Lessons Learned From Becoming a Motorcycle Journalist

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I first met RideApart staffer, Wes Siler when he was visiting LA and ended up sleeping on my couch. Two and a half years later, we both have the privilege of working for the best motorcycle website in the world (I may be somewhat biased). It’s been a long and strange road, but here’s what I’ve learned along the way.

Before Becoming A Motorcycle Journalist: I was an ignorant hipster.
I used my Triumph Bonneville “café racer” to commute to my job as a middle school teacher and to run between casting calls. Riding around in my novelty open-face, unarmored denim jacket and low-cut Vans, I thought I had it all figured out. I thought I was the coolest guy on two wheels.

Then, I started working at RideApart and everything changed.

After Becoming A Motorcycle Journalist: I just want to ride.
Turns out I was wrong about all of the above. Riding a track, free from traffic and nailing a perfect line is an absolute blast. As is jumping a dirt bike or riding down a deserted highway into a pitch black storm, knowing you’re prepared for whatever may be ahead. Heck, spending time on anything with an engine is good. Riding quads in around Hungry Valley was one of the best days I’ve ever had, despite a huge crash, as were the two days spent on a Sea-Doo Spark.

Before: I thought denim could save my skin.
I was a tough sell on wearing good gear. I figured if I just rode safely, I could look “cool” in regular street clothes. A big part of that was simple because I didn’t really know what the consequences were. Obviously working at RideApart, I learned about consequences quickly.

After: I’m the biggest gear nerd on the planet.
That first winter when Wes was in LA, he lent me his Alpinestars 365 Gore-Tex leather jacket and my roommate let me borrow a Scorpion full-face. I wrote a much more extensive piece called “How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Wear Real Gear“, but the short of it is, I started feeling naked in anything less. The feeling of protection and just the comfort that real riding gear delivers has to be experienced to be believed. Now I geek out on new zipper details, obsess over glove fit and am eternally on the look out for ways to alleviate my terminally sore butt. I own gear for summer (dirt, street, track, touring), winter (ADV and street) and pretty much anything in between. I’ve come a long way.

Before: I only rode around the city.
Partially because my bike wasn’t very comfortable and partially because I didn’t know how to do anything else. My idea of a fun ride was checking out a good restaurant or visiting a friend.

After: I learned to love the dirt.
I know I said all bikes are awesome, but none are quite so awesome as riding dual sport. No cars, no other riders crashing into you, you get to explore the wilderness and, if you do fall, you don’t tend to get hurt. Riding off-road, for me, just ticks all the boxes: speed, skill, adventure, natural beauty. There’s always another trail to explore.

I’m sure the list of things learned will continue to expand as I evolve and grow as a journalist. So far, its been a good ride.

Recommended Reading:
Commentary: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Wear Real Gear
Video: RideApart 3: Why quads are awesome

  • Jesse Huff

    We’ll said

  • michaelmatos

    Nicely put. Although I love my 75 xs650, geared up with more leather than a Judas Priest concert. Cafe racer, see doo, or an 8 inch seven ply stuntwood with spitfire wheels. Fun is where you find it.

  • Steve

    While i agree with you in totality about wearing gear, I’d love to know what you wear for the summer that you think protects you?

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      I wrote http://rideapart.com/2013/09/gear-review-summer-garb/ a few weeks ago. Just picked up ICON’s Truant boots which are even better. Been wearing ICON’s Anthem mesh pants some too, but still looking for good riding jeans. Writing an article about another warm weather jacket this evening.

      • Steve

        Nice, I’ll be following… I have the Icon Overlord pants, AlpineStars Leather Jacket and a pair of Sidi’s that I wear. Definitely feel protection from it, but damn man it’s freaken hot in the dead of summer. I had a pair of mesh pants before and decided that they weren’t worth it. They may buy you more sliding range on a local road but on a highway I don’t think they really offer protection. Thanks for responding, I’ll be watching for your reviews.

      • NOCHnoch

        Re:riding jeans…I’ve got two pairs: Deth Killers (RIP!) for warm weather and short rides, since they cool like regular denim, and Maple Jeans for longer trips and cooler weather (they’re armored and lined with kevlar, instead of having the kevlar woven in like the Deth Killers). The knee armor doesn’t move to the outside of the knee as much as I’d like, but overall they’re pretty good.

