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El Solitario

Motorized Creativity

Words by David Borras | Photos courtesy El solitario


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El Solitario is not a company; It's a way of life.

From the depths of the Galician forests, El Solitario has been challenging the status quo since its birth in 2010. We are best known for our wild and unadulterated storytelling, the emotional power and raw energy of our motorcycles, and the romantic but determinedly contemporary nature of our collections. El Solitario breathes Galicia, but we are not Spanish. We are a global entity. Our roots are in Spain, but we are English, French, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, American, German—you name it! Our lack of nationality has been crucial in our growth and allows us a greater deal of freedom of thought and speed in our decision processes. 

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Fundamental to our culture is the juxtaposition of contrasting elements: fragility and strength, tradition and modernity. We are neither a fashion brand nor a motorcycle company. El Solitario is just the helmet under which we develop our creative ethos. The only constant is change. We step outside our front door to find nothing but mountains, medieval towns and farmhouses, and the overall sensation is one of timelessness. This is exactly who we are.

Almost 10 years have passed since we quit our planned lives and jumped into the unknown in pursuit of our dreams. Within that 10 years, we have experienced all kinds of feelings—highs and lows. However, as someone I admire once told me, 

“Feelings are overrated and they just tend to get in the way of what's really important in the end.”

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People will tell you that you should never work with friends, and we couldn’t disagree more. Friends are exactly with whom you should surround yourself, especially in the most important aspects of your life. I am chaos, Val is common sense, and Pico is order. We have been friends for over 20 years, and we have succeeded at creating a system to solve matters that we care about. Our doors are always open, and our kitchen is a gathering point where we find inspiration and synergy. We’ve always been convinced that by surrounding ourselves with creative and talented people, and having the faith to follow our own path, we could come up with a more dynamic and imaginative line of products. Above all, we wanted El Solitario to be a leader—a company that takes chances—and we focus our energy into producing goods that accurately reflect who we are. 

Riding motorcycles is the epitome of speed, a genuine modern revelation. Innumerable great men and women have succumbed to the allure, and felt the fire in their bellies, propelling through adversity on nothing more than a skinny-motored artifact. Shredding any semblance of mundanity from their lives, El Solitario connects riders with the sense of awareness and strength that develops with the inherent risk, fragility and outsider spirit that defines our way of life. 

And with that, we’d like to showcase a few of the bikes that have defined our journey.


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The Winning Loser

It was 2010, and the Winning Loser marked the beginning of El Solitario. We had the need to communicate to the world our vision for a bike and its culture, as well as all the paraphernalia, clothes and accessories that make it a way of life more than a hobby. It took us three wonderful months to complete, and we did it under the influence of Megadeth. Working directly on the metal without sketches or templates, it was child’s play. These were times of innocence and illusion. Little or nothing existed outside of the transformation of the American bikes, and we moved with the impetus and courage of those adventurers who tread unknown ground. The bike itself, a crossbreed between a mini dragster and a tetanus shot, marked its teeth, and without our even noticing it, set the ideological and stylistic path of the brand.

When remembering these years, I still reminisce on the clarity of thought that guided us in the beginning. We were a holy tribe under a divine mission. There were no doubts, just forward motion. We learned that as you mature an idea, the original fundamentalism vanishes, and you inevitably walk into a sea of uncertainty. The Orwellian idea around the residence of fortress in ignorance would become stronger every day.


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Baula

With practice and time, we began to understand that every revolution takes its toll. The hater phenomenon took off. In the meantime, in our studio, imagination was empowered, and along came Baula. Almost 20 months of hitting blind spots paid off. By that time, we had discovered that coincidence does not exist and is nothing more than the result of preparation meeting opportunity. For the first time, these neophytes from the far Spanish West had managed to give life to an inert piece of iron in their garage. It was our Prometheus!

In Baula, there is no definitive line. The chaos is total, although the cohesion of its ensemble gives off a celestial harmony. The great turtle is as extreme as it is useful, and it excites tenderness and delicacy in the attentive observer. Of course, this endearing two-wheeled creature awoke the wrath and fury of the guardians of motorcycling chastity, or whatever the fuck we might want to call the hordes of uneducated and intransigent people that populate the bike world. For the first time, we had broken a taboo, or secret rule, with our longing for real communication, and tested the fire of the angry public. Stupefied, we took some time to recover, but we knew there was no turning back.


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Petardo

The next irreversible step toward our revolution was in 2012 with the construction of Petardo. ESMC’s 10th bike, it reflected our vision at this stage: Destroy the prevailing trend that dictated a minimalist approach to electronics and other components in a custom motorcycle. We believed that hiding all of the necessary equipment that makes a motorcycle fast is a cowardish, hideous, pointless job—all organs such as the gas tank, switches, pumps, coils, regulator, cables and hoses are on the outside and linked in Dadaist disharmony. We wanted to embrace and empower the veins and arteries that move the body! We approached the instrumentation and lightning equipment in the same way. Lambda sensors that calculate the air/fuel ratio on each cylinder, fuel pressure, oil pressure and temperature, voltmeter, exhaust gas temperature … Petardo is wild, overpowered, over-informed, over-blacked, oversized. In sum, it is EXCESSIVE.


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Imposter

Under the name Impostor and anticipating the reaction of the public for such collaboration with corporate giant BMW, the next El Solitario creature was destined to reign even if this was in the realms of evil. References covered the studio walls, including stories about old pirates, photos of the wind tunnel and numerous complex metal structures threatening to become true. It is wonderful to work when the idea is clear. Impostor was a path in solitude during which we lost any link to reality. A metal Beast was brewing in our dark garage, oblivious to the controversy it was going to unleash.

We had created an icon for good or bad, and the hangover was immediate.


Big Bad Wolf

Almost two years had passed since the Impostor phenomenon, and the desire to get involved in a new exercise with the face of a beast had returned. Under the acronym BBW (Big Bad Wolf), we started the transformation of an XJR1300. Its immense four cylinders made our jaws creak and didn’t give us a clue. It was not easy, and after months of frustration, the monster bike asked us the right question: What do we fear most? This would be the key to the development of BBW. Power and technology were the answer. Embracing the Achilles heel of this company turned out to be more rewarding than we thought. Hiring Mauro Abbadini of Classic Co. as technical director of the project turned out to be providential. We wanted a motorcycle that would win races. Mauro’s experience ensured the viability of the project and fulfilled our wildest dreams. BBW was presented at the famous Glemseck races in Leonberg, Germany, and returned with the trophy and a big grin.


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Desert Wolves

At El Sol, we have an authority problem, and we can’t deny it—the intensification of controls and idiot laws concerning the use and modification of motorcycles have made us desire to be turned on by football or table tennis. Unfortunately, we breathe and love motorcycles, and so turning toward off-road felt good. Freedom and self-reliance instead of traffic lights and parking laws. Deal!

Our friend Paul D’Orleans, after encountering the Desert Wolves, defined it as Gesamtkunstwerk, and after we became familiar with the term, we think he nailed it. Gesamtkunstwerk, translated as “a total work of art,” was a term used by some architectural writers to signify circumstances where an architect was responsible for the design and/or overseeing of a building’s totality: shell, accessories, furnishings and landscape. In a world like this, the quality of your final output will be that of the worst of your components. 

Vicarious

From Tragedy Comes Love: A Real-Life Motorcycle Fairy Tale

Words by Eric Hendrikx | Photos by Jeff Stockwell


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On August 3, 2017, I was riding a motorcycle in the magnificent Swiss Alps with a newfound friend when suddenly my back tire bottomed out on the cold asphalt. With little time to react, I tried to put the bike down on the road and save myself from going off the edge of the mountain. Instead, I high-sided and went into a horrific tumble with the bike before I was hurled like a ragdoll through a wooden guardrail and 75 feet off the mountainside. Helicopter rescue hoisted me off the mountain and brought me to Kantonsspital Graubünden, where I was placed in a medically induced coma. Days later, I woke up in the intensive care unit, where X-rays and MRI scans revealed a dozen fractures in my spine, a broken hand, a smashed hip, broken ribs, a snapped collar bone and a shattered scapula. Within an instant, my life had changed forever. But, as time would reveal, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.   

I’m a journalist by profession and a motorcycle rider by enthusiasm. And while my journalistic endeavors for Rolling Stone, Playboy and Revolver Magazine have taken me to the far reaches of the planet, this particular trip to Switzerland was not an assignment. Each summer, my son, Stone, and I take a trip to visit our Swiss family and explore new places. For the summer of 2017, we rented a chalet in the alpine village of Arosa to enjoy the celebration of Switzerland’s independence day while lighting up the sky with fireworks and eating as much cheese as humanly possible.

