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Andre LaPlante | Ep. 42 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

MotoVentures Andre LaPlante Episode 42 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast
Andre LaPlante of MotoVentures

Our guest on Episode 42 of the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast is Andre LaPlante, who runs MotoVentures, an off-road training school started in 1998 by his father, Gary LaPlante. Andre has worked in the motorcycle industry for 20 years in various sales, marketing, and advertising roles, including 16 years at Cobra Engineering. He has raced motocross and competed in trials for 30 years, and he took 3rd place at the 2022 BMW GS Trophy Qualifier West. Andre is also a U.S. Motorcycle Coaching Association (USMCA) certified instructor. During this episode, we talk about MotoVenture’s “dirt first” philosophy and the value of off-road training for motorcyclists of all ages. Even if you are a street rider, you can learn valuable skills that will help you ride more confidently.

We also talk about Andre’s father, Gary LaPlante, a long-time motorcycle industry veteran who started and ran MotoVentures for many years and wrote the book How to Ride Off-Road Motorcycles. Gary is battling brain cancer, and we encourage listeners to show their support by signing up for training with MotoVentures, buying Gary’s book, or visiting his GoFundMe page and making a donation to help defray his significant medical expenses. Andre is a down-to-earth motorcycle enthusiast who is carrying on his father’s legacy of training people how to be better riders. That’s an effort we applaud and fully support.

You can listen to Episode 42 on iTunesSpotify, and SoundCloud, or via the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast webpage. Please subscribe, leave us a 5-star rating, and tell your friends! Scroll down for a list of previous episodes.

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The post Andre LaPlante | Ep. 42 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Himalayan Cliffhanger | Riding India’s Death Road

Himalayan Cliffhanger Riding India's Death Road
A first glimpse at the Cliffhanger, with the majestic pine tree forests of Kishtwar, Jammu, and Kashmir, towering above.

They call it the Cliffhanger. As one of India’s most dangerous and deadly roads, it is a real treat for the experienced motorbike rider. The unpaved route, which is part of National Highway 26, connects two states, joining the towering forests of Kishtwar in the state of Jammu and Kashmir to Killar in the pristine Pangi Valley in Himachal Pradesh. Due to the difficulty and risks involved, this is one of the lesser traveled routes in the Himalayas.

The hazardous, narrow, and spine-chilling road snakes nearly 150 miles around the edge of a steep-walled gorge, much of it hacked out of a stone cliff face, hence its nickname. Through a series of harrowing switchbacks and slopes, the Cliffhanger climbs from 5,374 feet in Kishtwar to 8,091 feet in Killar. A sheer drop on one side could plunge a rider 2,000 feet down into the mighty Chenab River should they make even the smallest of errors. It’s not for the faint of heart.

The gorge carved out by the Chenab River, which churns 2,000 feet below the precarious road.

I had already ventured across uniquely difficult roads in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh aboard my 2009 Royal Enfield Machismo 350. Purchased secondhand from a small shop in Goa, I named her Ullu, after Goddess Lakshmi’s steed in Indian mythology, a white owl that she rides into battle.

Ullu and I had been on many journeys together around India and experienced our fair share of breakdowns. She boasted a twice-welded frame, a starter with a mind of its own, and a fondness for breaking tappet rods. A lack of motorcycle mechanics in the backcountry meant a bit of risk, but I was undeterred.

Several of the roads Ullu and I had ridden were touted as the highest passes in not just India but in the entire world, so claimed by bikers in immaculate road gear with selfie-sticks attached to their full-face helmets and stickers affixed to their bikes listing the names of their latest conquests. In my waterproof jacket and Wellington boots, open-face helmet and face scarf, torn jeans and strap-on knee pads, I stood in stark contrast to the other bikers.

Himalayan Cliffhanger Riding India's Death Road
Hairpin bends and switchbacks add to the challenge – and the fun!

Riders I passed on these roads wore leather-clad and armored bike gear that makes them look 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide but when removed, revealed either a tiny, skinny Indian or someone who was, in fact, 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. In a land of plentiful chapati bread, either is possible.

Though I had done minimal research, I had an idea of what I was about to face. Whispered-about routes discussed over a plate of dal in roadside dhabas are not to be sniffed at. If you follow the breadcrumbs, there are rare rewards to reap.

Interesting hazards presented challenges on my previous trips in northern India, such as metal hooks and nails protruding from the road surface, and thin, silky sand which often whipped up into one’s eyes and robbed tires of grip, snaking across the darkening roads like a subtle cobra, making riders wobble and flounder on steep corners. The lipped edges of most Indian roads I had encountered were uneven and hid all manner of surprises, from barbed wire to broken whiskey bottles, even downed electrical wires.

Himalayan Cliffhanger Riding India's Death Road
Sections with fine, powdery sand make the Cliffhanger feel even more loose and uncertain. The margin for error is razor thin!

What unexpected tricks would the Cliffhanger have up its sleeve?

It was the day after my 33rd birthday, and I could think of no better gift to myself than this trip. There is no greater thrill than risking your life on high ledges, of pushing yourself to exhaustion, of handling a heavy machine and guiding her up the dodgiest of inclines, your whole life on your luggage rack, knowing that at any moment a brief loss of focus or a sweaty-gripped mistake could cost you everything.

Given Ullu’s penchant for breakdowns, I promised a bar full of bikers that I would not attempt the Cliffhanger alone. Joining me was my partner, John Gaisford, on his 2012 Royal Enfield Electra, named Pushkarini after the gorgeous stone baths at the edges of many Indian temples.

Himalayan Cliffhanger Riding India's Death Road
The author aboard a heavily laden Ullu, her 2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Machismo. On the left is John Gaisford’s 2013 Bullet Electra, nicknamed Pushkarini.

Having heard so much about this road, I was expecting a little more from the entrance than an idle earthmover and a nondescript road marker. But it turned out that the road, post-monsoon, was under serious construction and cordoned off. Passage was restricted to only one hour, twice a day.

We waited in a dhaba that would, at the end of the road, rob me of two days of riding thanks to some sketchy tap water. We met two other bikers there who fit my earlier description. Their bikes – KTM RC 200 and Yamaha FZ250 sportbikes – were loaded with the latest technology and gear, but it soon became apparent that they had no idea what they were about to attempt.

Himalayan Cliffhanger Riding India's Death Road
The author at the starting line, with the Enfields (Ullu and Pushkarini), a Yamaha FZ250, and a KTM RC 200.

I suspected that the sports nature of their bikes and street-biased tires made for speed on good roads could cost them dearly on those slippery corners should that famous sand appear. I had seen similar bikes stuck in precarious situations on my journeys through India, usually in the mud. The Machismo, heavy and dependable, had seen me across many a difficult road surface. Though, what its new grippy back tire giveth, the heavily loaded luggage rack taketh away.

John and I rode back to the checkpoint to line up behind a fraying rope with the pristine-looking bikers, who must have thought us quite alien with our well-worn bikes covered in road grit and dust. Someone finally let down the rope, and we cheered. I was the first out of the gate, grinning widely. Being a woman in the lead on the oldest bike in the group is about as empowering as it gets, and I believe it sets an example that women belong on motorcycles.

With the other Himalayan high-pass roads I had ridden, it took time to reach sections that filled me with a sense of impending doom, the catch-your-breath sections, the parts for which I wish I had one of those idiotic head cameras after all, to capture those moments in all their glory. But not the Cliffhanger. It was a lump-in-my-throat challenge right away as my front tire rolled over crumbling rock. A video would never do this road justice.

Himalayan Cliffhanger Riding India's Death Road
The author and Ullu teetering on the outer edge.

After five minutes, I was laughing maniacally, calling out to no one that could hear me that I was going to die, my wheels nonsensically guided by shaking hands and a fast-beating heart, which pumped like my Enfield’s engine, loud and roaring. In my mirrors I caught sight of the KTM sliding haphazardly, as predicted, from side to side along the terrain, and I quickly refocused my attention on the broken road.

The drops were something else. You know how when someone tells you that they have been on a high road, and it was steep? When someone says they scaled a sheer cliff face, it is usually exaggerated – or in fact true, but with at least a guardrail or signs around the edges or a lay-by to pull over and take photographs, usually named something romantic like Sunset Point. The Cliffhanger offered no signs, no railings, and no relief.

Himalayan Cliffhanger Riding India's Death Road
The author and Ullu navigate a section of the Cliffhanger covered in slippery sand. The edges are crumbly, ready to fall away.

