Stories Of Working Inside The Motorcycle Industry

Choose a job you love, the saying goes, and you’ll never work a day in your life

The Entrepreneur

Court Butler, 40
Court Butler, founder of Butler Maps with bike and map in snow.
Founder of Butler Maps "Before we put out our first map, in 2010, we had ridden over 250,000 miles. I rode 55,000 miles the first year alone."Ric Stovall

What was your first job?
I was a truck driver for a construction company. Then I was working at a flooring store in Avon, Colorado, right down the road from where our offices are now. I was pretty bored.

So you quit and started making maps for motorcyclists?
I was still working at the flooring store. I was moonlighting, taking off to ride these roads. I actually got fired from that job. I can't blame the owner. But my heart just wasn't in it. I was 30 years old, and I didn't want to sell flooring. When I got fired, it was this moment: Now I've got to shit or get off the pot.

Sounds scary.
We started in 2008, right as the economy was tanking. My wife owns a salon, and her income limped us along the first few years. When another business partner came in, Justin Bradshaw [who later launched the Rever app], we could afford to pay ourselves $1,000 a month. That was huge. I remember the first paycheck. We were so stoked! Because then it was more than a hobby. It became real.

And the product lets you get out and ride.
Our patented rating system highlights the best roads in each state. We don't fly roads; we don't get in cars. We scout roads on motorcycles. In the beginning, I would [study] atlases, and if there was any undulation, I would highlight it, throw it in my tank bag and go. My dad helped start the company too. As a son, getting to drag my father around the country over hundreds of thousands of miles—that was a fantastic experience.

How much were you riding?
Before we put out our first map, in 2010, we had ridden over 250,000 miles. I rode 55,000 miles the first year alone. Justin did 30,000 or 40,000. He was still painting houses at the time. It was a lot, managing our personal lives, our relationships with our wives, being gone all the time. That dance between not making any money and following a dream. People were like, "C'mon, are you serious? This is just an excuse to ride motorcycles around the country."

There's serious work involved.
It's not hard to be envious of this position. But [scouting] can be taxing. You're focusing on trying to keep the motorcycle upright, but also collecting data, double-checking maps, communicating in the field. At the end of the day, you're smoked. Like, "Wow, I never thought I could be this tired."

Could you see yourself doing anything else now?
No. I can't. At this point, it's less about the riding or revenue, and more about customers. Hearing people recount their experiences using our maps: "This is unbelievable. It's changed our entire outlook on motorcycling." That's hugely rewarding, being able to say that our little map [helped] somebody on their motorcycle have an awesome time.

It's like a Butler Map belongs to the motorcyclists. You just get to make the thing.
Exactly. Early on, your output dictates the company singularly, because you are the company. Then, at some point, it stops being about you. It's about this community. Within that community, the paradigm has shifted. The traditional motorcyclists in this country, they're not as interested in working to ride anymore. They just want to go and have fun on a motorcycle.

Dr. Michele Zasa
Dr. Michele Zasa, Medical Director at Clinica Mobile.
Medical Director, Clinica MobileKent Barton

Clinica Mobile is the official medical group of MotoGP and FIM World Superbike. At the races, emergency services like ambulances are provided by the local area. We have a facility that travels with the series in Europe, and we send equipment and personnel for overseas races. We are the trusted doctors and physical therapists of the riders. So, we bring continuity and consistency [to their care]. I was inspired to do emergency medicine by ER, the television show; after my residency, I decided that I didn't want to work in a hospital full-time every day for my entire career. So, for me, the best part of this job is variety. [Outside of Italy], we are not in our country. We are not in our hospital. It can be challenging, and I get to look for those solutions. Finding them and hearing the gratitude from patients—the riders—is very rewarding. And since I'm working with all these local doctors from around the world, I see how they do their job, hear their tactics, and learn their secrets. It's a job where you never stop learning, and you never get bored.