        One note if you’re buying in the US: Go through Magnum Cycles in Austin, as you really don’t want to have to mail your jeans back to the UK if they don’t fit. I had to size down quite a bit, even after a few hot water soaks they’re not as skinny as I’d like.

        • Adam Gus

          Can you still get Jeans from Deth Killers? I’ve been having trouble figuring out how to order/find them. Thanks in advance for the help

  • John Merlin Williams

    Sean – re: “…still looking for good riding jeans…” What have you heard about a brand called “Bull-it” jeans, made of a non-aramid fiber called Covec? They claim higher level of protection than kevlar-lined denim. Apparently the only jean (jean-like?) material that has received a CE Level 2 certification. They’re from the U.K. but they’ve told me they are now being brought into the U.S.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      Definitely going to check that out, thanks for the recommendation.

      • http://www.bikeexif.com/ Chris Hunter

        There are also Maple Jeans, heavy-duty selvedge denim, Kevlar lining, heavy-duty stitching, and armor in the knees and hips. I wear them every time I ride.

      • Geert Willem van der Horst

        REVIT has a new line of riding jeans that looks very promising. You might wanna look into that so that you recommend them to me (or not)

        • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

          Supposedly, they’re on their way.

    • Generic42

      I’ve seen these, I’d love to get them but I can’t find a pair in the states.

    • Dan

      Best non-jean alternative: Dainese Yamato Cotton pants (black). Just got these and they’re pretty sweet. The cut on the 32s is slim enough for double duty in Williamsburg. The knee/hip padding isn’t CE rated, but I think people looking at these are probably considering riding in regular jeans. I’ve tried a lot of products and these are the closest thing I’ve found to ‘normal looking’ pants with some protection. Plus they’re pretty reasonably priced ($135 at Revzilla). Now I just need a decent pair of technical sneakers to round out the casual riding loadout.

  • Rameses the 2nd

    Sean, great article. I have a Scrambler, so I think I belong to the hipster group. I wear gloves, a jacket with elbow and shoulder pads, a full face helmet and a regular boots (not weather proof and not padded), but I am wondering what to do for knees and legs area. I just wear regular jeans almost all the time. And do you think that riding boots provide more protection than regular, Timberland type. boots? Thanks again.

    • http://www.lonewolfexpeditions.com/ Chad Berger

      The Icon Elsinore boots would work well with a scrambler, they look cool and have decent protection.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      Unfortunately, I do think it matters. I was hit while wearing Doc Martens and, while I luckily wasn’t hurt, I realized how vulnerable my feet were when I had a giant knot on the side of my ankle from being hit. You want both ankle support and protection, as well as a stiff sole to keep your foot protected. This topic has come up a lot recently, here are two links that should help

      http://rideapart.com/2013/08/ask-rideapart-when-it-comes-to-gear-how-good-is-good-enough/
      http://rideapart.com/2013/09/ask-rideapart-lets-talk-motorcycle-boots/

    • Rameses the 2nd

      Could someone recommend comfortable “normal looking” riding boots that are sub $200ish?

    • Phil Mills

      If you’re already wearing something “chunky” like Timberlands, the Sidi Canyon boots aren’t a super-far stretch (except of the wallet – love you, Sidi, but /ouch/).

      • Rameses the 2nd

        Summer Boots:
        http://www.palladiumboots.com/shop/us-men/us-men-footwear/baggy-canvas.html

        Winter Boots:
        Timberlands

        I am thinking about buying this one on Revzilla. They don’t look like motorcycles boots:
        http://www.revzilla.com/motorcycle/tcx-x-street-waterproof-shoes

        • Phil Mills

          “Real” motorcycle boots certainly provide better protection than “street” boots (and DEFINITELY more than those canvas Palladiums you linked – crash in those and your foot’s not going to look right afterward). You’re generally going to pay for that in bulk or stiffness.

          Leather is clearly going to do better vs. asphalt than canvas, and “proper” motorcycle boots are going to do their best to prevent several hundred pounds of motorcycle from crushing your foot when it lands on you. Read that as “the more bendy the sole, the more bendy your foot”.