Whilst trying to get a photo of the cliff, I sat at the edge for a second and knocked a rock with my boot. Seconds later, part of the cliff fell off where my foot had been, and I scrambled back, praying no one had seen me be so foolish. After experiencing this incredible road, falling accidentally off the edge because I could not get the correct angle for a photograph did not seem quite as glorious as plunging to my death atop my Enfield.

The cliff I had been so keen to capture was one of many stunning examples, overhanging, cavernous, and beautifully shaped, with sharp angles and grotesque claw-like edges. Riding through and under these felt like being in a fantasy movie like Labyrinth or Lord of the Rings. Living it was something else entirely.

Himalayan Cliffhanger Riding India's Death Road
Due to the high altitude, some vehicles needed a push after stopping for photos.

There was nowhere to stop for a water break, no chadar tents for food. The track was about the width of one 4×4, with few places where it felt reasonably safe to enjoy the mesmerizing view. The temperature was chilly in the shadows, but the sun when overhead burned down on us. We pressed on, doing our best to enjoy the terrain, sometimes hearing the odd scream of frustration or achievement of the other in front or behind.

It was a long day. Eventually the desert-stone rocky paths of the gorge gave way to the lush green pine trees of the valley. As darkness fell, Ullu’s weak headlight did little to illuminate whatever hazards lay ahead.

Himalayan Cliffhanger Riding India's Death Road
The author squeezes underneath the overhanging cliffs while giving way to a local man and his cow.

As the road smoothed out, I stopped alone to switch off the engine and experience the silence all around me. I felt, as is often the case when in the heart of the Himalayas, that I was completely and utterly alone. In our busy world where we long for tranquility, there is no feeling like it.

The road ended as unremarkably as it had begun. The KTM and Yamaha had made it too, and they finally passed us, speeding off into the blackness, with John and me exchanging knowing smiles. Royal Enfield likes to say its bikes are “built like a gun,” and ours had certainly set the standard. I gave Ullu a once-over. Her cracked fork had held out, but the front mudguard had not; the next morning, it would be wrenched off entirely by a surly bunch of local mechanics.

The Cliffhanger had been a test of both rider and bike. I remembered with a smile all the bikers I had met on the way whose suspensions had given out on roads nowhere near as treacherous, making a mental note to treat Ullu to an oil change when we got home, grateful as I was for her. Together, we had beaten the odds.

The Cliffhanger, taxing in effort and mesmerizing in beauty, was a journey by which I will measure every other motorcycle expedition. It was like a roller coaster with just the right amount of thrill but not so much it makes you nauseous. The Cliffhanger left me wanting to do it all over again.

Himalayan Cliffhanger Riding India's Death Road
The author with her feet up on Ullu after both conquered the Cliffhanger.

Ellie Cooper is passionate about inspiring other women to ride motorcycles. She taught herself to ride in India, and she has explored the country on her secondhand Royal Enfield. Cooper is the author of Waiting for Mango Season, available now, and she writes for various online publications about travel, adventure, and relationships. You can connect with her on Twitter (@Ellydevicooper) or visit her website EllieCooperBooks.com.

The post Himalayan Cliffhanger | Riding India’s Death Road first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Connected | Chance Encounters on the Slimey Crud Run

Connected Chance Encounters on the Slimey Crud Run
A large crowd gathers for the biannual Slimey Crud Run in Wisconsin. Photos by the author.

This essay first appeared in Motorcycles Are Magic: An Anthology, edited by Melissa Holbrook Pierson with assistance from George Sarrinikolaou and published in 2021 by 10mm Socket Press. Pierson, the author, participates in the legendary Slimey Crud Run and explores how motorcyclists stay connected, intended or not.

The invitation to dinner might have been a spring petal on the wind, gone by unseen in the turn of a head. How did I manage to hear the ding of the incoming text, even as it mimicked a tone identical to the imperative summons of the hotel desk bell, over the layered noise of so much coming and going? It configured itself from the molecules of the air of the bar at the airport Chili’s, where I sat killing two hours between flights. The name of the person who had issued it was “Jeff,” to whom I’d been “introduced,” also by text, that morning. He was the vague someone I was told would help procure a bike for me to ride in the vaguely understood run I’d attend the day after I gave a talk at the Black Earth Library. This was the reason I was downing Sam Adams in the first place in the Chicago airport en route to Wisconsin.

RELATED: Melissa Holbrook Pierson: Ep. 9 of the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

The earth was, indeed, black in southern Wisconsin. This startling notion would pierce my thoughts only after 10 continuous miles of passing it. Sometimes I don’t pay attention to the obvious. It pays attention to me.

Thank you, I had typed back: It looks unlikely, since my connecting flight was just delayed by 45 min., and unless you are eating on European time, it doesn’t look like I’ll make it.

“These guys are old. They eat at 7:30. You could check the menu online, give me your order, and the food won’t arrive till 8 anyway.”

Although I could probably make it by 8, truth be told just the thought of walking into a restaurant, asking where I might locate a table of strangers, explaining myself and then making small talk, made me tired. More precisely, exhausted, to the point of panting. I have an internal timer ticking down the minutes I can be in the company of others before an insensible need to get away whispers urgently Go, run! This is when the Fairfield Suites sings its Siren’s song, urging me toward the soothing deja-vu of anonymity. I could already feel the upswelling of relief loosed by the appearance of the green light after sliding the key card through the door lock: the lighthouse’s lone beacon. Through the stormy spray it promised safe harbor beyond the treacherous rocks of engaging, smiling, the effort of looking interested. I hang on to the rope that after so long is about to burn itself into my palm and I can feel I am about to let go. All I can think about is the comforting embrace of the bed it seems I have known all my life, with its marshalled pillows stacked in predictable order, and the Corian-countered bathroom that represents coming home again, only to a well-cleaned one. Its washcloth-folded-corner identicality will finally activate the exhale of distress withheld while communing with others of my species.

Connected Chance Encounters on the Slimey Crud Run
A borrowed ride is a forever friend.

Then the late plane lands at the exact hour assigned to the on-time plane. As if the reason I too might be late had run backwards, time itself accordioning to something that had already been arranged. My phone’s map, asked to show the destination provided by Jeff, returns the arrival time. 7:30. Precisely. The restaurant is placed directly on the route to the hotel. I am being ordered to Smokey’s Steakhouse.

RELATED: Writers and Riders: Meeting Melissa Holbrook Pierson and John Ryan

The minute the door opens I see the oracle knows me well. It is the kind of place I live for. Not for the food – I had to order salads in steakhouses, or potatoes – but for the chance to walk into the past, where it has been kept safe so we may breathe its lost air in the present. We are to laugh and order drinks from within circles of warm yellow light yielding to a velvety dark just beyond, mysterious shadows that are not so much the result of low light in dark panelled rooms but of accumulated layers of happiness. We are to dine in our own history.

At the front desk I ask where I might find the motorcyclists, most of whom are without motorcycles on a cold, wet night. I had thought this would pose some difficulty. Instead I hear my name. And “Right this way.”

We pass the bar where under festive string lights people order exotic Midwestern beers that have likewise been preserved unchanged since another time, the one that existed before the need to make new versions of what had been discarded without a second thought. The nearest we get now is a label with a carefully researched font, designed last week.

Connected Chance Encounters on the Slimey Crud Run
Before the run, a favorite activity commences. During and after it, too.

We head toward a private room in the back. As we go he tells me how his parents opened this supper club 63 years ago. Also that the Slimey Cruds eat here regularly. It is odd to feel such a pang on hearing the word “regularly.” There is nothing I have longed for more than a group of people to whom I could belong, where I might at last lay down a weary load. I most want what I fear most: to be with others, regularly.

The Slimey Cruds are people who appreciate legacy in all its forms. This old place, their old group, their old bikes especially, the European café racers that defined cool to a generation of yore. Like the brews here, their bikes are originals from before the era of nostalgia fetish, not a simulacrum of old – only with fuel injection and ABS (real spoke wheels though) – but genuine old. Lovingly polished, that’s all. In need of no reimagining because the original imagination was wholly sufficient.

I know none of the people arrayed around the U-shaped table. I spy one empty chair, at a corner. In moments like these I engage an old foe, a formidable prizefighter who is good at throwing a hook I never see coming. The sharp sting from the broken septimal cartilage floods my body with shock.

