With a combined 85 years of writing about motorcycles and being immersed in the moto industry, the MO staff doesn’t impress easily. And yet, when looking back at the year just passed, we’re spoiled for choices to select from our favorite rides, experiences and events of 2014.
Come take a quick spin with us as each MO editor tells his story about which memory from the past year struck his moto heartstrings the loudest.
The crew at Motorcycle.com sends its best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and an inspiring New Year, much of it, we hope, aboard a motorcycle!
John Burns – Good Times 2014
Where to begin? I’ve had more great moto adventures since returning to MO about a year ago than in the previous decade at other publications and in the advertising biz, where I often felt like the Weimaraner in Best in Show.
If you have a traditional office, you feel obligated to hang out in it quite a bit; the fact that we MOites work from our scattered abodes seems to put us in the mindset that our desks are the seats of whatever motorcycles we have on hand, and the fantastic roads around SoCal are our communal gathering place. There is literally no place for office politics. I’m with Sean’s sentiments; our naked Hooligan Shootout, particularly Phase One at Chuckwalla, was an epic track day.
Track-testing a new bike at the Big Magazine where I previously toiled typically consisted of one “expert” riding around by himself to record lap times unattainable by 99-percent of the buying public, followed by a long photo session with the track closed for riding so the photographer could shoot 300 passes through the same couple of corners until dark – and other magazine “support staff” were welcome to squeeze in three or four laps between that if they were lucky. Okay, not “welcome,” but grudgingly allowed to.
MO does it a bit differently: At a few times during the day, all five of us were duking it out on the track at the same time on all five bikes we had on hand that day, going at it hammer and tongs. Are any of us as fast as Don Canet? No. Are all of us faster than 80-percent of the riders who show up at the typical SoCal track day? Why, yes, and I’d say our collective impressions of a given bike are much more real-world relevant and repeatable. I mean, there’s no better way to understand the specialness of the KTM Super Duke than to watch it slither away from you off a corner you know you got a better drive off of, under a man who weighs 100 pounds more. And nothing drags your lap times lower, and pushes your bike harder, than a little friendly competition.
Speaking of out of the office, I’m not sure how I got on the list of a PR company that arranges for journalists of various stripes to go on tourism junkets all over the coolest parts of the U.S. (was that you, Sean Alexander? Bless you my child …), but when I got the invite to attend a four-day event in Arkansas, followed by another one a week later in Nebraska, I was able to pack a few underthings and the old laptop and parlay it into a three-week trip with a visit to the Kansas City homeland sandwiched in the middle. While the other travel writers flew in, I was able to ride, and developed an appreciation for the American cruiser that I’d never quite had before, a fully decked-out Victory Cross Country Tour in this case. Prairie schooner of the gods … I think I put about 5000 miles on that baby, suffering only a loose battery cable that was easily fixed once we finally located the battery.
We really do live in a fantastic time. My dad had no choice but to appear in his office five days a week, where the magical Telex machine spat out news of the world, or news of CSX corporation, anyway, when the only mail was snail and the only line was land. My career up till now has been pretty much the same. I probably didn’t file quite as many stories from the road as I suggested I might during my Midwest tour, but still quite a few… the WWW and digital photography have completely transformed my world, about 100-percent for the better, lately. Knock on wood.
But the number-One thing I pinched myself for getting paid to do in 2014 was taking my offspring on a midsummer motorcycle ride to Yosemite and back, our first ever father/son motorcycle trip. The kid had never been to Yosemite, and I’d never taken the time before to park the bike and pay a little attention to the other things that draw people to places like Yosemite other than the great roads. It turns out there are things to do there besides ride motorcycles. Hike a little, climb rocks to the bottom of fantastic waterfalls, hide out in quaint hotels in Bishop with Swedish tourists … Heck, man, we even caught a couple trout.
It was the best time I’ve had in a long time, but the fact that we did it on motorcycles, a pair of Honda CTXs, made it an unforgettable excursion, and probably the first inkling for my city-dwelling child what a big, beautiful piece of the world we’re so very fortunate to have lucked into. Here’s to hoping our luck holds in 2015, and to yours turning around if it hasn’t been so good. I suggest starting out with a new motorcycle, even if it’s only new to you. For me, the best things seem to happen on two wheels.
