After a couple of great weeks, this Harley-Davidson news isn't grim. It's Grimmer

I just finished a very upbeat story about Katy Perry’s ‘Harleys in Hawaii’ song and videos for the New York Times, and was thinking, “Finally. Harley-Davidson may start to like me as a journalist,” when I saw a Facebook message arrive from Roger Willis, who covers motorcycle business news from his base on the Isle of Man.

Roger asked me if I’d heard any scuttlebutt about the sudden firing of Neil Grimmer, Harley’s short-lived president of Global Brand Development. Not only had I not heard any rumors, I hadn’t even heard the news because I had my nose stuck in Katy Perry all last week*. But a quick check confirmed that last Friday, Matt Levatich sent out an internal memo confirming that Grimmer had been reaped.

A company statement cryptically explained the reason. “His departure comes after an internal inquiry along with a third-party investigation into concerns that his judgement and conduct as a senior leader did not align with our culture and the values we expect all our employees to demonstrate.”

For all its intentional vagueness and corporate double-speak, they might as well have ended it with, #MeToo.

Where would I start with a venerable company selling a legacy brand deciding to hire Neil Grimmer, in the first place? BTW, he was only hired in April. Eight months ago. His background was as founder of Habit, a company that uses an at-home diagnostic test to design personal nutrition programs.

For fuck’s sake, Grimmer’s a minor character out of Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story. Leave aside the fact that the whole ‘personalized nutrition’ space is full of charlatans – even if his system worked, how would experience running a trendy wellness startup apply to motorcycles?

I mean, really. Who else did they interview? Gwyneth Paltrow?

Terrible marketing hires are not limited to Harley, either. Motorcycle companies are facing structural headwinds in the U.S., but God damn it, they compound their problems almost every time they hire a marketing executive. They either choose some flavor of the day hipster, or promote from within – picking whoever is best at wheelies. That’s usually a guy who can only be photographed if he’s sticking his tongue out and flashing fake gang signs. Those two marketing honcho archetypes do have things in common; tattoos, and the inability to understand a motorcycle brand or resurrect the market. (To be fair, OEMs don’t give those losers big enough budgets to move the needle anyway, but I digress.)

What did Grimmer do, to get fired? I don’t know. But…

if I was writing a completely fictitious novel about the #MeToo movement coming to a legacy motorcycle company, I’d have a big shot marketing executive impregnate a much, much younger direct report. And to make matters worse, the girl would be a second-generation employee related to someone who was, previously, a very senior executive with the company.**

The craziest thing about this is, before joining Harley-Davidson, Grimmer sold Habit to the Campbell Soup Company and reportedly pocketed something like $80 million. This begs two questions…

  • Why was he working at all?

  • Why the hell not just hire a world-class hooker?

You know, as a motorcycle journalist I have the reputation as some kind of really negative guy, blogging about all the worst aspects of this business. Here’s my message to the motorcycle industry: stop doing this stupid shit, and I’ll stop putting up these snarky, critical posts.

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Want to support this kind of writing? Click the cover image above, and buy my book on Amazon for $12,95. If you like it, tell a friend. If you hate it recommend it to an enemy.

*In the Katy Perry story, you pervert

**Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

For Hallowe'en: Three excerpts

As a motorcyclist, it’s hard not to be at least a little superstitious. Cruiser riders have to those little bells they dangle off their bikes, racers have the lucky socks they always wear.

When I lived on the Isle of Man, I almost always said ‘Hello’ to the fairies when I crossed the famed ‘Fairy Bridge’ on the way to Castletown. Two particular times stuck in my mind, and made it into my memoir, Riding Man. The first was the morning after the Manx Motorcycle Club’s annual gala dinner, when I met an Englishman who, in hindsight, probably was a clinical example of logorrhea, a psychological disorder in which the patient cannot stop talking.

Standing at the bar, afterward, I meet two riders, an old guy and his protégé. The old guy is Chris McGahan, an Englishman who nearly made a career of racing, back in the ’70s. Since then, he’s specialized as a real-road racer, doing the major Irish meetings, the TT and Manx GP, and a few public road races on the Continent. 

Chris, who’s probably in his fifties, looks like an ex-lightweight boxer who stayed in shape. Long arms, strong hands and shoulders; his most noticeable feature is a pair of large ears, the tops of which stick out horizontally like wings. “They call me ‘wingnut,’” he grins. In a room where men outnumber women at least 20:1, he seems to have two dates. (The MMC Annual Dinner was actually stag until the mid’90s.) The younger guy is Sean Leonard, Irish. “Dere’s noothin’ known about racin’ dat Chris don’t know,” Sean tells me.

They’ve hardly stopped drinking when they call me around 10 a.m. the next morning. They’re going to drive down to Castletown to meet a sponsor, then cut a couple of laps of the Mountain in a borrowed car. Do I want to come? 

Chris spins one yarn after another. Famous old racers, fast women; smuggling booze back across the channel from continental races, smuggling stowaways on the ferry to the Island for the TT; serious substance abuse continuing right up to the green flag. Choose one each from columns A, B, and C. He’s driving as fast as he’s talking. Suddenly, with Chris hurtling along in mid-sentence, Sean blurts, “Fairy Bridge!” 

No Island native crosses the little stone bridge without saying hello to the fairies. Sean says it, and so does Chris, injecting his “Hello Fairies,” in the middle of a sentence. I say it, too. They kind of laugh it off, like, “We don’t actually believe it…” 

Of course, the one time I neglected to say ‘Hello’, I was immediately punished for it…

In fairness, the big black birds have always worked for me. They’ve protected me on days I’ve seen ’em, and indeed, I’ve had some hairy crashes on mornings when I’ve not seen them. If you set out to debunk my talisman, you’d say, “The birds calm you, and you ride better relaxed. You’re tense when you’re aware you haven’t seen one, and you ride shitty tense.” That may be true. The scientist in me is a little subtler. I think that the birds are common, after all, and there’s probably almost always one to see. I think that when I’m in a state of relaxed awareness, alert to my environment, I can count on seeing one. That’s the state in which I ride well. When I internalize, when I’m looking in and not out, I don’t see them. That’s a state in which I ride poorly. 

Whatever the case, after the TT fortnight was over, I drove one of my visitors to the airport, and on the way home crossed the Fairy Bridge. Somehow, lost in thought, I failed to say hello, though I reassured myself that I’d said it on the trip to the airport and according to the letter of the legend, it is the first crossing of each day that is critical. Nonetheless, most Manx say hello on every crossing, and that had been my habit too.