Or rather, I smile. It is a preemptive feint against humiliation, the punch I fear is coming. I sit in the empty chair and arrange my expression. I watch the butter, study the far wall. I turn to the man to my left just as he turns to me.

“Jeff,” he says. Then, “Glad to finally meet you.” But I’m looking into the eyes of someone whose story I have helped live, someone I’ve known all my life. The only seat at the table had to be next to Jeff.

Connected Chance Encounters on the Slimey Crud Run
Man’s best friend – that goes for both the bike and the dog.

The woman to my right extends her hand, gives her name. I know her too. But in a more conventional way: she is an officer of the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America, a club of which I am a member. She organized a panel on which I participated at a national rally. I had no idea she lived in Madison, much less that she would end up next to me at a dinner I came close to passing by. Her husband, next to her, leans over and tells me he had reviewed my first book years ago. In a few minutes he will stand and raise his glass to me with a quote from that review. After some more toasts everyone will turn their attention to plates of hash browns, served family style.

Jeff starts talking, ignoring the clam chowder in front of him (the menu’s alternative is tomato juice, a choice I last saw when I was 10). What he says is of course familiar, since I have spent days and weeks in his company. He’s at every gathering; we meet on the road and hanging around in shops. We speak often on the phone, as he’s one of those I turn to in times of need – of opinions, of answers. He knows so much about so much. It’s a small detail, almost beneath mentioning, that we’ve never met. I know already he is the type who has no time to waste prevaricating because he’s been in enough tough scrapes, in foreign countries, alone, had ties severed to loved ones through all the usual ways people go away, lots of loss under the bridge. He never spends a second talking bullshit because that would be a second lost to living. That’s why I always go to him. He reveals he owns 20 bikes; of course. I knew that. He shows me his phone. There’s a picture of his Mike Hailwood replica in the desert of Moab taken the week before, a surreal flash of red and green posing in the scrub like the looker she is.

At age 45, he went to law school so he could finance a life in which riding takes preeminence. By practicing law for six months, he earns enough to ride the other half of the year. Ride anywhere he wants.

Living is mainly about losing and I’ve lived very little, I think as I listen to Jeff’s stories. Sometimes it’s blood. (He is limping currently.) There’s losing things, getting lost, losing people, losing houses and money and your way, and then leaning back on a couch in your skivvies, rain-soaked gear having been peeled off, transforming these stories into Homeric poetry in front of a group of people who have just gotten off bikes too.

Connected Chance Encounters on the Slimey Crud Run
This very old-looking Olds is actually contemporary custom built around a 1970s Honda XL350.

There must be a story about the missing tooth, but I haven’t heard that one yet. His smile is warm and takes you in.

And in. I excuse myself from dinner – the others will stay, apparently until this day becomes the next – almost desperate for the Fairfield but glad I lashed myself to the mast earlier. I have become smaller and smaller as my reserves were sucked out through a tiny aperture and now I need solitude and the ice machine and a chocolate chip cookie from a tray near the effervescent desk clerk, always happy to see me and say the same thing each time the door slides open. “Welcome to the Fairfield!”

As I leave Jeff too pushes back his chair. He tries to limp as fast as I walk, as if it doesn’t matter. It matters. I slow down, much as I don’t want to since my car is at the back of the lot and I don’t know why he’s coming out here in the first place and it puts me at 90 seconds’ disadvantage for the elevator to relief, I mean my room.

On the way he diverts our path briefly toward a great white extended Mercedes Sprinter van. What else. It can hold bikes and everything else you need while waiting for the destination, the signal to go past. He reaches in. “I’m going to give you my GPS. That way you can just press the home button and it will take you to my house so you can pick up a bike on Sunday.” He hands me the ruby slippers. And then a backup pair in case the GPS doesn’t work: by the time I’ve turned the ignition on the rental car a text pings. His address.

Riding so much, alone, in foreign parts, and in places far from people (the farther the better), requires installation of new software in the brain, a program that makes you think of everything. In fact the GPS would not work, wouldn’t let me in. But two mornings later the address from his text would be the north star guiding me out of the city into the countryside, winding through gentle hills and into what appears to be nowhere, which is naturally where Jeff would live.

Connected Chance Encounters on the Slimey Crud Run
What communal ride doesn’t mean having an Adventure?

Before this, however, there is an intervening 24 hours. If this wonderment has happened tonight, what will occur tomorrow? First, the talk at the library to which five people or 50 may come, and maybe what I plan to say will please them or it will bore them. Then, as I understand it, a motorcycle movie at night. In fact I don’t know what tomorrow will hold, what black earth will belatedly appear.

I always thought Kismet was a place. Actually, it is, a few of them. The one on Fire Island represents it well, being a bit of Atlantic beach I visited as a teen. Ergo, kismet.

It is also another term for “the will of Allah,” and predestination is Allah’s thing. The will of Allah might well have another name: this wondrous place. Here I am no longer in charge. It is sweet to relinquish the semblance of control, that which dogs me and bites me and wearies me all at once. Here I meet people and on looking into their eyes for the first time hear a voice in my head that contradicts unimpeachable evidence. “I’ve known you all my life.” But that’s strange. You live in Richmond, Madison, Milwaukee, Seattle. This is the first time I’ve been here. Yet here I am looking at you now and I’ve always known you.

A weird sensation that touches me only in this world. It is replete with its own colors and language and atmospheric disturbances. It is a separate cosmos, hidden within the one everybody thinks is the only one. Its portal looks nondescript, just another rusty door, but this is just to hide the gilded paradise that waits on the other side.

Motorcycling. It’s like a living Watteau, sunshine and pinks, flying swings and satin whispering to the air. Every day a fête galante of baroque sensuality, though there’s black grease under the fingernails and a pocket torn half off the FirstGear jacket. (Happened one memorable day long ago in Baja. Or maybe Alaska? On the Haul Road.)

It is raining. The librarian has stationed long tables outside the room, above them signs reading “Motorcycle Helmet Parking.” Clever. Of course there are helmets there. There always will be in a place like this no matter the weather, for the people who cannot do anything but ride.

Connected Chance Encounters on the Slimey Crud Run
A miniature bike ridden by a giant.

I stand before the room of people and talk. I read a poem called “Coda: Road.” Road is always the coda to the story called road. I am taken out for lunch by some riders who have come from Chicago.

I have half an hour in my generic hotel room of solace, after hours of parley with those of my kind who never quite seem exactly like me – they are all connected to others, and to the world, in ways I ache to be, like the child wishing hard on the other side of the pane from the brand-new Flexible Flyers or the cupcakes with frosting towers and sugar flowers – before I must reattach prosthetic wings. In the neverending rain I drive into the heart of Madison. There’s the Barrymore Theater, but ah – here’s the parking space. It’s so far away I get lost and soaking trying to find my way back on foot.

I arrive on time for the beginning of the movie even though I should have missed it. This is a trend in the magical land that is Wisconsin. I have time to buy a beer in the lobby and retreat to a pilaster which will be my spine. I stand tall and invisible, watching clots of motorcyclists gesticulate, laugh, confer. (My tribe, to which I both belong and do not, composed as it is of humans.) The group is especially tight in Madison, a family of a few hundred.

In the ’70s, a couple of university grads noticed each other, or, more to the point, each other’s bikes. When you see someone riding your type – a Triumph, a Ducati, a CB750 – you recognize a kinship that goes deeper than mere DNA. And when you’re doing it in the same environment that sorely tests the person who loves to ride that motorcycle, denied during the long months of ice and wind blowing off the lakes (both small and Great), the recognition is like solder, hot and fast.

They got together to ride and wrench. Information was exchanged, in garages and over dinners. Next, necessarily, came the name: any loosely affiliated group of motorcyclists is a gang, in the eyes of the outside world. Up to no good.

Connected Chance Encounters on the Slimey Crud Run
Variety is the spice of motorcycling life.

This group of intellectual hell-raisers, who in truth did like to ride fast – why else fall in love with metal beings in whose veins flows the blood of born racers? why else ponder the depths of carburetor jetting and aftermarket exhausts, ratios of bore and stroke? – decided to give the public what they wanted. What moniker would best suit these exemplars of the anti-social’s lowest rank? The Slimey Cruds it would be. A little in-joke. Next they would put on a run, where they might show the townspeople who really owned the roads, their slow-rolling thunder implicit warning.

