Leaked docs show Motorcyclist caved to advertiser pressure, fired editor

Dailies -


Motorcyclist-Covers.jpgA series of email exchanges published earlier today by MC24.no appear to
indicate that Motorcyclist fired Dexter Ford, a contributing editor who
had been with the magazine for three decades, after a story he wrote
for The New York Times angered the magazine’s advertisers.

The emails, which Ford confirmed for us are the real thing, include an apparent
assertion by Motorcyclist editor-in-chief Brian Catterson that major
helmet makers threatened to withdraw advertising in his magazine due to
Ford’s New York Times piece. That same email then quotes Catterson as
saying, “Iʼm getting serious heat over this, to the tune of threatening
my job unless I do something about you.” (September 30, 2009 at 4:21 PM)

If true, the emails raise troubling questions about a potentially
unethical relationship between advertising dollars and editorial content
at the popular magazine, one that stretches beyond mere motorcycle
reviews and appears to include reporting on the safety of children’s

Update: Arai has issued a response to this article. You’ll find it here.

You can find the complete leaked email exchange on MC24.no.

First, Some Background

Motorcyclist is the second largest printed motorcycle magazine in the US, claiming a circulation of 229,416 copies a month. The main focus of the magazine is reviewing new motorcycles and other products related to them, products like helmets. Brian Catterson became editor-in-chief in 2006 after spending 20 years working as a motorcycle journalist, including a 12-year stint at Cycle World. In the article announcing his appointment, Motorcyclist is described as, “one of the most reliable monthly bike publications in the industry today.”

Ford has long been controversial with major helmet makers, authoring “Blowing the Lid Off,” the seminal expose of the flawed Snell M2005 helmet safety standard. In it, he proved through objective scientific testing that helmets made to that standard transmitted more forces to riders’ heads than some less expensive helmets made to the DOT standard. Ford’s article turned conventional wisdom on its head, proving that certain less-expensive DOT helmets were, according to his testing, capable of transmitting lower forces to a rider’s head than the typically more expensive Snell M2005 brain buckets. Both Arai and Shoei, as well as many other helmet makers, sell helmets with the Snell certification.

The article, first published in 2005, was particularly damning for very small Snell helmets, which, at the time, the organization certified using the same weight head forms as larger-sized helmets. Ford’s article concluded, “If you are a man, woman or child with a lighter head…the difference in stiffness between a Snell helmet and a DOT or ECE helmet will be relatively huge.”

Motorcycle helmets are made from a “crumple zone” of styrofoam in varying densities encased in a deformable shell designed to prevent penetration and spread out the force of impacts. By varying the density and amount of the styrofoam, helmet makers are able to precisely tailor the rate at which the head will decelerate on impact. In retrospect, it seems obvious that a child or smaller person’s head would weigh less than an extra large adult head, thereby requiring less dense styrofoam to achieve a similar rate of deceleration, but Snell M2005 didn’t acknowledge that disparity, an oversight that resulted in the potential for smaller heads to be subjected to higher forces in crashes. Ford’s article provided evidence that, “helmet makers should tailor the stiffness of their helmets to suit the head sizes of the wearers to protect everybody’s brain equally.”

The Snell Memorial Foundation is a not-for-profit American organization, funded by helmet makers, that evaluates helmet safety and awards helmets that pass its tests with a certificate the foundation says is, “our assurance that a helmet has measured up to the highest standards for protective performance time and again.” The certification is voluntary, but many consumers believe a Snell helmet is safer than one without the organization’s stamp of approval. Ford’s testing indicates that’s not necessarily the case.

Snell revised its standard in July 2009. Snell M2010, the new standard, closely follows the recommendations made in “Blowing The Lid Off.”  Unfortunately, while helmets meeting the new Snell M2010 standard went on sale October 1, 2009, Snell M2005-rated helmets will continue production through March 31, 2012 and can be sold with the Snell M2005 certification sticker indefinitely. While Snell M2010 tests do use graduated head weights and reduce the maximum allowable g’s across every size, most of the new M2010 helmets wear an identical external sticker to M2005 helmets; you have to peel back the inner lining and search for a small interior sticker to tell the difference.

This potential for consumer confusion is the gist of an article Ford wrote for The New York Times entitled “Sorting Out Differences in Helmet Standards,” which was published on September 25, 2009. In that article, Ford writes that buyers who want to avoid confusion over helmet standards and find a helmet that’s been tested to work with an appropriate weight head can, “simply choose a non-Snell-rated helmet.”

Neither Arai or Shoei are mentioned by name at any point in the article. Ford has been a Times contributor since 2007; the newspaper has no affiliation with Motorcyclist or its current publisher, Source Interlink.

Dexter Ford’s Times Piece and Motorcyclist‘s Advertising

According to the leaked emails, on September 30, 2009 at 3:25 PM, Ford received an email from Brian Catterson entitled “NY Times article.” It read: “FYI that bit is likely to cost us Arai and Shoei advertising–again. The wagons are already circling…”

As the emails on MC24.no have it, Ford responded, in part, by asking for clarification. Saying, in an email dated September 30, 2009 at 4:06 PM,  “They are going to pull their ads from Motorcyclist because the New York Times wrote a (completely true and important) story? I made it very clear in every communication with both that I was writing strictly for the NYT on this, and not by or for Motorcyclist. They have already silenced Motorcyclist on this issue. I don’t know what else I can do.”

The next email in that chain, at 4:21 PM, believed to be from Catterson, reads: “None of that matters to the brass when two of our biggest advertisers are threatening to yank their ads over a story a freelancer wrote for another publication when we’re down $2 mil from last year!”

In that same email, Catterson appears to continue with, “I know what you wrote for the NY Times is accurate, but I think you greatly downplayed how significant an improvement the Snell 2010 standard is. In my eyes it ‘rights all wrongs,’ which should have been the thrust of your story, not just a couple sentences in a piece that focused largely on the dangers of Snell 2005 helmets. I’m getting serious heat over this, to the tune of threatening my job unless I do something about you.”

We asked Catterson about that email, to which he said, “As for the last quote about ‘two of our biggest advertisers,’ I wrote that after one of our publishers told me that was the case, but then changed his tune, saying that only one had expressed their disappointment over Dexter’s article in the New York Times and that he was worried they and others might pull their ads. And anyway, those two companies were neither Arai nor Shoei.”

Dexter Ford is Fired, But Why?

Catterson sent us the termination letter in which Ford’s association with Motorcyclist was formally severed on October 7, 2009. In this letter, there’s no mention of advertiser pressure. Instead, there’s an accusation that Ford is “a journalist whose personal vendettas have come to preclude objective reporting.” Nothing like that assertion appears anywhere in the rest of the leaked emails. The letter goes on to call Ford’s article in the Times “cont
roversial”, criticizing it for focusing on consumer confusion over praising the revised Snell M2010 standard.

“… I fired Dexter for the reasons detailed in my letter, not because of any pressure from advertisers,” Catterson said when asked for clarification. “Some of our advertisers were upset by Dexter’s article in the New York Times, but none ever threatened to pull their advertising, as they had done over the original helmet test published in Motorcyclist in 2005. My job was never literally threatened, either, though our publishers made it clear they wanted me to ‘fire’ Dexter as he had become a bigger liability than an asset–a sentiment I fully shared.”

The termination notice alleges that Ford allowed personal vendettas to get in the way of doing his job, providing two examples:

“Your Susan Carpenter column was another example of your personal agenda getting in the way of objective reporting. Your first few drafts were character assassinations fueled by your desire to have her job. I only agreed to publish the final version after you re-wrote it to focus on her poorly researched motorcycle emissions story.”

“The recent Snell press conference was the final straw. By all accounts, your behavior was entirely unprofessional, embarrassing Motorcyclist magazine and yourself.”

The thing is, the emails in the leak appear to refute those claims.

Let’s look at Ford’s Susan Carpenter column first. No such article appears to be available online and it’s unclear if it was ever published, but there is extensive mention of it in the leaked emails.

Carpenter writes a motorcycle column for The Los Angeles Times entitled “Throttle Jockey.” She’s one of the only women in the country to write about motorcycles for a major publication and she often expresses views divergent from those of the two-wheeled establishment.

In an email entitled “Smog-Spewing Susan” sent on June 25, 2008 at 5:24 PM, Ford appears to file the Susan Carpenter story, to which Catterson is quoted as responding at 5:41 PM: “Awesome! Sensational! Fabulous even!”

