It’s been a bit since I’ve last done a “Meet a Reader” interview, but over the last few months I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Jeff Moore’s comments/opinions on Bike-urious and I thought he’d be a great subject to bring this series back with. I frequently learn something whenever I speak with Jeff – such as his suggestions to my “Ugliest Bikes of All Time” poll, both of which I had never heard of before. I hit him with the usual questions, so enjoy the responses of someone who’s obviously passionate about motorcycles!
Here we go!
How did you get started with motorcycles – how did you learn, and what was your first bike?
Up until the age of about 28, I had never sat on, touched, or breathed on a motorcycle. I was aware they existed, but motorcycles were in roughly the same sphere of awareness as wingsuits for me – i.e. something crazy people did for adrenaline rushes or some unknown crazy person motivation.
My first encounter with motorcycles came about because of a need for parking. I had a job in San Francisco, and moved to Oakland from the further East Bay. I had always taken the BART train into SF and liked it just fine, but I discovered that the parking lot of my new closest BART station was roughly the size of a postage stamp and filled up at about 6:30 AM. My choices were:
a.) get to work two hours early
b.) park ~8 blocks away from the station (all the close street parking is 4 hour parking because they know) in some neighborhood and have a hefty walk at the beginning & end of the day
c.) figure out something else.
Everything was on the table: find a ferry? Rent a jetski? What transportation mechanisms exist that would connect a job I liked to a house I liked? My crafty idea was that there was always scooter parking available at BART, so why don’t I get a scooter? But then, most of the ~5 miles between my house and the train station was freeway, and it didn’t seem smart to take a scooter on the freeway (I had no idea about maxiscooters or Vespa GTSs yet), so I figured “well, I guess I’ll get a small motorcycle.”
I was pretty convinced I was going to die immediately, so I bugged some close friends who rode bikes to please tell me what to do in order to not die. They instructed me, thankfully, to go take the MSF, and gave me the specific goal of “spend more money on your gear than on your first bike.” I ended up with a spectacularly rattletrap 1982 Suzuki GS650 for $800. (And for comparison: a Shoei RF-1100, an Icon Motorhead jacket, Dainese Torque Out boots, and Alpinestars SP2 gloves – for I don’t remember how much, but certainly more than $800.)
And it worked! I did that thing, I rode to BART and parked and it worked. However: it took me all of a few weeks of that commute to realize that instead of riding to BART and parking and waiting for a train, I could just…keep on riding into SF on the bike, and it was dramatically easier and faster. And fun!
What bikes do you currently own?
2017 KTM Super Duke GT
2013 Brammo Empulse R
1979 Honda CBX
2017 Beta 125 RR-S
2014 Yamaha FZ-09
I’m a big fan of owning different vehicles optimized for different purposes.
The SDGT is my long range road-focused touring machine. In my opinion, the SDGT is the closest modern equivalent we have today of what “touring bikes” used to be. The original GL1000 Gold Wings, et al, were simply powerful naked bikes with a windscreen and some panniers slapped on them. The SDGT is exactly that. It’s one of the most powerful hypernakeds you can buy today, with a windscreen, panniers, and a bigger fuel tank grafted onto it. It weighs a hair under 500 lbs, can carry >100 liters of stuff in hard bags, can get >45mpg and 250+ mile range, has true cross country capability, and yet absolutely shreds in the twisties when you get somewhere fun. Truly a ridiculous eierlegende Wollmilchsau [Editor’s Note: Yet again, I learned something from Jeff. I had to look this up], and I love it. And yet, because it’s an outlier that doesn’t exactly line up with established current genre boundaries, it doesn’t have a lot of competitors. I wish more manufacturers would make one – imagine if you could buy a Speed Triple RS with bags and a windscreen!
The Brammo is the first motorcycle (vehicle!) I ever bought brand new, and I love it dearly. It’s a little long in the tooth now – a 9-year-old electric motorcycle is ancient tech relative to the pace of EV development, but it still has about 80% of original battery capacity, and it still rips. One of the most enjoyable chassis platforms I’ve ever ripped around the track on, and the unique magic of feeding the monster of electric torque through the multiplication factor of a 6-speed gearbox means it is the most ridiculous off-the-line accelerating thing I have still ever ridden. It’s like teleporting. It was my daily commuter for years. I don’t commute on it anymore (I promised myself I’d only commute on bikes with ABS) but it is still wonderful.