Or not. Because the run is no run at all: you find your own way between Pine Bluff and Leland. Together, but apart. It’s 30 miles. So your run might take the better part of the day; there is no such thing as a straight line in a motorcyclist’s desires. There is wandering, exploration, and chance. There is time stretching to whatever length the way demands.

When you meet again, a thousand machines will be parked side by side in a roadside museum of individualism. The old, the painstakingly restored, the elegant and the rare – and sometimes all of these in one: the one you love to ride, and the one others love to pause to eye and imagine these lonely, embraceable curves on. (For that is the real secret of Madison and its diehard riders – their personal possession of endless roads through some of the most heartbreaking scenery in all America.)

Showing a movie the night before the run is the ritual warm-up to this riding-season warm-up; the next run, for it is a biannual event, will mark the end of the season four months later in October. It is not unusual for it to snow, or be cold enough anyway. Tomorrow it will also feel cold enough.

Connected Chance Encounters on the Slimey Crud Run
The obligatory scenic stop for a photo of new friends.

I overhear one man say to another, “That bike saved my life,” followed by knowing laughter. All that needs to be said, multivalent meaning. I know all the levels instantly, intimately. Bikes saved my life too. And gave me this one. Now comes a temporary pause in the beer-drinking portion of the evening. It will resume at intermission. I enter and find a seat alone. The lights go down and the movie begins to roll. It tells the story of a New Zealander who was crazy enough to hand-build a race bike from the ground up. Its design is revolutionary. He works on it night and day. He brings it to America to compete in the Battle of the Twins; there is crisis and devastation and triumph and death (Isle of Man, of course) and more triumph, amid continuous mind-bending work and invention. Then the New Zealander is dead at age 45, of cancer. Now 10 of his bikes remain in the world, frozen forever at some indeterminate point in the progress toward perfection. There will never be any more, so individual an object they are. The man who was their beating heart is gone, and they are like Lenin’s embalmed corpse: at once his monument and his requiem mass. The one that got away.

I feel Jeff behind me. I know he’s there even if I don’t see him in the dark. At intermission I do, and I move to sit one row in front of him. I hear his voice, first to one side and then the other. Making plans with his cohort: What time will you be over? Yeah, not sure what I’ll ride. So-and-so is bringing the truck at 9. She’s coming a little later.

“You’re coming at 10, right?” Right, I say. The lights go down again.

The next morning I pass through a cattle gate left ajar at the end of the driveway to Jeff’s farm. The place is well hidden. It is also Penn Station for motorcyclists. There are five or six bikes on a concrete pad outside what looks like an old dairy barn; a Quonset hut on the other side of the farmyard holds what must be the rest of the stable. I had overheard one of Jeff’s friends answer a question from someone the night before: “Well, if you’re counting frames too, then I have around 40 bikes. I think.”

I have my choice of two specimens from the early ’70s, a Moto Guzzi Eldorado or a BMW slash-5, the second of which a friend of Jeff’s is just unloading from a van. Its shiny chrome with insets gave rise to a perfect nickname, Toaster Tank. Ask and ye shall receive. As I get out of the car another friend arrives, a gentlemanly writer who is a celebrity in the motorsports world who will later tell me about the happenstance that led to his career, one sheaf of typescript fluttering to earth and caught by these hands, not those. Decades later, he is known to millions. What might have happened to him otherwise? He does not know. Pure chance has a central role in deciding everything of moment.

We are getting ready to go. I’m standing in the kitchen – I have seen places like this before, where unmarried men live, and the bottle of bourbon is always in the same spot next to the sink, the same old grease giving the patina of history to the stove, dishes from yesterday or last month in the same leaning tower on the counter – and I ask Jeff if I might use his bathroom. He points to the front door. “There’s no bathroom.” Oh, I say. My brain automatically scrambles to make a sensible narrative out of facts suddenly tumbling as if during an accident: What happened here?

Connected Chance Encounters on the Slimey Crud Run
The difficult choice between two hardy classics, in front of a true motorcyclist’s cabinet of mysteries.

For now it’s a simple matter of disappearing into the brush behind the garbage cans.

But how does one go without a bathroom at night, in the winter, when there are houseguests? How does one live without a bathroom?

One lives to ride.

When Jeff is on his big dual-sport with the enormous plastic gas tank that drapes the frame like saddlebags on a camel, carrying enough fuel to take him ever deeper into unpeopled regions, even the concept of a bathroom is unnecessary, a word in a defunct language. You learn to live without what you no longer need. He tells me the house he bought when he was younger, an old farmhouse, burned down a couple years ago and with it everything he owned. His history, that of his family. His books and his music and his memories. It taught him something, about the impermanence of things and their ultimate irrelevance. That the lesson was grotesquely painful was a testament to its necessity. Now he lives in what was the old farm’s chicken coop.

As we head toward Pine Bluff, motorcycles thicken. They pass us, shoom. We pass them, on the side of the road, in the other lane, in gas stations. The highest concentration occurs in the parking lot of a big barn of a bar – inside are coffee urns and “Welcome Motorcyclists” banners and people chatting and meeting, again or for the first time, and still the place feels like an empty cavern – then it is time to go. Jeff leads with a friend following on a YSR pocket bike who looks like a cartoon, a man on a machine half his size, hovering a few inches above the pavement. Nonetheless I have to work to keep up although I crack the throttle wide on the old BMW. The journalist is behind me (I critique my riding through his eyes, hoping he doesn’t hear when I mis-shift, precisely as I always hope no one notices the red-faced panic or quiver of fear in my voice when nothing has caused it but being with you), and behind him the owner of my borrowed ride, his 12-year-old son riding pillion.

We fly under open sky. We are lost, one by one, around curves that rise and fall mid-turn, then are met again on the straightaways. We ride in precise concert, singers who have practiced the harmonies on this particular chorus so many times we are one voice in many parts. I’ve just met them but we’ve known each other forever.

Connected Chance Encounters on the Slimey Crud Run
The end of the Slimey Crud Run is a lot like the beginning: talk and tire-kicking.

In Leland, its population of 50 temporarily boosted by a factor of 15 this day, the concentration of motorcycles has reached critical mass. The Slimey Crud Run functions just south of pure anarchy, which means it functions as it was intended: valve clearances spot on, carburetion dialed in, torque a propulsion of sensual ideal, everything else the possession of gorgeous chance. Bikes line both sides of the road around Sprecher’s Bar, an aboriginal watering spot set down in the middle of a nowhere that was also pretty much nowhere in 1900, when the elderly owner’s father bought it as a general store. To keep it going through two world wars and a great depression in between, Sprecher’s tried a little of everything. The recipe that ended up the keeper was beer and guns. It might be the only place in the country now for one-stop shopping, your argument and its conclusion obtained in the same room. A sign tacked on the back wall reads “If you voted for Obama, please turn around and leave! You have proven that you are not responsible enough to own a firearm!” Over it hangs a Confederate flag, no doubt a recent addition to the décor, as Wisconsin recruited and lost 91,000 men for the Union cause, many of them in the famously noble Iron Brigade.

Connected Chance Encounters on the Slimey Crud Run
Inside Sprecher’s, guns for sale and beer for drinking.

We get cheese and salami sandwiches (mine minus the salami), and even though the town is flooded with people, as in the parable of the loaves and the fishes there are still stools available at Junior Sprecher’s bar. There one can sit and gaze at the wall, its rifles and shotguns racked and handguns displayed in a glass case near the establishment’s framed license to sell them. I don’t leave even though I was asked so politely by the sign. Jeff has been absorbed somewhere outside into the mass of his countrymen. When it’s time to leave he materializes next to me.

We mount up again. Back a different way; here there is always a different way, and that is the only way. An hour and a half later we snake up the driveway, lean bikes on sidestands. At home he peels off his gear and now wanders around in his long underwear. He’s a big man. He loads the potbelly stove with lumber scraps and gets a flame going. Beers are found. We sit variously on office chairs and other scavenged seating. We are in the only place we belong at an unrepeatable moment. I sense something in the room I have either been longing to become or something I already am: elementally human, molecularly social. Kin. But I will leave.

Two days and a thousand miles separate us now, jet fuel long burned or offloaded to the long-suffering earth. It presaged our return, a trail between us and all those we were soon to rejoin, or hoped to anyway.

I am outside, home, when I hear a sound from the phone in my back pocket. I pull it out and see what I or someone else or maybe some thing have made happen. The phone is calling Jeff. I quickly end the call, praying I punched the button quickly enough. Filled with rising curiosity about how this might have happened. Chastened. Afraid. I did not mean to connect.