An email dated the day prior (June 24, 2008 at 3:57 PM) quotes Catterson as asking Ford, “Any progress on your Susan assassination piece?”

Ford is quoted as responding at 6:37 PM on the same day, “So I respectfully request to do a first column on this (current) issue, in which I show that she is wrong, and that bikes come out wonderful in the grand green scheme of things. And then do the subsequent torch job on Susan’s lame-oid bike reviews, which is already substantially written.”

Catterson is then quoted as replying at 7:45 PM, “I see it as Susan doesn’t know jack [expletive deleted] about bikes, has proven it again and again, and now that she’s done this expose on how monumentally bad motorcycles are for the environment, she’s proven she’s not one of us so is fair game. I say one column, feed her to the dogs.”

This exchange appears to refute the assertion that Ford’s work required a re-write or that his “personal agenda” was the motivating factor for the article. Elsewhere in the leaked emails, Catterson is quoted as using phrases like, “I say F her, she’s proven she’s one of ‘them’ now!” (June 18, 2008 at 2:38 PM) and, “So as far as I’m concerned, the gloves are off!” (June 13, 2008 at 12:59 PM), when discussing Susan Carpenter.

“Dexter wrote a number of different versions of his Susan Carpenter editorial, the first few of which were character assassinations fueled, I believe, by his desire to have her job,” Catterson said when we asked him about the disparity between the emails and the termination letter. “Dexter has written for the Los Angeles Times before, but not about motorcycling, at least that I’m aware of. I refused to publish those, but agreed to publish a later version he rewrote on the heels of her ill-researched piece on motorcycle emissions. Thus my ‘feed her to the dogs’ comment, which was obviously intended for his eyes only.”

Let’s move on to the Snell press conference at which Ford allegedly embarrassed himself and the magazine. Looking at the emails, Catterson appears to assign Ford to the conference on April 22, 2009. On June 22, Ford sends an email to Catterson in which he says, in reference to Snell, “I’m studying to ambush the [expletive deleted]. It will be fun.”

According to the next email (June 18, 2009 at 9:54 AM), Catterson doesn’t appear to have any problem with “ambush[ing] the [expletive deleted],” responding, “So ambush away, then get writing! Again, this is going to be our lead news story…”

If “ambushing [expletive deleted]” equates to embarrassing behavior, then why didn’t Catterson put a stop to it ahead of time, as it appears he had the opportunity to do?

Included in the email chain (August 4, 2009 at 10:11 AM) appears to be a follow up from Motorcyclist‘s western advertising manager, who spoke to Shoei and Helmet House (both heavily invested in Snell-rated helmets) after Ford’s news article about the Snell press conference was published. Nowhere in it is any mention of bad behavior; in fact, the email indicates both companies and everyone else the ad manager spoke to appear to be pleased with the story. The opening paragraph of that email reads: “First of all, I’m pleased to report that the Snell 2010 story has been well received. Shoei, Helmet House, and everyone else I have spoken to since the story broke feels that the article was objective and well written.”

If Ford had acted offensively in front of advertisers, wouldn’t they have mentioned it the next time Motorcyclist‘s ad sales guy came calling?

We asked Ford to describe his behavior at the press conference. “I behaved at that press conference like any good reporter should: I asked tough questions,” he told us. “And when they didn’t give me real answers, I refused to let them off the hook until they did.”

“Motorcyclist fired me–because Arai and Shoei didn’t like a helmet-standards piece I wrote for the New York Times,” Ford told us.

Advertiser Pressure and Ford’s Motorcyclist Articles

In an email thread dated August 18, 2009, Catterson appears to respond to a further Snell story pitch from Ford by saying (3:53 PM), “[Expletive deleted] it. I’m done with Snell and the controversy. It’s a no-win situation.” Catterson goes on to elaborate on that point after Ford asserts the story’s importance (August 18, 2009 at 5:16 PM): ”I know, I know. But Arai is already pissed off that you wrote anything about Snell again, and we can’t afford to lose them like we did last time. We only just got them back! And given the state of advertising right now, we can’t afford to lose another major advertiser. There’s already talk of going back to saddlestitch and dropping below our 100-page minimum book size. And more importantly, I fear for my job! Sorry.”

That’s the last email thread included in the leak before Catterson appears to approach Ford about the writer’s Times piece, that email asserts not only that the newspaper article will cost Motorcyclist advertising at a time when the magazine can’t afford to lose it, but also that his own job is threatened unless he “[does] something about [Ford].”

At one point in the leaked emails Catterson appears to put a dollar amount on some of the advertising that’s been lost due to Ford’s articles. In an email dated January 19, 2008, at 11:33 AM, Catterson is quoted as writing, “Also FYI your last column cost us Arai’s and Shoei’s ads again–approximately $100K.”

What Does All This Mean?

In these leaked emails, the alleged connection between Dexter’s helmet articles and lost advertising dollars is documented as far back as March 2007, expressed multiple times throughout the emails,
then culminates with the alleged assertion that the September 25, 2009, Times article “is likely to cost [Motorcyclist] Arai and Shoei advertising — again.” (September 30, 2009 at 3:25 PM)  A fine point is put on the connection between the will of advertisers and Dexter’s termination when Catterson allegedly says it’s his job or Ford’s.

“Motorcyclist clearly lets their advertisers dictate not just what they run, and the opinions expressed on their products, but also who their writers are,” says Ford. “And even what their writers write for real, world-class papers like the New York Times.”

“As a professional moto-journalist since 1986, I firmly believe in separation of ‘church and state,’ and have always told it like it is, never mind the repercussions,” Catterson told us.

Throughout the leaked emails Catterson appears to be enthusiastic, even excited about Ford’s articles and writing. The tone reflects that right up until August 2009 when assertions like, “I fear for my job!” begin to appear. (August 18, 2009 at 5:16 PM) Catterson actually sounds like a great editor, working hard to ensure his writer has assignments he’s enthusiastic about and working with Ford to get the best out of his writing. Sadly, it appears that Catterson could have been placed in the unenviable position, after supporting his writer through previous instances of lost advertising, of choosing between his own job and that of Ford’s due to advertiser pressure.

There’s no link made in the emails between unethical practices at Motorcyclist and Source Interlink Media (the magazine’s publisher) other than Catterson’s apparent assertion that “None of that matters to the brass when two of our biggest advertisers are threatening to yank their ads” (September 30, 2009 at 4:21 PM) and the connection that can logically be drawn between the editor-in-chief’s job allegedly being threatened and that alleged threat coming from Source Interlink Media staff senior to the editor-in-chief at one of the titles they own. Source Interlink Media also publishes motorcycle titles like Sport Rider, Dirt Rider, ATV Rider, Hot Bike and Super Streetbike, as well as popular titles outside the motorcycle world such as Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine.

Unfortunately, looking at the big picture, these leaked emails have severe implications for Motorcyclist‘s credibility, suggesting an editorial environment where profit is put before ethical behavior.

Ford asks, “If you were a Motorcyclist staffer, and you understood what happened to me, would you make sure your next road test took full account of who advertises, how much, and how cranky they might be?”

Sources: MC24.no, The New York Times, Motorcyclist, Source Interlink Media

This article represents the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the position of HellForLeatherMagazine.com or any of its parent companies, subsidiaries, or affiliated organizations.

  • Emmet

    I remember when ‘Blowing the Lid’ article was published. I kept it because I thought it so intriguing, even cited it when I wrote a helmet research paper in college. It sucks to see a great publication (which I’ve been reading for over 7 years) take the side of advertisers. I think I’ll be cancelling my subcription soon if this doesn’t pan out. Dexter Ford, you will be missed!

  • Jonathan

    Screw Arai and Shoei. A quick glance at SHARP ratings tell us we’re getting less helmet for significantly more dollars. AGV and Shark are two of my favorite brands. Something for every price range with safety and MODERN helmet design on the top of the list.

    I’ve done some work in journalism (college and some freelance work with magazines), and I understand there are a lot of advertising dollars on the line. This does, however, significantly lower my respect for Motorcyclist magazine.

    If I had a subscription, I’d cancel it. Too bad Arai and Shoei’s money make the bigger dent.