The CBX is my terrible vintage vanity restomod project. I’ve always been fascinated by weird Honda R&D halo projects (in both cars and bikes), and as soon as I learned the history of the CBX I became immediately obsessed with them. I’ve always loved the way they looked, the way they sound, everything. Of course because I’m an idiot, I bought a terrible broken basketcase of parts that hadn’t turned over in a couple of decades off of Craigslist for a couple grand, and have spent the past 5 years or so doing a neverending restomod project to it. At this point it has a ZRX front end, a ZX-6R rear, modern electrical, hydraulic clutch, full engine rebuild (wherein we discovered it had an ancient big bore kit in it, of course), electronic dash, and more. Eventually it’s going to get a modern headlight and some other stuff too. This all mainly because, well…I want to ride the damn thing! I don’t want to deal with terrible old electronics, or terrible old brakes, or terrible old tires, or a terrible old headlight – a goal of maximal sweet inline-6 howl, minimal pain of god-awful old tech quality of life.
The Beta has been my initial foray into dirt riding. It’s a full size street legal 125 four stroke, which is immediately weird. It’s a weird bike, but it was basically one of the only things I could find for a beginner small-displacement dirt bike that wasn’t an ancient air-cooled farm tractor. The Beta is a reasonably competent machine, I’ve taken it on multi-day camping outings and trail rides and it’s done great. I don’t ride nearly enough dirt as I’d like to, but it’s really fun and the Beta has been an absolutely wonderful intro to it. My friends and I have used it to introduce lots of newbies to the dirt as well since I’ve had it – a ton of people have borrowed it and abused it, and it keeps on trucking. It uses basically the same motor as in the Yamaha YZF-R125, so it’s reasonably reliable and has a pretty robust parts economy.
The FZ-09 is my track bike. A buddy of mine crashed it, and I bought it for cheap. The front end needed to be replaced, and that awful bouncy castle suspension was always my complaint with those bikes anyway, so for a few grand all in, I’ve got a sweet streetfighter with GP cartridge kits up front, a Penske in the rear, and a nice Brembo master cylinder. I am by no means a fast track rider, but I love having a bike to thrash around a trackday to better my skills and have fun on without fear of wadding something precious.
Assume for a moment that money is no object, and importation laws aren’t a problem. What’s the next bike you’d buy, and what would you do with it?
Honestly, I had unlimited funds for one bike purchase? This is funny to say, but I would probably get an Arch. Any of them really, but that Method 143 looks absolutely ridiculous. It really is trying something genre-bending and new, and has some truly wild styling cues and tech built around a fundamentally absurd premise (a giant S&S V-twin). Plus I love the story – Keanu seems like a genuinely humble and nice dude who has had the great fortune of landing in the wonderful position of being able to share his particular vision of “an ideal motorcycle” with the world. I love it.
As to what I’d do with it? Literally commute on it! Go get tacos up the coast on it. Dress up in a costume and ride around on it during Halloween. Use it like a normal motorcycle. I think it would be pretty rad to own the highest-mileage Arch in existence.
What’s the most memorable motorcycle trip you’ve ever taken?
That’s easy, I just got back from it not too long ago. From August to October of 2021 I spent about 8 weeks on a cross-country trip across the US. I made it all the way from California to Maine and back.
Saw a lot of places I’ve always wanted to see, got to ride some famous roads, got to visit some friends & family, it was truly tremendous. I’m fortunate enough to be able to work remote – there was a lot of Zoom from motel rooms and conference calls on the Sena so it wasn’t all contiguous fun, but I’m grateful I’m in a position in life to be able to wander around the country on a bike and be able to still make a living while doing it.
The SDGT performed admirably. Burned through a rear tire, a chain, and a headlight bulb, but other than that was entirely smooth sailing. The heated seat and heated grips (combined with a heated jacket) kept me warm through some very cold weather on the way back.
And yes, I visited the National Mustard Museum in Wisconsin.
Do you listen to music while riding? If no, why not? If yes, what are some of your favorite tunes when you’re on your bike?
Yes, a fair amount. I think the advent of relatively affordable helmet bluetooth comms is one of the most life-changing technologies to make motorcycling an activity more people want to do. Right up there alongside ABS and heated gear.
Which particular music I guess depends on the mood, and on the bike. For example, if I’m having a fun cruise down the coast, I might listen to some Iron Maiden or Sabbath. Or, if it’s a wet and grey rainy day to go pick up some groceries across town, I might choose jazz. Or, imagine riding a shrieking electric motorcycle at night over an empty bridge: that situation clearly calls for synthwave.
That all being said, these days I probably listen to more audiobooks than I do music. I consumed 4 or 5 books over the course of my cross-country trip. Back in the beforetimes when a daily commute was a thing, I had to up my Audible subscription to the highest tier (2 credits per month) because I was burning through so many books during the commute.
And yes, often I will ride without music as well (particularly on the CBX, which has a sweet enough soundtrack), but it really depends on the situation.
