Full-On Factory Ride | Emeritus

By Brad Zimmerman, Photography by Motorcyclist Archives

Working as Feature Editor at Motorcyclist in the ’70s was the equivalent of a moto- journalist’s full-on factory ride. My paycheck doubled from my previous stint at Popular Cycling. The team was eight times larger. The first day there, they gave me a van with a gas card. My office even had a door and came with a brand-new IBM Selectric 2 typewriter. I spent that afternoon at Bates getting spec’d for roadracing leathers, then over to Bell to get fitted for helmets. And it went uphill from there...

Dave Ekins hired me. We had already worked together when he created the first Dirt Rider. Dave is the original Famous Unknown. An ISDT competitor, the first guy to do Baja, he’d won a ton of races that he rarely talked about. I wasn’t there long before he casually invited me to have lunch in our shop/garage with “Queenie.” I’m guessing wife/daughter/mistress until Steve McQueen rolls through the door. Turns out, Ekins was one of his heroes.

Jody Nicholas was fun, in a terrifying way. I knew nothing about him when I rolled in there. The first time we rode in the twisties together I almost died massively—numerous times. He was so fast and so smooth that you’d repeatedly find yourself sobbing inside your helmet because you mimicked him into a corner and ran out of talent a good 100 feet back. Jody took me as a passenger around a racetrack once to show me the good lines—and cut a lap 3 seconds quicker than my personal best. Jody liked motorcycles but loved Ducatis. Still does.

I never understood Bob Greene. He was a feisty old guy who had a following that assumed he could probably walk on water, but wouldn’t only because he just didn’t want to. He once did a streetbike road test that consisted almost entirely of riding on local gravel roads. I was horrified when I saw the layout on Jervis Hill’s art table. A few weeks passed and here came the letters, most from his congregation, praising the piece. Ekins called them “The Greenies.” I still think it was a cult.

Even though we had a receptionist (the lovely and lustable Patty), I gate-jumped that phone whenever it rang. Because of Dave, Jody and Bob, I got to talk to and take down messages from some seriously awesome guys. I had a collection of phone numbers that totally killed the AMA’s wall of famous folks, and thoroughly enjoyed name-bombing my friends with things like, “Yeah, Roger DeCoster called the other day and we got to talking about…”

If they had a monthly budget back then, I never heard about it, much less saw any evidence. When we needed photos of Bob Hannah for a Supercross piece, I flew to Detroit to shoot them. The European contributor got sick just before the Six-Days, and four days later I was in Czechoslovakia. The only real issue I remember was trying to find people to ride some of the bikes we received but didn’t test. We couldn’t give them back unmolested, so they were often sprinkled amongst friends with mileage. Some bikes never came back. Nobody seemed to care.

We did horrible, horrendous things to nice motorcycles. We took the only KX that Kawasaki had, lit a berm on fire and bashed through it. When I saw the bike two days later at the dealer show, the plastics were sickly twisted and the whole thing still smelled funny. We nearly caused a Suzuki fork recall until we fessed-up about this little Isle of Man-style bridge we’d spent the afternoon jumping. The bikes retaliated though, making us suffer through the suspension evolution, and the trail of broken clavicles and scapulas it spawned.

So, a tip of the visor and Happy Wheelies to Motorcyclist for being 100 years old. My personal odo has just rolled past the 40-year mark of my motorcycle-industry life sentence, and of all the things I’ve done so far, the time I spent at the magazine is hands-down the best non-job I’ve ever had.

By Brad Zimmerman
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