“Connected” first appeared in Motorcycles Are Magic: An Anthology, edited by Melissa Holbrook Pierson with assistance from George Sarrinikolaou and published in 2021 by 10mm Socket Press. Pierson is the author of The Perfect Vehicle: What It Is About Motorcycles; The Man Who Would Stop At Nothing: Long-Distance Motorcycling’s Endless Road; The Place You Love Is Gone: Progress Hits Home; Dark Horses And Black Beauties: Animals, Women, and Passion; and The Secret History Of Kindness: Learning From How Dogs Learn. Her essay “Alone: Onward Through The Fog” was published in the September 1992 issue of Rider. For more information, visit MelissaHolbrookPierson.com.

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Chasing Quail | The 2022 Quail Motorcycle Gathering

The 2022 Quail Motorcycle Gathering
The 12th edition of The Quail Motorcycle Gathering drew a crowd of nearly 3,200 to enjoy 270 vintage, classic, and custom bikes as well as a wide variety of vendors and food purveyors on a beautiful day in May. Photos by the author and courtesy Kahn Media.

From my home in Southern California, it’s just a day’s ride to the scenic Monterey Peninsula on some of the state’s most sublime motorcycling roads, including Highway 1 on the majestic Big Sur coast. Good food and nightlife on a Friday night in Monterey are steps away from dozens of hotels ranging from reasonable to posh, so an overnight run is both easy and fun. Add the prospect of attending a large vintage and custom motorcycle concours on the green grass of the nearby upscale golf course, and you can see why The Quail Motorcycle Gathering has been a great success since the first one in 2008.

The 2022 Quail Motorcycle Gathering
Catching up after a two-year break, the 2022 Quail Motorcycle Gathering celebrated the 50th anniversary of Harley-Davidson’s iconic XR-750, which was actually in 2020, with a featured class.

Plenty of enthusiasts flock to The Quail just for the day, so the parking area along Valley Greens Drive becomes quite a motorcycle show in its own right. This year, 3,200 spectators enjoyed 270 notable and highly polished motorcycles arranged just so on the grass of the Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel Valley, ringed by vendors of every sort. The one-day event cost $55 and ran from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so attendees had to keep moving to see and do it all.

Led by Gordon McCall, Director of Motorsports for Peninsula Signature Events, The Quail Ride kicks off the event on Friday (not to be confused with Why We Ride to the Quail, a two-day charity ride for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation that starts on Thursday in SoCal – for more information, visit Motovational.org). The Quail Ride is a 100-mile loop around this gorgeous area limited to 100 riders that includes two laps of Laguna Seca Raceway with its famous Corkscrew, an experience that’s worth the price of admission alone.

Listen to our interview with Gordon McCall on the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

The Quail has hosted as many as 400 machines in past years, but as McCall said this year, “It’s too many bikes.”

“You can’t see them all in a day, and we’re a one-day event,” he said. “So we pared that back. This to me is the heart and soul of the motorcycle community. We’ve got a lot of smaller companies, smaller vendors, and they help make this possible. Just look at this – people are in a good mood. We’re ready – enough with hiding under a rock for two years.”

The 2022 Quail Motorcycle Gathering
The Best of Show award went to this 1951 Vincent Rapide owned and customized by Max Hazan.

Indeed, after a two-year break due to the pandemic, the 2022 Gathering may have been a bit smaller, but I still had trouble taking everything in. In addition to traditional classes like British, Italian, Japanese, Competition, and Antique, the event showcased five featured classes. Two-Stroke “Braaaps” comprised on- and off-road ring-ding superstars, like the 1986 Suzuki RG500 Gamma from Matt Torrens of California. Other classes highlighted minibikes, BMW /5 Series motorcycles, and the Harley-Davidson XR-750, a crowd favorite and one of the most successful racebikes of all time.

While this is a very social event, it’s the bikes that are the primary draw, and there was no shortage of interesting, amazing, and historical hardware to ogle. Vintage machines wearing a time-earned patina or lovingly restored to original or better condition by the best in their field are most prevalent, but the show also includes bikes from some of the icons of the custom motorcycle world, like Max Hazan from Hazan Motorworks in Los Angeles. Hazan’s wildly custom and beautiful 1951 Vincent Rapide won Best of Show, a controversial choice to some given the irreverent nature of customs based on famous vintage bikes.

The 2022 Quail Motorcycle Gathering
Chris Carter of Motion Pro accepts the Spirit of the Quail award for his multiple championship-winning 1984 Honda RS750.

But the 40-plus judges on the committee, led by veteran Chief Judge Somer Hooker, also gave top awards in many other classes to near-perfect history-making motorcycles. An incredible 1984 Honda RS750, for example, ridden to three Grand National Championships by Bubba Shobert (and owned by Chris Carter of Motion Pro) was given the Spirit of the Quail award.

The 2022 Quail Motorcycle Gathering
The “mini bikes | BIG FUN” class was highlighted by this 1968 Honda Z50, which Steve McQueen had customized by Von Dutch.

Yamaha brought a fleet of famous flat-trackers from its racing past, like the 1977-78 Kenny Roberts Racing Specialties-designed, monoshock-framed MX250, one of two bikes champion racer Jeff Haney rode to multiple lap records during his undefeated 1978 season at Ascot Park. Arch Motorcycles, the company started by actor Keanu Reeves, was there with its pricey, out-of-this-world production bikes.

The Gathering was also a rare opportunity to try out apparel like airbag vests from Helite or cool jackets from Walter Leather Company, and a silent auction supporting the Monterey County Youth Museum offered everything from golf at the Quail Lodge & Golf Club to stays at The Peninsula Chicago and New York hotels.

“The success of this year’s The Quail Motorcycle Gathering was truly overwhelming,” said McCall. “From the immense support of our incredible sponsors to the amazing spectators and the diverse demonstration of remarkable motorcycles and classic cars, we are so proud to have come back stronger than ever and are excited to see what 2023 will bring.”

The 2022 Quail Motorcycle Gathering
Former AMA pro racer and industry legend Thad Wolff (left) with his arm around Rider’s longtime Editor, Mark Tuttle. Wolff competes in ARHMA trials on his restored 1964 Triumph Tiger Cub, which he entered in the Competition Off Road class.

Me too! Next year, The Quail Motorcycle Gathering is scheduled for Saturday, May 6, 2023. Tickets will go on sale this fall, and it’s likely the all-inclusive passes will be limited in number and sell out again, so be sure to put it on the calendar.

For more info, visit Peninsula.com/en/signature-events/events/motorcycle.

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Scott A. Williams | Ep. 41 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

Rider contributor Scott A. Williams Episode 41 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast
Scott A. Williams, Rider contributor, smiles with his bike on a dirt path.

Our guest on Episode 41 of the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast is Scott A. Williams, who has been a regular contributor to Rider for two decades. A lifelong New Englander, Scott is a storyteller. His writing reflects the insights of a regular guy with a keen sense of observation and a passion for exploring on two wheels. Scott’s motorcycle touring features are less about “turn here, then turn there” and more about the culture of the regions he rides through and the people he meets along the way. His columns consider the rider’s experience, viewed through the lens of his personal encounters. Known as “Bones” since he was a little kid, Scott had been a Rider magazine subscriber for years when it occurred to him, “I’m a writer and a rider, I should write for Rider.” Twenty years ago, he made a story pitch to then-editor Mark Tuttle, and since then he has written nearly a hundred pieces for what he will tell you is still his favorite magazine. Check out some of Scott’s writing for Rider via the links below.

LINKS: Dead Reckoning, Muriel’s Last Ride, Perceptions, Cages

You can listen to Episode 40 on iTunesSpotify, and SoundCloud, or via the Rider Magazine Insider webpage. Please subscribe, leave us a 5-star rating, and tell your friends! Scroll down for a list of previous episodes.

Visit the Rider Magazine Insider podcast webpage to check out previous episodes:

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C. Jane Taylor Rides 6,000 Miles on National Book Tour

C. Jane Taylor
C. Jane Taylor and her husband, John McConnell, are on a three-month, 11,000-mile cross-country book tour to promote Jane’s memoir, “Spirit Traffic.” Large QR codes on placards direct curious people to Jane’s website.

