It’s a motorcycle: You gonna look at it or ride it?

Speed Triple at RevZilla HQ

My 1997 Triumph Speed Triple joined the other motorcycles ridden to work at RevZilla, though mine was ridden 500 miles to get there. That’s Spurgeon’s 2015 Triumph Tiger next to it, covered in mud from a hard weekend of off-road riding and held together with zip-ties and hope. I thought it might make my old bike look better. It seems that didn’t work as well as I’d hoped.

Two of my colleagues at RevZilla were considering my 1997 Triumph Speed Triple. “It’s kind of sad that a bike owned by someone in the industry is in that condition,” one of them said after a minute’s hesitation.

OK. So maybe that’s not what I was expecting to hear. Or, on another level, maybe I was.  Continue reading It’s a motorcycle: You gonna look at it or ride it? →


Why we’ll miss Nicky Hayden more than most

Nicky Hayden

The best attitude in the paddock.

Even if he had never won a motorcycle race, Nicky Hayden was the kind of guy who would be greatly missed.

But of course millions more will miss him precisely because he did win a lot of motorcycle races. That’s not the only reason, or even the main reason, why we’ll miss him, however.

Nicky was way more than his accomplishments on the track. He was the youngest rider to win the AMA Superbike title and then he went on to win the 2006 MotoGP world championship. What made him different from other racers, and even from other world champions, was how he handled himself in a cutthroat world of hypercompetitive professional sports.

I was born and raised in West Virginia and Nicky grew up in Kentucky. There’s a lot that’s admirable about the working-class, small-town Appalachian culture, but there are also aspects far less laudable. Nicky embodied the best of it.

He worked hard. He didn’t complain, whine or blame others when he failed. When he succeeded, he didn’t forget to thank those who had helped him along the way. And again, he worked hard, whether it was turning more practice laps than anyone else or the hours spent training away from the track. He was pushing his 35-year-old body hard on his bicycle to maintain the kind of condition only the world’s elite athletes attain when he was hit by a car, causing the injuries that led to his death today.

I once heard a small, bitter and ignorant man say that Nicky “got lucky” when he won his world title. Here’s what I always say: Nobody ever won a world championship by luck alone, or without some luck along the way. It’s easier to conclude Nicky had more than his fair share of bad luck: his Honda team deciding to build the program around Dani Pedrosa instead of him; joining Ducati at a time when that program badly lost its way, leaving him on an uncompetitive bike in what could have been his best years; going back to Honda when he had to move to World Superbike, and being provided with yet another uncompetitive bike to ride; and finally, being in the wrong place at the wrong time on a bicycle in Italy.

Whenever his career handed him bad breaks, instead of whining or sulking or giving up, he slapped a “no excuses” sticker on his bike and worked harder.

In our culture, we look up to movie stars, athletes and other celebrities, but only a select few show the kind of character that truly deserves our admiration. Only a few are the kind of people we’d hope our children grow up to be. Nicky Hayden was one of those few.


REV’IT Shield jacket review

I know not every motorcyclist is consumed by the pursuit of the perfect jacket. “Consumed” is too strong a word for me, as well, but I am on a more or less endless quest to find jackets that do everything I want without adding unwanted complication or expense. My most recent test case is the REV’IT Shield textile jacket.

REV'IT Shield jacketKeep in mind that I am not one of those riders who wants to own one jacket that can adapt to every possible riding condition. I’d rather buy three $200 jackets to cover the range of warm, cold and wet weather than buy a more complicated $600 jacket that tries to do it all, just as I’d rather have a dual-sport, a sport bike and a touring bike to cover dirt roads, track days and road trips than have one bike that tries to do it all. My general strategy for street riding is to have a three-quarters-length jacket for cold weather, a sporty, waist-length waterproof jacket for moderate weather, a mesh jacket for hot days and a rain jacket to put over any of the above if needed.

With that in mind, let’s see how the REV’IT Shield, a fairly straightforward, waterproof, sport-styled, waist-length textile jacket fits into that plan, now that I’ve tested it. Continue reading REV’IT Shield jacket review →


The 2017 Harley-Davidson Street Rod: I don’t get this motorcycle

Harley-Davidson Street Rod

Harley-Davidson made a lot of improvements to its Street 750 to create the Street Rod. So why is it one of the most awkward-feeling motorcycles I’ve ridden?