          I can’t get behind “shorty” boots just because I feel like they provide no real protection for your ankles – calf-height boots seem to resist side-to-side bending and front-to-back over-flexion a lot better than something that cuts off at the ankle bone.
          Taller boots let you tuck your pants in in the rain so you can let the waterproof boot take the brunt of the splash from your front wheel. Taller boots usually have some shin guard built in that will keep the odd rock/rabbit/branch from knocking chunks out of your shin bones.

          TCX X-Move WP are in the same price range as the X-Street, but come up higher with what looks to be more substantial material.
          Firstgear Kili – same price range, higher boot, but less “Street” looking, probably still looks reasonably anonymous under jeans.

          • Rameses the 2nd

            I completely agree with you, but the TCX X-Street looks so good; it looks just like a normal pair of shoes. I was going to totally pull the trigger on it today, but I agee that if I am going to go through the hassale of wearing riding boots, I will have protection as my top priority. I will keep looking. I hate how many of these boots with better protection have catoonish power ranger look.

    • Mark D

      I’ve been wearing Rev’it Axis overpants recently. They are lightweight, water-resistent, and come with great knee armor. Plus, short/regular/tall sizes, so the knee armor actually stays where you need it. They come on/off in like 10 seconds, and I just lock them to bike at my destination. They are also European fit, so nice and snug and safe. Just wear normal jeans underneath, and you’ll look normal.

      http://www.webbikeworld.com/r2/rev-it/axis-pants/revit-axis-pants-waist-views.jpg

  • Joe Bielski

    You’re still the coolest guy on two wheels ;)

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      Don’t tell Wes, he’ll get offended.

      • shaun

        how can you possibly offend christian bale???

        • bammerburn

          By killing his parents with gunshots in an alley?

  • grb

    can i work with you guys?

  • E Brown

    Nice article. As for me, I try to blend the casual look with safety, so I wear Kevlar reinforced denim or Cordura and low-key jackets with armor, and occasionally what they call “technical sneakers” with stiffer soles and reinforced areas. If I lock the helmet to the bike, most people don’t know I ride. There’s also the fun of getting warnings from “gear Nazis” about not wearing just a helmet when I’m actually covered head-to-toe. :)

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      Oh absolutely. All of my stuff is still really nice looking and I still try and look a way I like (I am, afterall, still the resident hipster). I just put the safety part first now.

  • Bram

    Catheter stories being your kryptonite ;)

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      Hahaha. We came up on a guy who’d crashed in Azusa Tuesday and he had a golf ball sized hole in his arm. I had to walk away and help divert traffic or I knew I was going down.

  • Brian

    curious as to how ( if at all) being a moto journo has changed your perception of the machinery that you ride and/or have access to for riding any any given time?( press fleets, loaner bikes, friends bikes, etc)

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      i think im going to need some clarification to understand exactly what you’re getting at

      • Brian

        okay, you go could into multiple different aspects and tangents, but before you became a part of HFL/RA, you rode a little bit. When it came to riding another bike other than your own, you probably had a certain regard ( or disregard ) for certain machines. How has that changed? Like if you had to roll back to whom you were 2 years ago and go for the ride on the F6B that you did, how it would differ? How tense or excited or other feelings do you have when you are handed the keys to another machine ( regardless of whom owns it) . I guess that could go towards confidence, but also in how you handle yourself when trying out “other” bikes? How are your expectations different for yourself and the machines?

  • runnermatt

    I started riding to save money on gas because my average commute was 2.5 hours total a day. Not able to save time but it cut my daily fuel costs in half ($12-$18 in car, $6-$8 on bike).

    I’m trying to get out of debt too using Dave Ramsey’s plan. That stalled out yesterday after I was called into a meeting and was told, “the company is eliminating your position” and “this is in no way performance oriented”…. On a positive note, at least don’t have to worry about that commute anymore.

  • Donnie Byers

    Used to have a sportbike in college, but gave it up in favor of cars and SUVs when I got married and had kids. Then I got an itch and bought a sportscar.

    I’ll be selling my sportscar shortly and getting another sport bike soon, because the itch is still there.

    This article has me written all over it. I just want to ride again…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Benjamin-M-Van-Couvering/1073822541 Benjamin M. Van Couvering

    I wish there were more trails on the east coast.

  • BillW

    So, have you learned anything about the motorcycle industry, or being a journalist?

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      every single day.