    • 34468 Randy

      Beware. I have a Sharke and do like it. But over the couple years I have had it, some things wear out and need replacing. Replacement parts are extremely difficult to order here in North America. And the company seems to refuse to establish contact with customers who request this on their site. After sale service from Shark is poor at best

  • bobx

    its all about the Benjamin$….
    money talks…

  • chili sv

    I think this best illustrates how much pressure magazines are under from the internet. People under pressure can make bad decisions, however that’s when it really counts. This matter will dog Catterson for a long, long time.

  • Brian Zooom

    ECE 22.05 ratings are good enough for me.

  • Steve516

    Catterson was, is, and always will be a tool.

    • http://tdean tdean

      Agree, Catterson is a huge tool.

    • baldheadeddork

      Catterson was, is, and always will be a tool.

      Yes. Yes, he is.

      I pitched some stories to him when he was running American Roadracing in the early 90′s. He wrote me a few days after our meeting that he couldn’t hire me to write for them, but would I mind giving him the prep work I’d done on one piece so he could do it.

  • Zeitgeist

    Dexter is not the first nor will be the last. Guido Ebert was pushed out from a trade mag for similar reasons by naming names of poor experiences at dealerships. The dealers instead of fixing the crappy problems at their shop they complain to the editors and owners. Then BUMP out goes Guido. Print media is running scared and the desperation gets more and more apparent as time goes on. Instead of adapting technology they come in second place and lament the loss of clients both in readers and then advertisers.

  • http://www.hooniverse.com HooniverseJeff

    Another death knell for certain print publications that focus solely on the bottom line…

    Yet advertisers still struggle with a move to the online world (especially in the powersports industry). The pages of my website don’t rip or fade and I am not constrained by publication costs. My ads (if someone would buy some, haha) can be static or animated, they can be tailored to each and every unique visitor to my site, and they can be exactly tracked on a variety of metrics. It’s sad that many still don’t understand that.

    The only magazine I subscribe to right now is 0-60…mainly because it’s awesome. The photography is excellent and the writing is top notch.

    Great story Wes and good luck to Mr. Ford.

  • stacius

    That’s really sad. Ford actually got Snell to update their standards. We wear helmets for a REASON and some of us pay a lot of money for them, thinking we’re making a significant investment in our safety.

    We need gadflies. People who are willing to challenge what we’re told outside of product development cycles. People who have the consumer’s best interests at heart.

  • http://www.roadsters.com/ Dave Mann

    Very sad story, but all things considered, not too surprising. Dexter had good intentions and he did the right thing.

    I hope you leave this article up fora long time. I’m going change my site’s links to Motorcyclist, Arai, and Shoei to point to it.

  • Adam

    This makes me glad I didn’t buy the Shoei I was looking at last week. I guess I’ll have to regret my Motorcyclist subscription for a few more months.

    Big thanks to Wes and the rest of HFL for their honesty and no-nonsense approach to reporting.

  • Mike

    Motorcyclist magazine continues it’s downward slide. A man looses a job because he tells the truth? I read that article, and wondered what (or if)anything would change in the industry because of it.

    I’ll continue to use Shoei helmets since they are the ones that fit me best (the RF1100 is the best lid I have ever owned in 33 years of riding), but it is too bad the advertising lobby runs content. What BS. Checkbook journalism?

    Kudos to Dexter Ford, I always enjoyed his stories. I guess he found out the same thing David Edwards found out @ Cycle World. Complain a bit, loose your job. BTW, is there public info like this story about the behind the scenes reason Edwards got canned from CW somewhere on HFLM? Hmmmm…

  • sburns2421

    For motorcycles print media is dead, the publishers just don’t know it yet. I subscribe to Sport Rider, Cycle World, RRW, and Motorcyclist and have for nearly 20 years. I have no plans to renew any of them once they expire. ALL of them have declined in content and originality in the past few years.

    Original technical articles are practically non-existent, and in any given month they all do a first ride or test with the same sportbikes models.

    You cannot use them for news because websites had the information weeks earlier, and it seems internet articles are only limited in length and depth by the energy of the author, not how many inches of paper are available.

    The only advantage to print media is their relative permanence if you are a pack rat (like me) and never throw them away. Maybe tonight I will pull out July ’94 Cycle World for a full test on the then-new Ducati 916. Back when the magazines were worth buying…

  • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

    Siler and Grant; the Woodward and Bernstein of motorcycle journalism?

    Superbly written analysis, guys! Breaks down a complex story and makes it understandable. It sure as shit seems like Ford got canned for writing critical reviews of major advertisers. The fact that its a helmet manufacturer, of all things, and the question of safety standards was raised, makes this story a pretty big fuck up for Motorcyclist.

  • Zach

    Great job reporting this story. This is why Consumer Reports takes no ads and is totally trustworthy.

  • Mike

    Catterson is corrupt? Biased? What what what???

    Great article confirming what we all knew all along. It is great to see it backed up with the facts. I first started subscribing in 1991 when I first got into motorcycles as a teenager. Back then it was Ienatch, Lance Holst, Jason Black, etc and a pretty credible and entertaining rag. Cycle World was the hugely biased one under the old fart’s leadership. Mitch did a decent job taken over when they blew out that regime, but he went nutty from the pressure. Glad they didn’t have Kunitsugu come in, because to him if it’s not a GSXR he doesn’t care. Recently, after almost 20 years of relatively faithful readership, I stopped subscribing after a few issues in when Catterson took the helm. All Motorcyclist talks about now is Ducati this, Ducati that. They would compare a glove to a Ducati just to write about them. Catterson is extremely tight with the top dogs at Ducati and, no surprise, the ad dollars are there and have been flowing his way from team Des-blow.

    Ironically, Cycle World has now become a pretty unbiased magazine and seems to be pulling light years ahead of Motorcyclist under a new regime. Good for them. They get to keep my hard earned dollars.

    Bottom line is Catterson’s credibility is blown, Motorcyclist is bombing and there will be some major fallout from this. Wait and see. Yee-haw.

  • Former Motorcycle Industry Employee

    I spent half a decade working this industry internationally. This is no shocker that the industry is mostly slimeballs who only care about money. If you want to make a difference, write Arai and Shoei and then don’t buy their product. That’s all you can really do.

    Or maybe make a “I fear for my job!” Brian Catterson meme.

  • eric

    bravo to wes and to dexter ford, for digging for the truth. keep up the good work!

  • Stephen

    If any of you were placed in Catterson’s position, how many of you would have the guts to refuse to fire Ford, thus putting your job in severe jeopardy?

    Not many, I’m assuming. Unfortunately, when it’s paycheck vs. principle, the paycheck usually wins.

    • Mark P

      If you aren’t willing to fall on your sword for your integrity, you don’t have any.

      A lot of journalists and editors have put their necks — and their jobs — on the line to protect their journalistic integrity. Catterson thought his job was more important than the safety of our children. He has no business editing any serious publication.

      • Stephen

        That’s pretty easy to say when it’s not your job on the line.

  • Buggs

    Great post Wes! Not the first instance of a major enthusiast pub bowing to ad pressure. Another good reason to have blogs!!

    Until they bow down to ad pressure…

  • fazer6

    Do we really expect an entertainment magazine to be anything other than an outlet for manufacturers to advertise?

    When’s the last time you saw a scathing review of a bike in any national mag?
    How about the last time they absolutely gushed about the ‘new’ bike by so-and-so, followed by a full page ad for said bike?

  • PeteP

    Yes, and is a few years, it’ll be the online press doing the same thing.

    Money = Money.

  • http://www.justzeros.com Brandon Glanville

    That’s one subscription I don’t have to worry about resubmitting. Sounds like Catterson should lose his job or maybe he needs to send the emails he was getting from his bosses. I’m not so sure Ford is clean in this either. Seemed like he had a bit to much of an axe to grind and wasn’t solely focused on bringing accurate stories to the magazine. I loved “Blowing the Lid Off”. I got it laminated and hung it on the wall of the helmet section at the shop that I was until recently the parts manager. We really felt people should be fully informed about helmet construction and design philosophy. It never really stopped people from buying Shoei or Arai actually. We did however drop Arai like a bad habit after a pretty unfortunate conversation with Roger Weston the president of Arai America. He’s not someone I respect at all.

    Tough times are great for shining a light on the weakness in any given arena. I think right now we are seeing some cracks in some of the lesser operators. Whether they be magazines, shops, manufacturers, or online discounters. It’s not an easy industry to be in that’s for sure.

  • emd

    Strong day guys, good stuff indeed.
    You have deff smoked A&R this week (but I think they are on vaca.)