Evans Brasfield – Motorcycling Regains its Mojo
I was blue, just as blue as I could be
Ev’ry day was a cloudy day for me
Then good luck came a-knocking at my door
Skies were gray, but they’re not gray anymore
Smiling at me
Nothing but blue skies
Do I see
MO readers and all motorcyclists are well aware of how the Great Recession affected our favorite sport. Motorcycle sales plummeted. People tightened their belts, and some were even forced to sell their beloved rides to make ends meet. Dark times ensued with enthusiast magazines folding and continuing to fold as recently as last week with the departure of Motorcycle Cruiser, the magazine that brought me into the industry. Manufacturers responded the only way responsible businesses could: They cut back on development and slowed the release of new models to lower operating costs and ride out the storm. Gray skies, indeed.
While the economy has improved over the last several years, many middle-class Americans, the heart of the motorcycle buying public here in the US, have continued to feel the weight of the financial crisis. Fortunately, that is slowly changing. The motorcycle manufacturers have watched this change and seem to have collectively decided that it’s time to start opening the garage doors and start releasing the new models they’ve been working on quietly in the background.
While previously PR folks were trying to be upbeat and put a positive spin on their diminished product lines, it was hard for those of us who knew them to ignore the undercurrent of concern. Well, those days are happily behind us. This fall, the talk around the MO virtual office after the latest round of new motorcycle introductions is that the dark clouds have parted, and yes, the excitement is back!
Don’t believe me? Take a look at our EICMA coverage. We wrote articles on a whopping 38 new or updated motorcycles for 2015. At the end of the show, to paraphrase a famous Beatles song, we had blisters on our fingers. I personally attended the Suzuki Dealer Show where the news wasn’t the doom and gloom of previous years. The restructuring of the company has delivered hope as evidenced by the unveiling of the 2015 Suzuki GSX-S750 And GSX-S750Z plus a teaser of the 2016 Suzuki GSX-S1000. Does that sound like a company that is on the ropes?
At the other end of the weathering the storm scale, BMW has maintained a steady increase in models offered for the past five years. How does 25 new models in five years strike you? The results have been tremendous with the company setting an annual sales record for 2014 by November.
However, my real barometer for the condition of the moto-industry strikes closer to home. In 2008, I was on track to have my best year as a freelance journalist – that is until September when the market tanked – leaving me with less than a month’s work through the end of the following January. The year of 2009 was even worse. In publishing, the first thing to go after ad sales drop are the freelance articles. After all, editors have to justify their staffers. Beginning in 2010, the work began its slog back to a semblance of normalcy, but by mid–2013, I was only up to about 80% of my usual workload. Better but not great.
Then came the offer to work here at MO, replacing a departing staffer. After that, we snapped up John Burns (who’s also written about how cool it is to work here, compared to other publications – to which I can only add my hearty agreement), enlarging our editorial staff by 25%. Clearly, the powers-that-be at our parent company Verticalscope felt that the motorcycle market warranted an increase in expenditure. Toss in the inclusion of Sean Alexander higher up the food chain, and my little slice of the motorcycle industry is running on all cylinders – perhaps with a little supercharging thrown into the mix.
So, more bikes to test means more writers to test them, leading to more stories for you, our readers, to consume. Good stuff. But what’s really important is that there are more bikes for you to buy and ride and enjoy.
Motorcycling is back, and I’m glad to be here sharing it with you.
Troy Siahaan – Riding motorcycles and spending a day with Michael Czysz
In many ways, the highlight of my 2014 is also my lowlight as well. I’ve known and maintained a professional relationship with Michael Czysz for a few years now, keeping in touch with him every so often just to shoot the shit, talk shop or commend him on an Isle of Man victory. So, when I heard the news that he was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer, my heart dropped. Frankly, when I hear news like that my mind naturally thinks of the worst. I immediately sent Czysz an email wishing him my best, with a jab at our next trackday together. His response went something like, “Don’t worry, I’ll be back like Iron Man and then I’ll kick your ass!” Classic Czysz.
It was definitely good for a laugh, but the reality was things didn’t look good for Michael. Imagine my surprise then, months later, when I see a picture on one of my social media feeds of Czysz at a track with his knee on the ground. “Holy crap!” I thought, “he wasn’t kidding about that Iron Man comment!”