Janelle Kaz
Janelle Kaz, Conservationist and Roaming Reporter.
Conservationist and Roaming ReporterKent Barton

Bridging the worlds of motorcycle travel and wildlife conservation is one of my all-time accomplishments. My background is in biology, and [my work] focuses on protecting ecosystems. Besides habitat destruction, the illegal wildlife trade is widespread. Animals are kidnapped from jungles, sold in markets, kept as pets, used as tourist attractions, or reduced to body parts for displays of status. These trafficking networks are closely connected to other illegal trades, like [unpermitted] logging and mining, arms, drugs, even human trafficking. Being alone and in far-off places is a compelling way to talk about conservation to those who otherwise might not listen. And living on a motorcycle is inexpensive and allows me the freedom and capability to reach far-flung sites and research stations. This is not just a job. No one pays me. I share stories and photos in exchange for money, which I then give back to the projects I visit. I have no children, no home, no dependents. I am a true motorcycle gypsy. This is my passion, my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Kerry Sano
Kerry Sano, founder and owner of Moto Velocita.
Founder and owner, Moto VelocitaKent Barton

I’m the only employee [at my shop], so I wear a lot of helmets. I’m the service writer, parts department, customer service, mechanic. It works because I really love everything about bikes—riding, touching, fixing, tuning. I get rewarded by taking something that wasn’t great and making it better. It’s pride, perhaps. And the learning is constant. At the end of the day, maintaining a strong reputation for quality work, reasonable turnaround time, and good value is crucial to success in the moto repair business. It’s also inextricably linked to staying healthy and happy. I push myself to be on top of my work, but also to [have a] balance with soul-fulfilling activities. I like being my own boss and being accountable. I like being able to take whatever jobs I want. I don’t know [if my job is] the best in the world, but it’s up there. Who doesn’t want to be a bad bitch? Mistress of my domain, and I ride motorcycles to boot!

Michael Lock
Michael Lock, Chief Executive Officer of American Flat Track.
Chief Executive Officer, American Flat TrackKent Barton

I’ve always seen racing as a great way of telling stories. You get the most interesting people in racing because it’s not a real job. You can’t fail to fall in love with it. I don’t care that I’m in a small office in Daytona Beach, because this is where the action happens. We have a small team, we never have enough time or enough money. But this is real, and that’s the coolest thing. We are building this sport. We’re building the careers of the riders, we’re delivering value for the teams and manufacturers. At some point, people will look back and say: “Wow, that was a golden era for flat-track racing.” And we did it. Plus, I get to go and work in places that are off the beaten path. I get to meet people who come from different backgrounds. That’s all part of the rich tapestry of life. I get up every morning and I’m plotting the future of a motorcycle sport. How cool is that?

Matt Brady
Matt Brady Track Manager at WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway
Track Manager, WeatherTech Laguna Seca RacewayKent Barton

I grew up in the Monterey area, so the track has always been my backyard. I’ve been coming here since 1974. We’d watch Kenny Roberts, who was just incredible. Seeing him leading the race, almost pulling a wheelie around the whole track—it was really something. And as teenagers, we’d hang on the fence, just wishing we could just get on the track somehow. Now I’ve done more laps around Laguna Seca than anybody in history—because I drive the track sweeper! I’m out at 6 a.m. because the track goes hot at 9 a.m. We need to clear everything: trash, debris, rubber from the tires, rocks from the gravel beds, GoPro cameras. I’ve found pistons. I’ve found a jellyfish. Sure, our crew watches [each racing incident] like, “Great, there goes another gravel bag,” or “Now we’re going to have to fix that tomorrow.” But it comes with the territory. It’s what this place is all about. The racetrack itself is iconic worldwide. I feel really privileged to have worked here all this time. I just love this place.

Justin Maxwell
Justin Maxwell, Senior Product Manager of Husqvarna Motorcycles
Senior Product Manager, Husqvarna MotorcyclesKent Barton

I handle product management. That means I get to develop new bikes and ride them all around the world, meeting like-minded and passionate people along the way. As a motorcycle fanatic, it doesn’t get much better. It gives me [connections to] R&D, design, marketing, sales, customer service, and our global network of subsidiaries and importers. It’s very gratifying working with teams all over the world to develop the next line of products. I travel quite extensively, averaging 30 or 40 flights per year, which take me all around Europe, North America, Australia, Asia, and the occasional visit back [home] to South Africa. I can honestly say I only get bored when I’m on vacation. For me, it’s all about the satisfaction when it all comes together, seeing and riding the final product after years of development. I get to do my fair share of testing on prototypes. Still, nothing beats getting on the final product as it comes off the production line.

Steve Kuhns
Steve Kuhns, Vehicle Quality Auditor at Harley-Davidson
Vehicle Quality Auditor at Harley-DavidsonKent Barton

In Defense of Keeping it a Hobby

Earlier this year, Alfredo “Fred” Juarez won Indian’s Scout Bobber Build-Off, a national competition for amateur builders. The mainstream recognition (and $10,000 grand prize) offered him an opportunity to break into the custom-bike industry. But the 35-year-old Texan, who works as a test engineer at NASA, ultimately decided to keep his day job.

