All good things must come to an end, my fellow MOrons, and it’s with a heavy heart that I tell you all that my time at Motorcycle.com is officially over. In fact, as these Top 10 lists are usually posted on Thursdays, my actual last day was yesterday. Nevertheless, it’s been a fantastic six-year run getting to ride motorcycles and telling you about it. I’ve enjoyed meeting readers and viewers, and am always humbled when someone says they’ve enjoyed a story I’ve written or a video I’ve been in. It truly is a gratifying experience, and one I never take for granted.
Alas, another opportunity within the motorcycle industry has come my way and it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. I’m excited about the road ahead, but I should mention that I’ve often said it would take a lot for me to leave the world of moto-journalism, and that’s because this job really is special. For the past six years at MO, and 11 years total, I’ve pinched myself every day just as a reminder that I really am one of the luckiest people walking the planet to be able to do what I do – and get paid for it!
So thank you, MO readers, for taking this journey with me. It’s been a wild ride. One I’m glad I got to share with you. And with that, I’m going to take one last trip down memory lane and recall my 10 favorite moments at Motorcycle.com. Of course there are way more than 10 things I could have picked for this list, but you really don’t want to hear about all of them, do you? With the exception of the number 1 spot, the other nine are presented in no particular order.
It goes without saying that I’ve been fortunate enough to ride a lot of bikes at this job, and without a doubt the sportbike category is the most intriguing for me. This is where the boundaries get pushed, where the latest tech is debuted, and by extension, where the future is revealed. After riding the 2015 Yamaha R1, the current generation R1, I remember thinking to myself on the flight back, “Wow. This is the future.” It doesn’t hurt that the intro was held in Australia – a country I’ve always wanted to visit – but never before had I been so blown away by how advanced a motorcycle’s rider aids were, and it was all thanks to the now ubiquitous IMU. Not only was the R1 easy to ride fast, but the electronics allowed me to feel comfortable pushing my own boundaries. Before, the electronics on some motorcycles were a hindrance. With the R1, it was a clear advantage. It was an eye-opening experience, and I’m glad I got to be one of the first to experience it.
Quite frankly, this was an idea I thought would never fly – c’mon, you have to admit riding the 2016 Victory Empulse in search of vegetarian burritos is a bit absurd. But when bossman Duke gave the green light, I quickly hit the road before he could change his mind! Keep in mind I’m not a vegetarian, but I was willing to put that aside for this story. That’s how much I like burritos. As it turned out, the Vegetarian Raspberry Chicken burrito from Worldwide Tacos used soy to replicate chicken and was absolutely delicious. In fact, I’m dreaming about it now. This one combined two of my favorite things: motorcycles and burritos, so of course it ranks up there amongst my favorite memories.
As much as I like riding motorcycles, some of my best memories on this job involve the people I meet through motorcycles. Such was the case with Alex Wakefield. For a brief period during my time at MO I lived in Chicago, and while there aren’t many riding roads in the area, there was a Dainese D-Store, which is where I met Wakefield. An artist and motorsport fanatic, he was presenting some of his work at the D-Store, and upon meeting him I knew I had to interview him for a story, as his love for the sport of motorcycle (and car) racing goes further than possibly anyone I know.
I met him again at a coffee shop in downtown Chicago for the interview, where we then proceeded to talk for hours on end about motorcycles, motorsports, famous racers, and obscure motorsport-related trivia. The guy is basically an encyclopedia of motorsport knowledge and we hit it off immediately. Oh, and did I mention he’s an artist? His work inspired me in ways other motorsport artists haven’t been able to do. When we first met his portfolio was rather small, but his website, www.MotoArt27.com, is updated with a much bigger portfolio of his work (mostly car related because, well, those are the guys who have the dough to pay for a commissioned piece).
To me, his art transports me to the moment. Beyond the art, however, Alex is simply a good guy. We still keep in touch to this day, and his passion for motorsports is still as strong as ever.
