After the machines themselves, the next best thing about motorcycles is the wealth of stories told about them.
From traditional print publications to online blogs, there is no shortage of written words in the motorcycle community. This year at Common Tread, we wanted to look back on 2016 and give credit to other outlets and authors creating great content. We asked for help from two of our regular contributors to Common Tread, who also happen to have written some of the best work we saw in 2016: Brett Smith and Mark Gardiner. In addition to his work for RevZilla, Brett wrote an amazingly in-depth and personal piece on Austin Stroupe's struggle with addiction for Racer X entitled “Austin, we have a problem.” Mark is the author of "Riding Man" and other books, and one of his best stories, “Searching for Spadino,” was published anew as a cover story in Issue 21 of Iron and Air.
Be sure to check out those stories as well as the following picks for 2016. If you have any additional suggestions for good reads, let us know in the comments section at the end of the article.
Brett “Dreaming of a Van Van 200” Smith
A Season on the Brink
By Steve Matthes
Racer X Online
Written for Racer X Online by Pulp MX’s creator/host, Steve Matthes, “A Season on the Brink” chronicles Team Pro Circuit’s 1993 racing season from the point where the support of American Honda was yanked from their program to the day they won the 125 cc West Region Supercross championship aboard an undesirable motorcycle (1993 Kawasaki KX125) with an unlikely rider (Jimmy Gaddis). In this long as-told-to story, it’s evident that Matthes, a former factory mechanic turned roving reporter and popular podcaster, has a close relationship with the nine subjects involved. It’s a "Wow, what if?" kind of tale that every student of moto history should read.
From Silence The Word
By Andy Taylor
Jeff Emig is the current on-air analyst for Monster Energy Supercross on Fox Sports. Two decades ago he was a champion dealing with a demon that had tormented him since childhood: He had a stuttering problem. In the Spring 2016 issue of META, Emig opened up in an essay by Andy Taylor and told how he overcame stuttering. Taylor also shot the beautiful portraits of the Hall of Fame rider. This article stuck with me for two reasons: First, it’s a great subject and I wish more motorcycle athletes would be honest about their fears, troubles and shortcomings. Secondly? I so wished I had thought of it first.
Mark “I did it my way” Gardiner
Instead of picking specific articles, I decided to shed light on some publications you might not be aware of.
Benzina: Obscurity perfected
If you have a carefully curated scattering of motorcycle magazines on your coffee table, and want to add a title that will make your friends ask, “Where did you get this?” you should check out Benzina, published in the UK by Greg Pullen. Benzina focuses on Italian bikes of a certain age, combining literary and technically accurate writing with beautiful design and illustration. Every issue’s a labor of love for Greg, and it definitely shows. Some back issues are sold out, but his website also offers a handful of selected books, too. Recent issues of Benzina cost about $20 and postage isn’t cheap either; you’ll spend about $35 to land an issue. Honestly, it’s worth it. Buy through Greg’s blog at TeamBenzina.blogspot.com
Sideburn blog: Flat track, with an international flavor
It’s often true that people who come from somewhere else appreciate the things we take for granted at home. One of America’s greatest contributions to motorcycle racing is flat track, and yet it’s probably a distant fourth or fifth when it comes to fan interest here. Ironically, U.S.-style flat track is the epitome of cool in Europe these days. There are thriving flat-track scenes in the U.K and Spain, and they’re covered with verve and style on the Sideburn blog (and in Sideburn magazine, which is popular in the American Flat Track pits.) The blog and magazine are produced by Gary Inman, one of the most experienced motorcycle journalists in the U.K., and Ben Part. The two of them are largely responsible for the popularity of American-style racing in Great Britain. Check out their blog at SideburnMag.blogspot.com.
Dakar.com: Stories of the Dakar Rally
There’s not really an off-season for motorcycle racing fans any more—but what do you do if you’re a MotoGP or World Superbike junkie and Supercross just won’t cut it? Answer: get hooked on the speed, danger, and glamor of the Dakar Rally. Even though it’s been moved to South America from Africa, it remains the world’s most prestigious off-road race—and for good reason, as it’s so long and difficult that I have often become exhausted just watching it on TV. While the attention is often focused on the guys riding for factory teams who are threats to win, the effort put in by privateers is even more harrowing. The backmarkers ride at triple-digit speeds by day, perform all their own maintenance long into the evening, and make do with a few hours’ sleep a night—if they’re lucky. As January approaches, check in on www.Dakar.com.
Spurgeon “Let’s bend the rules” Dunbar
A Well-Loved Motorcycle Is Good for the Soul
By Zach Bowman
I first heard of Zach Bowman while he was an Associate Editor for Road & Track. He has since packed in the traditional nine-to-five and hit the road with his wife and young daughter in a beat-up Dodge Ram with a camper on the back. He writes about his exploits and those stories are documented in a series called “Bowman’s Odyssey” on The/Drive. In “Part 49,” he writes about how he came into possession of a well worn KTM after its previous owner's unfortunate passing. This story also offers closure to an earlier Road & Track article that first turned me on to Mr. Bowman’s writing, entitled “The Infuriation and Joy of a Long Shot Craigslist Purchase.”
Motorcyclist Flashback: Miracle in Garage 21, Revisited…
By Mitch Boehm
While many readers today are familiar with the writing, riding, and shenanigans of Zack Courts and Ari Henning at Motorcyclist, I want to focus on an article written by Mitch Boehm. This tale looks back 21 years to Daytona in 1995. Mitch, then Editor In Chief at Motorcyclist, was invited to compete in a race on a custom-framed, vintage Honda 450 (built in no small part by Ari’s dad, Todd Henning). This article is a fantastic tale of teamwork and talent. From those building the bike to those competing in the race, whatever can go wrong usually does. This story exemplifies how success usually follows those who can remain composed and stay the course even when everything around them is burning.
Classic Rematch: Norton Commando vs. BMW R90S
By Peter Egan
Cycle World Magazine
My final pick was actually published at the end of 2015, but since we’re making up the rules as we go along, I am going to bend them to allow for its inclusion. In spite of being retired, Peter Egan continues to pen the occasional article for Cycle World, including this comparison review with Editor In Chief Mark Hoyer. The catch? They’re not reviewing two new motorcycles but rather they decide to pit a 1974 Norton Commando against a 1976 BMW R90S. Set in the rolling hills of Wisconsin, this story focuses less on determining a winner between the two bikes and more on documenting the exploits of two old friends riding two old motorcycles.