Most people were underwhelmed by the Harley-Davidson Street 750, Harley’s new liquid-cooled “world” motorcycle. Performance was nothing amazing, which is not that surprising for Harley-Davidson, but what was surprising was the general quality of the fit and finish and the looks.

In introducing the 2017 Street Rod, Harley had been unusually responsive to criticism. This new model addresses the Street 750’s shortcomings with a range of improvements: steel-braided brake lines and dual discs up front, far better fit and finish, a little more power — even little things like improved, bar-end mirrors.

So this is a Harley I should like, right? One that can go and lean, at least a little. I took the one we currently have on loan at RevZilla for a short ride this past week while I was in Philadelphia, and I’m sorry to say I can’t get on board the Street Rod train.

I just don’t get this motorcycle.  Continue reading The 2017 Harley-Davidson Street Rod: I don’t get this motorcycle →


A Scootour of Puerto Rico

This story originally appeared in Rider magazine.

scooter tour of Puerto Rico

Homely scooter, beautiful beach.

Sometimes you just need to take a ride. Even if circumstances aren’t optimal. Even if there are obstacles to overcome. Even if those around you react with, “You want to do what?”

That’s how I came to find myself on Puerto Rico Route 191, a narrow road of tight switchbacks that climbs 2,000 feet in just a few miles, wringing the throttle on a copper-colored, Chinese-built scooter of questionable lineage and well-worn suspension. The scooter’s engine whirred in pain, the plastic housing in front of my knees rattled loudly with each bump, the front end threatened head-shake despite the modest speeds, but really, none of it mattered. Because sometimes you just need to take a ride. Continue reading A Scootour of Puerto Rico →


Dunlop RoadSmart III sport-touring motorcycle tire review

Dunlop tires on a BMW

Test riding the new Dunlop Roadsmart III sport-touring tire on a BMW R 1200 RT. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

I had a shock last year when I changed the front tire on my Kawasaki Versys and went to write down the mileage in my maintenance log. According to the numbers, that Dunlop Roadsmart II had been on the front wheel of my Versys for 25,000 miles!

I was certain it was a mistake. I must have changed it without writing it down. But since I only buy tires from RevZilla, where I work as managing editor of Common Tread, I had an easy way to check. My purchase records there confirmed it.

I got 25,000 miles out of a front tire. I’m certain I’ve never done that before.

Now admittedly, the Versys is fairly easy on (especially front) tires and I don’t ride the bike that hard, typically. But still…

So when I got a chance recently to attend the press intro for the next generation of Dunlop sport-touring tires, the Roadsmart III, I was really interested in seeing how they’d do.  Continue reading Dunlop RoadSmart III sport-touring motorcycle tire review →


Indian promises the future, but for now we get a fringed monstrosity

Indian Roadmaster Classic

This is not the future.

Ever since Polaris decided to shut down Victory Motorcycles after 18 years and go all-in (motorcycle-wise) on resurrecting the Indian brand, just about every public comment by company executives has reassured us that they know they have to attract new customers, that they will expand the product line beyond heavy cruisers and great things are coming. For now, though, we have this 900-pound fringed monstrosity.

It’s the new 2017 Indian Roadmaster Classic, a $26,999 barge (in black; two-tone paint costs more) distinguished from the regular Roadmaster only by being slathered in fringed leather (which also means you can’t lock that luggage, so the bike is less useful). In other words, Indian took a bike that hardly anybody under 40 would pay attention to and turned it into a bike that young new riders or young potential riders might actually look at — but only to gag a little. Continue reading Indian promises the future, but for now we get a fringed monstrosity →


One man’s idea of the perfect sport-touring motorcycle

Mark Morel on the road

Mark Morel built his own vision of the perfect sport-touring motorcycle.

What comes to mind if I say the words “custom motorcycle?” Maybe a themed cruiser where form always trumps function, sitting on a bike show pedestal. Maybe a lowered sportbike gleaming with custom paint and neon lights.

Mark Morel’s bike wouldn’t get a second look (at least not an admiring one) from the people who love those kinds of customs. But in many ways it represents the essence of customization. It is one individual’s vision of the ideal bike, with all the work done by the owner’s hands. But instead of going for the perfect look, Morel aimed for a personal ideal in terms of function.  Continue reading One man’s idea of the perfect sport-touring motorcycle →