenced Antoine’s work. Prior to discovering his buildings and learning about his design process, I would not have connected these two. I am now seeing things differently as I ride through a landscape, or in the way I approach and move through a building. I have become hypersensitive to my own body and motion. 

 

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“The body moves through space every day, and in architecture in cities, that can be orchestrated,” Antoine says. Not in a dictatorial fashion, but in a way of creating options, open-ended sort of personal itineraries within a building. And I see that as akin to cinematography or choreography, where episodic movement, episodic moments, occur in dance and film.”

I’ve experienced this with his buildings I have photographed, most notably the Nelson Fine Arts Center at Arizona State University. The building has multiple options to enter, pass by, and interact with the space, from its subterranean levels to ascending its tower into the sky, overlooking the campus.  

 

“Architecture is a ride – a physical ride and an intellectual ride,” says Predock.

 

He wants people to move through his buildings, in fact, he wants everyone to be able to move through his buildings; such as the Human Rights Center in Ottawa, Canada, a stunning futuristic sculptural building, for which he won awards for its accessibility for people with disabilities.

 

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Antoine shares with us a recent motorcycle crash he experienced in Los Angeles: Someone drove right into him while he was riding. He wasn’t lane-splitting or anything aggressive like that (and he did comment on how much he enjoys lane-splitting), but just out of nowhere someone hit him, resulting in a brief hospital visit with several non-life-threatening injuries. He has mainly recovered, although at the time we were meeting, he was still dealing with some pain. 

He goes on to talk about how he wears armor now, to protect him from the elements, like “asshole commuters,” he jokes. Wearing motorcycle armor for protection, he ties it back to architecture – how he designs for place. For example, designing for the New Mexico landscape, the extreme conditions of of which have defined him as an architect. 

“I try to understand ‘place’ on a deeper level than just the physical or environmental aspects,” he explains. “It includes cultural and intellectual forces, too. It’s an inclusive approach that brings in many disciplines and sees place as a dynamic thing.”

 

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Antoine’s education and entire career has been rooted in New Mexico. The Land of Enchantment has defined him as a person, his design process, and his architecture. 

In his words,

 

“New Mexico has formed my experience in an all-pervasive sense. I don’t think of New Mexico as a region. I think of it as a force that has entered my system, a force that is composed of many things. Here, one is aimed toward the sky and at the same time remains rooted in the earth with a geological and cultural past. The lessons I’ve learned here about responding to the forces of a place can be implemented anywhere. I don’t have to invent a new methodology for new contexts. It is as if New Mexico has already prepared me.”

 

Before we wrapped up our afternoon with Antoine, we follow him down to the University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning, a building that he designed. I wanted to capture some architectural photographs of him passing by one of his buildings on his motorcycle. 

 

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The strong and rectilinear university building, with its articulated southern-facing façade, is a modern interpretation of the New Mexico landscape, specifically inspired by the cliffs of Canyon de Chelly. It sits on Central Avenue, a main east-west street that was once part of the famous Route 66. 

The sun was raking the southern facade as cars passed by, and I capture a handful of compositions with Antoine on his electric Zero Motorcycle, beautifully showcasing the scale of the building in comparison to Predock and his motorcycle.

While there on campus, which happens to be graduation day, we join the architect inside to see dozens of celebrating graduates of the Architecture and Planning School in their red caps and gowns. Antoine is greeted with hugs and smiles as he congratulates the students.

We say our goodbyes, and just like that we are on the road back to Denver. As we passed through the New Mexico landscape with the sunset in our rearview mirror, I couldn’t help but think about body and motion. What a great philosophy and way to live this life. 

 

Body. Motion. Life. It’s all about movement.