Just a few weeks before our trip, I matched with a beautiful girl named Nikki on Raya — a private, membership-based dating app. She was a lovely brunette with great taste in music, an eclectic vibe, and an evident affinity for cooking — beautiful, talented and could run circles around me at the barbecue? Sold! It wasn’t more than a few messages about common interests later that we switched to chatting on the phone. Nikki explained how she was a private chef living in Los Angeles and, along with participating on Food Network cooking shows, had worked as private chef for Robert Downey Jr., P. Diddy, Jared Leto, and Kim Kardashian. More importantly, she was lovely to speak with, confident but not self-absorbed, and gave off a creative and positive vibe that I instantly connected with. I wanted to meet her right away, but as luck would have it, I had several publishing deadlines that kept me busy until Stone and I left for our trip to Europe. I promised that I would take her to dinner upon my return in a couple of weeks. 

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There is something magical about the fairy-tale Swiss Alps. Once you arrive, it grabs you, captivates you and, chances are, holds you forever. And there is no other way to experience the meandering roads of the Swiss Alps than on a motorcycle. To do otherwise might be to miss it entirely. Fortuitously, on this trip, I would have such an opportunity.

One afternoon, I landed my ass in a seat on the deck of Provisorium13, Arosa’s most charming lakefront hotel and restaurant. Over a toasted käse-schnitzel washed down with a few crisp German pilsners, I met the proprietors of the establishment — Sascha Buchser and his lovely girlfriend, Iva Pilipova. In short time, I learned that Sascha and I share an enthusiasm for motorcycles. And Sascha happened to have two customized bikes parked next to the restaurant: a 2006 Harley-Davidson Street Glide and a 2004 chopped Dyna. We swapped stories about the places around the world we had both ridden and, despite our just having met, Sascha and I became fast friends — kindred spirits. 

Not long into our conversation, Sascha invited me to come back the next morning for a ride down Arosa’s celebrated “road to Chur” — a serpentine road featuring 360-degree hairpin turns that cut through the scenic Walser region of the Swiss Alps. Filled with excitement and anticipation, I accepted his generous offer and looked forward to our ride the next day.

Nikki and I stayed in touch during my trip, sending text messages and photos to each other. I’d send her a selfie with the majestic Swiss Alps behind me, and she’d send me a stunning selfie from the beaches in Malibu. On the early morning of August 3, I sent Nikki a text message before my ride with Sascha — “Hi lovely girl... I’m off for a motorcycle ride in the Swiss Alps. Have a nice day and will text you when I get back.” I gathered my things and hiked down from our chalet to Provisorium13.

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Sascha had laid out a spread of protective gear for me to choose from. I kept it simple — Rokker riding jacket, gloves, and an open-faced helmet. After all, it was supposed to be a mellow ride. I climbed onto the Dyna and fired it up. Just before we took off, a drifting thought swayed me to quickly go back into the hotel to put on a spine protector — something I’ve never worn before. Moments later, we tore off down the sinuous mountain. 

Corner after corner, I felt like a titan, a centurion of the Alps. Sascha and I rode through the twisted roads, past timeworn residences, flanked by vibrantly green farms. I wore a smile on my face that joy couldn’t match. The landscapes were breathtaking and left deep impressions — Claude Monet comes to mind. 

An hour later, we made it to the bottom of the mountain, arriving at a small café, where we stopped for coffee. Sascha and I spoke about our shared attraction to motorcycles of all kinds; in my optimism, I couldn’t help but share my excitement about meeting Nikki on my return to the United States. “That’s it, Eric! Find a good woman and keep her,” he said. I agreed.

Before ascending back to Arosa, Sascha offered to swap bikes so that I could experience each of his bikes on the mountain. I snagged the keys to the Street Glide, suited up and off we went, riding back from the city into the alpine bliss — a beautiful contradiction between society and nature. Sascha led the way, while I just thrived in the moment, passing through dozens of S-turns on the centuries-old road. I recall peering over the edge at one point and seeing the sheer rocky cliffs seemingly hundreds of feet to the bottom. A dozen more turns — our speed was moderate; my spirit was high. 

About halfway up the mountain, I cornered into a shaded left curve when my back tire bottomed out. In a mad panic, I tried to throttle through, but the mountain’s wry sense of humor bested me — my bike slid toward the edge of the road. I laid the bike down on the road, willing to take my chances with a nasty tumble, but instead, the left exhaust pipe hit the ground and caused both tires to come up off the ground, sending me into a chaotic spin and tumble with the bike. I slammed into the asphalt and was dragged toward the cliff’s edge. In a split second, I was launched through a wood-beamed guardrail and pitched over the mountainside. 

I experienced my flight over the edge in slow motion, with plenty of time to think. One thing was certain — I was going to die. I had seen over-the-edge-of-the-cliff moments before, and knew that survival was impossible. And just in that moment, while preparing myself to greet the unknown, I was overcome with a warm and loving sensation. Suddenly, everything was okay — I felt ready. I had time to think about Stone and of my family. I had recognized and accepted that part of my journey was at its end. I relaxed and yielded to the final moments of my story. The last thing that I remembered was wondering what it was going to feel like when I hit the ground — would it hurt or would I just black out? 

Sascha never saw the accident. He didn’t see me tumble across the road while his Street Glide turned into scrap metal. He didn’t see me roll with the scrap metal like some kind of science fiction meatball. And he didn’t see me get pitched over the edge of the mountain. A witness in a car stopped him and told him what had happened. He raced back to the wreckage, jumped off his bike and climbed down the mountainside to find me lying on my back in a small patch of dirt and grass, unconscious and convulsing like a fish out of water. 

Eric, the helicopter is coming,” Sascha said as I slowly woke. “I want you to answer some questions for me, okay? Can you move your legs?” His concern was obvious — whether or not I was paralyzed. I couldn’t speak yet, but was able to move both of my feet a little. “Eric! That’s really good!” he exclaimed.

But I couldn’t really move at all, and my right side felt dead. I just lay there, trying to answer Sascha as best I could; trying to recall what had gone wrong just moments before. I attempted to respond, but couldn’t breathe. I gave a heavy cough and spewed blood all over my chest. A broken rib had punctured my lung, and I was starting to drown in my own fluids. Sascha’s expression changed from confident to something drastically otherwise. 

The medics rappelled down from the H145 helicopter and started working on me. They carried me to an area clear from beneath the trees, strapped me into a basket stretcher, and hoisted me up into the sky. The last thing I remember was Sascha’s voice: “Eric, I’m going to meet you at the hospital. Stay strong and don’t give up.” Swiss Air-Rescue Rega brought me to the Kantonsspital Graubünden in Chur, where I was placed in a medically induced coma and on life support. Surgeons worked tirelessly to stop my internal bleeding. Pint after pint, I was losing blood faster than I could hang on to it. The outlook was grim, and my survival was doubtful. 

Back in Arosa, Sascha tracked down my family. They rushed to the hospital, where I would remain in a coma for days. Stone sat near, nauseous and pale with the ominous possibility that I might die in front of him. At the same time, he handled all communications between the hospital and my friends and family back in the United States. And luckily, my mom took over as liaison between my insurance company and the hospital; a critical task, since my hospital bills quickly surpassed six figures — clearly, alpine helicopter rescues and Swiss critical care accommodations don’t come cheap. Word spread rapidly back home. “Please pray for Eric. He’s on life support and hanging on by a strand,” my family posted on social media. My dear friends, Kelly Tribolet and Ben Harper, and my brother Brandon got on a plane from Los Angeles to Zurich. 

Meanwhile, Nikki hadn’t heard from me in days, since the morning that I had chosen to go for a ride. Ghosting her seemed out of character, so she looked me up on social media, only to find the Facebook post about my accident. In spite of only having recently become acquainted, Nikki felt very connected to me — she burst into tears. 

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Three nights later, after so many bags of blood that I could probably claim Swiss nationality, my condition took a turn for the better. My blood pressure stabilized, and I woke up. I was covered with tubes and wire — my hips and wrists, a drain tube coming out of my ribcage, EKG wires all over my chest, a feeding tube up my nose, and a ventilator supporting my breathing. I was totally fucked up — bruised, smashed, and broken-boned. The nurse saw me stir and came to me with a smile. I pointed to a small dry erase board at the edge of my bed, since the ventilator and tubes down my throat prevented me from speaking. In my best left-hand writing, I wrote, “Am I going to die?” 

No!” she responded. 

You were in bad shape but now it’s looking better.

Can I have a beer?” I smirked from behind my ventilator.

I think you’re going to be okay,” she laughed. 

If you can joke, you can heal.”

Where is Stone?” I asked.

An hour later, Stone and my brother Thomas walked into the intensive care unit. With my left hand, I pointed at my dick and gave the Okay sign. “Asshole!” Thomas exclaimed with a concerned, but also relieved, grin. Sure, it was crude, and maybe wishful thinking, but my nurse did say that humor was healing.

