We live in a contentious time, and, no, I’m not talking about the present-day election cycle. We daily encounter a world where the outrageous garners our attention, where “news” stories are presented to us in an inflammatory fashion, where the purveyors of this new-age “news” seek to stir our emotions rather than to inform us or make us think: A new age of the aggrieved and the angry.

The internet is perfectly suited to this sort of “news” dissemination. Feedback is instantaneous, conclusions are jumped to, judgments are made in seconds, and there is no time for reflection. And lost in all this is that many times there are real human beings whose lives have been altered by the events “reported.” We objectify them and oftentimes self-righteously condemn them.

The purveyors of this sort of news hold a great deal of power in their keyboard paws because they can shape the message, and they do so knowingly. Outrage and disdain drives page views and gets the story copied and pasted. It is known in certain circles as click bait, and any topic that can provoke that outrage and self-righteous indignation is fair game… including the life of a 46-year-old woman and motorcyclist. Consider the following headline:

Stacy Custalow killed when weaving through traffic on I-95 on crotch rocket at high rate of speed
The Chesapeake Today, May 7, 2016

<i>The Chesapeake Today</i>’s lede art, except it’s completely misleading: That’s not Stacy Custalow, that’s not her bike, and that is racetrack not a public road. Say hello to HSBKRacing out of Houston, Texas.

The Chesapeake Today’s lede art, except it’s completely misleading: That’s not Stacy Custalow, that’s not her bike, and that is racetrack not a public road. Say hello to HSBKRacing out of Houston, Texas.

The headline itself has pronounced judgment, the lede art (see above), later run in the body copy as well, only confirms what the headline reports. Without informing us otherwise we are left to conclude that Stacy Custalow, who any average reader would assume was pictured aboard that Aprilia RSV4 RF, routinely looked like she was cutting a hot lap on a public road and it led to her premature death.

There is a problem, of course, actually more than a few. The Aprilia pictured is indeed a rider trying to cut a hot lap, but it is not Stacy Custalow, and that is not a public roadway. That is HSBK Racing’s Claudio Corti pursuing MotoAmerica Superstock 1000 series glory on a track in closed-course competition. HSBK Racing is an Aprilia-supported team based out of Houston, Texas. Stacy, insofar as she was based out of anywhere, was from Richmond, Virginia, and they have no relation to one another whatsoever. But no matter, if you want to stir indignation and appeal to today’s average 15-second attention span, one “crotch rocket” photo is as good as the next, particularly one of a race bike that will never see a public road and really is built to go WFO. Sell the sizzle and the facts be damned.

So I would like to take a moment to introduce you to the real Stacy Custalow. I don’t know if a picture is worth a thousand words, but it’s a good place to start in refuting The Chesapeake Today’s alarmist claptrap. (In fact, TCT appears to be a tabloid rag rather than a reputable newspaper. Its logo states “News & Commentary on The Criminal Class,” and judging by some of the other headlines seen on its website, it’s reasonable to assume it skews a lot closer to commentary than actual news reporting. Still, Kallfelz’s point remains valid. —Ed.)

Stacy Custalow, the very personification of a rider who takes her riding, and her safety, seriously. ATGATT incarnate.

Stacy Custalow, the very personification of a rider who takes her riding, and her safety, seriously. ATGATT incarnate.

So there we are, on one hand we have fiction as crafted by The Chesapeake Today with an inflammatory headline, and a misleading photo of a professional roadrace team on a track, and on the other we have an actual picture of Ms. Custalow looking like a poster child for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation dressed head to toe in the proper protective gear. The reality seems to belie an image of some speed-addled squid with a death wish, but the reality in this particular situation does not cause indignation; the reality causes reflection, and we are left with a woman who died in a streetbike crash. But that’s tragic, and tragic is some pretty weak click bait, and weak click bait doesn’t sell ads.

So how was the story received? That’s fairly easy to ascertain:

“That slowed her down,” said one. “Yeah, hard to feel sorry for anyone who does that,” said another.

There are a couple examples of the feedback the “crotch rocket” story generated. Lose the facts, condemn the dead who cannot defend themselves, appeal to a stereotype, and it’s a wrap.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are still real reporters and journalists out there. Consider 12 On Your Side, an NBC affiliate station out of Richmond reporting on the crash:

Friends say motorcyclists [sic] killed on I-95 was experienced rider
—Headline, NBC12 News, Richmond.

Colleen Quigley, an NBC12 reporter, didn’t leap to any sort of judgment to promote an agenda or generate outrage; she reported a story. Her lede was as follows: “Friends are mourning the loss of a Chesterfield woman killed Saturday in a motorcycle crash on I-95 in Richmond. They said Stacy Custalow was not only a veteran rider, but also an advocate for safety.”

