Photos by Scott Toepfer | Words by Brett Smith
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.