What’s your favorite piece of gear?
The Aerostich Roadcrafter, bar none. I don’t think I need to explain it too much, but it’s definitely a gamechanger.
Over the years I’ve had a half dozen spills on wet cable car tracks or manhole covers or getting bumped while lanesplitting by a car, or what have you. Any number of those falls, even those at 5mph, could have resulted in a shattered kneecap or any number of debilitating injuries . . . but with the tempurpedic-like armor pads of the Aerostich, they were near non-issues. I was definitely sore for a few days, and it’s not like I wanted to go do those things again (i.e. I learned to not turn out of intersections across wet manhole covers), but I got to learn those lessons with bruises, not with broken hips.
And while it is a compromise in many ways – the waterproofing isn’t perfect, it really isn’t meant for very high speed crashes, etc – the compromises it chooses I think are indeed the ‘correct’ ones, for its use case. It results in a garment of ultimate convenience, which means I wear it all the time. Being able to wear regular clothes underneath and step into or out of your gear in <30 seconds is really life-altering.
You have $25,000 to spend on anything in the world of motorcycles – 1 new bike, several old bikes, track days, a trip, you name it. How do you spend it?
Probably purchase an Energica Eva. (The Ribelle RS, I think.) At this point the Brammo is getting very long in the tooth, and in my opinion the Energica is the closest spiritual successor to the gnarly streetfighter the Brammo was. Perhaps most importantly: it makes the noise. Haha I know it’s a mild trick – the TIE Fighter wail is definitely just straight-cut gears in the transmission, but I simply don’t care. It’s intoxicating. I’m definitely the electric equivalent of a Harley potato-sound fan: I must have the noise.
At this point I think all my gas bikes are pretty much incredible – the SDGT is the best long distance thing for my use case I think money can buy, the CBX is the pinnacle of air-cooled Honda wizardry (and noise), etc. The only thing my motorcycle collection really wants is a better and more modern electric (with ABS). I don’t know when a ‘regular commute’ will be a thing again, but whenever it is, I will want the convenience and telepathic acceleration and handling of an electric to do it with.
What do you expect from the future of motorcycling, good or bad?
I think the future of motorcycling depends highly on the societal perceptions of motorcycling, and whether or not the motorcycle industry can change them along with itself. The motorcycle industry is generally extremely conservative. I don’t mean conservative in the current US political sense, I mean in its traditional sense: averse to risk and change. And fairly reasonably so!
Typically, anything in the industry that deviates from well-established norms is punished with poor sales, bad reviews, or poor general regard by motorcyclists. There is very little incentive for a motorcycle manufacturer to bring to market a machine that strays outside entrenched lines – they risk poor sales at best, or angering brand ‘fans’ at worst. Ducati vertically stacking headlights on the 999, Harley making the V-Rod, etc – the slightest deviation is generally met with hostility or failure. (Let alone something truly outside the mold like a Gurney Alligator.) Why would a brand want to have poor sales? There’s no reason to change from the norms that have been established.
And the largest meta-norm there is is the marketing image of a motorcyclist. At this point, there’s been half a century of modern advertising, untold billions of dollars, pumped into the image or lifestyle that motorcycles provoke. I cannot tell you how many people I’ve encountered who simply never, ever would consider motorcycling because of the baked-in image of “motorcycling” that advertising and pop culture has created. (I should know, I used to be among them.) I’ve had friends, girlfriends, coworkers, all kinds of folk be genuinely surprised that I ride a motorcycle, because I didn’t fit the preconceived notion of a “motorcyclist” that’s been drilled into their brain from a young age.
Now that I am a motorcyclist, I can tell you that we also do it to ourselves. As an example: here’s a Petrolicious video on the Honda CBX. (One of my favorite channels, and one of my favorite bikes.)
At multiple points in the video, there’s emphasis on how motorcycling is dangerous and uncomfortable – as a selling point of the ‘lifestyle’ of riding motorcycles. “So you have to kind of be a different breed, a different animal, to enjoy something you know that most people probably shouldn’t be riding and doing.” I don’t want to pick on this one guy – this sentiment is rather common amongst motorcyclists – but it’s indicative of how unremarkable it is, in the context of the video. And Petrolicious is primarily a car channel: this is indeed the image most ‘car people’ have of ‘bike people.’