  • Guest

    Here I was thinking this was going to be an insight on ‘How to Become a Motorcycle Journalist’. It’s easy the coolest job on this planet, and would love some pointers on how you guys started out.
    Good article though.

    • Rowan

      Ah crap. I thought I deleted that…

  • Rowan

    Here I was thinking this was going to be an article about “How to Become a Motorcycle Journalist”. It’s easily the most coolest profession to earn a dollar from. I would love an insight into how you guys started in this career, and any pointers for those like myself wanting to get a foothold in that side of the industry.

    Cool article though.

  • Von

    Your last statement makes me want to buy a Honda CRF250L. I used to race motocross and miss riding altogether. I want to get a street legal bike now that I’m in my early 30′s. I’m torn between going with the retro standard of a Moto Guzzi V7, the naked sport CB500F, or the Honda CRF250L. I live in San Diego and the desert isn’t far and trails abound in the city limits. Tempting to go with an enduro, dirt IS so much fun! Decisions, decisions. Any input Sean?

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      Oh man, so tough. I’d get the 500X (I just walked in my door from taking it to Yosemite) or a dual sport.

      • Von

        Jealous. I hope to see a write up about that trip! I like the styling of the F better though (plus I’m only 5’6″), is the X really dirt/adv capable at all? I’m not too big on the adventure style bikes. I think if I went enduro, I’d have to get the CRF250L, but then drop $1K+ on replacing shock and rebuilding forks to make it dirt capable enough for me. The V7 and 500F seem perfect in stock form, maybe just a nice tough sounding exhaust would do it! What do you think?

        • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

          I really hate to sound overly enthusiastic, especially about anything “entry level” (it’s easy to stake your flag in the Hypermotard SP) but the X is by far the best of the three. It’s better at everything, at least in my opinion. I’m not a fan of the Guzzi, but the CRF and 500F are both great.

          The 500X isnt going to be anywhere near the CRF off road. It’s “adventure” chops come more in the form of improved ergo’s for longer distances.

          I wrote somewhere that every time I get on the X, it makes me wonder why I leave it in the garage and ride whatever else we have around. It happens every time. It’s not the best tool for everything, but it’s really good at a lot.

          I’m a big fan of swapping exhaust. I like the looks and sound. Wes thinks it’s a pointless upgrade (or more accurately, just not worth the money) and he’s right, but being right isn’t always fun so don’t listen to him.

          Biggest thing I can say is just to go ride them. I was absolutely sure the F would be the sweet spot for me. It’s def the nicest looking. Then I rode them.

          • Von

            Dang, when you put it that way, I really want the X now! I guess I mis-understood the ADV branding, thought it meant more dirt, but really it’s just more distance. I will only be urban riding mostly though in San Diego and maybe hour or two trips out of town once in a while, maybe commuting as well. The X is good for all that, even at my short 5’6″ stature? I will have to ride them back to back to decide for myself I guess. Funny thing while in Cycle Gear the other day pricing jackets/pants they had a Moto Guzzi V7 Stone on display for a local dealer. I thought it was cool, first time I saw one in person, but honestly it didn’t make me feel the way I thought I would. It didn’t inspire me to ride and buy it, it was just there looking nice and retro. I wonder if seeing the CB500F/X will evoke anything in me when I find one at a dealership. I think the Two Brothers and Yoshimura exhaust sounds really good on the CB500, and they’re only a few hundred dollars.

            • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

              The V7 is beautiful, it performance was just less than I expected.

              The X is the opposite and perfect for all of that. It’s the best thing I’ve ever ridden for around town riding. I don’t always think about what riding each bike would be like if I were 6 inches shorter, but it doesn’t strike me as necessarily tall. You’ll just have to sit on them and find out.

              Looks wise is completely up to you. I liked the F as much as I expected to (a lot) and liked the X more than I expected to (expected not to like, like it as much as F).

  • Jason 1199

    Are there hipsters who aren’t ignorant?

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      I like to think I have my head on fairly straight.

  • HyperRider

    I DREAMMMM of leaving my day to day job and becoming a moto-journalist.. Great write up

  • BigBadDawg

    The problem is that you guys aren’t “motorcycle journalists” so much as op-ed writers who write about motorcycles and motorcycling.
    You rarely stick to the news. Most of the articles here are the authors’ opinion presented as fact.