Again, another message went out to MC, this one expressing my delight in seeing the photo and assuming his prognosis was getting better. Our conversation developed from there, to the point where he extended an offer to come out to his home in Portland, Oregon and spend a day at Portland International Raceway together. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
When I arrived at his house, Michael was truly excited about getting to ride his Ducati Superleggera the following day. He had ridden a little more since we had emailed each other, and he was feeling as fast as ever. Once we arrived at the track, it was clear he was in his happy place. The motorcycle felt like home, an escape from the sickness eating away at him. He loved being on the bike, but, like the perfectionist he is, was angry he didn’t get a fresh set of tires so he could set a personal best lap time like he promised. Personally, I had only spun a handful of laps all day, but I couldn’t be more content simply watching Czysz lap a racetrack as quickly as he was.
Back at the house, he opened up to me about more than just motorcycles. He opened up about life. It was a side I imagine not many people have seen, and I’m glad he felt comfortable enough to let me in to that most intimate of places. Our professional bond turned into a personal one and we talked for hours – mostly about bikes, naturally, but also love, family, and the Portland wildlife we could see from his waterfront porch. This was by far the highlight of my 2014, simply because I truly got to experience how much a motorcycle can bring one individual happiness. Not only that, but I got to meet Michael Czysz, the person. The machines are great and all, but I find the people behind them infinitely more interesting.
However, those fleeting moments of happiness are fewer and farther between now for Czysz, as his treatments are only delaying the inevitable (unfortunately, Czysz hasn’t been back on a motorcycle since this trackday). After I returned home and started writing about Motorcycle Therapy, it dawned on me that it was my birthday. Normally the occasion is no big deal, but I thought back to my visit with Czysz, and during our conversation he mentioned how elated he would be if he was still around to see his next one. That weight made the story hard to write, but also brought into focus what I needed to say. In the end, I’m happy Michael allowed me to tell it and that it has touched so many readers as well.
Tom Roderick – Riding A 2WD Ural Gear-Up In The Snow
This is becoming a trend. My personal highlight of 2013 was travelling to Wisconsin to compete in the18th Annual Steel Shoe Fund three-hour endurance ice race. This year I find myself romanticizing the trip I took to Redmond, Washington to pilot a 2WD Ural Gear-Up through the snow. I moved from Nebraska to California to get away from snow and cold, and now it seems I’m actively searching it out. What the hell’s going on?
Fun, that’s what. Existing normally in a state where 95% of my time aboard a motorcycle is spent actively evaluating the bike’s performance is a lot different than riding purely for pleasure. Taken out of my comfortable norm and plopped aboard A) A motorcycle with a sidecar, B) A sidecar with a driven wheel, C) Riding this esoteric contraption through deep snow, is a novel experience, to say the least.
Both ice racing and riding the 2WD Ural in the snow falls way outside the normal street or track ride. While still riding a motorcycle, the activities require adjusting your skillset to adapt to a similar yet unfamiliar exercise. The Ural gives me the giddy feeling I had when I first began riding motorcycles – that combination of fun, excitement, exploration, camaraderie … of the unknown as I set out for my Sunday morning ride.
In the 2014 Ural Gear-Up story I stated, “What I’ve come to realize is that I can write about what great fun we had until my fingertips go numb and cramp with arthritis, but I’ll never be able to convey the essence of the experience.” One of those you had to be there moments.
I’m certainly not moving back to Nebraska anytime soon, nor any other zip code with a white Christmas. I’ve snow-capped mountains not far away, and if I get a wild hair for a ride in the snow, I can fill the need and return to temperate climes in short order. What you should take away from my snow riding fetish confession is that, if given the chance to step outside your normal riding habits, bite on the opportunity. Chances are, you’ll be glad you did.
Speaking of … I’d like to get a jump on next year’s Editor’s Highlights. Who’s up for finding a frozen lake, hitching a tow rope to the back of 2WD Ural and doing some snow skiing?
Kevin Duke – Touring With Wifey Aboard BMW’s K1600GTL Exclusive
My wife, Carolyn, and I are partners, parents and lovers, but since the birth of our child nearly eight years ago, my moto world seldom crosses over to my marital sphere. Sure, she sees new motorcycles filter in and out of our garage, and she enjoys viewing the videos we produce, but the total number of two-up rides she’s taken with me over the past eight years could probably be summed on one hand. The era of taking regular weekend rides and the adventures of moto touring in foreign countries seem almost a lifetime ago.
And this is why the press launch for BMW’s K1600GTL Exclusive was my fondest motorcycle memory of 2014. The GTL-E is Motorrad’s opulent flagship designed for two-up touring, so BMW kindly invited spouses to accompany us hard-working moto scribes during its introduction to the media. On the downside, Carolyn was able to get a peek at the pampering motojournos must suffer during press intros, destroying the myth I had cultivated about how grueling and arduous my business trips can be. On the upside, I was able to treat her to the kind of regal experience she deserves but that can rarely be accommodated on a journalist’s budget.