Quigley gathered the information and presented it, and you, the reader, were left to draw your own conclusion. No misleading photographs, no inflammatory headlines, no exploiting a dead motorcyclist for click bait:

“…46-year-old Custalow died Saturday after her bike struck an SUV then hit a guardrail on I-95. State police says Custalow was riding fast and weaving in and out of traffic. However, (John) Weaver says that doesn’t sounds like Custalow, who he says, was a huge safety advocate.

Just hours before her death, Weaver says Custalow had been a road captain at a charity ride, making sure other riders were following the rules of the roadways.

‘Stacy, by far, was one of the most experience [sic] riders that I had ever ridden with,’ said Weaver. ‘She was really big on not getting out and racing or weaving in and out of traffic or just being dangerous.’”

So why is this important aside from the memory of Stacy Custalow? It is important because the simple fact of the matter is there just aren’t that many of us, and by us I mean motorcyclists. And articles like the one in The Chesapeake Today shape public perception and opinion, a public that in large part knows little or nothing about motorcycles or the people who ride them. Public perception and opinion is reflected in the laws we are subject to, and the way drivers share the road with us.

For all the public service announcements promoting motorcycle safety, the wearing of proper protective gear, the use of legal exhaust systems; for all the toy runs, charity poker runs, rider-funded MSF courses and everything else responsible riders do to promote our image in the public eye and remain safe; one tabloid-style publication with little effort and less thought can generate disdain with hackneyed headlines employing words like “crotch rocket” in concert with a completely unrelated photo of a race bike pulling a wheelie on a closed circuit track, and all for page views. And all at the expense of a dead rider.

Stacy Custalow going fast where fast belongs: at a track day.

Stacy Custalow going fast where fast belongs: at a track day.

This is no longer if it bleeds it leads. Now it’s, if it incites it leads. Accuracy gives way to an agenda and ad sales. It’s irresponsible and disrespectful to the memory of Ms. Custalow, and it is damaging to anyone that rides a bike on the street. The impression it leaves in your garden-variety car-bound commuter is, “They get what they deserve.” And that is a dangerous impression to leave.

I never met Stacy Custalow, but she deserved better. She was not a stereotype; she was a human being, and basic decency demands better. RIP, our fellow rider, and Godspeed.

Ride safe, leave yourself an out if you can, and look where you want to go.

About the Author: Chris Kallfelz is an orphaned Irish Catholic German Jew from a broken home with distinctly Buddhist tendencies. He hasn’t got the sense God gave seafood. Nice women seem to like him on occasion, for which he is eternally thankful, and he wrecks cars, badly, which is why bikes make sense. He doesn’t wreck bikes, unless they are on a track in closed course competition, and then all bets are off. He can hold a reasonable dinner conversation, eats with his mouth closed, and quotes Blaise Pascal when he’s not trying to high-side something for a five-dollar trophy. He’s been educated everywhere, and can ride bikes, commercial airliners and main battle tanks.

  • Branson

    Agree with the author about the picture, it’s misleading.

    About the other stuff? Not do much.

    Riding fast? Yes, according to state police.

    Weaving in and out of traffic? Yes, according to state police.

    Riding a crotch rocket? Though I hate that word — yes, that’s the type of bike involved.

    The counter to the above? “Doesn’t SOUND like her…”. What do you THINK a friend’s going to say?

    And cherry-picking a negative comment? Puh-leeze, you can pick a negative comment from media for someone giving away ice cream.

    Was she riding dangerously? I can’t say for certain, and neither can you, we weren’t there. My assumption is that the state police were there and used at least a little investigation to make their statements. Though the conduct described (dangerous speeding/weaving) is something I’ve seen far too often.

    My point here? Pick a different article to better prove your point, or spend more effort (you did a little bit) supporting the media that is accurate rather than finding something you don’t like and exaggerating, the misdeed.

    That aside, I feel sorry for the family of the deceased woman. Condolences to all. If any good can come from this, perhaps it’s increased awareness of and focus on improving our own riding skill. It could all be gone in an instant.

    • Campisi

      Having worked both first response and both sides of a courtroom, I can sadly confirm that state police uniformly claim that any motorcycle outside the cruiser spectrum was speeding at the time of an incident. That’s simply how it is. It doesn’t help that anything short of live speed camera footage likely won’t help in the rider’s defence, seeing as in our legal system your evidence is opinion whereas the officer’s opinion is evidence.

      • Branson

        Thanks for the info Campisi. That’s something I did not know about how these accident situations are handled.