Motorcycles are supposed to be fun, and as far as new model intros go, I can’t remember a time I’ve had a bigger smile on my face after an intro than at the 2017 Yamaha FZ-10 launch. The Tail of the Dragon, and its surrounding roads, was the destination of the launch and it provided the perfect playground for the stripped-down R1. The retuned-for-torque engine thrived on this route, and after every corner a whack of the throttle would loft the front tire in the air. It was thrilling and intoxicating, and it became a dance I’d repeat with the Yamaha lead riders (who were hauling ass, BTW) turn after turn after turn. The FZ-10 is the embodiment of pure, unadulterated fun, and I came close on more than one occasion to actually buying one. Heck, I still might.
Truth be told, this wasn’t one of my favorite memories at the time, but racing a Honda Grom for 24 hours back in 2015 (and subsequently, a Honda CRF150R supermoto in 2016) has slightly changed my life in a small way. More on that in a sec. First off, the reason this story was such a nightmare for me was because we had taken the time to acquire all the best parts one could get for a Grom, but hadn’t taken any time to actually test it. The end result, in case you haven’t read the story, was the worst-handling motorcycle I’d ever ridden. The thing wanted to kill you each time you even thought about leaning it over. Combine that with the realization that we had to ride the thing for 24-freaking-hours, and the thought of packing it in almost prevailed.
As it turned out, our pal Ed Sorbo got the bike sorta rideable after a couple hours spent taking the suspension apart, and we would go on to finish the event. Finishing itself was an accomplishment, but the reason why the Grom and CRF changed my life is because I’ve since gone on to purchase a mini bike of my own – a Suzuki RM85, decked out in full mini supermoto trim. Why? Because riding mini bikes is some of the most fun you can have for the money in all of motorcycling. Sure, riding big bikes and dragging knee is fun, but for the hundreds of dollars you save doing the same thing on mini bikes, the smiles-per-dollar quotient can’t be beat. The Grom and CRF150R are responsible for teaching me that lesson.
Like many others, I’ve always felt that Erik Buell got a raw deal when Harley-Davidson decided to shut down Buell Motorcycles. Having met the namesake and even raced one of his motorcycles (XB12R) for my very first AMA race, I even have a personal connection to Erik Buell. So when news broke that Buell was making a comeback, I couldn’t help but be excited for him. Getting a chance to ride his new 1190RX, the first of the new EBR models, was an exciting prospect, but getting to do it at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Statements like that don’t come around very often in the moto-journalism world because what many casual motorcyclists would call once-in-a-lifetime seemingly happens once a month for us. But this? This was truly rare.
As it turned out, the ride day was wet in the morning, making it very tricky trying to learn a new bike and a new track, all while trying to stay upright. The memorable part for me, however, was simply being at the Brickyard, riding an American sportbike. Moments like these are special, and this moment surely wasn’t lost on me. Although the bike itself can’t compete against the kings of the literbike class, it’s still no less a thoroughly enjoyable and visceral motorcycle to pilot quickly. Which only enhances the memory.
It’s not often I scream like a schoolgirl in a video, but hopping aboard the 2012 Lightning LS-218 got that kind of reaction out of me. Never before (and never since) have I experienced such brutal acceleration from a motorized vehicle. It was simply mind blowing how quickly the Lightning gained speed and I’ve been craving another hit ever since. This, nearly five years later.
While the motorcycle itself will forever be ingrained in my head, the story of the ride itself was also one to remember. Upon arriving in San Francisco, Richard Hatfield, Lightning Motorcycles CEO, loaded the bike in a van, where we headed to Skyline Drive, site of the famous Alice’s Restaurant. With some borrowed gear and a flimsy excuse for registration papers, we quickly unloaded, rode down the hill, packed up, and went home. The plan all along was to get another, thorough, ride aboard the bike (I almost rode this very motorcycle at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb), but circumstances always seemed to get in the way.
Nonetheless, my brief time aboard the Lightning is something I’ll never forget.