A few days later, Stone and Thomas brought me my iPhone. I sent Nikki a text. “So sorry I haven’t responded, I’ve been in a coma.” Of course, she already knew. “Are you okay? I’m so sorry. I feel helpless so far away,” she replied.

The following morning, a team of specialists, including my shoulder surgeon, Dr. Sommer, surrounded me in the intensive care unit and explained my situation. The fractures up and down my spine were negligible enough to let them heal on their own — I took this as a gift for putting on that Dainese spine protector before our ride. In fact, Dr. Sommer said that without it, I would most likely be paralyzed or dead. My broken hand and the cuts, scrapes and bruises would all heal without surgery. But I would require a titanium collarbone plate and several titanium plates on my scapula. They would do their best to reassemble the puzzle pieces of my shoulder blade. 

“Okay, so, when can I go home?” I asked Dr. Sommer. 

“You cannot fly for at least two months because of the hole in your lung,” he explained. “We have to make sure that you are fully healed after we remove the drain tube.” I devised a plan with my family where I could be away from home and work for the next few months. Nikki was disappointed. So was I. It seemed our momentous meeting would be postponed for the foreseeable future.

My surgery was a success. I woke up in the post-operating room with new titanium hardware. “Eric 2.0,” as my friends started calling me, was rebuilt and ready for recovery. But my return came with a new set of challenges: sitting, standing, walking, and taking a shit by myself. There’s nothing more humbling than having someone else wipe your ass. Let’s just say that the medical assistants at Kantonsspital Graubünden are doing God’s work.  

Ketamine is an interesting drug. It’s used as an alternative to opioids for post-operative pain, but comes with heavy hallucinations. One night, I became convinced that Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Agency had intentionally caused my accident in order to install a surgical implant by which they would control my thoughts and central nervous system. In some kind of Jason Bourne conspiracy, Dr. Sommer had installed micro-hardware into my back that would soon make me their agent. Fortunately, I was one step ahead of the Swiss Intelligence — I had a solution. 

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I sent a text to my dear friend Rodney Mullen, known for his genius thinking and computer-hacking enthusiasm. If anyone could get me out of this situation, it would be Rodney. I asked him to hack into the Kantonsspital computer network mainframe and slide in a virus that would release me from their monitoring system. I knew that Rodney could quickly develop a super-neurotransmitter that would free me from the clutches of my conspirators. Once installed, my escape from the Kantonsspital Graubünden would be easy. Rodney entertained my conspiracy theory, but was less optimistic about my plans for escape. “Eric, this is PERFECT. Best freakin’ text I have gotten since I don’t know when. And something tells me you are their favorite patient. But please don’t escape the hospital. In the meantime, I’ll get to work on a psycho-digital porthole.” 

Despite these sporadic hallucinations, my conversations with Nikki were more temperate. Our early-morning and late-night talks had become the embodiment of hope, an urgency to stay positive and strive to recover. I really wanted to meet this woman, and I knew I had to put the pieces back together for that to happen. Nikki must have felt the same sense of urgency that I did. One night, she asked me, “How would you feel if I got onto a plane and came to see you?” 

Was it too soon? Was this a bad idea to invite someone to circle the globe and meet me in my most vulnerable state? I had a shoulder full of staples, a right arm that didn’t work, and I was barely capable of making it to the bathroom on my own. But my hesitations didn’t last.

I’d love to meet you here. Come in September, once I’m out of the hospital and back in Arosa,” I suggested. 

Sascha and Iva had graciously welcomed Stone and me to stay at Provisorium13 to rehabilitate as long as I needed. I suggested Nikki meet me there, high up in the Alps. At the very least, I thought, after making the long trek to Switzerland, she should visit one of God’s most beautiful creations. 

September came quickly. For weeks, Stone looked after me, getting my prescriptions filled, bringing food to our room, and helping me get out of bed and around the small village. Fortunately for him, I was back to wiping my own ass. I went to a physical therapist twice a day, rode a stationary bicycle to increase my healing time, and walked along the small lake a little farther each time. And then the day finally came when I would meet her. 

It was cold and rainy in Arosa. Nikki had flown a dozen hours from Los Angeles to New York to Zurich, and then took a three-hour train ride up to Arosa’s small train station. It was an incredible leap of faith — to fly around the world to meet someone who had just been through a horrific accident. A few glasses of wine on the flight and train were paramount in keeping her nerves at ease. I walked in my pajamas from Provisorium13 to the train station and sat on a bench to wait for her. When the train arrived, I got butterflies. 

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Nikki exited the train with her luggage and walked right up to me with a smile that expressed joy, nervousness and fatigue all in one gesture. I greeted her with a bright smile and a big bear hug. My first impression was that she was more beautiful in person than in her photos — her eyes captivated me, filled with sincerity and compassion. In that moment, after all of our conversations, late-night texts, early-morning FaceTime conversations, and hopeful thoughts, I knew that her long journey wasn’t for naught — it was the right place, and the right time. I offered to carry Nikki’s bags. She looked at my slinged arm, giggled, and produced a shirt that she had brought from Roland Sands’ shop. On the front of the shirt were two words — “CRASHING SUCKS”. We laughed and walked together through the light rain back to Provisorium13. 

We spent the next several days going for walks, sitting on benches along the Obersee, and getting to know one another. For my birthday, Nikki treated Stone and me to Lamm & Leu (Lamb and Lion), a top restaurant in Arosa. What I loved was how well they got along. Nikki and Stone joked, spoke candidly, and despite just meeting under highly unusual circumstances, seemed to hit it off very well. 

After a week in Arosa, and a side trip to Lugano and Lake Como, it was time to leave the Alps. Thomas drove up to Arosa to bring us back down to Hettlingen, where we would stay with family until it was time for Stone and me to fly home. We said our goodbyes to Sascha, Iva, and the staff at Provisorium13 who were so good to us. To this day, I’m humbled by and grateful for the generosity and warm welcome during one of the most vulnerable times of my life. Without Sascha’s quick reactions that day on the mountain, I certainly would have died — an act that I can never repay, but I will always be grateful for. 

My Swiss family loved Nikki, and she was wonderful with them. Nikki and Gabi cooked together, and the twins — Loris and Sven — included Nikki in their games, and Thomas gave me his approval. We visited for a week before Nikki had to fly back to Los Angeles for an event. She cried at the Zurich airport. I held my tears back until after she left. It had been an emotional trip for me and would be two long weeks before Nikki and I could see each other again.  

Nearly three months after we had first arrived in Europe, the hospital cleared me to fly home. It was time — a bittersweet departure. I had become very attached to my Swiss family, but I also knew it was time to return home. Nikki picked Stone and me up at LAX and drove us back to my house in Trabuco Canyon. Fortunately, she didn’t have any pressing work that would take her back to Beverly Hills, and so she stayed with me. 

I spent the first few weeks of October reacclimating to being home, visiting doctors, and getting physical therapy. I had lost 40 pounds from the accident, surgery and hospital stay. My running joke was that this was my new “crash diet” — the only stipulation was that you had to ride your motorcycle off a cliff. We can laugh about it now. 

Nikki and I became inseparable. I never wanted to be without her. Half-jokingly, I started calling her my security blanket. In October, I took my first Rolling Stone assignment since the accident — a trip to the Riviera Maya with Tony Hawk. Nikki came with me. After my assignment was complete, we made our way to Tulum, where we borrowed some bicycles to ride beneath the rainforest canopy. Still trying to gain control of my right arm, I crashed into a parked car. Luckily, I dusted off a few scratches and we could laugh this one off.

On Halloween, Nikki and I flew to London. I had been invited by Royal Enfield for the launch of their new twin-engine motorcycles. We arrived a few days early to visit London and Paris. We visited Jim Morrison’s grave at the Père Lachaise Cemetery. I brought a bottle of wine to share with Jim, spilling a bit onto his grave before we dusted the bottle in his honor. When the guards came around to clear the cemetery for the night, Nikki and I hid in a mausoleum built in the 1800s. It was spooky and cobwebbed, but didn’t stop us from having sex inside the creepy enclosure. We giggled like kids in high school. We thought it was spontaneous and hysterical — until we ended up locked inside the cemetery for hours in the dark before finding a security guard to let us out. 

For the remainder of the year, Nikki and I hosted holiday parties at my house — Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. After my near-fatal experience in the Alps, it became even more important to be surrounded by family as much as possible. On New Year’s Day, I fired up my Harley-Davidson Road King to take my first ride since my crash. Nikki insisted on going with me, so she suited up, hopped on the back, and we went for a ride through Silverado Canyon.

In February, we found out that Nikki was pregnant. I couldn’t have been more excited — elated actually. Everything happened very quickly, but in a perfect way. We started looking for a new place to live, to move in together and start planning for our family. We eventually found a beautiful Montauk–style home in Newport Beach, California. We gave our landlords notice and packed up our respective homes, making way for our new beach-city lifestyle.