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Story featured in Volume 012

The Blackwater 100

America’s Original Extreme Offroad Race

Words by Dale Spangler | Photos courtesy MX Sports


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Many would agree the Blackwater 100 is America’s original extreme offroad race. Before the terms “extreme enduro” or “hard enduro” even existed, before there was an EnduroCross Series, and before there was a Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) series—there was the Blackwater 100. One of the most famous (some would argue most infamous) offroad races in the world, the Blackwater 100, for the most part, has been all but forgotten. What’s the background of this race and why was it so significant? What became of it?

It began as an idea in the mid-1970s, when a preacher from the small town of Davis, West Virginia, located in the northeast part of the state in the heart of coal country, approached a race promoter by the name of Dave “Big Dave” Coombs at one of his motocross races. The preacher, concerned for the economy of his struggling little town, had an idea to hold a motorcycle race on lands surrounding Davis in the hopes of attracting spectators and racers to the area. Big Dave and the preacher watched the movie On Any Sunday, and after seeing the scenes featuring the Lake Elsinore Grand Prix, they decided a similar type of event would be just what was needed to the boost the economy of Davis. Big Dave went down and inspected the land around Davis and saw that the area had immense potential for a motorcycle race, which resulted in the first race being held outside of town in 1974. For 1975 the race was moved into town and became part of Davis’ “Alpine Festival.” The event was named the “Blackwater 100” because of the surrounding Blackwater River that runs through Davis, and the nearby Blackwater Falls. The race’s length was to be 100 miles, therefore “100” was added to the end of the name, and the Blackwater 100 was born.

 

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Steep hills, tight woods, water crossings, swamps—you name it, the Blackwater had it all. The event was a true test of endurance—for both man and machine—and to simply finish became a sought-after achievement. Due to the difficulty of its varied terrain and four grueling 25-mile laps, the event was eventually dubbed “America’s toughest race.” The winner that first year in 1975 was Kevin Lavoie from Chepachet, Rhode Island riding an Ossa, and he would go on to win the 1976 and 1978 versions of the event also. Other notable names in those early years included Frank Gallo (1977 winner), and Mark Hyde (1979 winner).

“I always looked forward to Blackwater every year as it was one of those must-do events,” remembers 1979 winner Mark Hyde. “After watching the movie On Any Sunday, and seeing how that played out, it was cool to be in a race that had an impact like that. After I won the race for the first time in 1979, I was rewarded with my first factory support ride, and started my career in the motorcycle industry.” [Hyde would go on to win the event three more times].

 

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Through the support of spectators, racers, and sponsors alike, the Blackwater event continued to grow in popularity. Davey Coombs, son of Big Dave and current Editor-in-Chief at Racer X Illustrated magazine, explains how the event quickly gained the attention of powersports media at the time: “A large part of the popularity of the event came when the staff of California-based Dirt Bike magazine—Rick ‘Super Hunky’ Sieman, Tom Webb, Paul Clipper and Dennis ‘Ketchup’ Cox—came back east for the event at the invite of Big Dave. They had little experience with the thick woods and bottomless swamps, and struggled to even finish the event, yet they wrote very complimentary articles about it (it was Super Hunky who dubbed it ‘America's toughest race’ after he tried to ride it on a big-bore Maico and had a brutal day just trying to get around). They gave the event immediate credibility, and helped bridge the gap that existed between eastern off-road racing and the mostly-California-based motorcycle industry.”

By 1980, due in part to the event’s popularity, the single-day Blackwater event evolved into a three-race 100-mile series with the Blackwater 100 as the premier race. Three-wheelers were added in 1983 (later to become four-wheelers) and then in 1984 Wiseco Piston signed on as title sponsor of the seven-race “Wiseco 100 Miler Series,” which was renamed the Wiseco Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) series in 1986.

 

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“It was back in 1981 when I was working for Wiseco that I first met Dave Coombs,” explains Bob Gorman, former Wiseco Sales and Marketing Manager and current CEO of Cometic Gasket. “He threw out his idea of the Blackwater 100, and I thought, ‘what a great way for Wiseco to reach out to its customers, and at the same time have some fun.’ Knowing Dave and the Coombs family and how they operate—treating the competitors with respect and always taking care of their sponsors—it wasn't a tough sell.”