As I was worrying through this very thought, I noticed a crow hopping in the road ahead of me. As I got closer and closer, I actually said, “Hey, take off” out loud. But it didn’t. I thought about slamming on the brakes, or swerving, and did a quick visual check to ensure the road was otherwise clear. Then I thought, “Don’t be stupid, they always wait to the last second to get out of the way.” But it didn’t. I hit it and killed it. I was fucking aghast. 

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That sort ended tragically, eh? However a couple of years later, I had another experience at this time of year that was quite uplifting. It happened in the Val d’Aosta, when I was trying to understand the reported heroics of a motorcyclist, in the deadly Mont Blanc Tunnel fire.

It turned out I got a lot of the facts wrong, but in the telling, I may have got some larger truths right. This is an excerpt from my most-popular story, ‘Searching for Spadino’, as it appears in my anthology, On Motorcycles; The Best of Backmarker

I arrived in Val d’Aosta in the evening, checked into a hotel cold, wet, and hungry after  riding all the way up from Bologna in pouring rain. I showered, changed into dry clothes and found the nearest restaurant. I struck up a conversation with the waitress, and told her that I guessed my first stop would be the local graveyard, where I assumed Tinazzi was buried. She told me that the whole town would be in the graveyard the next day, which surprised me.

“Don’t you know what tomorrow is?” she asked me, then said “It’s the feast of all the saints and all the dead.”

The next day was All Saints Day.

I didn’t need to ask for directions. I just stepped out of my hotel―narrow streets like tributaries leading, not to a river but Aosta’s cemetery—and joined the flow of people walking slowly in fine clothes, carrying bouquets of flowers; occasionally a whisk brush, a blanket or folding beach chair; a picnic lunch. When we got there, thousands of people placed flowers, tended graves, quietly socialized; a military band played. At first, I trusted fate to lead me to Spadino’s grave, but when that didn’t work, I found someone who actually worked at the cemetery. The attendant knew of the heroic motorcyclist, but was certain that he was not buried there in Aosta.

As I walked out, I passed two cops in dress uniform, and noticed a tiny motorcycle insignia on one’s lapel. In a mix of English, French, and translation dictionary Italian, I explained what I was doing. The two cops debated something between themselves. Then, one of them gave me my first lead...

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More from Michael Lock on his audacious SuperTwins proposal

I recently wrote a story for Revzilla’s Common Tread blog, about American Flat Track’s ‘SuperTwins’ FAQ memo. In preparing that story, I interviewed AFT CEO Michael Lock — an interview that took place after a perhaps-contentious meeting between Lock and key AFT team principals, in between the Buffalo Chip TT and the Black Hills Half-Mile race.

As I wrote in Common Tread, “whether you hate Lock or just fear him, American Flat Track is his fiefdom. I’ve heard team owners grumble they’ll go over his head to Jim France – from whom Lock’s power devolves. Michael’s put down such insurrections before.”

As I wrote in Common Tread, “whether you hate Lock or just fear him, American Flat Track is his fiefdom. I’ve heard team owners grumble they’ll go over his head to Jim France – from whom Lock’s power devolves. Michael’s put down such insurrections before.”

As far as I’m concerned, if you are just coming to this SuperTwins controversy, I recommend that you first read my story on the Common Tread website. If, after reading that story, you want to know exactly what Michael Lock said in our interview, read on…

Bikewriter: Were there racing series, or even other sports, that inspired this change?

 Michael Lock: We have benchmarks, motorcycle racing series that we deem to be successful. For me [commercial] success is the benchmark; flat track has been through the ringer over the last two, three decades; it’s no secret it had fallen on hard times, financially.

 Supercross is a benchmark in terms of its ability to attract fans, OEM participation and sponsorship. MotoGP, which I have to say I’ve followed ever since I was in short trousers. That’s a benchmark in terms of pushing back technical frontiers, emphasis on safety, commercial scaling into a global property.

 BW: You say, “the desire of our broadcaster to have a racing class ready for live television”. Has NBCSports expressed any dissatisfaction with the current show?

ML: No, quite the opposite. I was in Connecticut at NBC’s headquarters about six months ago for a motorsports summit. We were the smallest guys in the room, and I was talking to some senior NBC executives who expressed surprise that within two years, we’d managed to grow our audience from zero to 200, 250 thousand viewers per episode.

The surprise was that we were doing it with tape delay. These guys are experts, and said, “No one watches tape delayed sport any more.” The fact that we were able to build viewership with tape delay, particularly as we also stream live, really surprised them. They told me that to break out in the bigger leagues, the difference between tape delay and live would be a multiple of two or three. That would take us to half a million, three-quarters of a million viewers; that puts us with Supercross.

They’re not dissatisfied, but they said, “If you want to get to the next level you’re going to find it extremely hard, following the format you’ve got. Your current format’s already overperforming; you’ve captured all the people who want to watch the race, already knowing what result.”

BW: How can you package Production Twins to not appear as the ‘have-not’ series in this context?

ML: That thought’s been in the back of my mind since the beginning. It could easily be the stepchild. But we have a practical consideration that the step up from the 450 singles class is not only less power and less weight, but they’re adapted motocross bikes, so they’re somewhat of a compromise. The step up from that class to what are effectively prototype twins that are 50% more powerful, 40% heavier, and have different geometry and work in a different way – it’s a bigger step up than, say going from a 600cc Supersports bike to a Superbike.

So how do we help people step up? Production Twins was a logical stepping stone, it was more gentle uptick in terms of equipment and competition. I don’t think you want to be out on a mile track, with Bryar Baumann or Jared Mees on their FTR750s, while you’re still learning.

We needed to craft that class so that it would also attract AFT Twins competitors who were just not in the hunt; who didn’t have $100,000 to buy a couple of Indians. They’d be very good competition for the guys coming up.

It’s really got momentum. Vance & Hines have teamed up with Black Hills Harley-Davidson to put two Harleys in that class; they’re not the same spec as the ones racing in the Twins class, but they’re not far off, and they’ve brought sizzle to the class. We had the first race with those two Harleys at Black Hills, and it was outstanding.

BW: “There will be additional costed services as part of the SuperTeams contract” sounds ominous to teams that are already losing money, or breaking even at best.

ML: If we’re able to go live on TV, it will attract big audiences. And those teams will want to bring in outside sponsorship, which is something most have never really done. Aside from the factory teams, pretty much all the other teams have been self-funded by wealthy guys who love the sport.

That’s great, but it’s not very sustainable. We need a link to the outside world, to companies that want to be involved. We’re going to package it and take it to a bigger audience – that’s our job. Your job is fund it and to bring in sponsors to make it work. We don’t expect you to do it on your own; you’re going to need pitch decks and sponsorship documents, which most of them have never done before, but we have done, at the series level.

We’re going to offer them our design services and content, millions of still photos, video because we shoot everything, we have an in-house video department that produces features – which at the moment we do on behalf of the series but could easily do on behalf of an individual rider or team. We have an enormous database, digital marketing tools.