In May, Nikki and I visited the Big Island of Hawaii, staying in Hapuna on the Kohala Coast. One afternoon, we hiked down the Waipio Valley to the black sand beaches. I set up a couple of cameras, telling Nikki that we were going to take a selfie in the river that flowed into the Central Pacific Ocean. I set the camera timers and walked to Nikki in the shallow riverbed, where I took a knee, pulled a ring out of my pocket and proposed to her. I had found my soul mate and after a whirlwind of traveling, sharing, loving and good living, I was certain it was for keeps.

We married on July 15 in front of family and friends who had embraced our story and been supportive throughout my accident. Stone was my best man. Sven flew in from Sweden. Thomas, Gabi and the boys joined us from Switzerland. And Rodney Mullen became an ordained minister and delivered a wondrous and compelling wedding ceremony. Smiling at Rodney, I had a quick epiphany that my previous ketamine-infused plot to escape the Kantonsspital hospital may not have turned as well as things had. Then I steered my attention down the aisle. Standing proud and enchanted in front of my friends and family, I watched my beautiful Nikki, adorned in silk and lace like a fairy tale princess, walk down the aisle to Ben Harper’s “Forever”. Minutes later, we sealed our union with a kiss. I honestly thought that at this point in my life, I’d never find someone I loved enough to marry, much less have children with, but that evening, we returned home as Mr. and Mrs. Hendrikx, looking forward to a new adventure ahead.

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On October 24, after nearly two days of labor, Nikki and I welcomed our beautiful daughter, Isabella Moon Hendrikx, into the world. The past year had been about new experiences, and this would be no different. No one can prepare you for childbirth. There are books, classes, and information online, but once you’re in that moment when a baby takes that first breath — it’s a miracle. And as I held our tiny daughter in my hands that night, and she had the faculties to stare back at me, I knew that all I had been through — the accident, the surgeries, rehabilitation, moving homes, getting married — all came with a deep recognition of purpose, and a renewed appreciation of family. 

When I tell people the circumstances under which Nikki and I met — the accident, the train station in Switzerland, our Parisian romance, proposing in a Hawaiian riverbed, our fast-track marriage and beautiful baby girl — they often say our story sounds like a real-life fairy tale. And while it’s true, we do have an amazing story with magical beginnings, relationships aren’t always like a fairy tale. In fact, they almost never are. The reality is, Nikki and I will face the same struggles as any other married couple raising a child. But as I sit here typing these final words in our Newport Beach home, while baby Isabella gently coos in her bassinette and my beautiful wife, scantily clad in lace-edged lingerie, comes to me with a platter filled with sizzling Niman Ranch bacon, I just have to wonder — maybe I did end up in a fairy tale

Tom DeLonge

The Suburban Kid Who Traveled to the Stars

Words by Maggie Gulasey | Photos by Jeff Stockwell


Tom DeLonge is best known as the guitarist and vocalist in the legendary band Blink-182. For nearly 20 years, he wrote popular Blink songs while amusing the fans and disturbing parents with his often X-rated stage antics.  Never one to settle and always seeking the next creative challenge, he formed more experimental bands like Boxcar Racer and eventually his present-day art project, Angels & Airwaves.

It is obvious DeLonge is a talented musician, but less visible is his long history as a successful entrepreneur. He has founded several companies, including his current and most extraordinary undertaking, To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science, an aerospace company with a multi-faceted entertainment division. 

Building his company and playing in a band have offered no shortage of stress. To combat the daily pressures, DeLonge has found riding his motorcycle provides the perfect therapeutic escape. His enthusiasm for the two wheels has translated into a hobby that is both functional and enjoyable, and grants a temporary escape from his busy life. 

At this point in DeLonge’s life, it is hard to keep track of everything he has going on. It would seem as though everything he has done up to now has been preparing him for his most recent ventures. To anyone else, his ambitions may seem crazy and far-fetched. But to DeLonge, he is just a kid from the suburbs who dreamed of going to the stars.

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“When I started Angels & Airwaves, I was thinking about creating an art project, not just a band.”

“The idea of coming out of Blink-182 was insurmountable. There was no way in my mind that I was going to be able to create another rock band that could ever compete or be anything close to what Blink was. Blink was such a cultural phenomenon, and I didn’t want to try and repeat that.”

As the formation of Angels & Airwaves was in its early stages, DeLonge started noticing where the art and music industries were going. As a result, he created Modlife, a business that would benefit the artists and fans alike. At a time when file-sharing companies like Napster were popular, Modlife created new revenue streams for artists such as Pearl Jam, The White Stripes, Nine Inch Nails, and Kanye West. 

It was through this experience that DeLonge gained a comprehensive understanding of how to monetize music and applied those lessons to his new band—and eventually his aerospace company.

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“With Angels & Airwaves, I thought it was great because, if you look where music is going and understand the economics, it was not just about music; it was more about transmedia. Unlike multimedia, transmedia is more one theme across different types of media, but they all work together; they’re all saying the same thing. 

“For Angels & Airwaves, it was, how do we take a theme about the human race and communicate those in a motion picture and on an album and in a book? It became an art project. The band was simply one branch of the tree.”

While utilizing music, film and literature for his creative endeavors, it was—and still is—important to DeLonge that they all effectively communicate his ultimate objective: to have a positive impact on the world.

“It is super-important to stay true to the message and the ethos of what Angels & Airwaves was doing. I remember when I left Blink, we were always like, ‘Fuck you, fuck you, rebellious this, we’re kids that don’t care about anything.’ 

“And then I did Angels & Airwaves, and it was like all of a sudden we are naming records ‘Love’ and writing songs about changing the way you see yourself and changing the way you see the world. 

“Some people thought it was pretentious, and I am sure it was misunderstood, but I knew I was not the first artist to sing about love. I knew that’s where society needed to go. I know that’s who I really am. It was really interesting to me, especially because we got into a lot of stuff with consciousness when we created Angels & Airwaves.”

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Fueled by his passion for music, writing, film and Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)—combined with his diverse background from prior business efforts—it was only a natural evolution for DeLonge to start his most arduous company to date.

 “It seems like I created Angels & Airwaves as a way to set up building an aerospace company. That would be absurd probably for any other musician, because why would anyone ever want to do something with the amount of work, the amount of resources, and the amount of stress involved? But leave it to me to want to do something that wild. 

“I think we have to stick true to doing all the things we are doing at my aerospace company—to be an extension of what I want to do with the band, which includes how we interact with our environment, with the people around us, our intentions, and how we can come from a place of compassion and love versus ego, and just normal human desire to conquer and become famous or rich or want control. 

“We really wanted to be a band that stood for something more than just hating where we came from, hating politics, and wanting to rebel. This was more like, okay, let’s actually change the world. That’s the goal.”

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In 2017, DeLonge captivated the world when he revealed his latest and most demanding project to date, To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science (TTSAAS).

With science, aerospace and entertainment (To The Stars, Inc.) divisions, TTSAAS was created to explore the outer edges of science and generate meaningful discoveries through its research. 

As president and CEO, DeLonge has teamed up with an impressive roster of accomplished individuals who have worked in or with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Department of Defense (DoD), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), just to name a few. 

No longer working under a veil of secrecy, the team at TTSAAS works with and for the public to promote education, transparency, sustainability and community. Unconstrained by government motivations, this privately owned company believes in responsible public disclosure when it comes to UAP. 

In collaboration with their entertainment division, TTSAAS takes the science and aerospace division’s discoveries and employs them across an array of media to make the controversial topics engaging and easier to digest.   

“The name ‘To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science’ is great because of what it represents. ‘To The Stars’ was chosen because it is aspirational. When you’re looking up and wonder, how far can you go? To the stars! Which star, the nearest star? Or the ones we can’t see? It’s kind of infinite. ‘Arts & Science’ is another way of saying science fiction, and turning science fiction into reality.  

“Having an entertainment division and an aerospace and science division works wonderfully well because, for example, we have a set of stories called Sekret Machines. We take real facts about the UAP, and we are making movies and write books like Sekret Machines based on that. 

“We also take the observed technology from the classified videos and U.S. government documents with the DoD or the CIA, and my co-founder Dr. [Hal] Puthoff then works his way back into the physics of how the UAPs are operating. 

“Now we can start dabbling in and building that stuff and make science fiction become a reality. It is bringing about a technology that can transform mankind, and then continuing to study the phenomena that has been interacting with mankind for millennia.”

Depending on the person receiving the information, the topic of UAPs can be met with a gigantic eye-roll, absolute fear, or an enthusiastic hunger to learn more. In any case, to the believers and skeptics alike, the subject matter is notoriously saturated with disinformation and falsified videos. Standing out as an authentic source can be a difficult task.

To combat this, TTSAAS strives to work with information that has been verified under the scrutiny of science. Ideally, only substantiated data is disclosed to the public.  

“My partner Jim Semivan, from the CIA and one of the co-founders of the company, says we are only going to stick to real, certified, verifiable science. Just real stuff.