Just how difficult was the Blackwater 100? Unlike today’s GNCC series, where each race is a timed event, the Blackwater, and the other races that comprised the Wiseco 100 Miler Series, were distance events. Perhaps the speeds may not have been as high as today’s races, and of course, the machines of today have evolved to allow higher speeds, but in some respects, the 100-mile races may have been more difficult than today’s races. Whereas today’s GNCC races last around three hours, the winners of the Blackwater event clocked in at over five hours—and that was for the winner! A grueling five hours on a motorcycle or ATV unlike today’s lightweight, high-horsepower and high power-to-weight ratio long-travel machines.

 

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“Going into the race, my first goal was always just to finish, and if you did that you would end up with a good result,” recalls Mark Hyde. “I never finished the race in under five hours and I don’t think I ever made it through a year without getting stuck at least once. It was also on Father’s Day Weekend every year, and since I started out riding with my dad as a kid, he went to most of my races. That was also special.”

“The Blackwater 100 made the Baja 1000 look like a trail ride,” shares former pro motocross racer and Wiseco employee at the time, Steve Johnson. “I have ridden them both and finished.” Johnson raced the 1989 Blackwater on a mostly stock Yamaha Warrior 350 ATV and finished fourth in the Four-Stroke A class. “It was like racing on the moon in some spots, the Bayou in other spots, and rainforest in others,” continued Johnson. “You would be riding a wave of mud on top of the moss, it was insane, if you stopped you sank to your waist! I have never been so tired in my life. The best feature of the Warrior was e-start and reverse! Nothing like backing up at a bottleneck.”

 

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The Blackwater 100 was survival of the fittest, and finishing not only required endurance and strategy, but also the ability to keep one’s machine running for the entire event after crossing gas-tank-high streams, smashing through hundreds of rocks, and navigating the swamps and deep woods of rural West Virginia. And then there was the dreaded Highway 93 river crossing, the most famous and popular obstacle on the race course. A place where thousands of adult beverage-fueled spectators (called “mud fleas”) lined the course to watch riders navigate the Blackwater River, followed by a steep, greasy uphill embankment. Imagine a chaotic festival atmosphere where riders funnel through a narrow chute, cross the river, then attempt to climb the slippery embankment. The tricky part, climbing the embankment, often involved a technique whereby a rider launched their motorcycle or ATV up the sheer face in hopes that the mud fleas deemed the effort worthy of their assistance. Make it across the Highway 93 River crossing once, and you only had to accomplish the task three more times.

Adds Hyde, “Having the race in that setting was very special and my wife would go every year along with other family members and friends. We would go check out the falls and other interesting things in the area. Year in and year out, it was always the most difficult race we had on the schedule. It had a wide variety of terrain that was very challenging, plus the bogs and river crossings made line selection very important. The spectators were also very different and they did not hesitate to jump in and be a part of the race. I have been lucky enough to travel the world racing motorcycles, and when that race was in its prime, I would get asked about it where ever I went.”

 

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The list of winners of the Blackwater 100 reads like a veritable who’s who of offroad racing legends. Names such as four-time winner and KTM Ride Orange Manager Mark Hyde, multi-time ISDE Gold Medalist and AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer Jeff Fredette, four-time National Enduro Champion Terry Cunningham, and future GNCC champions Scott Summers and Fred Andrews. ATV winners include two-time winners Jeffrey Bernard and Roy Dains, three-time winner and two-time GNCC champion Bob Sloan, and future seven-time GNCC champion Barry Hawk.

“My first experience at Blackwater was something I will never forget,” describes Barry Hawk. “I was 15 years old and went with a friend who ended up with a broken collarbone, which left me scrambling to find a way home. Somehow, I made it, but the entire experience of being there and watching the race, the sights, the smells was something I knew I wanted to be part of from that day on.”