    I get a pretty good cross section from all the mags both US and UK. As we might expect, yeah they are there to sell and pump up the crowd but the UK ones are way more entertaining and legit(ish).

    RacerX and RRW are the 2 I will read mag wise from the US. The rest are garbage for the most part with zero personality and or actual opinion. Its tough out there these days for all of motorsports not just mags so think about how bad they have it at the moment. Hopefully they will evolve and recreate what they offer and how they do it.

  • DoctorNine

    Another sad tale from print media. It’s starting to get to be too much for me to hear it over and over again. Ford can take comfort in the simple fact, that any journalist worth his or her salt, is dancing on a knife blade everyday, and the really good ones have been fired a few times to prove that they aren’t pulling punches. To hell with corporate. The intellectual property is in the opinions and the writing. I tune in for that, and advertisers that try to throw their weight around lose my business. Quality manufacturers understand that honesty is more important than an occasional black eye here and there on product. Besides, even a braying mule gets his oats, if the noise alerts his master that a wolf is in the barn. Let Ford be any kind of jackass you want to make him, he still had a point. Enough said.

  • Bald Shaun

    Blowing the Lid Off garnered a lot of respect for Motorcyclist, one of the main reasons that it’s the only U.S. moto rag I still subscribe to. Not for long, though. Sympathy for the Devil, placed in Catterson’s shoes, he had a hard decision to make, and I can’t really hate him for it. But his, and the magazine’s, creditability are blown. Can I get online subscriptions to the British bike mags?

    • Tomas Murdych

      You can subscribe to “Bike” for $64/year.

  • Derek.

    Blowing the Lid was a great article. I made sure to pass it along to all of my friends and family. It was an article that helped elevate Motorcyclist above the fry in my perceptions and directly led to me picking their rag up off the news-stand more then a few times. Thanks for the wonderful article Dexter. I’ll definitely have second thoughts next time I’m standing at the news-stand or when looking for my next lid.

  • jason

    when is HFL going to hire Dexter Ford?

  • Robert Buchsbaum

    As a helmet salesman for almost 20 years, the Motorcyclist article was certainly interesting and probably went a long way to convince Snell to re evaluate some of their testing procedures, but “proved” little about what standards are relevant to all riders in all situations, and in my opinion was seriously flawed by making the assumption that no one needs a helmet that protects you from an impact more severe than a 9 foot drop, insinuating that if your head hits anything that hard, you’ll most probably die from other (non head related) injuries. Ridiculous. Yes…the Snell M2005 standard produced a harder shell that may have indeed resulted in a greater chance of being concussed, but I’ll tale my chances with suffering from a concussion any day over being dead. The other flaw in the article was that it threw expensive helmets under the bus with little explanation that most fit far better that their less expensive rivals (and fit is major factor in providing protection), and that they can be quieter, more comfortable, provide better peripheral vision, and have faceshields that are far less prone to distortion….all important factors when purchasing a helmet. So to those who walked away from the article with the ability to rationalize saving money when purchasing protective gear…..Good luck! I’ve been crashing race bikes for over 30 years, and have (and always will) purchase what I believe are the best helmets available, which in almost every case, are on the “top shelf”.

  • Lee Keller King

    Well, damn! Why did I have to be reminded that you can’t trust “the man?” I will probably never enjoy Motorcyclist as much now that I know the days of “Blowing the Lid Off” are gone; traded for business as usual.

  • Leroy

    Blowing the lid off was a good story. It wasn’t great. But it did raise some questions about the safety of the Snell tests. But Catterson wasn’t editor when it came out. Mitch Boehm was. This story is similar to Dirt Rider’s (sister publication to MC) recent helmet testing story where they opened the door to real life helmet testing away from the snell controversy. In that test, DR editor Jimmy Lewis knew helmet manufacturers wouldn’t like to have their helmets bashed (literally and figuratively) in public. So, he gave them the option to reveal or stay obscure in the name of finding out if some helmets are safer since nobody would send a helmet to a magazine test if the helmet wasn’t designed to pass the test (which IS the whole point here).

    Of course, the helmet that shined wanted to be seen, but that wasn’t the point of the story. These Editors really care about helmet safety. Trust me, they get a ton of pressure every time they have these ideas.

    Catterson came in after the fact and likely inherited this problem as it was spiraling downward. For those in the motorcycle industry, Ford has become a bad taste in the mouth. His point was made in the article then he went out and took it too far in many ways. Not in public displays of journalism, mind you.

    But that’s not good headline material for HfL. It’s amazing to me every time I read an expose piece like this from journalists that they just happen to have all the pieces to the victim’s puzzle.

    Is this really news or are you angry at Motorcyclist? Where’s the story again? Editors fire contributors and staffers all the time. Yes, sometimes their bosses make them do it. But credibility is not lost when the same publishing company completes another helmet test in the name of safety.

    What’s next? A Mitch Boehm revelation that he was canned because the magazine’s brass thought he someone else could do better? OMG! Stop the Presses!

    I thought this was a site about bikes. Not the media that talks about bikes. There are some credibility issues going on here.

  • Paul

    Ok, where is Ford going? That’s who gets my subscription. I don’t give a damn if it is saddle stitched!

  • http://bloodfalcons.blogspot.com motoguru

    IMO, Motorcyclist has been on a bad downhill slide for years…

  • Turf

    Motorcyclist is kind of like SNL

    it used to be good

  • Fred Lee Weldon

    That’s why I subscribe th Motorcycle Consumer News.

  • Rob

    I’m pretty sure I remember that Susan Carpenter editorial and it was only the truth – she doesn’t know jack shit.

    The original Snell 2005 story may be the motorcycle magazine story of the past decade. It was well supported by fact and data and broke down many assumptions that motorcyclist shopped by.

    The sad part is that this is all almost not surprising. American motorcycle print magazines are pure crap compared to the British rags. Maybe Catterson should take some notes from the boys back home. And loose about 60 lbs. Seeing his fat ass bogging down a poor 250 motocross with his swollen belly bulging out of a head-to-toe Shift outfit that looks out of place on anyone that doesn’t finish every three words with “dude” can’t be helping to sell anything but Trimspa…

  • Isaac

    Wow this is why we should have a Revolutionary war again. We should take down all big business and take the power back.

  • geonerd

    Anyone who has ever picked up an issue of Motorcyclist, Sport Rider or Cycle World for that matter, would quickly see what their priorities are. 85 pages of ads, broken up by a few pages of softball reviews which also equate to ads.

    Great piece. Very, very interesting. It’s always nice to see douchebags get exposed publicly. Keep it up!

  • Jeff

    Catterson’s an utter disappointment, and as for Shoei/Arai, they’re the LAST brands I’m shopping any more. We’re all forgetting how many years Snell fought Dexter over this before finally relenting.

  • ursu5

    Arai and Shoei (?) should actually be happy Dixon is willing to let the secrets out because it allows the industry to move forward even if there is grumbling in the short term.
    The problem I see for the manufacturers / Snell is that by allowing 2 years of overlap between M2005 and M2010 without obvious labeling they intentionally foster a presumption by the customer that a new helmet meets the current best standard. Still 275 g’s for M2010 is a pretty harsh upper limit.
    “Mr. Newman has estimated an impact of 200 to 250 g’s to the head corresponds to a severe brain injury, that a 250 to 300g impact corresponds to a critical injury, and that a hit over 300 g’s is often not survivable.”
    It seems Snell is late to the party and is trying to transition itself to a modern performance standard without making their old standard look bad and without causing the brands that use their endorsement pay a heavy price in transition for their prior patronage. Otherwise the brands might just make a break for the hills of ECE 22-05 and the US market could be less confusing.
    Pressure to fire Dixon makes it look really bad and as if advertisers care more about preserving a market for old spec helmets than about having informed customers. I hope Dixon finds another venue for his writing.

  • Ben

    i wondered for years how some of the UK bike mags could get away with actual product reviews, opinions and destruction testing, but somehow keep advertisers.
    looking through North American bike mags (of the 90′s anyway), i was always so disappointed at the lack of reporting. each issue read like a giant suck-up to manufacturers. i find this applies roughly to car magazines as well.

    why the difference?

  • http://twitter.com/beastincarnate Ben Wipperman

    Great article and very interesting, albeit not surprising if all of Ford’s contentions are true. If so, what a contrast between this and the previous comments from Aaron Frank about the integrity of the magazine.