Up until now we’ve paid for all that and used it primarily for series promotion. We do also contract with individual teams; Vance & Hines, Indian, Estenson, and others. But it’s been on an ad hoc basis, on a buy-in basis. What we’re proposing is to make all that available and menu price them, so they can choose at what level they want to go in. All we’re saying is, we expect you to do some minimum level of marketing, so there will be some obligatory costs, but it will be pretty low level. We’re not looking to make money on it. We’re looking to give them the tools, so they can actually stay on the train.

The price [of those assets] is not going to go up, but we’re just saying everyone’s going to use them. At the moment some teams do and some don’t. And guess what? The ones who don’t, are the teams without any sponsors. We’re saying, ‘There’s no way you’re going to have a PR person or a marketing team on Day 1, but guess what? I’ve got a PR team, I’ve got a marketing team, and we can use the infrastructure. You won’t be able to buy it on the open market any cheaper, because we already go to all the races anyway.

I know that some people perceive this as a money grab. We’re not seeking to have the teams fund our sport; we need a truck partner, a beverage partner, a camera partner, a watch partner. I just want to make sure that the teams in the paddock are sophisticated enough to take advantage of that growth

BW: What is meant by the phrase “A set of criteria” when it comes to choosing which teams will be allowed to compete in SuperTwins?

ML: We’re looking for teams to demonstrate financial stability. There have been instances where teams get two-thirds of the way through the season and run out of money. If we’ve been telling their story, and they’re in the hunt for the championship, and now they can’t continue or do it adequately, that’s a big problem for the championship.

Also, what is the intended infrastructure. Some teams have one part-time mechanic, and oops, he doesn’t turn up one week; again, just not professional behavior. I can’t legislate that in all three classes, but we’re going to have to do that in the premier class. I want them to commit.

And we’re looking at the experience of the riders. If we’re in an oversold situation, that we’ve got more applications than positions to fill, we’ll look at the riders, to ensure that the best riders are in the mix.

BW: Would the ability to add another manufacturer influence your choice of which teams get a SuperTwins slot?

ML: We’ve made strides attracting manufacturers, but I would love to have BMW in our paddock; I’d love to have Honda in the Twins class. So hypothetically, an application with an OEM backer would be a factor.

BW: There are key team principals who you no doubt want on board: Gary Gray for Indian, Terry Vance for Harley-Davidson, Tim Estenson, Jerry Stinchfield’s Roof Systems team... Have any of those guys told you they’re in?

Well of course they’re all smart, cautious businesspeople and they want to see the contracts. I’ve been talking both on the record and off the record, to senior people in the sport, about this for two years and I anticipate that all those guys you mentioned with be there. I’d be shocked if any of them came to me and said, “You know what Michael, I don’t really fancy it.”

BW: So no key team principals are just now hearing about this?

ML: No! The first time I was live with this in public was at Daytona, during Bike Week, the night before our first race. We had a paddock kickoff meeting; I gave a presentation then to launch it, and all those guys were certainly in attendance. Unofficially I’ve spoken to most of them way before that.

BW: What would you say to lifelong fans, who used to love the drama of regional riders trying to fight their way through qualifying, and heat races, and semis, to see if they could make the Main? Or fans who love the idea of a guy like Willie McCoy, who just a few years ago could drive up from Texas in a van with his own bike, pit all by himself, and win the Springfield Mile? Flat track used to be a blue-collar democracy, but this will make the premier class an elite closed shop.

I’m acutely sensitive to that perspective, and I’m very aware of the rich and independent heritage of this sport. We are not ripping that up, because the Production Twins class, and Singles class aren’t going to be changed. So the plucky amateur or local guy has entry into those two classes.

But the sport has changed at the top, and not because of us. There are teams that have three or four Indians that cost $50,000 each, and they’ve got a smart guy who sits on a laptop, and three guys twirling wrenches like six-guns, and the Willie McCoy, bless him, don’t win anymore; they rarely get into the Main event because the Twins class has naturally elevated to a pro level. So we’re acknowledging that and harnessing it.

The SuperTwins class is the calling card to the outside world, and we need the outside world, because the motorcycle world has shrunk. In the days when there were 700,000 or a million new motorcycles being sold, and there were amateur racers in every small town tinkering on bikes in their garages; that doesn’t happen any more.

Flat track was always an amateur sport with a veneer of professionalism. It worked like that for 60 years, but the motorcycle industry has changed, and that’s reflected at the top of our sport. We haven’t restricted the size of the field, and yet the typical entry count for an AFT Twins race is 22-24 riders. Only 14 riders have done every round this year. 

The sport has organically evolved; what we’re seeking to do is encapsulate that in a format that everyone understands, and take it to a new level. But that’s the top of the pyramid. Production Twins is starting to feel to me what AFT Twins felt like a couple of years ago. So the guy who fancies trying to beat James Rispoli on a Vance & Hines-built Harley... he can do that in the Production Twins class. 

BW: What will happen to people who’ve bought FTR750s, who either can’t or don’t want to race in SuperTwins? Will there be a way for them to modify those bikes and become eligible for Production Twins?

ML: We had a meeting on Monday in Rapid City, with senior team owners and OEMs, to chew over some of the details of SuperTwins, and they asked the exact same question. One thing they proposed was that we create a sort of wild card system, where they could enter the races on the West Coast, or in the Midwest. We hadn’t thought of that, so we’re having a look now at ways we can allow teams that have the expertise and the hardware, but don’t want to make that commitment, to becoming a fixture on TV every week. I’m confident we can find a solution.

BW: It looks to me as if you want to produce a discrete, free-standing racing product that can be flown to a city anywhere in the world, the same way MotoGP flies in, to put on a show. In your mind, is there a future in which races regularly occur outside the U.S.?

ML: Absolutely! We have a season that starts in March and ends in September, and it’s fast and furious and keeps the teams busy and keeps revenues coming in to them. Then we have six months of the year when nothing happens. The top teams might relocate to Southern California of Florida, but the rest of them really struggle; they do off-championship races where there’s not a lot of safety equipment.

I would like to take all that investment, and put it into a jumbo jet and drop it in London, or Berlin, or Tokyo, and do exhibition races. We’ve spoken with potential sponsors who’ve said, they’d love it. It’s ‘NFL’ – uniquely American, and there’s a curiosity factor all around the world to see these guys.

In Lock's defense, while researching this story I built a spreadsheet counting the number of twins riders who attempted to make Main events at every 'big track' national between 2008-18 (this year's stats can't be compared because Production Twins changed the class structure.) Over that 11 year period, on average, the number of Experts showing up to race fell from mid-low 40s to mid-low 30s. There was a pretty strong trend in place. The total number of Twins/Experts showing up in 2019 is back to where we were in 2008.