 

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The following year, Hawk was finally old enough to compete in the race, but as he explains, it didn’t quite go as planned: “I’m pretty sure I finished, but I didn’t get a trophy which was something that I absolutely wanted in the future. Heck, thinking back on it, I didn’t get a trophy until the final year in 1993, but it was well worth the wait. I started on the last row of the pro riders and it was extremely dry and dusty that year. I knew any guy that I caught I would beat on adjusted time, but that wasn’t good enough for me. I pushed the entire race until the last lap and passed Bob Sloan who was physically leading the overall, and even though I didn’t need to pass him because of the time adjustment, I had to do it, and it paid off: I crossed the finish line first and won the freaking Blackwater 100! To this day, that ranks up there as one of the best and most memorable wins for me. I have so many more stories and memories from that event, it truly was a unique experience that every person that’s been there I think would agree with me.”

In its heyday, the Blackwater 100 was the Indianapolis 500 of offroad racing, and at the time, there was no other race like it, except the Baja 1000 in Mexico. The race was as unpredictable as it was difficult, such as in 1990 when a little-known racer from Norfolk, Massachusetts named Tommy Norton won the overall on a 125cc KTM—the only rider to ever do so. Then the following year, Scott Summers would win the 1991 race on his 321-pound air-cooled Honda XR600R and follow it up with another win in 1992. The Blackwater required strategy—not just speed—and nothing was a guarantee until a rider crossed the finish line. Winners of the Blackwater 100 earned their win, and winners became instant legends.

 

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“The Blackwater from a racer's perspective was so thrilling,” recalls 1991 and 1992 winner Scott Summers. “The place is breathtakingly beautiful, but when trying to negotiate all the dangers lurking, from course obstacles and sometimes spectators, you didn't have much opportunity to really soak in all the beauty. The faster you went, the more dangerous it got, but the reward was significant. Winning that race was a big deal. Maybe like winning the whole GNCC series today. What made it so thrilling is that it always lived up to the hype. It was physically, mentally and emotionally draining—so many eggs were in that basket—the stress was unbelievable.”

The last Blackwater 100 took place in 1993, the race shut down due to environmental and liability concerns. “One of the reasons for the demise of the event was that it had outgrown itself,” explains Davey Coombs. “Because there was no admission, no fences, no real rules out there in Canaan Valley (where the race was mostly contained) the liability became too much for not only the Alpine Festival but Racer Productions as well. Too many people were out there riding around on their own ATVs and motorcycles (but not racing) or just walking the trails that the event became risk adverse.”

 

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Adds Summers, “I'll cherish my Blackwater memories forever, there was no better way to enjoy nature and quench your desire for excitement than to spend Father's Day among other thrill seekers in the middle of one of West Virginia’s biggest parties. It was insane, and it was a legendary experience—definitely quality time.”

During its heyday, the Blackwater was a legendary offroad race with lasting effects on those who witnessed or experienced the event. “In all of American motorsports there are very few events that are larger than the series or sport they are a part of,” suggests Fred Bramblett, Scott Summers’ mechanic and business manager at the time of his Blackwater wins and GNCC championship runs. “In automobiles, for open-wheel racing it’s the ‘Indy 500,’ and in NASCAR it’s the ‘Daytona 500.’ In motorcycles, for road racing there is the ‘Daytona 200,” and for offroad racing there was the ‘Blackwater 100.’ To have entered and finished was a huge rite of passage. Any winner of this event was ensured huge media exposure and a line of happy sponsors wanting to be associated with them. Here it is 20+ years later and you cannot name any other single offroad event that a rider could make a career around winning.”