      • John A. Stockman

        I know, as two close friends, husband and wife, are WA State patrol officers. Casual conversations and riding with those two was a learning experience. It is too true that the type of motorcycle leads to assumptions. That couple told me the most common type of crash, at least around here, is a single cruiser type of motorcycle either not negotiating a curve correctly and/or inexperienced/improper braking. And alcohol is involved in a majority of those instances. “…officers opinion is evidence…”, haven’t heard that in a long time, but it was exactly what those two patrol officers said to me. I took it as an education with their behind-the-scenes perspective, which has influenced my own actions and how I might interact with law enforcement in the future.

    • Ian Parkes

      Dangerous speeding? Nothing is more relative than speed, so going fast doesn’t mean it is automatically dangerous, especially on a bike designed for it. Weaving in and out of traffic? Or to put it less pejoratively – overtaking – isn’t automatically reckless either. So in no time cop language can transform a biker safely and progressively overtaking other vehicles into a foaming deathwish squid ‘weaving in and out traffic and speeding dangerously’.

      • throwedoff

        I have witnessed more than once drivers enter the lane of a motorcyclist (usually the left lane for passing) that is already overtaking them. In one instance the driver of an SUV moved across two lanes and struck a rider’s front wheel sending him cartwheeling and sliding down the interstate. The driver of the SUV only knew the lane was occupied when the motorcyclist went flying by her window. She then over correcting multiple time before finally rolling the SUV. The rider unfortunately was one of those that didn’t believe in wearing anything but a helmet and ended up with his tee shirt shredded, and some serious road rash from his waist to his shoulders. Luckily for him the road rash was his only injury. Fortunately the SUV occupants were all belted in, and no serious injuries occurred for the occupants of the SUV. There may have been if a passing motorist hadn’t stopped the highly animated and angry motorcyclist that was heading for the SUV though.

        • throwedoff

          I didn’t see any media reporting of this accident, but if there hadn’t been so many witnesses, it would have been the words of the SUV occupants against the lone motorcyclist when it came time for statements in the accident investigation. Who do you think would have been found at fault?

    • loadedmind

      I think you’re completely missing the point the author was attempting to convey. That disingenuous, irresponsible reporting can have a huge negative impact on the perception of the motorcycling community as a whole. I believe exposing these nefarious “news reporting” agencies (I use that term loosely here) for providing egregiously incorrect and borderline slanderous information needs to be brought up more often. Honestly, I think they (the family) ought to sue these fools for spreading such stupidity and bias. There’s just no excuse for it. State police, time and time again, will release status quo, yet bogus information in hopes of spreading negative propaganda to the public about ANYTHING relevant to sportbikes. They are TRAINED to lie.

      Personally, I don’t think a better article was chosen for the author to prove his point. It kind of sounds like you’re defending the news source when it’s plain for most everyone else to see that they were spreading blatant misinformation. Do you work for the Chesapeake Times or something?

      • Branson

        YOU completely misunderstood my point, in fact it seems you didn’t bother reading my post much at all.

        Please go back and read the very first sentence — I agreed with the author about the misrepresented picture. I also agreed with his praising the reporter that gave the more balanced view. He should have done more of that then go full negative.

        I’m not going to repost what the author did wrong as a journalist, it was plenty. But I will say he wrote a click-baity article attacking click-bait. Sadly, I bit too. .

        And as far as negative perception of motorcyclists, my personal opinion is that it’s overstated. From what I’ve seen and experienced, non-motorcyclistists are extremely positive to riders. Charity events do get covered. I’ve been on rides where the public comes out in strong support of the cause. I will not play the victim, because I don’t see it. Please don’t use exceptions to prove a rule.

        Having said the above, which I believe sincerely, I’m going to repeat the two original closing points (both of which you chose to completely ignore) that are the most important:

        1. This by all accounts wonderful woman lost her life. It’s sad, particularly for her family and friends. We should offer condolences and show support.

        2. If anything positive should come from this, and we should always be positive, is to focus on our own skills, continuously improve when we can, in the interest of minimizing such tragedies. We’re only here for a short while, don’t make it shorter.

      • Branson

        You make ridiculous statements like law enforcement is “…TRAINED to lie…”

        I point out the obvious, close with positive thoughts, and yet my earlier post response here gets flagged for spam and removed?

        Good job.

        • loadedmind

          “Good job”? Pretty hefty assuming on your part. Maybe karma is having its way with you. Maybe people think you’re trolling because of how outlandish your perspective is, that the author is somehow “exaggerating” the article. Who knows?
          I had no part in flagging your post. I’m all about free speech and people formulating their own opinion regardless of whether I agree with them or not.