    But who knows where the truth really lies?

    As a reader of the mag, I can only say that I’m unimpressed with their product reviews. That’s a generous statement.

  • vic

    it saddens me that there isn’t a motorcycle equivalent of a top gear[the show].
    firing someone for speaking his mind is a very low blow. print media is on a worldwide decline mostly because the quality of content has gone down the hill once they became exclusively dependent on advertising dollars.

  • http://damiengaudet.blogspot.com damien

    Great write up. Very interesting indeed.

    Brian Catterson does seem very two-faced. To make all those comments to Ford and then say the opposite in the termination letter is pretty bad.

    Well, I suppose that’s standard practice in corporate America.

  • Patrick from Astoria

    A few questions, and one rant:

    I’m left wondering if there was any sort of quid pro quo going on here, or if Catterson and his overlords acted preemptively. It’s bad if they fretted and told him to pack; it’s much, much worse if the people from Shoei and Arai played Godfather.

    How badly does this reflect on the helmet makers, and how much of this insinuation really goes to the American marketing departments? As has been noted, the British mags are what they are – much to the better, I’d say – and that doesn’t seem to overly affect their ad relationships.

    Lastly, hey, it’s Motorcyclist. All of what used to be the Petersen magazines (see also Motor trend) have forever been the place to be to suck up to manufacturers with “closest ever!” comparisons, use awkward slang (camshafts are “bump sticks”? Ugh), and in general pursue the lowest common denominator while turning as much of a profit as possible, integrity and style be damned.

    The more life goes on, the happier I am I didn’t go for the journalism degree.

  • http://www.tanshanomi.com Tanshanomi

    I agree with Fred Lee Weldon’s comment above. Anybody who is mad about this should subscribe to Motorcycle Consumer News. It has ZERO advertising, and calls ‘em the way they are; they don’t deliberately gloss over glaring errors in the products they test. It’s not perfect: they still get “samples” to test from manufacturers and it’s too focused on BMW/adventure touring fanbois, and sometimes the writers get their facts wrong, but those mistakes are not all that common and are truly that — mistakes, not deliberate deception.

    Even if their subject matter is not quite on target for you, supporting them may convince others out there that there is a place for subscriber-supported bike magazines.

    Or, you can just stick to the Internet blogs…though there is still something about flopping on the couch with a print magazine.

  • Zach

    Susan Carpenter’s “Throttle Jockey” column was pulled about a month after her emissions article, and now she only writes part time about motorcycles. From these emails (all of which sound like they were leaked by Dexter), it sounds like a lot of people in the industry were very unhappy with her.

    As for the rest of this, it sounds plausible, but Dexter Ford comes across as an angry ex-employee who was unhappy with being fired and leaked selected emails. I hope you were careful about your fact checking.

  • http://www.dajomamow.com george

    i’ve been collecting both motorcyclist and cycle world for the past 8 years, always liked cycle world a bit more for their editorial. it seemed more real world than others and i personally liked their poi t of view better. motorcyclist always looked more liked they were focused on advertising and pleasing all the manufacturers. i think that motorcyclist are more subjective. claiming that almost everything motorcycle related is great, and has minor faults. when we all know that is not true. this is why we invest in publications, spend countless hours on the internet ready opinion from different points of view. and that is why we build our own custom motorcycles to satisfy and the market has to offer. the truth should always come out. specially in cases such as this were our lifes are at stake. our way of life needs more people like dexter. sometimes manufacturers and publishers forget that this great industry is fueled by us, consumers, riders, our fashion, our style. just follow me for a bit. put the most extreme production sporting machines asaide for a bit. look at the current trend in motorcycles. they reflect the take and needs of the consumer. the new neo classics show a return to the essentials. manufaturers finally firgured out that there could be a reason why people still love and ride a 68 bonnie (sarcasm here). take harley for example. when they need a new model, they don’t sit with a blank shhet of paper and looke at a crystal ball and wonder what will we like in the next five years. they just go to a bike week rally and figure out how to mass produce what we have been doing in our garages in shop for years. but a little bit back to the main point. helmet manufacturers should always keep in mind that is our head that pays their bills. after i read that article in 2005, i looked at my helmets and simply hung on the wall the only snell i had, that’s it no more wearing it. im not willing to do their research and development at the expense of my head. and thanks to dexter they changed the standard, of course they new this but it cost millions to change manufacturing procceses, so screw the rider, we’ll just blame it on riders error or speeding. and don’t forget, dexter may have saved some lives. i would like to see if catterson wears and older standard snell helmet? by the way, i probably have that earlier atricle mantioned but not found online. i you give me the month and year i’ll look it up. thanks for reading. keep up the work on this amazing site which i read every morning as soon as i get to work.

  • HammSammich

    Wow, this is really disheartening. I don’t subscribe, but I’m sure I’ve picked up a copy of Motorcyclist here and there. I have to give thanks to Ford as well; when I was in the market for my first new street bike helmet (to replace the one that I’d inherited from a shelf in my parent’s garage – where it had been sitting since the late 1980′s) I did some online research at the time and relied heavily on his original Snell M2005 exposé. Not only did it save me a bundle of money, it may have spared me some additional injury after my accident last January.

    The link between advertising and journalism is one of those dirty realities that we all know exists but try to ignore. On the one hand, we can point to the system working, insofar as the original M2005 article was published. On the other hand, it’s unfair to expect diligent journalists to put their jobs on the line just to get an important story out, and it certainly makes me wonder how many similar controversies have been hidden at the advertisers behest. Fortunately, the internet, despite all of the disinformation and slander it contains, has had some positive impact on such issues.

    For my part, the only bike rag I regularly purchase is Classic Bike (last time I checked, news stand prices were cheaper than a subscription in the US) and I don’t think that it has near the exposure to this kind of Advertiser/Editor collusion, if only by virtue of it’s subject matter.

    Anyways, great article, Wes… Keep ‘em coming.

  • http://www.livecollarfree.com James Schipper

    Great work, Ford. That helmet article is the only one I can remember forwarding to people.

  • Jon

    This is one of those “no shit Sherlock” articles.

    And to think, I wouldn’t even take a Motorcyclist subscription when it was offered to me for free.

  • Noone1569

    Impressive journalism Wes. Things like this will keep me at HFL above all other motorcycle spots on the web. Thank you, again!

  • ZATO1414

    Great reporting! The following is a quick response i just e-mailed to Motorcyclist Magazine… I’m sure it went directly to the trash bin.

    To whom will listen,
    Concerning the Dexter Ford dismissal, it appears Mr. Catterson was talking from both sides of his face. If you say one thing to Mr. Ford, you should mean it. If you then represent conflicting views of your publisher, you are lacking in integrity.
    I read the Susan Carpenter motorcycle “hate report” and wanted her shot at sunrise for her biased and blatantly unfactual reporting on emissions. I am sure more than a few people believed her vomit.
    I wear several Arai and Shoei Helmets and want to know what is safe for me and my friends. To squash the truth-teller because of editorial comment or a safety report in your magazine, is akin to book burning!
    Maybe Mr. Catterson can get a job in the White House Information Office, it is obvious that is where the publisher resides. An ex-Motorcyclist subscriber, because here in the USA, we still have the freedom to choose our helmets and our magazines. Thank you.

  • Dan

    Contrary to the statement that Susan Carpenter’s article about motorcycle emissions is unavailable, it can be found here:

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      “Let’s look at Ford’s Susan Carpenter column first. No such article appears to be available online…”

      Key there is “Ford’s…column” not Susan’s. :)

  • richmeyer

    So we can all agree that Catterson is a douche, no doubts there. A two-faced douche that encouraged the behavior that he then fired Ford for. Its bullshit and an outrage. But that’s life.

    The bigger issue here, and this HFL post is a perfect example of it, is the complete irrelevancy of motorcycle mags in the US. Just about everything I now read in rags like Motorcyclist I’ve already read on either HFL, The Kneeslider, or Asphalt and Rubber. Usually beating the paper mags by about a month. And have you ever visited the Motorcyclist website? Fucking horrible. And since there’s no real journalism going on in the paper mags, and its obviously going on here at HFL, it makes my choice easy.

    Thanks HFL dudes, I check the site everyday (usually a few times a day) and really enjoy your take on this industry that I love. Keep it up!