 

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Fortunately, by the time of the Blackwater’s demise, the GNCC series had grown into 14-rounds for both motorcycles and ATVs and established itself as one of the premier national championship offroad racing series. Today the GNCC series is considered the pinnacle championship in offroad racing in the United States and a coveted title by the OEM manufactures. Wiseco remains a big part of off-road racing, being a feature sponsor of GNCC today, and even having a title GNCC event, the Wiseco John Penton in Millfield, Ohio. Riders from around the world move to the United States to race GNCC events, and the series has experienced record crowds and rider turnouts at each round in recent years.

From its humble beginnings as a single-day, one-off event called the Blackwater 100, to the multi-round GNCC championship of today, cross country racing continues to thrill racers and spectators alike. Wiseco is proud of its shared history with an event of such legendary status and its continued support of the GNCC series today. It was an easy decision early on for Wiseco to get behind the Blackwater 100 and Big Dave Coombs’ vision of an elite offroad racing championship series.

Fly Summer Camp

The Good Life

Words by Andrew Campo | Photos by Jimmy Bowron & Andrew Campo


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“Years ago I was out flying with Bob Hannah scouting hunting spots in Northern Idaho. We flew over Payette Lake and the small town of Mccall and I was instantly blown away with how beautiful it was. I had seen a lot of the world already and there was something very special about this area. In that moment I told myself that this is the place that I want to call home. A few weeks later I had packed up my life in North Carolina and was making my way across the country to start a new chapter of life in Idaho.”

 

These are the words of Damon "The Best From The East" Bradshaw as we drove down the mountain following an incredible trail ride at Bogus Basin, about an hour away from the FLY Racing headquarters in Boise. Earlier that day I had no idea that I would spend the afternoon riding alongside Bradshaw and to be completely honest it’s a moment in life I will always cherish. Damon is one of nicest people I have met along my journey through the industry and somebody I have admired and looked up to since I was a kid back in the early 80s, when I had aspirations of one day becoming a top tier factory racer. That of course never happened, but days like this make me feel like I did something right along the way.

 

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We were attending the second annual FLY Racing Summer Camp. FLY hosts this event in effort to bring motocross media to the great state of Idaho so that they can better understand the DNA of the brand. Unlike the majority of the other gear brands in motocross FLY was born far outside the confines of Southern California's rat race. Since 1998 they have taken a lot of pride in the fact that they have managed to it their way. Rightfully so as they have claimed their spot amongst the industry leaders and are moving into the future with enormous momentum and solid a foundation that spans two decades.

Operating from a unique location is something that META shares with FLY. When we launched our publication nearly five years ago and decided to do it from our home in Colorado, and for all the right reasons. Sure there are challenges that come with not being located in California, but there is a certain pride and drive that comes from birthing something in your home state, and like FLY we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Throughout the week at Summer Camp we had the pleasure of spending time with Craig Shoemaker, the Founder and CEO of both FLY Racing and Western Powersports. He shared brand insight, history, and laughs, but what I really appreciated was the fact that he clearly made time to interact with everybody in attendance. His passion for this brand and the sport as a whole is clearly second to none.

 

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We were introduced to the 2019 Raceway line by way of Jason Thomas and FLY athletes Blake Baggett, Zach Osborne, and Weston Pieck. We where then presented with the opportunity to put the gear to test on track at Owyhee Motocycle Club and later through single track offerings at Bogus Basin and once again Summer Camp left us grinning from ear to ear.

We would like to thank FLY Racing for the incredible experience and to note that it is really cool that you bring all the media into an event that allows us to build friendships and memories together outside of a race environment. We will continue to look forward to Summer Camp!

 

View the 2019 Fly Racing Gear Line

 

Be sure to check the 2019 gear line and enjoy a look inside this year's summer camp with a video from our friends at Evergood.