“That’s why the declassified videos that TTSAAS brought out were so important. We know who the pilots are, the systems that captured it, and the type of plane that they were flying. It is completely verifiable, which goes a lot further when you stick to things that there is no argument about. I didn’t think there was going to be a lot of that stuff out there, but there really is. 

“We have already provided evidence that the UAP is real. That’s part of what we did when we released the declassified videos and when one of our partners, Lou Elizondo, came out about the Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program [AATIP] last year.”

Elizondo’s secret program was first made public in December of 2017. With over $22 million dollars in government funding, the AATIP studied UAP from 2007 until 2012, when the program was officially dissolved. It was Elizondo who was responsible for releasing the compelling video footage of a United States fighter jet capturing a UAP performing incomprehensible maneuvers. 

Though the footage captures a UAP, the unidentified aspect of it means that it has not been verified as extraterrestrial. It could very well be something manufactured by humans, as its origin is still unknown. 

“We have already brought the evidence forth, and there is more that’s coming. There’s some big stuff that we have planned that’s really going to take this conversation straight into everybody’s living room. How will people react to it, and how will they absorb it, and how are they going to deal with it?” 

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So, how does a person go from playing punk music in front of thousands of people for decades to speaking in top-secret facilities with high-ranking government officials? two seem to be on different ends of the spectrum, DeLonge explains that he has been groomed for this his entire career. 

“When I started To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science, I was literally just a musician.”

“A lot of people ask me how I go from performing on stage to speaking with people from the CIA, the DoD, or the world’s biggest aerospace companies. It is crazy. But the thing that really prepared me was I already felt like anything was possible. 

“When Blink exploded, to being a part of that ride, you’re already thinking that anything can happen—because I was living in my parents’ garage. So, when you go from living in the garage to something like that, you kind of already open the door to believing anything is possible. With that experience, I realized that there aren’t barriers on really ambitious, big ideas. 

“The next thing that prepared me was already being an entrepreneur.  I have already been in thousands of meetings with people that knew a lot more than me, that were a lot more professional, and a lot smarter.  I have already embarrassed myself thousands of times when pitching my company and not knowing any of my shit—I had a lot of failures, but through those experiences, I learned how to hold myself. 

“The third thing I learned that helped prepare me was that you absolutely must execute what you say you are going to do. If you say you are going to do something, don’t let months pass, and don’t forget about it. You follow up when you say you’re going to follow up, and you show them progress, listen and take their advice when necessary. 

“Those types of things are what helped me earn the trust of people and then eventually create a giant mechanism to do something that has never been done. To this day I remain very much out of my league. 

“More than anything, though, my team, they’re the guys that really do that stuff. They’re the ones that their whole lives and careers have been in those kinds of environments, so I really lean on them to do most of the heavy lifting.”

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Taking a hard look at DeLonge’s resume, it would be tough to challenge his credibility as an entrepreneur. As the founder of several successful bands and businesses throughout his life, it’s obvious he does not lack motivation or the desire to challenge himself. 

But as a public figure, it can be easy to pigeonhole him. Absorbing only superficial snapshots of his life, it would be no stretch (and not completely inaccurate) to stereotype him as merely a punk musician who tells raunchy jokes and chases aliens like a crazy person.

Digging beneath the surface, however, it becomes apparent that DeLonge and his team are anything but crazy. Doing their best to utilize substantial evidence and apply a scientific approach to their work, it seems as though TTSAAS could generate significant research. But that does not mean it won’t be an uphill battle for people to take DeLonge seriously. 

“I do get all these headlines that I am ‘chasing aliens’ or left my band to chase Unidentified Flying Objects or has a tinfoil hat on my head and I’m crazy. I look at those comments and think, if you only knew what I knew, if you’d only been in the meetings I have been in, if you’d only had the discussions that I’ve had, if you’d only seen the shit that I have seen. Not only would those comments stop, but their hair would turn white, and they would lose sleep the way I have lost sleep. 

“That’s not something you can just tell everybody. Most people go, ‘We want to hear those songs where you ran around naked and told dick jokes.’ That’s still a big part of me; it really is. My humor, friends, and the music that I like hasn’t changed—I still listen to punk rock almost daily. 

“But as far as what I need to do for the planet and what I feel like I have been chosen to do, I have to see it through.”

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Starting an aerospace company, recording music with Angels & Airwaves, writing novels, producing and directing films, and so much more, is a large undertaking for just one company.

To say a lot rides on DeLonge’s shoulders is an understatement.

“There is a lot of pressure. We are kind of like five entertainment companies in one—the way Disney is, but we are tiny. Then on top of that, we are building technology that is extremely revolutionary and difficult and takes years to bring to fruition. So, yeah, there is pressure.  It is super-ambitious, ridiculously difficult, but so insanely rewarding.”

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In order to combat the considerable amount of pressure, DeLonge has found something functional and fun to ease the daily stressors. Reminiscent of an obsession that began in his childhood, his newfound passion takes him away (literally and metaphorically) from the daily burdens. 

“You know, I had a really difficult year. A lot of things came into my life this past year, like starting a company, and it has been really stressful. When I got into riding bikes in a big way this past year and half or so—I toyed with it in my 20s—with everything going on, it reminded me of when I was a kid in a broken family; my parents hated each other, and I hated my parents. 

“I had just started Blink as a punk rock band, and skateboarding was my life. Every time I got on the skateboard, I felt the vibration of the street through the board, and I felt the wind, and I felt the motion. The faster I went, the farther away from home I got, with everything disappearing behind me. 

“The motorcycle is the first thing that reminds me of learning how to skateboard. It is the first thing that reminds me of that freedom, of feeling that motion, of feeling like you’re flying.”


“It has been an absolutely wonderful way for me to get on and go up the coast and get away from some of the things that I am dealing with. 

“I’ve always wanted to get into it in a big way, but I never thought I would like it this much. It’s like anything else that people get into; once you get into it and understand it, then you realize what people have been talking about.” 

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DeLonge has three motorcycles: a Ducati Monster, a BMW R nineT, and a BMW R 1200 GS Adventure. Because the Monster has been at the shop for almost a year, the R nineT and GS Adventure have become his main bikes. 

“While the Ducati was away, I was pissed because I really wanted a bike. So, I went and I bought the BMW R nineT. I got a limited-edition one; it’s got the big 21 number on there, representing when BMW first started making motorcycles in 1921. 

“It has all these intricately carved aluminum and titanium pieces. We changed the seat, exhaust, headers, and the wheels. I mean the whole thing looks steampunk. It’s funny; I wanted to make it much more industrial looking, and now it’s so shiny and showy. I was like, whoa, I didn’t really plan that part out. I thought it was going to look a little rougher around the edges. 

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“The R nineT is the most incredible thing, and I ride it every day around town. That’s what I ride to work and what I ride up and down the coast highway and along the ocean. It’s just my everyday bike. 

“But I noticed that the traffic has been getting so bad to get to Los Angeles. We are only a couple of hours from there, but it can take five hours sometimes! It can be ridiculous, so I needed a bike that was safer, bigger and more comfortable for the trip.

“So, I bought the huge R1200 GS Adventure. I remember at the time I had a Ford Raptor, this big, off-road truck, and this was the same thing as the Raptor, but as a bike. 

“It can go anywhere and do anything. You can pack it up for long trips; you can ride it up to Alaska if you want. It doesn’t matter if you have to go over a mountain and through a river or all along dirt roads, this bike can do anything. 

“It’s just as comfortable on the freeway with cruise control and heated grips as it is riding off-road. I got the GS for those trips, and it now keeps my commute to LA around 90 minutes both ways, just cutting through traffic and splitting lanes. 

“Until I get my Ducati back, my two bikes are the R nineT and GS Adventure. I really want to buy a bunch of R nineTs right now. That’s really what I want. I do like all of the Triumphs and Nortons and all that—they’re so stylish—but something about these BMWs and the way they do the boxer engine just looks cool. I am kind of into German engineering. They’re mad scientists over there.”

Motorcycles are a well-deserved reprieve from the slew of never-ending projects he takes on. Though it can be overwhelming at times, DeLonge would not have it any other way. 

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“Outside of having my family, the only two giant things I have cared about were music and the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. Music was the dream, and the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena was this unattainable, fascinating hobby of mine. But the fact that I am playing such a big part in both is like, oh my god, how did that happen? 

“I can say at this point in my life, TTSAAS is tremendously more satisfying than being in a band. But that’s only because I have been in a band for so long. Being in a band is the best job in the world, but you are still playing the same 15 songs every night, and you’re still exhausted waking up in a parking lot, and you’re still waiting around for 24 hours of the day to have one hour of a lot of adrenaline.

“Things become very monotonous for me. But this kind of a company at this stage in my life is a blend of all the things I love: producing films, directing films, writing novels, working in aerospace, working in science, working with the government, and still playing music. 