In Lock's defense, while researching this story I built a spreadsheet counting the number of twins riders who attempted to make Main events at every 'big track' national between 2008-18 (this year's stats can't be compared because Production Twins changed the class structure.) Over that 11 year period, on average, the number of Experts showing up to race fell from mid-low 40s to mid-low 30s. There was a pretty strong trend in place. The total number of Twins/Experts showing up in 2019 is back to where we were in 2008.

For what it’s worth, although I don’t think anyone at AFT likes to see my number flash up on their phone, Michael Lock’s a pretty good interview, and I felt that he made a pretty good pitch for his SuperTwins idea. If I was an AFT team owner, I might be skeptical but I would not reject the idea out of hand.

I just feel that, as I explained in Common Tread, we’re giving up a lot of culture and history with this change. So we’d damned well better get something in return.

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If you want my two cents’ worth, I think Lock’s SuperTwins plan may work, but that it probably doesn’t go far enough. I think the goal for AFT SuperTwins should be nothing less than an FIM-sanctioned World Championship. Possibly an eight- to 10-race series in which four to five races are held in the U.S. (much the same way MotoGP holds several races in Spain.)

Production Twins could then run as the top national series in (at least) the USA, Australia, Spain, and the UK — all of which could support a reasonable national series. That would give Production Twins a raison d’être.

Although the first Barcelona ‘Superprestigio’ short track race was not an unmitigated success, it proved that you could promote a successful flat track race in Europe. I think it’s time for an FIM-sanctioned World Championship in the sport of ‘American Flat Track’.

Although the first Barcelona ‘Superprestigio’ short track race was not an unmitigated success, it proved that you could promote a successful flat track race in Europe. I think it’s time for an FIM-sanctioned World Championship in the sport of ‘American Flat Track’.

Carlin Dunne, in Earnest

Carlin Dunne was the best rider at Pikes Peak of the ‘paved’ era, and the fastest qualifier this year. He died within sight of the finish line at the summit on June 30, 2019. Photo from Instagram (Larry Chen?)

Carlin Dunne was the best rider at Pikes Peak of the ‘paved’ era, and the fastest qualifier this year. He died within sight of the finish line at the summit on June 30, 2019. Photo from Instagram (Larry Chen?)

The death of Carlin Dunne, at Pikes Peak, serves as a reminder that racing motorcycles on real roads will never be safe.

Risk is what gives the decision to race motorcycles meaning. 

Riding Man is an exploration of this idea. I’ve excerpted a part of it below. It helps explain the appeal of motorcycle racing, which has little if anything to do with being an “adrenaline junkie” and rarely results in meaningful financial reward.

That leaves the intangible rewards. If you’ve been a racer, you know what they are.

Risk is what gives motorcycle racing those rewards. No, we don’t race in order to take risks. But if it was completely safe, none of us would do it. 

Here’s my message to all the racers who didn’t get hurt or killed yesterday. Carlin Dunne died for you. Not willingly, of course, but his sacrifice is what gives your sport meaning and what makes the experience of racing so profoundly different than the experience most other sports.

Hold him in your thoughts, because he and so many others who went before him will make your next race a profound experience. Their deaths will impart that much more meaning to the feelings you have when you pull off the track after next taking the checkered flag.

“There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”

Hemingway is famously quoted (or, perhaps, misquoted?) as having said, “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.” This is ironic, because as a motorcycle racer, I’ve always been jealous of mountain climbers, in the sense that they don’t seem to face the same resistance from society when it comes to justifying or explaining their obsession. If you grow up in Switzerland and then live in the Canadian Rockies like I did, you meet lots of climbers. I’ve known about half a dozen people who’ve summited Everest, and I’ve always been struck by the fact that we seem understand each other well. We both appreciate a kind of self-knowledge that comes from our particular risk sports. 

There are equally dangerous–even more dangerous–pursuits. You could choose to be a rodeo bullrider or base jumper. But the danger in those sports comes from the decision to participate. It’s something you confront once per event, when you lower yourself down from that eight-foot fence and wrap that rope around your hand. You nod, and after that your survival is up to the bull. For all the control you have over it, you may as well be playing Russian roulette. In fact most winning rides are, if anything, less dangerous than losing ones. But climbers and motorcycle racers need to make a constant series of decisions–we ask ourselves, “Where’s the edge?” and constantly need to confront the fact that after removing every possible variable we’re going to be left with this reality: the best performance is inherently the most dangerous one. This is the source of a unique kind of self-knowledge and an easy mutual respect between us. 

And yet, motorcycle racers get far less credit for this in society at large. No one seriously suggests that climbing should be banned. I blame this discrepancy on George Mallory. He’d attempted to climb Everest in 1922, and was on a lecture tour of America raising money for a second attempt. At every stop, he got the same stupid question from reporters, “Why do you want to climb the world’s highest mountain, anyway?” Finally, in exasperation, he snapped “Because it’s there!”  

For whatever reason, the answer resonated with the non-climbing public. Taken out of context, the phrase had its own Zen. 

Mallory did assemble the sponsorship he needed for a second attempt, in 1924. Whether or not he made it to the summit is one of climbing’s enduring mysteries. He never came back down and was never seen alive again. Considering the equipment of the day (for perspective, the TT course record was around 55 miles per hour at the time) his climb was one of the greatest achievements ever in mountaineering. Mallory’s record stood for 30 years until Sir Edmund Hillary became the first man ever to summit Everest for sure. 

A few years ago, after the course was fully paved and it was impossible to even pretend this was anything but a proper ‘real road’ race, there were a couple of fatalities on Pikes Peak and the organizers summarily decided to drop the motorcycles from the program.

At the last minute, they reversed that decision. They adopted a plan devised by Paul Livingston and backed by Ducati, to better prepare rookies for the hill. And they limited the number of motorcycle entries.

I imagine the death of the race’s star rider will make the organizers reconsider that reprieve. Pikes Peak’s no TT; the organizers have a very limited appetite for high-profile fatalities. I personally wish they could see past it, and preserve America’s last real, ‘real roads’ race.

Why should we keep racing at Pikes Peak? Because it’s there.

A five-race day at the TT?

The weather, and an abbreviated schedule, are actually making this safer. There are a lot of people on the Island who would prefer it if every TT was compressed, and Race Week became Race Weekend.

The weather, and an abbreviated schedule, are actually making this safer. There are a lot of people on the Island who would prefer it if every TT was compressed, and Race Week became Race Weekend.

After a Practice Week beset by terrible weather, Race Week’s off to an equally fouled up start.