  • http://motonews.podbean.com Robin Hartfiel

    I discussed this with Dexter last November in a Podcast format, complete with the NYT piece that allegedly resulted in his termination. I was wondering when the lid would get blown off!


  • DA

    Fords brought this on himself. He arranged for a rigged, made up helmet standard that has never been used by anyone. One that was designed to produce the results he wanted to make snell look bad.
    Just because a so called “impartial” jornalist writes somrthing don’t get sucked in to believeing he knows more then actual engineers who designe these products and tests.
    His article did more harm then good for helmet saftey!!

    • Dev

      “Fords brought this on himself. He arranged for a rigged, made up helmet standard that has never been used by anyone. One that was designed to produce the results he wanted to make snell look bad.
      Just because a so called “impartial” jornalist writes somrthing don’t get sucked in to believeing he knows more then actual engineers who designe these products and tests.
      His article did more harm then good for helmet saftey!!”


      So do you work for Shoei,Arai or Catterson? Ford’s original article was excellent, and in my experience working with engineers in a manufacturing industry, they aren’t anywhere near as smart as you give them credit for.
      I’ve taken the hard knock from a crash, and I’ll take the softer helmet thank you! I know enough to avoid the old Snell standard.
      Ford’s article was great for helmet safety because it forced a change. If he really was wrong, there would never have been a change…

  • tbird245

    I used to work at Motorcyclist. Dexter’s original piece “Blowing the Lid Off” was well researched, groundbreaking, and controversial. And it took major balls to publish it. The repercussions were enormous, costing the mag serious advertising dollars.
    I don’t know the real story behind the new controversy, but anyone who thinks that magazines DON’T cater to their advertisers in some way, shape or form is naive at best. Especially in today’s economic environment, the loss of a major advertiser can indeed result in job losses, either directly or indirectly. Everyone’s fearful of losing their job, and if they did, where do new employment opportunities lie in publishing? Nowhere.
    That’s the only reason why I left Motorcyclist. Ad dollars, and salaries, are shrinking. Jobs are being cut. Like it or not, magazines will one day go the way of the dodo.

  • http://blog.guidoebert.com Guido Ebert

    I wasn’t released for the reason Zeitgeist stated above. Advanstar, owner of Dealernews, has been in a long-time financial slide (hundreds laid off, magazines closed, production moved to India, etc.). They couldn’t afford the talent.

  • http://superhunky.com Matt Cuddy

    Reading that article by Dexter was like a breath of fresh air, like something from a pre-1973 Dirt Bike magazine expose’.

    When I was run over by an SUV in December of ’06 my Arai saved my life. Best lid I every owned, and I’m sure had I been wearing my old ratty Bell tour star I’d be pushing up the tulips.

    Advertisement money runs print (and electronic) magazines, it’s a sad fact. You want the truth, go out and test ride several bikes before you buy one, and make the choice yourself based on what you found out. Reading ad copy is just that, unless it’s written by Rick Sieman or John Burns.

    • geonerd

      Or… you could be a responsible consumer and visit sites like HFL, Asheonbikes and theKneeSlider and make informed decisions based upon facts.

  • GeddyT

    Thanks for the story, HFL.

    On one side, I can see where people could definitely be worked up at MotorCyclist. On the other hand, I agree with a few posters here that the Blowing the Lid Off article didn’t get the whole story. It’s really very simple: How many racers do you see crash at 100mph, get back to the paddock, replace their $75 KBC (or whatever) helmet, and go back out in the same session? None. The proof of the protection that top shelf helmets offer is right there on the TV every Sunday. On the flip side, I once cracked a cheap helmet by accidentally dropping it while holding it at my side!

    I’m not a big fan of Arai at all for the primary reason that I think they charge an awful lot for a helmet with a visor release system developed before I was born. But the most impressive helmet related story I’ve ever heard came from a guy who was wearing an RX7. Shop botched his tire swap and his front tire came off on the onramp on his way home. He slid down the onramp and into the freeway traffic at the wrong time. A semi trailer ended up running over his head! Cracked his skull, cracked his helmet shell, but it held and he lived. Not a feat to attempt with a cheap lid on your head…

    Also, although I love the instant access of internet motorcycle sites (my favorites are MotoMatters, A&R, WebBikeWorld, and, of course, here), I’m not one for vitriol towards the print mags. Still a great way to kill a few hours at work. Sure, they seem puffy. Sure, it seems like depending on who the editor is the mags are one-make love fests. But there are also occasional gems thrown in, and it’s not like the subscriptions cost more than a good six pack. And I still say that Kevin Cameron and Peter Egan are worth the price of a subscription alone.

    • HammSammich

      Your point about helmet shell durability/rigidity is good, but if I recall it is one that Ford addressed. If I remember correctly in “Blowing the Lid Off, he asserted that Snell was created particularly with puncture resistance in mind, but in doing so relied on a harder shell that transmitted more of the energy to the brain on impact. The conclusions I came away with after reading were that for most road accidents the lower G load transmitted to the brain by non-Snell DOT helmets was far more beneficial than the added puncture resistance (or in the case of your anecdote, crush resistance) of Snell m2005 certified helmets. Obviously, it’s a matter of striking a balance between impact absorbtion and puncture resistance, because in improving one, you tend to degrade the other. It would be misleading to generalize that M2005 helmets are always more dangerous than DOT only helmets, but it is absolutely disingenuous for Snell m2005 certified helmet makers to similarly claim that their helmets are always safer than DOT only helmets. I haven’t researched M2010 much, but as I understand it, they’ve shifted the focus more toward impact absorbtion, so perhaps it is now reasonable for SNELL certified helmet manufacturers to make such claims.

    • http://damiengaudet.blogspot.com damien

      I’m thinking most racers have top shelf helmets for lightness, and because the top shelf manufacturers have money to pay the riders?

  • Heatshock

    I agree with Geddy, the demise of the print mags is not assured. The deciding factor will be content. There is no doubt that the interwebs are better for fast access to breaking news and photographs but I don’t read the mags for that. I read them for Egan, Cameron, Burns, Trevitt et al. As long as the prose is entertaining I will continue to subscribe.

  • conswirloo

    Just as a reference for the carpenter “hatchet” job. It was published online only sometime in september of ’09. The article seems to have disappeared. I can only reference it because I actually commented in their feedback section in the forums after I’d read the article.

    It was a strange article, as it addressed the LA times article from 15 months before, and her article addressed some important issues, not all bikes are eco-friendly.

    The helmet article was all right, but a bit of a snell hatchet job. Maybe he just has a conflict oriented writing style. The testing they reported doing doesn’t really tell me much. Its all well and good to say 100 joules, and thats nice and quantifiable, but it doesn’t tell me how many joules a head impact into the side of a ford explorer is, which to me, is more important.

    But if I want good unbiased articles, Motorcycle consumer news is where I’d head.

  • http://www.hellforleather.com Jim

    I’m also in the jaded camp that isn’t the least bit surprised by this report outside of wondering why Hell For Leather is making a big deal about it? Axe to grind? Friend of Ford?

    If Hell For Leather was completely supported by advertising dollars (which is the ultimate goal I assume so that Wes and Grant can do this full time) then they too will feel the pressure and sense of entitlement that advertisers exert when they are paying to “support something”. If this site becomes your livelihood, then you will have to face the same issues.

    If the point of this article is to bring to light that a decent journo was shitcanned for crappy reasons then kudos to HFL for telling the story. Instead this article comes across as sensationalistic, with big dramatic headlines that (gasp) Motorcyclist might have advertiser pressures.

    You guys need to cool it on the melodrama and keep it simple stupid. I read all the above and it just makes me feel like you guys have an axe to grind against Catterson and Motorcyclist, when in reality it is really about Ford.

    You guys aren’t that naive to think that this couldn’t happen to you some day?

    - j

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      I think that it’s entirely possible for publications to avoid situations like the one that apparently occurred here.

      If an advertiser demands something unethical, you tell them “no.” Make business decisions based on what feels right, not what leads to short-term profit. Simple as that.

      Thinking of advertising as “supporting” a publication is flawed. Publications have readers, brands need to reach those readers, they do so with advertising. Readers have the power, not advertisers, sometimes that just hard to remember.

      • eric

        Amen, Wes! Well said.

      • johnnyb

        Yes, and our mommies and teachers and policemen and politicians and circus clowns always have our Best Interests at heart.