And so, thanks to my lovely step-daughter, Brittany, taking care of our little one, we had four days/nights to shift focus away from our young daughter and reacquaint ourselves as friends while enjoying what is the finest touring platform ever to roll on two wheels.
Our jaunt began with dinner in a terrific restaurant and a night in a Santa Monica hotel, allowing me to rediscover the fact that the mother of my child is a fun and vivacious lady in addition to being a loving mother. I could feel the years rolling backward during the next day’s trip as we rolled northward and rekindled the things we love about relating with each other before our little girl stole our focus away.
After a lunch stop in Santa Barbara, we rolled into Pismo Beach for a seaside overnight stay, then strafed the magical Pacific Coast Highway on the way to our Carmel destination. We fondly reminisced about the annual trips we made on this same route to attend World Superbike and MotoGP races at Laguna Seca, and we vowed we wouldn’t wait another eight years to revisit that journey. And, as ever, Carolyn was the consummate passenger – light, cooperative and mostly fearless. After a day perusing the splendid Quail Motorcycle Gathering, the next day it was time for return leg down PCH and our joyful reunion with our daughters back at home.
There were three important takeaways from our trip. First, that the mighty Beemer and its intoxicating six-cylinder motor is untouchable in terms of providing a luxurious but sporting motorcycle for long-distance journeys when carrying two riders. Second, that fellow motojournalists and their partners make fabulous traveling companions. It’s a pleasure to hang with such delightful and interesting people.
The third and most critical,takeaway from our trip was the realization that we – or anyone – shouldn’t let complacency and distractions interrupt the loving adult relationship between spouses. Carolyn and I renewed our appreciation for traveling together on a motorcycle, and it won’t again be years before we hit the road together.
Sean Alexander – Speed Thrills
I was going to go for the glitz and glamour angle of EICMA and how a visit to that show uncovers a whole other level of showmanship and presentation, making even the most jaded insiders feel like kids in a candy store. Upon further reflection, I realized that it was something else in 2014 that enriched my soul the most.
One of the things that was most important to me upon returning to the publishing industry at the end of 2013 following a long stint in OEM public relations was re-kindling some of the fun and camaraderie I remembered from my first stint as a motojournalist.
My official job description (Powersports Editorial Director) is all about planning and other business issues, so it doesn’t officially include attending press launches or otherwise joining VerticalScope’s various editorial staffs for actual vehicle tests. I knew this when negotiating my contract, so I was quick to request a clause that would allow me to stay more connected to my roots. Specifically, to attend one press intro of my choosing per year and, whenever practical, to participate as a staff member on multi-vehicle shootouts where I could work more closely with the staffs of VerticalScope’s powersports publications.
As these things tend to go, re-alignments and business concerns dominated my time. The first few months were not exactly food for the soul, aside from riding my own motorcycle alongside the MO staff when they conducted a big scooter test ride or an occasional lunch meeting with an editor. The rest was all planning, emails, spreadsheets, reports, conferences and anything else classified as traditional business. That finally changed during a springtime conference call with MO’s EiC, Kevin Duke. As that call wound-down, Kevin casually mentioned MO’s upcoming streetfighter shootout and indicated they might be able to get another bike or two, if only they had an extra rider. This is where 2014 took a turn for the best.
While covering the final 10 miles to Chuckwalla Valley Raceway eastbound on I-10, I caught up various MO editors. By the time we reached the freeway exit, we were all together as a crew, no words spoken, just a caravan of moto geeks preparing to rip it up, together. For me, it would be the first time to really ride at speed with the current MO staff, plus a chance for me to evaluate editor skill and cooperation levels. Also an opportunity for them to verify whether or not I was just a washed-up – and now fat – office suit. A chance for me to try and kinetically demonstrate that my editorial changes, story concepts and occasional corrections are based on some underlying motorcycle skill and experience. None of this stuff is really important in the grand scheme of things, but it meant everything to me.
Once signed-in and shoehorned into my old Kawasaki leathers, the accumulated stress and anxiety melted away as we blended together as a team ready to do a job. That day on track with my team at Chuckwalla brought everything that is good about motorcycling back into focus for me. It was about going fast and working together, about the fun of riding hard and the satisfaction of discovering that MO’s current staff fully lives up to the lofty skill sets demonstrated by the MO editors who came before them. All is right in the world.