Wednesday’s races were pushed back, and the current plan is to run five races on Thursday. Supersport and Sidecar classes are cut to two-lap distances, while Superstock and Lightweights will run three laps. Only the TT Zero race will run its full scheduled distance <sarcasm>.

You read this here first…

While it is true that most people who live on the Isle of Man feel that on balance, the TT is a net positive, a substantial minority resent the road closures and chaos. And although the organizers have done a lot to improve safety, the only way to really improve it further is to cut the total number of laps. The weather cut laps in practice, and shortening those races will reduce the total amount of risk by about a third.

A lot of people on the Isle of Man will say, “Five races in one day? That was fine. In fact, if we did that every year, we could hold the entire TT over a weekend.”

There will be pressure to compress the schedule like that, henceforth.

Would you buy this Harley-Davidson? Coming soon to a dealer nowhere near you.

This rendering showed up on Fuel, an Argentine motorcycle site. For reference, Royal Enfield sell the Himalayan in the U.S. with an MSRP of around $4,500. What do you think? Would this bring people into Harley-Davidson dealerships at that price? I say, “Hell yes!”

This rendering showed up on Fuel, an Argentine motorcycle site. For reference, Royal Enfield sell the Himalayan in the U.S. with an MSRP of around $4,500. What do you think? Would this bring people into Harley-Davidson dealerships at that price? I say, “Hell yes!”

I usually just discount any cool-new-bike story that is illustrated with a rendering or obvious Photoshop job, but something about this bike made me ask Harley-Davidson’s media relations man, Paul James, if Fuel’s story was more than speculation.

James told me that the rendering was a mashup, based on an official Harley-Davidson illustration of a future EV. But, he pointed out that the underlying message of the Fuel story — that Harley plans to work with an Indian manufacturer to produce a 250cc model for the Indian market — is true.

He forwarded a deck The Motor Company presented to investors last summer — titled “More Roads to Harley-Davidson” — in which the company promised a small-displacement hog for the Indian market. As of now, James told me, the company still has not publicly identified a production partner, and certainly hasn’t shown off any prototypes.

This slide was presented to investors a year ago, so if Harley-Davidson does in fact stick to this timeline, we’re a year away from a 250cc Indian hog.

This slide was presented to investors a year ago, so if Harley-Davidson does in fact stick to this timeline, we’re a year away from a 250cc Indian hog.

Here in the U.S., when we think of bold strokes coming from Harley-Davidson, we’re preoccupied with the $30k Livewire EV. The U.S. market was certainly underwhelmed by the Street 500 & 750 models. But something about this rendering immediately made me think, “What a cool little bike! I’d ride that.” I hope that when a made-in-India 250cc hog breaks cover, it looks more like this than a single-cylinder Street 500.

After all these years of motorcycle journalists calling for Harley to offer a really neat small, entry-level motorcycle, at an affordable price, I suppose I need to be ready for them to do so… and limit it to emerging markets.

But what do you think? If Harley-Davidson could sell this bike at a price comparable to the Royal Enfield Himalayan ($4,500 in the U.S.) would it increase The Motor Company’s market share?

Of course, Royal Enfield leaps to mind as a possible partner for Harley-Davidson. They’re both legacy brands, and RE has a massive engineering and production capability; we’ve only seen the tip of RE’s new-model iceberg with impressive offerings like the new 650 twins.

But it won’t necessarily be a Milwaukee-Chennai alliance. When I researched my Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia, Volume II, I researched three other huge motorcycle companies in India, that are still nearly unknown to American bikers. Any of them have the capability to make the motorcycle sketched above.

Check back in the next day or so, and I’ll reproduce the daily entries devoted to those companies.

Motorcyclist Magazine, 1912-2019

This was a great job.  Much of the time.

This was a great job. Much of the time.

Back in 2011, while driving from Kansas City to the Indy show I ruminated on the state of motorcycle publishing, and proposed a strategy for Cycle World’s survival. (Remember the Indy show? When the motorcycle industry was actually healthy?)

That essay was brought to mind again as Bonnier recently announced that Motorcyclist Magazine was about to print its last issue. Bonnier timed the announcement at the beginning of a holiday weekend, presumably in hopes it would go unnoticed, but the eagle-eyed Lance Oliver posted it to Common Tread.

So Bonnier’s vaunted experiment with making the magazine a keepsake failed.

If you want to read the entire strategy I laid out in my 2011 Bikewriter post, it’s here. It pretty much is the strategy Bonnier attempted to follow, although they never committed to it, by devoting resources and raising the publication’s IQ.

I concluded that long essay by writing...

The sheer physicality of the magazine is why it's expensive and time consuming to produce, and why ad page rates have to be set so high. That's the one problem the 'net will never have; that's where they've got you beat.

You have to make that your advantage.

You have to turn the magazine into something so thick, so glossy, so beautiful that when a reader picks it up, she thinks, “Wow, no web site can do this for me.” The magazine – the physical object of it – has to be so beautiful that no one would ever throw it out. Those rolls of web press paper, the size of Sprinter vans, that were a warehousing problem last month need to be turned into objects of pride and joy for readers. You need to deliver something to their door every month that they will never, ever throw out. This is the key to extracting far more subscription revenue, and commanding premium ad dollars for placements brand managers know set their message in a flattering context, and one where the message will be seen over and over, indefinitely.

I think of this as the 'Surfers Journal' model. As a motorcyclist and a surfer, I was always irritated that surfers have a far better magazine than anything available to (North American) motorcyclists. Having spent plenty of time sitting on my board in the lineup, I know that the average surfer is no more literate than the average rider. And there are certainly not any more surfers than there are riders. And yet year in and year out, Surfers Journal produces a beautiful, well-written and erudite magazine supported by a handful of devoted premium advertisers who've been in it for years. It's primarily funded by subscribers – who pay a large multiple of the average motorcycle magazine subscription. (You can renew a motorcycle sub for about the mailing cost these days. 

I can't overstress the importance of the magazine as a physical object, if it's to complement the web site as part of a coherent strategy. Having been in the business a while, I can flip through a magazine and gauge its health in 15 seconds. I look at the number of photos supplied by manufacturers instead of shot on assignment. I look at the ratio of staff-written stuff to stuff supplied by expensive freelancers. And at the quality of the ads themselves. Ordinary readers do it too, albeit subconsciously.

Back when I worked at Motorcyclist, the magazine contributed nicely to the owners' bottom line, but newsstand sales and subscriptions were already stagnating. The owners wanted more ad revenue. One day, I flipped through a 'first bound' copy and was aghast to find a full page ad for penis enlargement. “What the hell is this?” I demanded, showing it to Mitch Boehm.

“It's a paid ad,” he responded.

We argued back and forth until I got him to agree that, a.) it didn't improve the magazine; and b.) that if we had more readers, more sales, and more subscribers we'd be able to attract a better class of advertiser.