“Angels & Airwaves is recording right now. We have big plans for that band next year. So, I still get to do all the things I love, but I have broken into other areas that really keep me satisfied at this point in my life.

“If you look at what I’ve done and who I am, I honestly feel like I have been molded to do this. That doesn’t mean it’s not the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It feels harder than breaking a giant rock band. I just know that I am supposed to be here.

“I just know it with every ounce of my being that I am doing exactly what I was meant to do.” 

Cycle Zombies

Bringing Old Bikes Back From the Dead

Words & photos by Todd Blubaugh


Scotty Stopnik

“Cycle Zombies is a family that was born and raised in Orange County, CA.  It was never founded, it just happened.  Surfing, skateboarding, building and riding old motorcycles, is a life we live and breath everyday, it’s not a club or a gang, but a brotherhood of family and friends who ride together and care for each other...

Digging up old bikes and bringing them back to life with a new look.  We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel, but only make them turn again...”

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You’ve probably seen or heard of the Cycle Zombies by now. Their exposition is consistently present at events and between the pages of most magazines like this one. But even though I’ve been familiar with their reputation for over a decade, when asked, I could not confidently define them beyond their imagery of sunny surf and rusty bikes. So, I introduced myself to Cycle Zombies’ own Scotty Stopnik, and we arranged to meet at their shop for an afternoon ride the following week.  

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I arrived in Huntington Beach, California, just before 11 a.m. on December 11. The address took me to an industrial maze of shipping containers somewhere on the west side of town.  Scott Senior, otherwise known as Big Scott, greeted me at the garage door and helped to remove the honeybee stinger that had been stuck in my face for the last 10 miles. Although I had seen Big Scott at many different events, this was the first time we had ever met. 

He was welcoming and kind. I noticed immediately that his step and posture were light, and he spoke with a youthful syntax. I found it hard to believe when he told me he is 60 years old. The garage was well organized, and Scott showed me the lineup of each bike on the floor—explaining where it came from and the work he had yet to do. The garage door adjacent to the Zombies was open, and from it, in walked a man wearing a CZ T-shirt named John Moss. Scott introduced us and explained that John was a skilled fabricator and artist who had been in this spot longer then they had. John was quiet and accommodating, and it was obvious that he was a close friend of the Zombies’. He rode an aggressive, full–rigid cone-nosed shovel and accompanied us the rest of the day. 

Taylor Stopnik, Scott’s youngest, arrived moments later on a 1965 pan with 1980s shovelheads—the displacement was 96 inches. Like his dad, he explained to me many of the subtle details and the history of the bike, including the dual thunder-jetted Super E that carbureted it.  Taylor spoke with deliberate calm, but I could tell he did not like to explain himself. He had an anxious undercurrent that he governed well with graceful conversation. Last to arrive was Scotty, who showed up with a dripping wetsuit and apologized for his tardy entrance: He had been enjoying the waves this morning. 

I walked around and photographed the shop while listening to Scotty talk about his morning. Scotty felt strangely familiar to me, and I realized then that it was his voice; he and his cousin Chase Stopnik sound almost indistinguishable. I had just met Scotty, but I’ve have known Chase for years—he now lives in Los Angeles just blocks away from me, but this was where he grew up—and I could hear the years of influence in Scotty’s voice as he explained the surf to his brother and his dad. 

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Though I have come to recognize them through their motorcycles, I am well aware that they have another dynamic about them: Surfing and skating is as much, if not more, a part of their DNA as the bikes. And when they were together, they did not speak like bikers; they sounded more like surfers, which I found refreshing. It seems that all too often there is a very machismo energy to these shop proceedings. But here with the Cycle Zombies, there was a physical energy to their discussion—devoid of ego and full of excitement as they spoke of surfing—which I should mention I know nothing about.  

Everyone was hungry, including John from next door, so we devised a plan to ride the coast down to a sandwich shop on Seal Beach.  Everyone grabbed a bike, someone locked down the shop, and we headed out for lunch. 

I’m unfamiliar with Huntington, so I rode in the middle, shooting and framing where I could. Traffic was not busy and frantic like in L.A., and we had, by comparison, plenty of road to ourselves. We had a moment of typical mechanical mutiny when John’s clutch linkage snapped, but we fixed it with a short length of bailing wire and my Leatherman. Once we were along the waterfront, it was interesting to see the Zombies change their proverbial ”gears.” They did not speed as they did through city blocks, but maintained a consistent pace at which they could divert all their attention to the surf. They watched it as prey—and like pack animals, would occasionally herd together in one lane and discuss their observations.  

We parked our bikes in a line outside of a classic little deli on the Pacific Coast Highway called John’s Philly Grille. On the east-facing porch, I listened to Big Scott talk about growing up in Huntington. It occurred to me that this was the true origin story of the Zombies, when Big Scott was befriended by the Hessians MC 1% club in 1959; he was 12 years old and grew up next to their clubhouse/garage, where he learned how to customize bikes. He applied their taste and stylings to his bicycles, and the Hessians helped him in exchange for sweeping the shop and polishing chrome. They even took him around to custom motorcycle shows.

He started building motobikes as soon as he got his license. Then his priorities shifted to his family and career for a term (I should mention that Scott has seven kids—three boys and four daughters), but as soon as his sons were old enough, they took an interest in bikes, too. Huntington was the perfect place to incubate their lifestyle, and the Cycle Zombies’ legacy began to take its shape. The name evolved a little later as their reputation grew and it became necessary to define themselves. “Zombie” is a descriptive reference to the once-dead aspect of the “Cycles” they now ride.  

There was no tone of authority as I listened to Scott Senior and Scotty describe Huntington; there was very little evidence of father and son.  Instead, their communication was much more like close friends. Hearing their stories, it seemed as though I was sitting with two long-invested collaborates.  Taylor, however, spoke less but listened contently. He seemed to be quieter by comparison, or at least a bit more guarded in his conversation. So, by the same limited comparison, Taylor seemed more in the manner of his other brother Turk Stopnik, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for a couple of years. Turk is the middle Stopnik and now works as a firefighter in the forests of California—Big Scott spoke of him proudly. I could not help but wish he were here for this conversation, but regardless of the distance, it was obvious they remained a close tribe. 

There was no tone of authority as I listened to Scott Senior and Scotty describe Huntington; there was very little evidence of father and son.  Instead, their communication was much more like close friends. Hearing their stories, it seemed as though I was sitting with two long-invested collaborates.  Taylor, however, spoke less but listened contently. He seemed to be quieter by comparison, or at least a bit more guarded in his conversation. So, by the same limited comparison, Taylor seemed more in the manner of his other brother Turk Stopnik, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for a couple of years. Turk is the middle Stopnik and now works as a firefighter in the forests of California—Big Scott spoke of him proudly. I could not help but wish he were here for this conversation, but regardless of the distance, it was obvious they remained a close tribe. 

After lunch, we rode back along the waterfront toward the container yard. At a red light, I saw Scotty watching the ocean with intimate focus.  I could recognize the power it had over him (as can any man recognize the pull of passion when it is near), but I could not identify with this dimension of the Cycle Zombies. It was a different language to me, but they understood it thoroughly—and it clearly shouted at them over the sounds of their own bikes. When we got back to the shop Scotty admitted that he would have much rather been surfing than riding today. 

We kicked tires in the sidelong light of later afternoon. Scotty did burnouts and pushed around on his skateboard until he had to go pick up his youngest boy, Sid. When they returned, I saw three generations of Stopniks in motion; one-and-a-half-year-old Sid played about the garage with definitive pleasure, just like his father and grandfather.

It is a long road that eventually reaches the place in life where we no longer need to define ourselves—a place where our purpose is simply understood. Only after countless dead ends and detours (if time favors) do we arrive at such a point. Further along even still is when that definition is passed on and secured beyond our mortal time. Many do not make it this far. But, after one ride with the Stopniks, it is clear to me that they have indeed arrived—and they call it the Cycle Zombies.

The Future(s) of Supercross

Supercross: Past, Present & Future

Words by Brett Smith |

Archive photos by Dave Dewhurst | Supercross Futures photos by Eric Shirk


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It started as a one-race invitational in 1972. Then it became a springtime warmup series, a three- to four-race dash through the month of March. The first race was called the Super Bowl of Motocross. The first championship received the name Yamaha Super Series of Motocross. Magazines later referred to it as a completely new discipline of dirt bike racing: stadium-cross, then Super-cross and, finally, supercross.  

At first, riders wore the numbers they earned from the previous year’s motocross standings. The Super Series title didn’t seem to hold much weight. The early races at the Astrodome hosted the Texas High School Motocross Championships on the same track that Jimmy Ellis and Jimmy Weinert had blasted around the night before. Was supercross the future of dirt bike racing in America, or a watered-down version of motocross? Opinions depended on the persons asked. Whether they liked it or not, the riders continued to show up, and so did the spectators. Nobody knew where any of it was going, but they knew they didn’t want to miss it. 