C. Jane Taylor is the author of Spirit Traffic: A Mother’s Journey of Self-Discovery and Letting Go, a memoir about a 10,000-mile cross-country motorcycle journey with her husband, John, and their son Emmett. We ran an excerpt from Spirit Traffic, a chapter called “Isaac and Eli” about two curious young boys they met in Indiana, in the April 2022 issue of Rider. We also interviewed Jane for the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast.

In May, Jane and John packed up their BMW F 650 GS bikes, said goodbye to their home in Vermont (and their dog Dewey), and hit the road on a book tour. First, they rode east to Maine, then they rode west to Chicago, where they were hosted by Steven Goode, who wrote “The Great American Deli Schlep” feature published in the December 2021 issue of Rider.

C. Jane Taylor
C. Jane Taylor reads from “Spirit Traffic” at Timbre Books in Ventura, California.

They rode south to Springfield, Missouri, where they attended the BMWMOA national rally. Along the way, Jane gave readings in people’s homes, at coffee shops, and in motorcycle dealerships. John was her riding partner, tour manager, and cheerleader.

After battling fierce winds in Kansas, traversing the Rockies in Colorado, and enduring blast furnace heat in Tucson, Arizona, and Palm Desert, California, they found cool respite in the coastal town of Ventura, where Jane and John were hosted by Rider Editor-in-Chief Greg Drevenstedt and his wife Carrie.

C. Jane Taylor
After her reading and Q&A, Jane invites guests to share stories about “what adventure means to me.”

On Sunday, July 10, Jane gave a reading at Timbre Books, a local independent bookstore in Ventura. In attendance were long-time Rider contributor Bill Stermer, several members of the Ventura County chapter of STAR Touring & Riding, and other local riders and residents. One motorcyclist who could not attend sent a beautiful bouquet of flowers in his absence. After the reading, a small group joined Jane and John at a local Mexican restaurant for dinner and conversation.

C. Jane Taylor
John McConnell and C. Jane Taylor with their BMW F 650 GSs at Grant Park, overlooking Ventura, California, on a foggy morning.

The next day, Jane and John repacked their gear and fired up their BMWs. Attached to the large drybags perched on their rear seats are placards that say “National Book Tour” and feature large QR codes that direct curious people to Jane’s website. They spent a few hours riding Highway 33 – one of the best motorcycling roads in Southern California – and then headed north along the coast, bound for Highway 1 along the Big Sur coast.

C. Jane Taylor
Rider Editor-in-Chief Greg Drevenstedt and his wife Carrie hosted Jane and John when they were in Ventura.

Jane has readings scheduled in the Bay Area, an interview with the Motorcycles & Misfits Podcast in Santa Cruz, and many more stops over the next five weeks in California, Nevada, Oregon, and Montana. Jane and John will ride at least another 5,000 miles before they return to Vermont.

Check out the book tour schedule and see if Jane and John will be in your area. (Please note that some readings require an invitation, so inquire via the website.) If you can, attend a reading and show your support – buy a book and have Jane sign it. Whether or not you can attend a reading, please support their efforts by buying a book. Better yet, buy two or more and give copies to friends. Spirit Traffic is also available as an ebook or an audio book.

For more information, visit cjanetaylor.com.

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Join Rider on Adriatic Moto Tours’ Sardinia and Corsica Tour, Oct 15-23

Sardinia and Corsica Tour Adriatic Moto Tours
Want day after day of challenging twisties and amazing scenery? Here’s your chance!

Join long-time Rider contributor Scott “Bones” Williams on the Adriatic Moto Tours Sardinia and Corsica – Riders’ Heaven tour, scheduled for October 15-23, 2022. Read on for tour details, or click here to visit the tour page.

The mountainous, rugged islands of Sardinia and Corsica, situated in the Mediterranean Sea west of Italy, have some of the best roads, best scenery, and most unique culture in all of Europe.

Sardinia and Corsica Tour Adriatic Moto Tours

Hilly and curvy, with a very jagged coastline and craggy rock formations, Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean (after Sicily) and is an autonomous region of Italy. It offers thrilling views while riding perfect bends of never-ending seaside cliff roads. Its rugged landscape is dotted with thousands of nuraghi – mysterious Bronze Age stone ruins shaped like beehives. Not to mention a scattering of Roman ruins, Pisan churches, and Spanish Baroque architecture.

A ferry crossing reaches French Corsica, serving up more twists and turns as the roads wind their way through pine-forested hills and small villages.

Sardinia and Corsica Tour Adriatic Moto Tours

This nine-day tour includes six riding days (covering a total of 850 miles) and one rest day (in Alghero, Sardinia) bookended by travel days. Here’s a day-by-day itinerary:

Day 1: Welcome to Sardinia!
Day 2: Olbia – Ajaccio
Day 3: Ajaccio – Corte
Day 4: Corte – Bonifacio
Day 5: Bonifacio – Alghero
Day 6: Rest day in Alghero
Day 7: Alghero – Cala Gonone
Day 8: Cala Gonone – Olbia
Day 9: Flight home from Olbia

Pricing starts at 3,580 euros (approx. $3,640) for a rider on a rental motorcycle sharing a double room – or 2,990 euros (approx. $3,040) if riding your own motorcycle. Single-room occupancy, higher-spec motorcycles, a passenger, and other upgrades are extra. See tour page for full details and pricing.

Sardinia and Corsica Tour Adriatic Moto Tours

The price includes:

  • Late model motorcycle with lockable hard luggage and tankbags, plus third-party liability insurance and comprehensive vehicle insurance
  • Experienced guide on a motorcycle
  • Support van for luggage, souvenirs, and one or two passengers
  • Eight nights accommodation in quality (mostly 4-star) hotels
  • Eight breakfasts in the hotel
  • Seven dinners, mostly in traditional local restaurants
  • All (two) ferry rides and tolls
  • Airport transfers up to five days prior to the tour start, on the last day of the tour, and one day after the tour
  • Entrance fees to museums (according to tour program)
  • All maps with marked routes for the region being toured
  • Extensive tour booklet
  • GPS with all the daily routes uploaded
Sardinia and Corsica Tour Adriatic Moto Tours

Not included in the price:

  • Air ticket, dinners on rest days, most lunches, drinks, gasoline, personal spending, tips.

If you’re ready for a unique motorcycle adventure, sign up now! Click here for more info and to book the tour.

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Chris Peterman, CFMOTO USA | Ep. 40 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

CFMOTO Chris Peterman Episode 40 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast
Chris Peterman, Director of Motorcycles at CFMOTO USA, with the 2022 CFMOTO 700CL-X.

Our guest for Episode 40 of the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast is Chris Peterman, Director of Motorcycles for CFMOTO USA, which manufactures and sells motorcycles, ATVs, and side-by-sides. For 2022, CFMOTO has introduced a seven-model lineup of motorcycles to the U.S. They include the Papio minibike ($2,999), the 300NK naked bike ($3,999) and 300SS sportbike ($4,299), the naked 650NK ($6,499) and 650ADVentura adventure bike ($6,799), and the neo-retro 700CL-X ($6,499) and 700CLX Sport ($6,999). (For more details, read our first look review.) We had a chance to test ride all seven bikes the week before this interview was recorded. We talk to Chris about the history of the CFMOTO brand, review the details and pricing of each model, and share our riding impressions.

You can listen to Episode 40 on iTunesSpotify, and SoundCloud, or via the Rider Magazine Insider webpage. Please subscribe, leave us a 5-star rating, and tell your friends! Scroll down for a list of previous episodes.

Visit the Rider Magazine Insider podcast webpage to check out previous episodes:

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Hayley Bell | Ep. 39 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

Ep 39: Rider Magazine Insider Podcast Hayley Bell
Hayley Bell gets ready to pass the baton during the Women Riders World Relay in 2019.

Our guest for Episode 39 of the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast is Hayley Bell, Founder and President of Global Business Development for Women Riders World Relay. The mission of Women Riders World Relay is to bring fun, experience, confidence, and a sense of unity to female riders globally. Between February 2019 and February 2020, more than 3,500 women from 79 countries on six continents circumnavigated the globe on two wheels, passing a baton from woman to woman and logging 63,000 miles.

For her efforts with WRWR, Bell was named 2019 Motorcyclist of the Year by the American Motorcyclist Association. We talk to Bell about how she started WRWR, how the movement grew exponentially within a matter of weeks, and how hundreds of women around the world volunteered their time and effort to plan, organize, and complete the global relay. We also talk about the impact WRWR is having on the motorcycle industry, and her role as a spokesperson and advocate.