What I couldn't get him to see was that the implied message, “This is a magazine for guys with small dicks,” isn't one that makes most guys think, “I should subscribe.”

As of this writing, Bonnier’s blended family of motorcycle magazines, that once produced scores of issues per year, produces... four. Soon the number of actual magazines will certainly to fall to zero, at which point we will see whether has what it takes to continue as a web presence alone.

Ironically, I heard that — just as the motorcycle industry tanked in 2009 — the publisher of Surfer’s Journal was looking around for another subject area, to start a sister mag, and that motorcycles were under consideration.

Ironically, I heard that — just as the motorcycle industry tanked in 2009 — the publisher of Surfer’s Journal was looking around for another subject area, to start a sister mag, and that motorcycles were under consideration.

Meta leaps to mind as a magazine that is trying to do, for motorcycles, what Surfer’s Journal did for surfing. I’ve tried to reach those guys a few times and they’ve never written me back, so I don’t know anything more about them than I can glean from flipping through the mag at a local motorcycle café. Iron & Air has also proven more resilient than I expected it to be.

But in the long run, those magazines will have to be more than physically attractive. They have to create an ecosystem that will actually support a handful of professional writers. Professional writers are the apex predators of niche journalism.

There aren’t many of us; there aren’t many wolves in Yellowstone, either. A casual visitor (or even an ecologist trained in the 1970s) might conclude that the important species are plants, birds, mice, and deer that outnumber wolves anywhere from 100:1 to a million to one. But in recent decades we’ve learned that in fact, the handful of apex predators in the environment actually influence the health of the environment all the way down.

Since the Great Recession – and especially in the last five years or so – a bunch of the journalists I worked with at magazines like Motorcyclist and Road Racer X (which was shut down while profitable!) have moved to the client side, to create ‘content’ for OEMs. That’s like being a wolf in a zoo; alive, comfortable, and probably destined to live longer than they would in the wild – but not contributing to the overall health of the motorcycle media ecosystem. In addition to that content that’s professional but can’t even pretend towards editorial integrity, there’s a deluge of quasi-independent stuff from bloggers, ‘influencers’, and enthusiastic amateurs happy to work for exposure.

I get that there’s a shitload of ‘free’ content out there, for magazines and especially web sites, but I have to believe that without some professional writing, the whole ecosystem will collapse. The death of Motorcyclist may actually free up a little ad revenue for Meta or Iron & Air. But if the ecosystem can’t support at least a few professional writers, even they won’t last.

In the meantime, if you want to keep a writer alive, buy a book.


Freaky Monday

What if I woke up one morning to find that motorcycle journalists were treated like screenwriters?

As seen in the  New York Times ...  April 12, 2019,  LOS ANGELES — Fire your agents.  That was the instruction the Writers Guild of America gave to its 13,000 members on Friday, after talks between the Hollywood writers and their agents broke down hours before a midnight deadline...

As seen in the New York Times...

April 12, 2019,

LOS ANGELES — Fire your agents.

That was the instruction the Writers Guild of America gave to its 13,000 members on Friday, after talks between the Hollywood writers and their agents broke down hours before a midnight deadline...

The Writers Guild of America, which is basically the union for screenwriters who work on major films and TV shows, recently came to loggerheads with Hollywood talent agencies and film studios over an industry practice known as ‘packaging’.

Talent agencies have long sought to ‘package’ writers, directors, and stars from their own rosters, so that major movies and TV shows all rely on key talent represented by a single agency. On the face of it, this makes perfect sense. Of course agents want jobs to go to people they represent, because they reap a 10% commission for each deal they negotiate, but there’s more to it.

Packaging has even affected me, because Riding Man has been in Hollywood’s development hell for a decade. After I sold the rights to a big time production company, they contracted with a hot screenwriter to write a script inspired by my memoir.

One of the hurdles in getting our film made has been that talent agents are real power-brokers, and they actively push back on deals that would pair a star from one agency with a director from another.

In fact, the Riding Man project hit a few bumps right away, because industry etiquette meant the screenwriter had to clear the project with his talent agency. It turned out that company also repped another writer/director who had a TT movie in development. As I understand it, when the talent agency gave our project the thumbs-up, it effectively killed that other guy’s dream.

So, the challenges presented by that packaging practice may well have prevented at least one – if not two – TT features from being made.

That’s not the WGA’s beef. The screenwriters’ union takes issue with the fact that packaging deals have evolved to the point where major talent agencies have become producers in everything but name, with an equity stake in productions.

If agencies share in a show’s profits, they lose the incentive to get the best deals for the writers they represent. That may be why screenwriters haven’t seen a pay increase in decades.

Riding Man is not the only motorcycle story I’ve optioned to film producers, though nothing’s ever been made. Even if one of my stories eventually is produced as a feature film, I won’t necessarily be welcomed into the WGA. The Hollywood totem pole has studio heads and financiers on the top, with stars just beneath them, then directors, then screenwriters. People like me, who write underlying material, aren’t the low men on the pole, we’re on the part that’s buried in the ground.

I’ve written about motorcycles almost full time for most of the last 20 years. Over that period, the top pay for a feature story has dropped by about 65%. In 2019, motojournos often work for days on projects, some of which entail exhausting travel schedules and substantial physical risk, for a few hundred bucks. 

The above paragraph may help explain why I’m not that sympathetic to WGA screenwriters, who are paid a minimum of about $73,000 for a 90-page screenplay. Call it three bucks a word, which is to say that the bare minimum for a WGA screenwriter is about ten times the going rate for my specialty.

The other night, I went to sleep just after reading that WGA call for screenwriters to fire their agents. As I dozed off I wondered if big shot Hollywood agents would pick up any replacement writers, because I could use some of that $3-a-word abuse...


Gene Farmer woke when he heard his assistant, Marcus, open the front door and punch in the security code. Farmer swung his legs over the edge of the bed and sat up, putting the ‘gin’ in gingerly.

Considering the way his head felt, waking up in his own bed was a pleasant surprise. He certainly had no idea how he’d gotten home – surely he hadn’t ridden that S1000RR loaner back, in the condition he’d been… Oh, wait, he’d Ubered home with that cute little editorial intern from Motorcycle World.

Where was she, anyway? Gone; just as well. He squinted at the clock – 11:30. Sighed, stood up, and found a robe.

Downstairs, Marcus could barely conceal a smile when his boss appeared.

“I was worried I’d be late,” said the assistant as he handed Farmer a large takeout cup from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.”

“Yeah,” Farmer grunted, with a nod towards a package wrapped in brown paper. “What’s that?”

“Your tux,” said Marcus. “You haven’t forgotten that tonight’s the ‘Golden Wheelie’ presentation?”