 

Sam Jones: Exposure

Flying Machine Stories Episode 005

Produced by FMF


 

The life of Sam Jones is a pursuit of expression–capturing it, setting forth and feeling it. As a photographer and a filmmaker, Sam has touched all of us through the eyes of the most influential artists and athletes of our day. Riding motorcycles is another way Sam experiences the world from a unique perspective. For us riding is about the power of making personal connections. Welcoming Sam to our tribe was a thrill of a lifetime. Check out the story at flyingmachinefactory.com, and enjoy the ride

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Italiano

Moto Guzzi's Italian Heritage

Words by Brett Smith


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Behind a red metal gate in the small Italian town of Mandello del Lario are the ingredients to building great motorcycles. It’s an imposing 10- or 11-foot-tall barrier that gives the impression of something substantial happening on the other side. But it’s nothing like the foreboding gate Charlie Bucket encountered in front of Willy Wonka’s factory (“Nobody ever goes in … nobody ever comes out”). 

No, the century-old façade of Moto Guzzi doesn’t stand in an attempt to shield or withhold secrets. Moto Guzzi wants everyone to know what’s coming out of its factory, which sits a few blocks inland of the Lecchese branch of Lake Como. Looming over the east side of the town is Grigna, the 8,000-foot-tall mountain massif. 

 

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Everything is assembled in the Mandello del Lario factory, but what’s even more important to Moto Guzzi is that it’s an all-Italian brand. Even the parts they don’t directly manufacture are made in Italy by Italian companies. “Heritage is our strength,” press officer Alberto Cani told half a dozen journalists as they carefully sipped nuclear-hot coffee and nibbled Italian pastries. That heritage is the reason why we’ve flown to Northern Italy in late March: We did it to ride Guzzi’s lineup of V7III models, because to fully appreciate and write about an all-Italian bike, made by Italians with Italian components, it’s important to ride the bike on the Italian roads near where the bikes are made.  

Moto Guzzi isn’t the oldest Italian motorcycle manufacturer – Beta (1904), Gilera (1909), Benelli (1911) and others came first – but Moto Guzzi is the oldest to have been in continuous uninterrupted production, which started in 1921 with the Normale. It was a 500cc model that featured a single horizontal cylinder and produced a whopping 8.5 horsepower. Top speed: 52.8 miles per hour. The bike had no front brake, no headlight and no suspension. 

 

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The Guzzi story, however, actually began in the middle of the Great War, when Carlo Guzzi put forth the idea of building a better motorcycle to his friends. Guzzi was an engineer in the Royal Marines; Giorgio Parodi and Giovanni Ravelli were pilots. In 1919, they built a prototype with financial help from Giorgio’s father, Vittorio Emanuele Parodi. In a letter dated January 3, 1919, he wrote to his son: 

“Although technically I am little more than a donkey, nevertheless I feel able to give a quite competent and practical judgment on the convenience and the probability of success in a similar imprint …
“The answer that you should then give to your classmates is that I am favorable in maxim, that the 1500 or 2000 lire for the experiment are at your disposal … but that I reserve the right to personally examine the project before granting my support defined to seriously launch the product. That if by chance I liked it I am willing to go a long way without limitation of numbers.”

 

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Two thousand lire (the monetary unit of Italy until 2002) was enough for the young men to start work on “a new kind of moto.” Sadly, before their prototype was finished, Ravelli died in a plane crash. To honor him, the remaining founders designed the eagle logo, which is always looking forward on the motorcycle. The original prototype was called the G.P. (Guzzi-Parodi) but to squash the possibility of G.P. being solely linked to the initials of Giorgio Parodi, they (wisely) settled on Moto Guzzi as the brand name, as Moto Parodi sounds like something one would eat.

Carlo loved racing and realized early on how much that exposure could benefit them. They had success very early. In late May, 1921, only 10 weeks after the official founding date, they raced from Milan to Naples. That September, Gino Finzi won the famous Targa Florio event around the island of Sicily. Three years after that, Guido Mentasti won the first-ever 500cc European Motorcycle Championship riding a Moto Guzzi. Then, in 1935, Irishman Stanley Woods won the Isle of Man Senior TT. It was the first time a non-English brand had ever won the prestigious event. 