As far as bucket list items go, racing the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 2013 is definitely one of those items. What a week it was, too: Wake-up calls at 2am, practice at 5:30am, just as the sun peaked over the horizon, cold temps, new (electric) bike, and of course, dealing with the elevation. There was so much to learn and adjust to, which makes racing at Pikes Peak unlike anything else. As if that wasn’t enough, I had to go crash during qualifying, which sent me flying off the road and breaking my foot. Miraculously that was the only injury I sustained (of which I still feel the effects today). My wife, who rarely attends my races, flew in for this one, which made for an awkward car ride as we drove back to the hotel with my broken foot.
Nonetheless, the decision to continue racing despite my injury turned out to be a good one, as I managed to snag third place in my class. Better still, I met a ton of great people – competitors and fans alike – that truly made the experience memorable. No matter where you finished, the fans cheered like you were a winner. I even had kids ask for my autograph! As cool as Pikes Peak was, I have no desire to do it again. I’m happy with the memories I have.
When I moved to Chicago, Tom Roderick laughed at me and joked about how I wouldn’t be able to withstand a Chicago winter, being born and raised in California. As one to make lemonade out of lemons, I mentioned I’d be much closer to Wisconsin, where I could try ice racing. I told him if I could put it together, he’d have to fly out and join me. He agreed. Wouldn’t you know it, a couple of calls to Yamaha and I had a brand new YZ450F all decked out in ice racing attire – metal spikes and all – waiting for me. Tom packed every piece of warm clothing he had and made the trip to Chicago, where he slept on my couch.
What came next was one of the coolest experiences of our moto-journalism careers, pun intended. Going ice racing was an experience like no other. The spikes provide endless amounts of grip, allowing for ridiculous lean angles and crazy acceleration even while fully leaned over. That was the fun part. The tortuous part was competing in the Steel Shoe Fund three-hour endurance race. The course spanned 6.75 miles, and we wouldn’t see the course layout until the green flag dropped! As crazy as it sounds, that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was the high temperature for the day was 5 degrees!
None of us were prepared for weather this cold, which made the race truly frightening. I could feel the early warning signs of frostbite taking over my fingers, and the slush from the other bikes tearing up the ice became too thick for the metal spikes in the tires to break through, creating very slippery conditions. I just wanted to survive.
At the end of it, Tom and I laughed at what we had just put ourselves through. Despite the scare we had going racing, riding on ice is definitely a ton of fun and something I’d love to do again. Next time in slightly warmer weather.
Without a doubt, interviewing Michael Czysz, and revealing his condition to the world, has been the most meaningful story I’ve written. I first met him several years ago as he was an instructor at a riding school I had attended. We kept in touch through emails or text messages from time to time, but when I heard news of his cancer diagnosis I was completely gutted. I’ll never understand why he allowed me, of all people, to be the one to tell his final story, but I’ll forever be appreciative of the opportunity.
You can read the story above if you haven’t already. It never was, nor was it supposed to be about me, but for just this once, I’ll share some thoughts of mine from my time with him. Simply being in his presence was difficult for me. Seeing him so thin, so frail, so alone, was gut wrenching. He was truly happy to have me at his house simply so he could have someone to talk to and tell stories.
Throughout the interview process I wondered all along if he was being honest with me or simply boasting about his accomplishments. As cruel as it sounds, I figured if I could somehow get him to shed a tear, then I’d know he was coming from a place of honesty. As any parent can relate to, once he started talking about his children, he couldn’t contain his emotions any longer. That’s when I knew he was being real with me. We covered a lot of ground during my stay, and there is plenty I kept out of the story. The hardest part for me was writing the piece, knowing I was basically writing an obituary about someone who was creeping closer towards death. Worse yet, I wrote the piece on my own birthday, with the juxtaposition of celebrating life while mourning impending death all weighing on my mind.
Now that Michael Czysz is gone, I look back at this story and wonder what was going through his mind during those last days. Had any of his positions changed? Was he at peace? I don’t know. What I do know is that stories like these are what fuel me as a moto-journalist. As I’ve said before, it’s the people I find more interesting than the motorcycles, and being able to share this story with you will go down as my favorite memory from my time at MO. Thanks for coming along for the ride.