“Jesus.” Farmer sipped his coffee, then said, “Jesus!” again and glared at his assistant.

“What? I’ve reminded you about the awards ceremony every day this week. Remember the tailor who came to measure you?”

“No! It’s not the awards, it’s this shit. Is this even oat milk?”

“Yes,” Marcus stammered. “Look, it’s written right on the cup: ‘Oat’.”

“It might say ‘Oat’ but it’s almond milk. I’ve told you before, you have to watch them make it.”

“Do you want me to go back and get another?”

“No, just watch, next time,” growled Farmer. 

“I will.” Marcus looked down for moment, miming contrition. Then he looked up and said, “Remember you have lunch with Alan at Toscana at two o’clock.”

“Why does that bastard always pick such out-of-the-way spots? I’ll have to cross the 405, for fuck’s sake.”

“Just remember to order the grilled salmon,” Marcus said helpfully. “It’s the one thing you always like there.”

The assistant flipped through a pile of mail and stopped at one window envelope. “It looks as if MCN has finally sent in the residual payment they owe you for online views of the Speed Twin launch.”

“It’s about time. Anything else?”

“Not really,” said the assistant. “Have you written that synopsis of the S1000RR story that Alan asked for? You know he’s going to pester you for that, over lunch.”

“That douchebag’s always after something for nothing. He knows as well as I do that according to MJG rules, I’m supposed to get a 30% deposit to start writing a synopsis. I don’t know how Lemmeister gets $10,000 dollar option fees after showing a log line, but I still have to write three fucking pages to close a deal. 

“I guess you’re a sport bike guy, he’s a dual-sport guy, he’s just in a hotter market,” said the assistant.

“Shut up,” Farmer said with a dismissive wave. “If the motorcycle media knew how to promote sport bikes, they’d be as big as ever.”

“Oh I know,” said the assistant, with enough emphasis to feign sincerity – even though Farmer knew full well his helper was a dirt bike guy at heart.

“I guess I’ll go up and take a shower,” said Farmer. “Do me a favor and find that BMW I was riding last night, would ya’?”

“Do you know where you left it?”

“I can’t remember. But I ended up coming home with that new editorial intern from Iron & Asshat, or Asphalt – whatsername? Katrina? Catriona? There’s a cat in there somewhere. Call the site and ask her where we were when we picked up that last Uber.”

With that, Farmer shuffled back upstairs.

“Aw-kward,” the assistant muttered under his breath.

“I heard that!” Farmer called down, adding, “Get a bike ready for me to take to lunch. Something electric; my head’s killing me.”

This time, Marcus just mouthed the words ‘No kidding’.

“And make sure to check the tire pressures!”


“Mr. Farmer! So nice to see you again.”

Farmer handed his helmet and gloves to the maître d’, who passed them off to the coat-check girl with a quiet word to clean the visor.

“I believe you’re meeting Mr. Lipshitz. He’s just finishing up with, ah… 

Farmer looked across the dining room, to see Alan Lipshitz, his agent, bidding good-bye to one of his other clients, Hyman Lemmeister. The agent knew they’d been seen and was momentarily embarrassed. Lemmeister strode across the room, with the shit-eating grin of a man who ordered the most expensive steak on the menu just to watch his agent squirm.

“Gene,” he said extending a hand like a vice.


Farmer started to walk towards his agent, but Adam Dean waved him over. Dean, who loved to be called ‘the dean of motojournalists,’ was holding court over a few other motorcycle scribes.

“Did you hear about the vote?” he asked.

“No,” said Farmer. 

“The Motorcycle Journalists Guild has officially voted to recommend that all members fire their agents forthwith,” said another lush, reading the email off his phone verbatim. He added, “It’s over packaging.”

The third writer at the table was a relative newcomer who’d moved to the dark side – motorcycle journalism – to make some real money after a few years at the sharp end in MotoGP. “So,” he asked, “are you going to fire your agent?” 

“I don’t know,” said Farmer. “There’s a good reason they call him dipshit, but that dipshit’s sold nine of my feature stories in the last six years.”

Dean could be counted on for two things: He wasn’t going to pick up the tab, and he was going to be well informed. Sotto voce, he said, “I don’t know; I heard the reason All Bikes hasn’t committed to your BMW test is that they wanted Drew Southcott to shoot it, but your agent over there is only offering it to publications that will take a package deal of you as writer and Bruce Rimmer as photographer, in exchange for 20% of the ad revenues.”

The old creep, who always had a sixth sense for a new ass to kiss, looked over his shoulder and smiled obsequiously as Lipshitz walked up.

“Gene! You’re early for a change,” the agent nearly shouted. He grabbed Farmer’s hand and pumped it. He looked around the table. “Gentlemen, Mr. Farmer and I have some business to discuss, as I’m sure you understand.”

“Of course, Mr. Lipshitz,” said Deane. Then with a nod in Farmer’s direction “We’ll see you at the ‘Wheelies’ tonight, eh? 

“Only if I don’t see you first,” Farmer said over his shoulder, making it sound like a joke, but totally meaning it.

The agent and the writer sat down just as a busboy was resetting glasses and cutlery over fresh linen. Lipshitz made a long pretense of studying the menu before ordering a small green salad.

“You ate lunch with Lemmeister.” 

“So what? I’m still paying for yours.”

“And no gear? You’re not even riding? Why even pretend that you actually care about motorcycle journalism?”

“I don’t,” Lipshitz said. “I care about motorcycle journalists. Like you. And getting you feature story assignments. Which brings me to an important question: Have you written a synopsis yet, for that BMW test? I’ve got editors all over town ready to read it.”

“Alan, you shithead,” started Farmer.

“Uncalled for,” Lipshitz interjected.

“You know full well,” the writer continued, “that the Motorcycle Journalists Guild schedule of minimums specifies that I should get a payment of about three grand, down, before delivery of a synopsis. Meanwhile, you’re getting ten grand option fees for Hymie back there, on the strength of a log line.”

“If you want to cite the rules, get them right. The deposit on a synopsis is $2,275, not three g’s,” the agent said drily. He paused as a waiter put down his salad and Farmer’s salmon. The writer picked up a fork and lifted a flake of fish with a single tine. It was cooked to perfection, as usual. Lipshitz had good taste in restaurants, if nothing else. 

Once the waiter had moved away, the agent continued at a lower volume but with plenty of hiss. “Hymie’s funny. He knows what readers want these days, which is a few good brap stories and some wheelie pics. Meanwhile you’ve got a reputation for delivering 1,500-word disquisitions on flame spread, and can’t write a tire story without using words like ‘hysteresis’. Editors are afraid of you.”

“Is it that, or is it that you’re trying to package me with that hack snapper, Rimmer?”

