Duke's Den - A Decade At The Helm

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

Looking back on 10 years as MO's Editor-in-Chief

The past decade has brought about radical changes around the world. During this epoch, not only has America elected its first black president (and first orangey one), motorcyclists have been introduced to a plethora of ground-breaking new technology. Back in 2007, traction-control systems and ride-by-wire throttles were just coming on line, and things like semi-active suspensions, IMUs and Cornering ABS were unheard of from production motorcycles.

Meanwhile, there was a moto battle going on in the online publishing industry. Motorcycle.com has the longest history among motorcycle websites, as it was inaugurated by visionary founder Brent Plummer in 1994, a time when web browsers (like Mosaic and Netscape) were only in their gestational phase. If riders were interested in getting motorcycle information on the web in the 1990s, MO was pretty much the only place to go.

Ask MO Anything: Why is MO called MO anyway?

I was slow on the internet uptake, scoffing at the lack of credibility prevalent on the web while I continued to add to my library of reputable and beautiful motorcycle magazines. The print and web worlds collided for me during the autumn of 1997 when I attended the first “press” (as in printing press, before we became “media”) introduction of my budding motojournalism career.

I had recently joined the masthead of “the world’s largest streetbike publication,” Motorcyclist magazine, and I must admit to looking down my nose at seeing reps from Motorcycle.com (or Motorcycle Online as it was known at that time) at the 1998 CBR900RR’s launch. I remember thinking: “What were these interlopers doing at my press intro?” It turned out that Plummer could bomb around the racetrack faster than pompous ol’ me, and he had considerable knowledge about motorcycles, too. Drats!

That’s me and John Burns toiling away in the salt mines 20 years ago! Photo by Kevin Wing.

Still, in my eyes, an e-zine like MO was just a pale imitation of print media, the gold standard in motojournalism, and it was surely just a passing fad that would soon fade into obscurity.

Funny thing is, I was hired away from a print rag about four years later to run a competing e-zine. Motorcycle-USA.com took me on to bring a level of professionalism to online content and motorcycle reviews, bringing the fight to the MOron establishment which continued its beloved angle of irreverence and humor. At that stage, MO was the established player among webzines, even going so far as to hire my former office neighbor at Motorcyclist, John Burns, as an erstwhile editorial adversary.

The step from print to digital wasn’t at all easy. Media reps at OEMs were far less likely to return calls and dole out test bikes, let alone send invites to motorcycle launches, but before too long MCUSA and MO were going head to head in the battle for web supremacy. The staff members of each remained cordial and appreciated what the other was doing, but beneath the friendly smiles was an intense digital rivalry to be rated as the top-tier webzine by OEMs. Meanwhile, we were duct-taping video cameras to fuel tanks and helmets in primitive attempts to deliver moving pictures and sounds to our leading-edge readers.

I’m at the dragstrip trying to cut a good E.T. during a MotoUSA supersport shootout. MO’s Publisher and Editor in Chief back then, Sean Alexander, tries to subvert my efforts.

By 2006, MotoUSA had become a legitimate player in the moto-publishing field, with invites to bike launches even occasionally coming at the expense of print publications. Meanwhile, MO entered a new phase at the beginning of 2006, with Gabe Ets-Hokin taking the reins after Sean Alexander left for a lucrative position in the PR field.

A new page was turned in December, 2006, when its original owner finally gave in to offers for the website, allowing VerticalScope, Inc. to become the new owner of Motorcycle.com. At that time, MO was using an antiquated web layout, so relaunching the site on a new platform was a prime focus for VS. Concurrently, the new owner was looking for an experienced editor to bring its headlining property to the next level of online publishing about motorcycles.

That’s how I was invited to a meeting with VS’s founder, Rob Laidlaw, to discuss my vision for online moto publishing. He must’ve been pleased enough with our conversation, because in April 2007 I became MO’s Editor-in-Chief (and, at the same time, a new father). I was lucky to have staffers Alfonse Palaima and Pete Brissette under my newly fluttered wings, and together we soon launched MO 2.0, a redesigned website.

Welcome to the brand-spankin’ new MO 2.0!