The attitude of motorcycling as an uncomfortable and dangerous activity even persists to those who do ride motorcycles. A friend of mine used to ride (he gave it up long ago before I became a motorcyclist), and in talking to him recently about it, it turned out he gave it up because his helmet gave him a piercing headache after a while, and his bike had an uncomfortable seating position. He didn’t have anybody to tell him how to pick a helmet that fit comfortably, or that it’s possible to adjust bike ergos to fit him better. He just went and bought a motorcycle, and motorcycling was obviously an inherently uncomfortable activity, and he did it for a while even in spite of it being uncomfortable because he liked it so much, but eventually gave it up. Our society drills into us that motorcycling is an uncomfortable and dangerous activity – so when it proves to be uncomfortable and dangerous, we figure “oh this is working as intended!” Even worse, many existing veteran motorcyclists cast aspersions on folks who want to be comfortable or safe: the macho-man attitude of “Heated gear? That’s for wimps!” “ABS? That’s for wimps!” Etc.
I think motorcycling as an industry and as a pastime in the US has an elitism & gatekeeping problem. The idea that it takes a certain ‘breed’ or ‘type’ of person who has ‘what it takes’ to ride something uncomfortable and dangerous like a motorcycle, I find a bit repulsive. I feel nearly the exact opposite – that almost anyone can learn to ride a motorcycle, and I honestly believe that our society would be a better place in general if more people did ride motorcycles. (That topic could probably be a whole separate 10-page screed.)
There are entities trying to address this issue, thankfully. I think RevZilla and Fortnine in particular have done a great job in the past few years, of posting how-to guides and interesting videos – and both have done so very clearly with an eye toward attracting a wider audience of newer riders, non-riders, and more diverse demographics. All the time in their comment sections, you see sentiments like “I don’t even ride a motorcycle, but this is amazing.” But the thing is: they’re both commercial entities. If the motorcycle industry in general fails, they fail. I think both RevZilla and Fortnine have realized this, and thus have embarked on missions to solve that problem…but they are both gear businesses. Where are the bike manufacturers, or national interest groups? Why is it up to internet gear-selling businesses to change the societal perceptions of the activity of riding a motorcycle?
There’s a reason Honda’s “You Meet The Nicest People” campaign is still so widely talked about. There hasn’t really been anything like it since, from an OEM. Mark Gardiner brought up this phenomenon: the most effective modern ad campaigns of recent years that might get new people interested in the activity of motorcycling have been ads for beer, perfume, or banks. Not ads by motorcycle manufacturers.
This is in part because the marketing norms are so ingrained that it’s just as risky to try to change them as it would be to change the arrangement of headlights on a Ducati. (Just try to find any OEM press shots of a sport-tourer with a man riding pillion behind a woman!) Currently, motorcycles are almost exclusively aimed at mostly male thrill-seekers who want to appear cool – and I can tell you, we’ve long ago exhausted that market.
Anybody who wants an adrenaline high definitely already knows motorcycles exist and that they’re awesome. The people that don’t yet know motorcycles are awesome are people like me at 28 – people who aren’t thrill seekers, but have a transportation need. Because of the simple situation of “BART parking in Oakland was bad”, I’ve gone on to buy three brand new bikes and heaven only knows how many thousands of dollars worth of gear and parts and paraphernalia. I’ve supported national and local businesses and contributed toward keeping the motorcycle industry afloat – but the thing is, I ended up doing all that largely despite the best efforts of the motorcycle industry itself. All of the motorcycle industry marketing efforts I was exposed to throughout my entire life added up to making me 100% sure it was not an activity for me. And still now, most ads and efforts I see from OEMs don’t resonate with me at all.
So to answer the question of what the future of motorcycling holds, I have no idea, but I can tell you it hinges upon whether or not the general loose apparatus that is “the motorcycle industry” can change. If it can shift and expand societal perceptions and expectations of who motorcycles are “for”, then I think the future of motorcycling is pretty bright. If it can’t . . . well, you know what happens to most organisms that fail to adapt and change.
A lot of motorcyclists seem perennially worried about “them” (insurance companies? governments?) figuring out that motorcycles are dangerous and banning them or whatever. But what if more people rode motorcycles? What if the mysterious “them” were also statistically composed of more motorcycle riders, and people who loved motorcycles? Empathy is the best antidote to reactionary hostility – if we can increase ridership among more types of people, then the likelihood will be higher that the folks writing the laws or making the policies will be riders themselves, or have loved ones who ride, or even simply have a higher number of constituents who ride.
The motorcycles themselves are definitely not the blocker. We are currently living in a golden age of bikes, honestly – the bikes out there right now are astonishingly good. (Just go ride a Tuono V4 if you need proof of that!) If the gatekeepers continue to be predominant though, motorcycling will shrivel and wilt, and the dumbly self-fulfilling prophecy of “Oh no, they’ll ban it because it’s dangerous!” might even come true. If, however, we can intentionally broaden the diversity and accessibility of motorcycling as an activity, then I think motorcycling will expand onwards and upwards.