“Where did you hear that?” asked the agent, feigning hurt to cover real embarrassment.

Farmer built up a head of steam. “I swear to God, if I ever hear that you’re working for a cut of ad revenue, or if I ever think you’ve queered a deal of mine because you insisted on photos by that charlatan, I will take the Guild’s advice and fire you. Packaging is bullshit, and you know it.” 

“Oh, ‘queer the deal’? Are you trying to piss me off now, or are you just a crass pig? And besides, Rimmer’s an artiste; every bit as much as you are, or were.”

For a moment, Farmer wondered if he’d gone too far. Everybody knew Lipshitz was a ju-jitsu expert. “Just get me my quote,” the writer said. “You know damned well that I get double the Guild schedule, or at least you should because I’ve sure as hell been earning you double the commissions.”

“OK, OK,” said the agent, smoothing things over. “Let’s split the difference. I won’t ask you to write a synopsis on spec if you promise to be on your best behavior, and pitch your story to a few editors verbally tonight at the Golden Wheel Awards.”

Truthfully, Farmer hated the Wheelies. Only members of the Foreign Motojournalists Club voted on them. But Lipshitz insisted that all his clients showed up to schmooze there, because winning a Golden Wheel was often a first step towards winning at the Motorcycle Journalist Guild’s own annual blowout, which was coming up the next month. 

Farmer’d won a Golden Con-Rod early in his career – For ‘Best First Person Account of a Ride’, which was not even one of the big categories – and for the next two years he sold feature stories on the strength of a title and log line alone.

“So, I’ll see you tonight, right?” Lipshitz said as they were leaving. “I’ll be in the Founders Room behind the stage. Just promise me you won’t make a scene on the red carpet.”

“Maybe,” Farmer grumbled.

“Maybe definitely,” said the agent. They shook hands. Farmer turned to coat-check girl, who held on to his helmet just a second too long, smiling.

“Here you go, Mr. Farmer.” She added, “Um, I’m sure you’re busy, but is there any chance I could talk to you? 

“Let me guess,” Farmer said. “You’ve got a great idea for a motorcycle feature story, but you can’t get it to an editor.”

“Yeah, well, no, not exactly,” she said. “I mean, I’ve written a bunch of stuff on the forums, and I’ve published a few gear reviews, but I was hoping to get invited to comparo test – you know, provide a female perspective.”

Farmer suddenly noticed how nicely she filled out her Alpinestars jeans.

“I should get going,” he said. “But give me your number. Maybe we can go riding some time. You can swing by my place after; I’ll read your stuff.”

Late afternoon.

Farmer’s phone chimed, and a text came in from his assistant. “Sorry I had to leave before you got back,” it read. “Remember the foreign motojourno’s ass’n asked you to show up for the red carpet ceremony at 5. Also, your nephew Mark called.”

A 5 p.m. red carpet call meant the organizers knew he wasn’t going to win in any major category, even though he had three nominations. He’d have to sit in the theater bar for two hours before the show even started.

He dreaded the thought of calling his nephew, who was a starving screenwriter. It wasn’t the kid’s fault that writing movies and TV shows paid shit. The kid was good; really good actually. And Farmer knew that he’d influenced his nephew’s career path years earlier by telling him that when he was in college, screenwriting had been his favorite class.

But Farmer had gone where the money was, motorcycle journalism, and his nephew had followed his passion. So Farmer had a condo in Brooklyn, a cabin in Montana, and a tastefully renovated mid-century modern in Silver Lake, while his nephew shared a crappy condo in the Valley, juggled Lyft and Uber side hustles, and was still trading scripts for free Blu Rays and meals at the craft service table.

“Alexa, get Mark on the phone,” he said, as he put on his tux trousers and looked for a formal shirt.

“Hey Uncle Gene!” Farmer heard his nephew’s voice coming through the speaker on his dresser. 

“What’s up?” Farmer asked. He already knew what it would be; his nephew had an idea for a bike magazine feature story, based on some obscure movie.

The truth was that although a bunch of people had tried to take ideas from the screen and turn them into feature stories in moto-mags or on popular websites, few stories translated from the screen into words and pictures. There hadn’t been a really good one since ‘That Saturday Afternoon’ which had won the ‘Connie’ for Best Story way back in 1971, after it had run as a cover story in the much-missed ‘Cycle’ magazine.

But Farmer had to admit that this time the kid did have a legit feature story idea, based on some obscure movie about the Royal Army motorcycle racing team escaping from the Nazis, at the beginning of World War II.

“I have to admit,” Farmer told him, “that could easily get picked up in the U.K., by Motorcycle News or even Bike magazine.”

“Do you really think so?” asked his nephew, gushing.

“I do,” said Farmer. “Send me a draft and I’ll get my agent to read it. UMT has a London office. Maybe he can get someone there to read it.”

Farmer said goodbye, and looked at himself in the mirror, trying to remember how to tie a bow tie. He hated awards shows, or was it that he hated motorcycle journalism altogether? No, just the agents, the packaging, schmoozing and bullshit. It wasn’t as if he needed the money; he’d sold nine major features in the last six years alone. Even his lavish lifestyle couldn’t burn through the cash nearly as fast as it accumulated.

Not for the first time, he considered the fact that if he sold this place and moved to his property in Montana, he would never need to make another cent. The way the markets were going, he could probably even afford to keep his pied-a-terre in Brooklyn and his NetJets membership. If he did that, he could actually devote himself to screenwriting which had, it was true, been his first love.

Alexa’s disembodied voice broke into that reverie. “Message from Alan,” she said. “Where are you? You’re late. Should I send a car?”

Farmer didn’t reply. Instead, he poured himself a brandy, and padded downstairs into the office. He briefly checked his email on the big desktop computer, then dug the Macbook he used for private projects out from under a huge pile of new D-Air gear that Dainese had recently sent over, in hopes that he’d be seen wearing it.

He turned on a light over a vintage Breuer chair, opened his laptop, and clicked the ‘Final Draft’ icon. A window popped open labeled, ‘Untitled Screenplay’. Farmer started typing...

If you thought this essay was funny, you should  buy my new Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia, Vol. II.  It’s fucking hilarious.

If you thought this essay was funny, you should buy my new Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia, Vol. II. It’s fucking hilarious.

Author’s note – Years ago, I read a short story with this conceit as a premise: What if poets were treated like screenwriters. It stuck with me, and clearly inspired this essay. I recently tried to find it, in order to credit the original author, but I couldn’t track it down. I want to say I read it in the New Yorker (because that’s one of the few places where I’m exposed to short stories. And I want to say it was a piece by Martin Amis, because this is his kind of thing. But I can’t be sure. So to that author, whoever he or she was or is, Cheers, Mark