 

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As sales increased, so did the emphasis on winning. In 1949, the first year of the World Motorcycle Championships, Bruno Ruffo won the 250cc class on a Moto Guzzi; in fact, the brand took 7 of the top 10 positions in the standings. Six years later, with the help of an engineer named Giulio Cesare Carcano, Moto Guzzi showed up at the Belgian Grand Prix with a 500cc eight-cylinder monster. The first version of the “Otto Cilindri,” a 90-degree V8 four-stroke, produced 68 horsepower. But in 1957, Italy dropped a bomb on the racing world. Moto Guzzi, Gilera, Mondial and MV Agusta made a joint announcement that they were abandoning their racing efforts at the end of the season, citing the rising cost to race and a decline in sales. MV Agusta pulled out of the pact and went on to win 17 consecutive championships in the 500cc class. 

The V8 motorcycle never had the chance to reach its full potential, but in the end its engineer, Carcano, gave the motorcycling world an even better gift: He developed Moto Guzzi’s first 90-degree transverse V-twin, which was put into the 1967 V7, the original version of what I’m riding around Lake Como. It became the eagle brand’s bestselling motorcycle and the engine style most closely associated with Moto Guzzi. The V7 was considered the first Italian sportbike and remains classic over 50 years later. To continue to call it a sportbike, however, is a bit of a stretch by today’s standards – it’s a 750cc that puts out 52 hp, has plenty of power, and yet is easy to ride. 

 

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At first, I was terrified of riding in Italy. I had never ridden in a foreign country. But after several hours of riding wicked tight tornantes (Italian for hairpin bends), I didn’t want to get off the bike. We left the shores of Lake Como and climbed up to 4,000 feet of elevation in the countryside between the southern branches of the lake. My fingertips were already getting stiff when the patches of snow showed up on the sides of the road. Then my fingers just went numb. 

Being surrounded by so much beauty, classic architecture and adorable elderly Italians ambling across roads in front of me – or just watching me ride by from their stoops – frigid fingers were easy to ignore. After 100 kilometers of riding, we returned to Mandello del Lario for a factory tour and museum visit. Walking around the inner courtyards felt like taking a step back to the 1920s and ’30s, when these buildings were erected. In 1921, the factory was 3,230 square feet. By 1970, it had ballooned to 383,000 square feet. Much has changed; the wind tunnel built in the 1950s is no longer in use, but it was such a revolutionary testing mechanism that it remains intact and serves as a showpiece. Even though the grounds still have a pre-WWII feel and look, the guts of the buildings now house modern assembly lines, dyno rooms, offices and loading docks. 

Standing near the final assembly area, we watched a red-coated inspector critically examine every Moto Guzzi. His process was meticulous, performed with mesmerizing precision. High season at the factory had just started, and the 120-employee workforce can push out 65 bikes a day, depending on the model. Yet, from the engine builders to the shipping department, nobody seemed to move with any kind of urgency. It’s not a race. It’s not how many or how fast; it’s about how good and how enjoyable. 

 

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The number of Italian makers that have come and gone since the early 1900s is well into the hundreds. From Acerboni, Aermacchi and Aetos all the way to Zenit, Zepa and Zeta, a list of the defunct marques is as shocking as it is long. It also points out a striking realization that Moto Guzzi has done something special: It has survived wars, dictators, economic crashes, buyouts, major sales declines and model flops, and never once ceased production. And for nearly 100 years, they’ve done it all from a small Italian town that’s home to barely more than 10,000 citizens. 

You don’t have to travel all the way to Lake Como to experience a Moto Guzzi. No matter where you ride one, you’re going to experience the decades of development it took to give you that bike – the races done, the feats of endurance, the expeditions, the countless miles spent riding around the Dolomites. Moto Guzzi motorcycles may be manufactured behind a red metal gate, but they’re developed in the tornantes of Northern Italy.


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Read the story in Volume 012