So, once again I was challenged with bringing an e-zine to the top of the moto field. This time I had to do it against competition for which I had worked diligently during the previous five years to beat the publication I was now helming, and I somehow had to succeed with a smaller budget. Oh, and to do it all without the social and equipment benefits of a shared workspace.

Ah, the Travertson V-REX, the most outlandish motorcycle I’ve ever ridden, reviewed almost a decade ago.

An obsession with keeping costs low has helped to ensure that MO has remained a successful operation while others have drifted into obscurity. Anyone remember 2WF.com? Sadly, Moto-USA could no longer compete and went out of business last year.

Unfortunately, there’s a few MOrons who no longer work here. The lovable “Fonzie” Palaima, a wonderfully capable photographer, good guy and excellent rider, left to pursue a freelance career. Brissette, my do-it-all editor and another great fellow, opted for a more lucrative and steady gig as a transportation driver for the film industry. Jeff Cobb came and went fairly quickly, but he carries on today at another VS property, HybridCars.com. Similarly, Jon Langston had a relatively short tenure before moving along. Mike Maez was such a brilliant photo/videographer that he was enticed to move on to greener and less-stressful pastures after less than a year.

Pete Brissette (left) and Fonzie (behind the lens) are missed around here. Whatever success I’ve enjoyed at MO, most of it has been attributable to the terrific people who have endured my stewardship.

But these vacancies have created coveted spots at MO for the fantastic staffers filling up our virtual masthead. Tom Roderick was the first new blood to join the crew, followed closely by Troy Siahaan and then Evans Brasfield. In 2013, Sean Alexander rejoined MO as Editorial Director of VerticalScope’s powersports publications, including MO. He swung enough weight to entice the bean counters to bust the budget and hire John Burns – one of my favorite motojournalists of all-time – to reconnect with his MOron roots. Thankfully, Dennis Chung has remained an integral part of MO as our news editor and back-end tech expert since 2008.

Duke’s Den – Courtship Of Editors

Much has changed over the course of the past 10 years, but we’re happy to have maintained an online relationship with many of our readers from the pre-VS era, such as Kenneth Moore, MO-ron and Buzglyd. Each of them provides smart and knowledgeable comments, which I suppose should be expected after reading MO for a decade or more! And when we get a comment like the following quote from reader John B., well, it makes me tremendously proud: “I visit MO every day because I know I will find great content created with enthusiasm and passion. That’s the highest praise I can give.”

Anyone thinking I might’ve been around my job long enough to lose my affinity for riding motorcycles should see this shot of me earlier this month.

Ironically to the guy who once poo-pooed internet publishing, Motorcycle.com now has a deeper editorial masthead than the glossy magazines I once aspired to join. So, with the best staff of journalists in the business, it became time to fill the final hole in the masthead with the recent hiring of a videographer.

We’ve been working closely with James Martinec for more than a year, and with the video component of online publishing being critical to any web success, we’re thrilled to have James join our crew. The quality of his work has been exceptional, elevating our ability to bring stimulating moving pictures and audio to the eyes and ears of readers/viewers across the globe.

And now it’s 2017, a full decade after I first became a MOron and turned my back on jobs that were limited to just 40 or so hours a week. With my big nose pressed firmly to the grindstone, the pace of progress is sometimes difficult to track. But thinking back on the state of MO a decade ago puts a bright perspective on how far we’ve come together. Motorcycle.com isn’t just a nice web resource, I believe it’s the best outlet to find motorbike information and reviews anywhere you care to look.

As the old adage says, if you love your job, you never have to go to work again. Which isn’t to be confused with being on vacation. Back to work!

Gotta fill my bucket. I’m not giving up at least until manufacturers again offer rides on their Grand Prix racers!

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Kevin Duke
Kevin Duke

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4 of 38 comments
  • Butch Schultz Butch Schultz on Apr 22, 2017

    So I give up, which one is the "Orangey One"

    • James Stewart James Stewart on Apr 23, 2017

      Trump is kinda Orangey - could he be a foreign agent, secretly supported by KTM?

  • SRMark SRMark on Apr 24, 2017

    I've been readying MO for a very long time. You've done a great job of keeping the content and format relevant. But most of all, keep it fun. To me this is what differentiates you folks from the rest.