LINKS: WRWR Facebook Group@WomenRidersWorldRelay on Instagram

You can listen to Episode 39 on iTunesSpotify, and SoundCloud, or via the Rider Magazine Insider webpage. Please subscribe, leave us a 5-star rating, and tell your friends! Scroll down for a list of previous episodes.

Visit the Rider Magazine Insider podcast webpage to check out previous episodes:

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Riding the Motorcycle Century

Riding the Motorcycle Century
Child of the ’60s meets Bud Ekins’ 1915 Harley-Davidson in 1978. (Photo by Robin Riggs)

Looking through a file folder named “Cars & Bikes” on my computer the other day, I noticed that in 50 years of riding, I’ve experienced nearly the entirety of motorcycle history. From 1915 Indian board-track racers to a 2022 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo, that’s 108 model years’ worth. And in between were tests, rides, or races on more machines from every decade. Hardly planned, this all resulted from simply loving to ride, being curious, and, most of all, saying yes at every chance. Here are some of my favorite moto memories, one apiece covering 12 decades.

1915 Harley-Davidson Model 11-F

In 1978, Cycle magazine gave me an assignment after I joined the staff: Write a feature about anything I wanted. Interested in the history of our sport, I replied that I’d like to ride a really old bike. “Call this guy,” the editor said, handing me the number of Bud Ekins, an ISDT gold medalist and the stuntman in the epic The Great Escape jump scene.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
More than a century after its manufacture, this modified 1915 Harley-Davidson 11-F completed the cross-country Motorcycle Cannonball. (Photo by SFO Museum)

In his enormous shop, Ekins reviewed the starting drill for his 1915 Harley-Davidson Model 11-F: Flood the carb, set the timing and compression release, crack the throttle, and then swing the bicycle-style pedals hard to get the V-Twin’s big crankshaft spinning. When it lit off, working the throttle, foot clutch, and tank-mounted shifter – and steering via the long tiller handlebar – were foreign to a rider used to contemporary bikes. But coordination gradually built, and after making our way to the old Grapevine north of Los Angeles, I found the 998cc engine willing and friendly, with lots of flywheel effect and ample low-rpm torque to accelerate the machine to a satisfying cruising speed of about 45 mph. And its rider to another time and place.

RELATED: Early American Motorcycles at SFO Museum

1927 Norton Model 18 TT Replica

On a lucky trip to New Zealand, McIntosh Racing founder Ken McIntosh let me race his special Norton Model 18 in the Pukekohe Classic Festival. Unlike the exotic Norton CS1 overhead-camshaft model that likewise debuted in 1927 – a big advancement at the time – the Model 18 TT Replica used a tuned version of the company’s existing 490cc pushrod Single engine. Its name was derived, fittingly, from the sterling Model 18 racebike’s multiple Isle of Man TT wins. As such, the production TT Replica had as much racing provenance as you could buy at the time.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
The author aboard New Zealander Ken McIntosh’s 1927 Norton Model 18 TT Replica, which reached 80 mph on track. (Photo by Geoff Osborne)

I found it surprisingly capable, delivering a blend of strong power (a digital bicycle speedometer showed a top track speed of80 mph) and predictable, confident handling – despite the girder-style fork and hardtail frame. However, lacking gear stops in its selector mechanism, the 3-speed gearbox required careful indexing to catch the correct gear. But once I got the process down, the bike was steady, swift, and utterly magical, like the Millennium Falcon of Singles in its time.

RELATED: Retrospective: 1974 Norton Commando 850 John Player Replica

1936 Nimbus Type C

When a friend handed me his 4-cylinder Nimbus, it had big problems. The engine was locked solid, and my buddy wanted to get it running and saleable. Built in Denmark, the Nimbus is unique for several reasons. One is its 746cc inline-Four engine. Rather than being mounted transversely like modern multis, it was positioned longitudinally in the frame, with power flowing rearward via shaft drive. Interestingly, the rocker-arm ends and valve stems were exposed and, when the engine was running, danced a jig like eight jolly leprechauns. The frame was equally curious, comprised of flat steel bars instead of tubing, and riveted together. With a hacksaw, hammer, and some steel, you could practically duplicate a Nimbus frame under the apple tree on a Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
Bob Sinclair, former CEO of Saab Cars USA, loved motorcycles. He’s riding a Nimbus Type C sidecar rig with a furry friend as co-pilot. (Sinclair Family Archives)

Anyway, the seized engine refused to budge – until I attempted a fabled fix by pouring boiling olive oil through the spark-plug holes to expand the cylinder walls and free up the rings. Additionally, I judiciously added heat from a propane torch to the iron block. Eventually, the engine unstuck and, with tuning, ran well. But the infusion of olive oil created a hot mist that emanated from the exposed valvetrain, covering my gear and leaving behind an olfactory wake like baking Italian bread.

1949 Vincent Black Shadow

One blissful time, years before Black Shadows cost six figures, I was lucky enough to ride one. Seemingly all engine, the Black Shadow was long and low, with its black stove-enamel cases glistening menacingly, and its sweeping exhaust headers adding a sensual element to an otherwise purely mechanical look.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
Unquestionably the superbike of its day, Vincent’s 998cc Black Shadow was simultaneously elegant and menacing, and a big 150-mph speedometer let the rider know it. This is a 1952 model. (Photo by Clement Salvadori)

Thanks to the big, heavy flywheels and twin 499cc cylinders, starting the Vincent took forethought and commitment. And once the beast was running, so did riding it. A rude surprise came as I selected 1st gear and slipped the clutch near the busy Los Angeles International Airport. Unexpectedly, the clutch grabbed hard, sending the Shadow lurching ahead. The rest of the controls seemed heavy and slow compared to the Japanese and Italian bikes I knew at the time – especially the dual front brakes. The bike was clearly fast, but glancing at the famous 150-mph speedometer, I was chagrined to find that I’d only scratched the surface of the Black Shadow’s performance at 38 mph.

1955 Matchless G80CS

Despite not being a Brit-bike fan in particular, I’ve owned five Matchlesses, including three G80CSs. Known as a “competition scrambler,” in reality the CS denotes it as a “competition” (scrambles) version of the “sprung” (rear-suspension equipped) streetbike. Power comes from a 498cc long-stroke 4-stroke pushrod Single of the approximate dimensions of a giant garden gnome. Starting a G80CS requires knowing “the drill” – retarding the ignition, pushing the big piston to top-dead-center on compression, and giving the kickstart lever a strong, smooth kick all the way through. This gets the crank turning some 540 degrees before the piston begins the compression stroke again.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
A true garage find, this 1955 Matchless G80CS hadn’t been used since 1966. Now resurrected, the long-stroke 498cc pushrod Single shoves the desert sled ahead like the rapid-fire blasts of a big tommy gun. (Photo by John L. Stein)

Once going, the engine fires the G80CS down the road with unhurried explosions. Then at 50 mph or so, the Matchless feels delightfully relaxed; vibration is low-frequency and quite tolerable, and the note emanating from the muffler is a pleasant bark –powerful but not threatening. It is here, at speeds just right for country roads, that the G80CS feels most in its element as a friendly, agreeable companion. With such a steady countenance, it’s no wonder that G80CS engines powered tons of desert sleds. I just wouldn’t want to be stuck in a sand wash on a 100-degree day with one that required more than three kicks to start.

RELATED: Retrospective: 1958-1966 Matchless G12/CS/CSR 650

1961 Ducati Diana 250

During Ducati’s infancy, the Italian firm concocted a249cc overhead-cam roadster named the Diana. Featuring a precision-built unit-construction engine like Japanese bikes, it offered an essential difference: being Italian. And that meant all sorts of wonderful learning, as I discovered when, as a teen, I bought a “basket-case” Diana. The term isn’t used much anymore, but it means something has been disassembled so thoroughly that its parts can be literally dumped into a basket. In the case of this poor ex-racer, literally everything that could be unscrewed or pried apart was. The engine was in pieces, the wheels were unspoked, the frame and fork were separated, and many parts were missing.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
The author aboard his basket-case 1961 Ducati Diana. (John L. Stein archives)

Its distress repelled my friends but inspired me. Upon acquiring it, a year of trial-and-error work included rebuilding the scattered engine, designing and welding brackets onto the frame for a centerstand and footpegs, assembling the steering, fabricating a wiring harness, and ultimately tuning and sorting. This basket-case Ducati literally taught me the fundamentals of motorcycle mechanics, by necessity. And due to the racy rear-set controls I’d crafted, the machine had no kickstarter, necessitating bump-starting everywhere, every time.