In 1972 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Pete Szilagyi of Dirt Bike magazine watched a group of spectators walk up to the ticket gate with beers and coolers full of, probably, more beers. “What do you mean we can’t come in with these?” the dumbfounded revelers asked the agent at the turnstile. “This is a motocross race!” But was it? 

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“It’s motocross but it’s not,” wrote Michael A. Brown in the July 1975 issue of Cycle World. In the early 1970s, American dirt bike enthusiasts were still absorbing the thrills that this European imported activity gave them. At some point, the series stopped being thought of as a warm-up, the champion wore his own No. 1 plate, and the whole thing stopped being thought of as motocross in a stadium. Supercross is supercross. Motocross is motocross. Yet, since 1974, the Monster Energy Supercross and Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships have co-existed, exchanged calendars and shared talent. They’re the same but very different. The sports are like parents who love both of their children equally but differently. 

The supercross championship turned 45 in 2019, and while the tracks have changed, the bikes certainly have evolved and the racing format has been tweaked, the spectacle, the vibe, the “show” stayed consistent. In 1978, Dave Hawkins titled a Cycle article, “Circus Time at the Stadium” and used his 4,000 words to interview riders and teams about the evolution of this new series that, by that point, had hit 11 rounds in eight cities. It’s fitting that in 2009, Feld Entertainment, operators of the Ringling Bros. Circus, took over as the promoters and producers of supercross. 

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Dave Prater started out in 2000, and one of his many tasks included getting the teams parked outside the stadiums. Now the senior director of two-wheel operations for Feld Entertainment, he has worked about 320 races, watched the sport change, and even implemented some of that change. He chuckles when people take umbrage at new rules or altered formatting and cry,”‘But that isn’t supercross!”

“Well, what is supercross?” he asks back.

To not accept change in supercross is to not accept supercross at all.

“I think our format was something that was ahead of its time,” Prater said of an evening filled with short races, all between approximately 8-20 laps. “It’s still relevant today. I used to say kids don’t have the attention span that they used to, but the reality is none of us have the attention span we used to.” 

Supercross is a uniquely American invention, a Hollywood-ized version of motocross. It exists solely because people who loved motocross wanted to share it with, and make it accessible to, more people. And, of course, make money. But a lot of money is shelled out before any is made. At the first Super Bowl of Motocross, promoter Mike Goodwin detailed his costs to several reporters: $28,000 to truck 4,000 cubic feet of dirt in from 15 miles away, $35,000 on promotion, $40,855 to complete the course. Curiously, the rental fee for the LA Coliseum was not a part of any of the conversations.  

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For 45 years, promoters have spent time and money trying to entertain beyond the racing. Supercross sideshows have included a daredevil with a hang glider attached to a motorcycle, wheelie experts, dog races, blindfolded foot races, the sphere of death and a woman who climbed into a Styrofoam box and blew herself up; she called herself Dynamite Lady, of course.

The longest running exhibition/sideshow, however, is easily the KTM Jr. Supercross Challenge, a 50cc race featuring 15 kids aged seven or eight on identical KTM 50 SX mini bikes.

This proves something significant. Spectators might appreciate a guy who can ride a wheelie around the entire track or a woman who blows herself out of a box, but what they really want to see is good racing. The exhibition with the kids is endearing, but it doesn’t provide a path to winning 450 main events 15 years into the future. To be fair to KTM and Feld, that isn’t the intent of KJSC. In 1987, with Jeff Ward and Ricky Johnson looking on, I rode my Kawasaki KX60 in a two-lap intermission race at the Pontiac Silverdome. The wall-like jump faces and the tire-eating whoops scared the hell out of me, if anything. 

Photo courtesy KTM Jr. Supercross Challenge

Photo courtesy KTM Jr. Supercross Challenge

In 2011, Feld Entertainment introduced the Monster Energy Cup, a one-off race on a hybrid supercross/motocross track (in and around Sam Boyd Stadium). The format tested out a three-main-event structure, each 10 laps in length. Lowest score after the three races is declared the overall winner. In between those main events, amateur kids in two different classes (Super Mini and All-Stars) competed, as well. The All-Stars division featured promising young riders on full-size 250 four-stroke motorcycles. This class exposed a developmental hole in the sport that most people already knew about but didn’t act on.

Racers are eligible to turn professional in dirt bike racing at 16 years old, but very few have the necessary experience and maturity at that age. The 2011 Monster Cup was a light-bulb moment for Prater and his co-workers. “Seeing them actually out there made it blatantly obvious that we should try to do more and try to get them more experience prior to stepping into the pro class,” Prater says. “There weren’t very many opportunities, and there still aren’t very many opportunities for younger riders to race a supercross track. So, I don’t think we were paying as much attention to it until we introduced the Monster Energy Cup.”

In 2018, Feld introduced “Supercross Futures,” a series of Sunday amateur races on a tamed-down course in the same stadium where Ken Roczen and Adam Cianciarulo raced the night before. In 2019, the top three riders from each of the 26 classes will be eligible to compete in the Supercross Futures AMA National Championship on Monster Cup weekend in October. 

Feld shut down the Amsoil Arenacross championship last May. A series that’s often called a minor league feeder system, it really wasn’t. Going back to 1986, the inaugural season of the championship, not a single rider “graduated” from arenacross to become a supercross champion in either the 250 or 450 divisions. Not a single Arenacross champion scored even a 450 main event win. Arenacross provided an intense racing experience but had a very out of sight, out of mind feel. 

Seeing the young riders at such an early age allows Feld to better asses the talent that will come to them as young adults when they turn professional. “It’s 100 percent a future play, no pun intended,” Prater said. “We may not see any benefits for five or six years, but I think we’re going to start seeing kids come into the sport and are way better prepared than they are right now, in every way. That’s the goal.”

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Supercross Futures is the first true feeder system for supercross, a series that has chewed up good talent—especially riders raised exclusively on motocross tracks—with early career injuries and an inability to quickly adapt and learn the craft of racing in a stadium.

At $105 a class to register for SX Futures, $30 for a mechanics pass and $25 a ticket if the rest of your family wants to spectate from the bleachers, it looks like an easy money grab. But the math doesn’t support it. 

Glendale, the opening round of 2019, had 712 entries and 425 unique riders. The second round in Anaheim had 784 entries and 484 unique riders. Many factors play into renting major sports stadiums. One executive in the Bay Area said, “A general rule of thumb is $150,000 every four hours.” Another said $250,000 for a full day. Add up the entry fees from Glendale and, assuming every rider bought one mechanic’s pass and estimating that 1,000 spectators paid $25 to sit in the stands, the revenue comes out to $112,510. Do the math for round two: $121,840.

Representatives from Feld would not say if they are losing or making money on Supercross Futures, but they are building, literally, toward a better future. “It’s definitely not a financial play,” Prater said. “It’s a play for the long-term health of the sport.” Feld is the largest live event producer in the world and has the longest running partnership with the Walt Disney Company of any other company (Disney on Ice, anyone?). 

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An internal anecdotal tale goes like this: Once, Disney’s then-CEO Michael Eisner watched a live event with Kenneth Feld, founder of Feld Entertainment. Eisner liked what he saw but had a lot of recommendations. Not demands, just recommendations. They watched another show together a year later, and Eisner was stunned that every single one of his ideas had been implemented. He gave Feld a 10-year deal to continue licensing the Disney name and properties. 

Feld is already looking 10 years into the future of dirt bike racing. They will continue to focus on branding and industry cooperation, but the Futures series is the first major push into developing talent and giving amateur riders more than just the experience of racing on a supercross track; they will now have a clearer path to racing professionally.

In return, Feld gets the opportunity to keep their eye on, get to know and mold their future stars.

Baseball didn’t get Little League until 1939, 70 years after the earliest professional team—the Cincinnati Red Stockings—first played. The Junior Football Conference, later rebranded as Pop Warner, started with just four teams in 1929, more than 45 years after the sport went through myriad regulation changes to evolve from a form of rugby into what we now know as American football. 

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Supercross is wholly American, and it’s only 45 years old. To be getting a youth-based developmental system now is on par with other major sports. The sport probably won’t look the same 45 years from now. Rules will change, formats will change, machinery will evolve, and better-prepared talent will make for better racing. Not every change will be met with acceptance. People will say, “But that isn’t supercross!”

Well, what is supercross?

Black & White (& Yellow)

The Story of WLF Enduro

Words by Keith Culver | Photos by Drew Ruiz


It’s interesting when you boil things down to their simplest form. 

Take relationships for example. The BLACK & WHITE simple facts of relationships and how they are formed, besides family, could probably go something like this: People have a common shared interest. People become friends. People do said common interests together to gain experience, enjoyment and fulfillment. This is soundly and perfectly applicable to motorcycles and the people who ride them. 