  • JohnnyB

    and since when do you have to fire freelance guys anyway? Was Dexter on staff up there? I don’t thin so, Lucy? Guess that’s the thanks Catterson gets for being straight with him instead of just not using him anymore.
    For all the shocked indignance that there are advertising pressures on magazine editors, you have to give credit to Motorcyclist for running the original article. Just like you have to give credit to Cycle World for telling the truth about the whole H-D/ Buell shutdown story. H-D was not so happy, I bet.
    The struggle between the truth and the dollar is what publishing has always been about, Editor vs Publisher!
    Having said that, it is incredibly lame to can a veteran like Dexter for something he wrote for a different publication instead of taking his back. Some of us aren’t terribly surprised.

  • http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:DcmIVcLZzOKKpM:http://paul.kedrosky.com/WindowsLiveWriter/BeItResolvedAmericaSucks_F386/CarlSpackler_2.jpg powermatic

    “…suggesting an editorial environment where profit is put before ethical behavior.”

    if I were HFL, I wouldn’t be too smug. When the editor(s) are working for one motorcycle manufacturer, even to the point of mocking their direct competition, how can we be sure that their wall between Advertising and Editorial hasn’t crumbled as well? If nothing else, that type of activity gives the allusion of favoritism, and as shown, credibility can plummet in a heartbeat.

    • HammSammich

      Just out of curiousity, for which one manufacturer are the HFL Editors supposedly working? And which direct competitor are they supposedly mocking? I’m not being glib, I’ve just not noticed it personally and would like some elaboration.

      • http://Http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        Oh, we’re supposedly in the pocket of aprilia and hate BMW because they paid us to make a funny YouTube video. Conspriracy theories, ftw.

        • HammSammich

          Ah, thanks for the clarification, Wes. I suppose the fact that it never occurred to me that the Aprilia video represented some sort of impropriety must mean that I’m just incredibly naive. But at least this explains Grant’s full-back tattoo of Calvin pissing on the roundel. ;)

  • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D.

    Grant and Wes did a video ad for Aprilia, specifically for the RSV4, whose main competition at this time is the BMW S1000. They did, however, put up pretty prominent disclaimers about their own involvement in the project. Also, they haven’t done (to my knowledge) a direct comparison between the Aprilia and the BMW, or badmouthed the beemer in an editorial.

  • MikeL

    Just got the latest issue of MC, and in glancing thru it, was reminded that the ad side of things have had input for quite some time. On page 90, the ‘MC Tested’ has a ‘review’ of a Firstgear jacket, written by none other than Marty Estes, listed on the masthead as publisher – on the advertising side of the masthead, not the edit side. Not the first time i’ve seen him write stuff either.

  • Glen

    chasing the dollar is not uncommon, it is all over and in every industry. so why would M/C print be different? These guys want to keep the doors open and a paid staff and to do that is thru ad $$. Gone are the days of unbias news, tv, papers, and mags we have seen the shift to entertainment media not news. Ford felt he had to do what he did GREAT, Catterson did what he felt he needed to do, ok…


  • Dennis Bratland

    The article is available online:

    Ford, Dexter. “Smog-spewing Susan.” Motorcyclist October 2009: page 28

    Go to your public or university library, and log in with your library card number. If they offer the Gale General OneFile database, browse to Motorcyclist magazine and search for “Susan Carpenter.” You should also be able to find the letters to the editor that ran in response, in December 2009. They have both the full text and PDFs of the magazine pages.

  • UglyDuc

    I knew most motorags were crap as soon as I started riding and reading them about 7 years ago. Why? Because they never had anything BAD to say about anything, bikes, gear, parts everything was always well made, a good price and would last.

    RRW I still read and I’ll buy the british mag Bike when I’m at the air port but that’s it.

  • Dennis Bratland

    Also: Dexter Ford didn’t write just one article in Motorcyclist on this. There were four follow-ups to “Blowing the lid off,” plus a response from Harry Hurt, Jr.:

    • Blowing the lid off: searching for the truth behind helmet design, helmet standards and actual head protection.(SPECIAL REPORT), Motorcyclist, Dexter Ford. 1299 (June 2005): p64(19). (9709 words)
    • Hurt on helmet standards.(BACKFIRES)(Letter to the Editor), Motorcyclist, 1302 (Sept 2005): p16(1). (181 words)
    • Blowing the lid off, part deux: the future of helmets. Where do we head from here?(SPECIAL REPORT), Motorcyclist, Dexter Ford. 1304 (Nov 2005): p56(6). (3101 words)
    • New helmet standard for 2010: Snell sees the light.(up to speed), Motorcyclist, Dexter Ford. 1322 (May 2007): p14(2). (328 words)
    • Snell sees it our way.(WHOKNEW?)(Snell M2005), Motorcyclist, Dexter Ford. 1331 (Feb 2008): p24(2). (711 words)
    • The new Snell M2010 helmet standard: Snell surrenders, declares victory.(UP TO SPEED), Motorcyclist, Dexter Ford. 1350 (Sept 2009): p16(2). (636 words)
  • http://www.atomic-moto.com Brian Price

    Brian Catterson is not the villain here, he just happens to be named. IN all likelihood he was just trying to control events from the middle, and I doubt he would have been capable of influencing anything. More likely that he would have also lost his job.

    The magazine management and the advertisers were the ones exerting force.


  • Stephen

    There’s perhaps another reason why Ford was fired. If you read the e-mails in their entirety, there’s an ongoing battle about editing. Ford wants to edit his own work; Catterson would rather make the editing cuts. There are lots of writers who think their writing copy is perfect the first time out and act like complete jerks when someone dares touch their sacred work.

    So maybe Ford’s a pain in the ass and “I fear for my job” is a convenient excuse to get rid of him.

  • MadTheo

    Just splendid, another death spiral. Advertisers vs. Publisher, Publisher vs. Editor, (ex-)editor vs. ex-writer, subscribers vs. magazine, foundation vs. helmet industry, industry vs. customers… more carnage than a lane-splitting wreck on the 405.

  • Tim

    What is the goal of the manufacturers? If I make a product and the users are killed or maimed-then I will loose market share and go out of business. Why not view the data critically, and change the process? If not convinced of the validity of the data and conclusions-do your own study and publish the findings. This putting financial pressure on publications is just dumb. Have the manufacturers ever considered that when a motorcyclist dies in an accident, people mourn the dead and often quit riding because of it. Your market size shrinks. Consider the converse-safer helmets mean more riders live to tell about it and more people buy helmets.

    This sort of thing is why GM and Chrysler are mere shadows of their former selves.

  • Mark S

    Hey Brian Catterson-

    I advertise in the back pages of your magazine. Not anymore as I won’t renew now. I also cancelled my subscription. Ethics are paramount to me. Any review / product recommendation in your magazine will be tinged with the taint of bias. I’d hate to think you actually recommend a product (safety item especially!) based upon advertising dollars paid to your publication.

    Hopefully your big advertisers are worth it — us small folks who advertise will now look elsewhere.

    Mark S.

  • DanMcP

    As to ” When’s the last time you saw a scathing review of a bike in any national mag?” (Fazer6, July 7), see Cycle Canada, June 2010 issue. Two different contributors tested the oddball DN-01, entitled, “Just what, exactly is the point of Honda’s DN-01?” An amusing read; the bike was roundly “scathed”. While it may be that no magazine can entirely escape pressure from advertisers, I have found Cycle Canada to be reliably candid.

    Nice work on the article. I destroyed a new Shoei TZ-R auguring into a curb last year, and credit the helmet with flawless performance for that incident. I now have an Arai, but I’m convinced as to the merit of the Euro and Snell 2010 standards.

  • Lee

    Catterson’s wise leadership includes a recent issue of the magazine in which there were no less than three photos of people flipping the bird at the camera. Catterson’s behavior is something that most of us outgrew in our early teens.

  • Sean

    I think this just smells of bitterness over being fired. Catterson asked him to focus on the positives of the new standard rather than assassinating the old one. What’s wrong with that? It doesn’t change the objectivity of the article. Do you want to hang out with the angry complainer at the party or the guy who knows where the good beer is?

  • Zeitgeist

    Guido thanks for the correction it just looked timing wise a little suspect. ;)

  • MTGR

    The 05 Helmet article was a rarity for this day and age and I applauded them for it then and now. Sadly, look at the results- the writer fired from a magazine that never even published the current article in question!