          As to my statement regarding LEO’s trained to lie, this isn’t “news”. Check here: http://www.officer.com/article/10233095/training-cops-to-lie-pt-1
          here: http://www.copblock.org/16413/why-do-police-lie-insight-from-a-florida-judge/

          • Branson

            I’m not going to argue. Ride safe, everyone.

        • Chris Kallfelz

          I’m not seeing anything flagged or gone, you were suggesting that I should have picked a different article. I can still read that comment, it’s still there. Nothing wrong with that, it’s your opinion, that’s fine…You’re entitled to your opinion.

          • Branson

            I wasn’t referring to my original, I was referring to my response to the person who accused me of being a confederate and made outrageous statements about police. My response to that was deleted.

            I respect that you wrote the article. I wouldn’t have learned about this wonderful woman otherwise. I hope some positive can result from this tragedy through increased rider awareness.

          • Chris Kallfelz

            Oh! Oh I didn’t see that…Sorry, Branson, huh, I don’t know what that was all about.

          • Branson

            No problem Chris, you’re the most civil one on this thread!

          • Chris Kallfelz

            Hah! If that’s the case we are not in good shape…

  • Laura Hamilton

    Thank you for correcting what is obviously a tabloid rag. We never really know what happens in most tragic accidents. Sure, police investigate and witnesses report what they’ve seen, but all facts can never be known. I’m sure Stacy saw or experienced something that would have shed more light on the cause of her accident. Sadly, she can’t tell us exactly what happened. She was a good person that died too soon. Rest AND ride in peace Sister!

  • Amy Fobbs

    Thank you for standing up for my dear friend Stacy. She was not just a headline of life lost too soon. My family will never forget the wonderful times we shared together. She made us better people because she was apart of our lives. The reports we hear are not accurate in all situations.

    • Chris Kallfelz

      She sounded like a really good person and a good motorcyclist. I wish I’d had a chance to meet her. I just didn’t think it was fair, so, well, yeah…I just wanted to try to set things straight. I’m sorry for your loss. Be safe.

  • John B.

    I recently read something like 40% of jobs in the U.S. require a license. Sadly, journalist isn’t one of them (probably due to the 1st Amendment). I sometimes feel badly for professional journalists. The Internet allows anyone to function as a journalist irrespective of qualifications, and journalists with intellectual integrity have a tough time matching the sizzle of those not similarly constrained.

    Recently, I began keeping a mental list of websites I no longer read. Rolling Stone after the unforgivable “UVA Rape Culture” article and Huffington Post top my DNR (Do Not Read) list.

    Perhaps more disturbing than journalism detached from facts are news aggregation sites that feed you stories they think you will like. To read opposing views is a great learning tool, and I never asked to have my news filtered. Nevertheless, news aggregation sites don’t want us to think for ourselves. It’s not a stretch to assume certain so-called journalists write stories that appeal to widely held stereotypes. Just as fertilizer nourishes weeds and plants alike, the Internet proliferates good and bad journalism.

  • Andrew Capone

    Sad story. Great column.

  • JMDonald

    It is common practice for people in the “media” to embellish obfuscate mislead and generally lie to demonize those they fear or have a problem with. Motorcycle riders are bad. What better excuse did the need to sully this fine woman. Whatever personal grievances they may have needs to left on the shelf having no place in factual reporting. A pox on them.

  • Uncommon Sense

    Squids / stunters have really screwed up the public perception of sport bike riders. She was a beautiful woman (already busted the squid stereotype) and sounds like a responsible rider. However, no one knows what really happened. Even the safest riders can make a bad judgment call, so she very well may have been speeding or riding recklessly. It only takes one mistake.

    Most people probably jump to conclusions as it is fully expected that when a sport bike rider is in an accident, it was because they were riding like asshat. The reality is that it is all too common whether or not that was the case in this incident.

    Regardless, may she rest in peace.

    • Evans Brasfield

      Unfortunately, being part of a very visible minority, motorcyclists are easy targets. Drivers forget the many, many safe, quiet motorcyclists they encounter. However, condemning squids and stunters reveals prejudice, too. Cruisers with straight pipes project a bad image of selfishness. Riders without helmets or proper gear or riding with their T-shirt fluttering up their back say that we lack common sense or even a tendency towards self-protection. All we, as individuals, can do is model proper riding behavior and acknowledge to ourselves when we’ve done something that would reflect poorly on motorcycling as a whole. We’ve all done it.

    • therr850

      What usually happens in these situations is, no one stops except the one involved in the accident and if that person is at fault, their version is the version in the accident report. What would you expect that person to say, “Hey, I screwed up and killed the biker”? yea,,,,,

      • sgray44444

        a very good point.