WLF is no exception to this basic forming of the relationships that have created and shaped this global community W.E. know today.

This is WLF in BLACK & WHITE (& YELLOW). 

Ultimately, the entire idea of WLF was started long ago when our past generations taught us that being a “grown up” shouldn’t be taken so seriously. Constant journeys to the ocean, lakes, mountains and desert fueled this fun. This generation also taught us that setting out on explorations with family and friends is more fulfilling than doing it alone. In the 1950s, the Smith family homesteaded land in Johnson Valley, California. The originals eventually got bikes and trail rode all over JV and the high deserts and mountains of South California. Skirting around the goat trails and up sand washes at what felt like lightning speeds, they formed a bond that has stood the test of time. They were the original WLF founders, even though they didn’t know it at the time. Fast-forward 40 years later, their sons with their friends and families are doing the same thing in the same places and getting the same joy from it, and sharing it with their grandchildren. 

Funny story: WLF started like most pure things do — by chance. 

A little over a decade ago, late in the eve around a campfire with a crew of lifelong friends, an idea was sparked. It was simple. We were a pack. 

It all got started with a sense of urgency for freedom and a bit of the unknown. “See that point on the map, W.E. can get to there from here like this …,” throwing our leg over the kind of bikes that could take us from point A to B, and everything that happened in-between is was what made the memories. Our shared love for the group we have, coupled with the passion for two-wheels, led us to taking on longer rides, more challenges, more snacks and trail amusement. No matter what it was, thick and thin, W.E. always were in it together. The fact is, we rely so heavily on each other that our actual mantra is “FURTHER TOGETHER,” and it’s more than just words on paper. It’s the whole pack’s mentality. 

WLF’s founding six is one — of brothers, by blood, by marriage and by a shared love of different activities and experiences together over the course of the last 25 years. W.E. have known each other in one form or another for almost all our lives. Growing up in the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s with a love for anything on boards or bikes, everyone tried each other’s favorite pasttime and was forced to flounder and prevail in the ocean, desert, mountain or lake at one time or another. Everyone’s lived through it and gotten a chance to learn, grow together and enjoy every adventure along the way. 

Brothers Jake and Mike Smith grew up riding dirt from birth and connected with me all the way back in grade school. Chaz Reta came into middle school and onto high school. Chaz Reta came into middle school and on to high school, making sure everyone was in the water at all times. Spending all our free time in the water, building mini-ramps, tearing down mini-ramps, going night boarding on black ice, riding 50cc around the river banks of Blythe chasing down wild horses to film the on Hi-8 because it looked amazing. Luke Takahashi rolled in the crew right out of high school, always surfing and hanging together. After his first ride, Luke was bit by the bug so hard he couldn’t sleep, the singletrack bug, images of endless trails and his friends ripping through them kept him up at night — and still to this day keeps us all motivated to ride. Greg Schlentz lived down the road from everyone, all growing up doing all the same activities and never knowing anyone existed until a happenstance meeting and marrying into the family. 

This rounded out the original six. Too many stories to remember, so many laughs we can’t count — still to this day, every time we ride any object on land or sea, you’ll see endless smiles. If friendship were traded on the stock market, we’d all be the richest men on Earth. 

W.E. are a ragtag, blue-collar crew made up of everything from teachers and salespeople to welders, creatives and construction workers that has become a global community of riders connected from around the world. There are so many people that make up this amazing movement, whether you ride with us every week, month or year — or we’ve never even met you — we thank you, you are WLF! 

W.E. ride trails, mountains, rivers, deserts, rocks, fire roads and anything else you can think of with our friends. Riding in groups doesn’t come without its costs, constantly putting each other in and dragging each other out of tight spots, fixing flats, or getting lost to get found, time and time again. We bring all our own tools to fix our own issues, and others who ride with us can attest that we’d fix theirs in a heartbeat to keep everyone happy and rolling. There’s never a dull moment with the pack. W.E. take our own images of each other, and others that come along with us, and try to spread the love of riding in the best way we know how, through the bliss of motor speed and shutter speed. 

WLF constantly works to foster community. Creating events, attending and helping friends’ events, supporting charities and participants that are in the two-wheel and off-road community. Creating an annual military appreciation ride event called MISSION,  with the premise that every vet should be simply thanked for their service, with a small token of gratitude. This year will be three years running with the support of the team @HusqvarnaMotorcyclesUSA; they bring vets from all over the U.S., from every branch of military, to come out and ride bikes and enjoy a weekend away on WLF and industry brand partners. Proceeds from this event go back to various charities that tie back to the riding community, such as @VeteransBack40. 

Always striving to give back, W.E. are now seven years in on @RideForKids trail ride, raising funds for Children’s Pediatric Brain Tumor research and foundation. Collectively raising over $15K from our community alone to help fight this disease that plagues thousands of children each year. We love supporting the females in our pack, as well, the #sheWLFs, as we coined them. You can find us out at the @BabesInTheDirt running “dad camp” and trail support for all the amazing ladies that are getting out and pushing themselves and their community. Anya and Ashmore have been a huge influence in empowering the ladies, and we love being able to attend and help contribute. Best thing about our community now is that it’s the WLFamily, no matter what year, make or model you’re on; Dual Sport / ADV / street bikes to technical Off-Road Enduro riding.

Our mission is simple: Unifying riders around the globe with a common passion of two wheels and a throttle to go FURTHER TOGETHER. W.E. all start and work together to finish in the same spot and love it every step of the way. 

Our goals for the future are to provide a platform for the families and the community that make up WLF, keep our focus on the worldwide community moving forward and helping us help people have more enjoyment in life. We want a place where people feel safe to learn and connect and grow as humans and riders. The connectivity of amazing people with each other, working with incredible brands, and helping grow and invest back is something that has given us all such a sense of purpose. Raise our families, be with friends, travel and RIDE MORE.

The industry that we love has supported us and continued to show us just what it means to be part of the two-wheel family. W.E. can’t thank them enough for all the support and letting us grow in our own way with our own vision. These brands and the people behind them are all one of a kind and deserve a standing ovation for their commitments to the dreams that all of us have to ride a bike. @FMF73 @DeusCustoms @AnswerOffRoad @SeatConcepts @IMS @BajaDesigns @AHMfactoryServices @GiantLoop @Stance. 

It’s interesting how simple it is: 

It’s black & white, it’s two-wheels, it’s a throttle, it’s some friends, it’s family, it’s riding. 

It’s passed on from generation to generation, and everyone gets to enjoy the stoke in their own way. Activities are funny that way — in one way or another, trends and fads come and go, but the root of the thing you do stays the same. Strip it all away, and you still have the people, the relationships and the passion for what brought them together. 

W.E. started around a fire. It’s evolved into WLF, a global community of riders with a shared passion. Ride with your friends because you love it — simple as BLACK & WHITE (& YELLOW).

DIY

Make It Your Own

Words by Ben Giese | Photos by Dean Bradshaw


With almost 8 billion people in a world that is more interconnected than ever, individuality is at a premium.  With our increasingly busy lives and the constant stream of media and information being fed to us, it’s easy to feel lost in the rat race, which is why creativity and self-expression are so important. It’s why the recent revival of “makers” and DIY creators is so refreshing.  It feels good not only to make something, but to make it your own. And I think when you get down to the core of it, beyond Instagram and the trendy motorcycle builder culture, the sense of fulfillment gained from creating something with your own two hands is what makes customizing bikes so special. 

That natural desire for self-expression (and my obsession with motorcycles) is what drove me to spend three cold winter months in my father’s garage turning wrenches and grinding metal. I knew this would be both an enjoyable and therapeutic project that would get me away from the computer screen, but what I didn’t anticipate was the genuine satisfaction I would feel from the entire process.  It was not only an exercise in design, but putting my hands on every nut and bolt of the machine enabled me to become acquainted with all the hidden corners of my motorcycle from the inside out. Through this process I formed a stronger bond with my bike. It became a part of me more than ever before.  Or maybe it was the other way around.  Either way, it became more than just something I owned; it became a reflection of myself. 

I wanted to transform my air-cooled Triumph Scrambler into a true “scrambler” that could take me well beyond the paved city streets of Denver and deep into the mountains and deserts of the Southwest. So, once the overhaul was finally completed, I headed out to the California desert to put it to the test on the rugged back roads and sand washes of Joshua Tree. The only thing I was looking forward to more than the process of building this bike was actually taking it out and getting it dirty. And it rode like a dream, just like I had imagined.  


I am not a professional bike builder by any means.  I’m simply a graphic designer with a vision for what I want and the tenacity to figure it out.  Which means you can do it, too. And I guess that’s the message I’m trying to get across. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.  Make mistakes. And don’t hold back on your creative ideas, because the world could use more self-expression and individuality.


Learn more about the build at BikeEXIF