    It has been years since the big moto print mags were willing to take any kind of stance on any topic, with most reviews and tests providing more lip service and less actual facts than the manufacturers own brochures. The reason, whether openly acknowledged or not, was always the fear of lost adverts.

    Welcome to the new America where the investors call the shots rather than the corps they are investing in.

    I agree Catterson was in a difficult position here, though having said that he once personally assure me he would cover expenses for an article I did when he was at Cycle World years back and then flopped like a fish on that once the article was already published. The final expenses offer they made was about 10% of what I actually spent, ridiculous.

    This is why the big magazines are failing while the internet is thriving. Sad to say but true print journalism no longer exists, it is too compromised. There is only print propaganda and internet journos, some credible and some not.

    I will use my own brain cells and wade through the good and bad online rather than pay extra every month to blindly swallow the propaganda. Judging by how fast the mags are falling other must feel the same and the point will soon be moot anyway.

  • DB

    Sean: This isn’t about hanging out with the funny guy vs. the gloomy guy. This is about offering objective information about a piece of equipment that literally saves lives.

    The editor’s comment about focusing on the positive is a desperate attempt to “split the baby in half” that is an attempt to use (and ultimately destroy) the credibility of the author to save advertising dollars.

    He was right to refuse.

    Credibility is like virginity: You can only lose it once.

  • BW

    As far as objective reporting & reviews on bikes I’ve always felt the Brit bike mags are more on point (Visor Down in particular is a great mag). That said, I subscribe to Motorcyclist & Sport Rider to get my regular moto-fix. Over the years I came to enjoy Catterson’s column & the general tone he set for that publication. I ran into him at a concert in Hollywood last summer & said, “hey man, I’m a big fan of your writing.” He said, “so am I” and walked away. Nice to know that he’s not just a prick, but also a dirtbag. Suckit Fatterson!

  • Alex

    How mean a bad publicity can be!

    I support the effort of Catterson. We need guys like him.

    HOWEVER, it´s no surprise to me that all the Government standards are not demanding at all.

    For them they shouldn´t be because it regulates the quality of the helmet for normal people at regular legal use only. Not for extreme use. The extreme or “out of the curve” demands will be offered by the Market. I know that it sounds wrong, but it how the public system works.

    For example here in Brazil, Inmetro uses a variation of Snell and certificates US$ 15,00 crap helmets. But also Arai and Shoei have to pass through certification in EVERY imported container. It`s ridiculous but it`s true.

    We must be FAIR and realize the Arai and Shoei are what they are today because they always exceeded ANY Government standard. They have a much higher Factory standard. I personally saw this myself twice in Japan. But they MUST submit their helmets to DOT, ECE, Snell, Inmetro… to be able to sell in different markets.

    Ask yourself this:

    Why Arai was the first Helmet maker to attend Snell 2010, even before the March, 2012 deadline?
    Because it’s easy to pass in any standard for Arai. They don’t need new projects to attend JUST the new regulations and spend the rest of the budget in marketing.

    We must go easy with what we don’t really know guys!

    In fact we must be happy that there still are a very few really safety focused helmet companies in the market, including Arai and Shoei.

    • geonerd

      bollocks. everyone knows that the gap between arai/shoei and most other helmet manufacturers has shrunken down to the point where it is no longer about quality and safety, but brand loyalty and personal preference.

      but let’s not get off track. the point of this article, for me anyway, is that motorcyclist magazine sucks because they have become more focused on selling ads than in providing quality content.

      BIKE, Performance Bikes, MCN and Das Motorrad are all shining examples of how a successful motorcycle magazine should come together.

      and for everyone defending catterson’s cowardly actions because he’s “got a family to feed” or because it was a “tough decision” have obviously never been in that position. you live by the sword, you die by the sword. catterson might not be the next in line to lose his job (he’s obviously willing to throw others under the bus first) but given the ethical shitstorm he’s involved in, it is just a matter of time. just a matter of time before someone, who’s an even bigger coward than catterson is, comes along and squashes him like a bug.

    • Lawrence

      a lot of he-says-she-says in your comments. Arai got the SNELL M2010 early because being one of the strongest defender of the SNELL rating (including M2005) over the years, Arai, like most companies knew way in advance that the standard was coming out SNELL doesn’t do things by surprise, it’s an old organisation that works the old way and get the main actors involved before they implement the testing.

      When you mean Arai exceeds all standards and government standards”, do you really believe that Arai is the only company doing that? What documents or test-results do you have to back your “facts” up, that Bell, Shoei, AGV, Shark, Nolan, HJC and in off-road Fox, Thor, TLD, do not do the same, do not achieve the same “above standard” performances. Come on, get back to reality, legends are great though, I agree.

  • http://www.owenartstudios.com Beacham Owen

    Hopefully the New York Times will give Ford a bigger voice after his firing from Motorcyclist. I’ve always enjoyed his take on many subjects.

    I own both Arai and Shoei helmets and find them to be most comfortable and worth the extra money. I will still read the publication as there are many other writers and staff that are not to blame for Catterson’s (and the magazine’s publishers)lack of journalistic integrity.

    this whole deal will probably make Dexter Ford a bigger “star” with a wider audience in the long run. We all love a rebel.

  • http://www.motorbyte.com/mmm/pages/geezer/geezmain.htm T.Day

    “. . . the emails raise troubling questions about a potentially unethical relationship between advertising dollars and editorial content at the popular magazine. . .” Seriously? You had questions about their relationship after all these years of bland reviews and industry cheer-leading? The only honest major magazine we have is MCN and even they are on the edge of being nothing more than a PR magazine, sometimes. Motorcyclist is the worst of the lot, though. Catterson has made the magazine into a marketing tool for everyone from loud pipe vendors to designer clothing to the bike mfgs.

    If you think you’re reading critical reviews in the major magazines, you just aren’t paying attention.


    This is nothing new, some mags balance the advertiser $/no-limits-reporting equation better than others. Look at the Eurpoean motorcycle mags, they are twice as thick as American mags, have much better print and paper quality, yet still get away with bashing products here and there. They know how to balance that equation.

    With Motorcyclist, how can they pay the bills when a subscription can be had for less than $10 per year? Problem is, Ford did it right with “blowing the lid off” but pushed too far with his last piece. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing – the truth can come out without causing further problems. He could have easily mentioned the viability of non-Snell helmets while still giving the due credit to Snell for updating its 2010 regs. It’s not that hard, unless you just plain want to piss someone off, regardless of the outcome…

    I now want to read Ford’s stuff more than before, but Motorcyclist is still a good mag – they just better address this fully in the mag, and to the readers, if they hope to keep their subscriber #’s up.

  • Steve Klose

    I subscribe to Motorcyclist, Cycle World and Motorcycle Consumer News. Of those mags the ONLY one I would trust when it comes to product evaluation is MCN. Why? They do not accept paid advertising.

    I read the others for entertainment value. CW should erect a monument to Kevin Cameron.

    My only real complaint with MCN is their editor, Dave Searle. He’s a real clown who can’t decide whether he wants to be Sarah Palin or K. Cameron. Fortunately his column is on the inner front cover, and Fred Rau’s is on the inner back. Fred makes up for any mess Dave created.

    Do editors really rise to the level of their incompetence? Let’s hope Motorcyclist can sort themselves out.

  • Wayne Y

    This is sad that a good journalist (a dying breed) like Ford gets fired for telling the truth. I had a feeling when Mitch Bohem left MC the magazine would go down hill quickly. I just didn’t realize it’d happen so quickly. Catterson has single handedly flushed this once great magazine right down the toilet. I mean come on; Arron “Crashy” Frank??? This guy has done more to piss of motorcycle companies by crashing almost every modern sportbike made in the last 3 years! James PArker?? What an arrogant douche-bag! Even Catterson wouldn’t know a honest article if it bit him in the (rather large) ass! I will miss good writers like Jack Lewis but it’s time to put MY money where my mouth is and cancel that subscription.

    • Tony

      Even the Europeans have written articles about the SNELL helmets being too hard for smaller heads. This is why they have there own standards.

  • PatriciaBLee

    Great reporting. To this journalist, they
    both sound like jerks.

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  • Slacker

    I just worry because… as it is, motorcyclists make up a pretty small population in the US (and worldwide). Unfortunately this might be a result of that fact. You have to scrounge for the advertising dollars so you can keep your employees paid and keep the press running. I guess that’s a take that I’m seeing but I’m not sure…