  • Eric

    Thank you for shedding light on this tragic accident. Stacy was my sister and I couldn’t believe everything that was being said about her in the news; not to mention the headless comments on the “news” pages. I applaud you for “going against the grain” and I thank younger standing up for my sister and the amazing rider she was. You, sir, are an amazing man and for that my family and I will be forever grateful!

    • Chris Kallfelz

      Eric, I’m really sorry about your sister, she sounded like a wonderful person, and it was wrong for somebody to paint a misleading picture of who she was. I hope you and your family will be alright going forward. Ride safe, man.

  • Born to Ride

    Head Shake has always been by far and away my favorite editorial on MO. Chris somehow always manages to interject thought and prose in the typically expository (but excellent) articles found on the site. His “About the Author” makes me chuckle every time too.

    • Chris Kallfelz

      That’s way too kind, BtR, but thank you.

      • Born to Ride

        Your writing has always reminded me of the old MO articles. Eloquent and analytical but often lined with sarcasm. The whole reason I started reading MO on a daily basis was because I appreciated how you guys seemed to always tell it like it is. There was no pretentious air to the sass, just authentic ideas and thoughts being written in the author’s particular flavor. I like that you guys aren’t afraid to clash opinions like you did with Burns over the whole gun control thing a while back. Just look back at John’s scathing review of the SV650 compared to Troy’s abject love for the damn thing. Long story short, keep keepin it real and I will continue to read.

  • http://www.triumphmotorcycles.com/ cg

    I would sue the TCT for at very LEAST for a front page retraction and correction. And that cop that wasn’t there should be slapped for hearsay. Hopefully something like this accident won’t deter women from riding. RIP

    • Chris Kallfelz

      It just wasn’t right, to depict her that way wasn’t right. What could I do about? Well? I could write about it. She doesn’t belong in a publication that bills itself as “News & Commentary on The Criminal Class.”

    • Chris Kallfelz

      Put another way, and it’s a pretty good litmus test for me, if that was a loved one of mine? I’d be rabid…

  • sgray44444

    Excellent article! Another reason to consider is that these people in the media understand that emotion trumps knowledge when it comes to swaying the court of public opinion. Many of the “man on the street” type of interviews asking somebody about the substance of their political beliefs have revealed that, for many, it’s just a bandwagon to get on; another witch hunt. The stupidity of the general public never ceases to amaze me.

    • John A. Stockman

      The stupidity of those in production of the so-called “news” also. It’s about division and spreading fear and misconception. Fearful/hateful types are easier to influence, especially when people are divided into categories and groups and being pitted against each other in the segments presented. Talking heads reading a script is not my idea of news, and obviously same with those writing for various newspaper/media outlets. Too few make it bad for those who ride. Tim Kessel wrote an article in Motorcyclist a few years back, about “DILLIGAF” attitudes. Do I Look Like I Give A F**k, seen in patches and stickers. While not exclusive to a particular segment of riders, it is pervasive in those realms. Local print media in the Seattle area has done similar, vilifying motorcyclists and “crotch rockets”. Just that term is abhorrent to me, as it projects a complete lack of knowledge and understanding. Kessel talks about how JQ Public sees us as one entity, no differentiation between ADV, touring, dual sport, sport bikes, etc. We are all one in the general public’s eye, all motorcycles are somehow Harleys. I have hundreds of thousands of miles logged, more if I add in off-road. Interactions with the public and countless riders add up to how I feel about motorcycling and how it is perceived by those who do not ride and NEVER will. I was taught by my grandfather to present a positive image towards those who don’t ride, taught by his actions, not just words. I saw how he acted towards people and how he talked with them. He did what he said and said what he did…because actions and behavior always tell anyone paying attention exactly what kind of person someone is. I’m sure Tim’s article is somewhere in Motorcyclist’s archives, I cannot remember the exact issue. It is so great that people who knew Stacy have spoken up and related their thanks for Chris’ article. People need to speak up, even if they think it could fall on deaf ears or a disinterested public. It does make a difference, and thanks to everyone that does speak about it and presents a positive perspective. i went through incredible challenges to overcome Ankylosing Spondylitis (a genetic collagen defect that destroyed all my joint cartilage by the time I was 14, fusing my entire spine and both hips) so I could ride a motorcycle again. Tortuous physical therapy to get severely atrophied muscles working again and numerous lengthy joint replacement surgeries. I understand the passion and dedication some devote to their motorcycling, and it’s quite clear that Stacy was one who did present a positive perspective. Thank you Stacy and your friends and family for setting it straight.