The bike was never gloriously fast, but it carried me through my first roadrace at the Ontario Motor Speedway. After selling it, I never saw it again. Rest in peace, fair Diana. And by the way, the California blue plate was 4C3670. Write if you’ve seen it!

1971 Kawasaki Mach III

Stepping from an 8-hp Honda 90 onto a friend’s Mach III, which was rated at 60 hp when new, was the biggest shock of my young motorcycling life. I knew enough to be careful, not only because of the 410-lb heft of the Kawasaki compared to the Honda’s feathery 202 lb, but because the Mach III had a reputation as a barn-burner. It was true. Turning the throttle grip induced the moaning wail from three dramatic 2-stroke cylinders, and propelled the Kawasaki ahead with a ferocity I’d never come close to feeling before.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
Rated at 60 horsepower, the Kawasaki Mach III (officially known as the H1) was the quickest-accelerating production motorcycle of its time. (Photo by John L. Stein)

In those first moments of augmented g-forces, I distinctly felt that the acceleration was trying to dislocate my hips. In reality, it was probably just taxing the gluteus muscles. But regardless, I remember thinking, “I’ll never be able to ride one of these.” That clearly wasn’t true, but the memory of the Mach III’s savage acceleration and whooping sound remains indelible. Additionally, the engine vibration was incessant – there was simply no escaping it – and in those pre-hydraulic disc days for Kawasaki, the drum brakes seemed heavy and reluctant, even to a big-bike novice. Glad I found out early that the Mach III’s mad-dog reputation was real.

1985 KTM 500 MXC

If Paul Bunyan designed a motorcycle, this KTM 2-stroke would be it. For its day, the 500 MXC was extraordinary at everything, such as extraordinarily hard to start; the kickstart shaft was a mile high and the lever arm even higher. At over6 feet tall in MX boots, I still needed a curb, boulder, or log handy to effectively use the left-side kickstarter. The motor had so much compression (12.0:1) that this Austrian Ditch Witch practically needed a starter engine to fire the main one. Once, I was stuck on a desert trail with the MXC’s engine reluctant to re-fire. Not so brilliantly, I attached a tow line to my friend’s Kawasaki KX250 and he pulled me to perhaps 25 mph on a nearby two-lane road. Before I could release the line and drop the clutch, my buddy slowed for unknown reasons. Instantly the rope drooped, caught on the KTM’s front knobby, and locked the wheel, slamming the bike and its idiot rider onto the asphalt. The crash should have broken my wrist, but an afternoon spent icing it in the cooler put things right.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
A beast to start and a blast to ride, this 1985 KTM 500 MXC 2-stroke was also comically and maddeningly tall. So was the desk-high kickstart arm. But, oh my, how the Austrian Ditch Witch could fly. (Photo by John L. Stein.)

When running, though, the MXC was spectacular. Capable of interstate speeds down sand washes and across open terrain, the liquid-cooled 485cc engine was a maniacal off-road overlord. The suspension included a WP inverted fork and linked monoshock with an insane 13.5 inches of travel out back. I bought the 500 MXC used for $500, and I had to practically give it away later. But now, I wish I had kept it, because it was fully street-plated – ideal for Grom hunting in the hills today.

1998 Yamaha YZF-R1

On a deserted, bucolic section of Pacific coastal backroads, I loosened the new Yamaha R1’s reins, kicked it in the ribs, and let it gallop. And gallop it did, at a breathtaking rate up to and beyond 130 mph. That’s not all that fast in the overall world of high performance, but on a little two-lane road edged by prickly cattle fences and thick oaks, it ignited all my senses. What had been a mild-mannered tomcat moments before turned into a marlin on meth, but it wasn’t the velocity that was alarming.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
Superbike tech leapt ahead with Yamaha’s YZF-R1. Its performance rang every alarm bell in the author’s head. (Photos by Yamaha)

No, the point seared into my amygdala was how hard the R1 was still accelerating at 130 mph. Rocketing past this speed with a ratio or two still remaining in the 6-speed gearbox sounded every alarm bell in my head, so I backed down. Simply, the R1 rearranged my understanding of performance. But simultaneously, it made every superbike of the 1970s, including the King Kong 1973 Kawasaki Z1 – the elite on the street in its era – seem lame by comparison.

2008 Yamaha YZ250F

After 25 years away from motocross, in 2008 I bought a new YZ250F and went to the track. Oh, my word. The dream bikes of my competitive youth – Huskys, Maicos, Ossas, and their ilk – faded to complete irrelevance after one lap at Pala Raceway on the modern 4-stroke. Naturally it was light, fast, and responsive, but the party drug was its fully tunable suspension. By comparison, everything else I’d ridden in the dirt seemed like a pogo stick. Together, the awesome suspension and aluminum perimeter frame turned motocross into an entirely different sport, and I loved it anew.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
Contemporary technology turned riding motocross from torture in the sport’s early years to the best workout – like simultaneously using every machine in the gym at maximum effort. Training and racing this 2008 Yamaha YZ250F produced heartrates just shy of running a 10k race. (John L. Stein Archives)

In retrospect, the glorious old MX bikes were dodgy because real skill was required to keep them from bucking their riders into the ditch. But, surprisingly, I found motocross aboard this new machine still merited hazard pay, for two reasons: 1) Thanks to the bike’s excellent manners, I found myself going much faster; and 2) Tracks had evolved to include lots of jumps, sometimes big ones. Doubles, step-ups, table-tops – I later paced one off at Milestone MX and realized the YZ was soaring more than 70 feet through the air.

2017 Yamaha TW200

There’s something about flying low and slow that’s just innately fun. Just ask the Super Cub pilots, lowrider guys, or Honda Monkey owners. After a day in the Mojave, plowing through sand, sliding on dry lake beds, and dodging rocks and creosote bushes, Yamaha’s TW200 proved equally enamoring. Yes, it’s molasses-slow, inhaling hard through the airbox for enough oxygen to power it along. And it’s built to a price, with an old-school carburetor and middling suspension and brakes.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
For flying low and slow on a dry lake bed, the fat-tire Yamaha TW200 is righteous. Learn to dirt-track early in life, and the skills last forever. (Photo by Bill Masho)

Nonetheless, its fat, high-profile tires somehow make it way more than alright, kind of like riding a marshmallow soaked in Red Bull. Curbs? Loading docks? Roots, ruts, and bumps? Scarcely matters at 16 mph when you’re laughing your head off. Top speed noted that day was a bit over 70 mph – good enough for freeway work, but just barely. So, actually, no. But throttling the TW all over the desert and on city streets reminded me just how joyous being on two wheels is.

RELATED: Small Bikes Rule! Honda CRF250L Rally, Suzuki GSX250R and Yamaha TW200 Reviews

2020 Kawasaki Z H2

Building from its supercharged Ninja H2 hyperbike, Kawasaki launched the naked Z H2 for 2020. Lucky to attend the press launch for the bike that year, I got to experience this 197-hp missile on a road course, freeways, backroads, and even a banked NASCAR oval. The latter was, despite its daunting concrete walls, an apropos vessel to exploit the bike’s reported power. Weighing 527 lbs wet, the Z H2 has a 2.7:1 power-to-weight ratio – nearly twice as potent as the 2023 Corvette Z06.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
Exploiting Kawasaki’s 197-horsepower Z H2 definitely required a racetrack. (Photo by Kawasaki)

Supercharged engines are known for their low-end grunt, and the Z H2 motor was happy to pull at any rpm and in any gear. But it fully awakened above 8,000 rpm, as the aerospace-grade supercharger began delivering useful boost. From here on, the job description read: Hang on and steer. Free to pin it on the road course and oval, I did. And not for bravado’s sake – I really wanted to discover the payoff of having so much power. As it turns out, a supercharged liter bike dramatically shrinks time and space, making it a total blast on the track – and absolute overkill on the road. Watch where you aim this one.

Based in Southern California, John L. Stein is an internationally known automotive and motorcycle journalist. He was a charter editor of Automobile Magazine, Road Test Editor at Cycle, and served as the Editor of Corvette Quarterly. He has written for Autoweek, Car and Driver, Motor Trend, Cycle World, Motorcyclist, Outside, and other publications in the U.S. and abroad.

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