“When I get home, I can just do,” he says. “I don’t have to ask for permission.”

Not that the idea of going pro hadn’t crossed his mind. Juarez always loved working with his hands; as a kid, he dreamed of building custom cars and motorcycles for a living. But a series of mentors encouraged him to pursue mechanical engineering and a more academic future. The Bobber Build-Off, the winner of which was determined by online fan voting, offered insight into what life would be like had he remained on his original path.

“Normally when I build things, I just do exactly what I want. This Indian competition was a little different for me,” he admits. “Knowing it was going to be judged by other motorcyclists kind of got me. I started thinking: I wonder what [the voters] would like? It was always in the back of my mind. And I can imagine applying that to—had this been my career—always having that stress of pleasing other people.” The experience was an affirmation of his current profession, and a reminder that sometimes labors of love are best taken at face value. “I’ve found my niche in engineering, and I’m doing really well,” Juarez says. “At this point, building motorcycles is just about pleasing myself.” —Seth Richards

The Wrench

Keinosuke Sasaki, 45
Steve Kuhns, Vehicle Quality Auditor at Harley-Davidson
Mechanic, customizer, and owner of Keino Cycles You earn the trust. My first job was to take the trash out. I was not told to do this.Kent Barton

You were born and raised in Japan. What did your parents do?
My mom was a typist, and my dad was a chef. He had this little room for crafts, like silver jewelry and woodworking. He tinkered with bicycles and always had a motorcycle. But I don't remember them pushing me to get a certain job, or saying, "You have to be this or do that."

How did moving to America change your perception of work?
I came here alone. No family, no backup. As an immigrant, I had to work harder, do the stuff nobody else wanted, because that was my opportunity to prove myself. I was young, didn't know much, wanted to get out of my hometown. I romanticized the idea. It sounds cliché, but [that's the appeal] of the American dream.

You made inroads with some iconic builders.
Even though [we had] different languages and cultural backgrounds, there was a common core, a passion. That makes it easier to connect. If you meet a fabricator or machinist, anybody who takes pride in making things—sometimes they don't have to complete a sentence. You just understand. But mentorship isn't school. They're not getting paid to teach. If you don't have their trust, they don't share or show you anything. You earn the trust. My first job was to take the trash out. I was not told to do this, and I was hired as a mechanic, but there is no janitor at this shop. So, I'm going to sweep the floors and put tools away and organize parts. There is no such thing as wasting time on the job. Maybe in sweeping the floor, you find [a tool or part] that's been missing. This makes another job easier to complete.

What did you learn starting a shop?
I don't like the idea of having employees. That's another job right there—managing them, not only operationally but financially. I am the owner of this business, and I clean the bathrooms. I'm down on my knees scrubbing the toilet. So, it became more of a "job." But it's my little shop. This is where I come to have "me time," and I get to have it every day. There are no easy jobs around here. But at least they're mine.

Do you have a routine?
I'm up at 6:30 a.m., here by 8:30 a.m., and stay until 6 or 7 p.m. It's the same start and end, but the work in between is always different. [It can be] service and repair, which is satisfying to me, fixing things, making a bike run better. Or customizing and fabrication. I make from scratch, turn an idea from my head into reality. It's tangible, touchable, and that's satisfying. When customers see it and love it, that's additional satisfaction, makes me smile. These tasks, working on a motorcycle, making things—they make me happy. I feel real happiness. So, I don't need a vacation. People tell me, "I need to get away." Going away gives me anxiety.

The Pro Rider

Debbie Evans, 61
Debbie Evans, racer, stunt rider, and AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame inductee.
Racer, stunt rider, and AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame inductee "I’ve stayed really young because I love what I do. Even now, I’ll see people from high school and think, Man, do they look old..."Jeff Allen

You raced as a teenager, then became a full-time stuntwoman in 1980. Did you ever have a job that didn't involve motorcycling?
I worked as a cashier at Petco. I was a delivery driver for a dental laboratory. That was in high school. I was sponsored by Yamaha, and teaching riding school on the weekends. I signed up for junior college, to get my general education credits and try to figure out what I wanted to do. I couldn't believe my good fortune when a stunt coordinator called.

Are you still excited about going to work each day?
I remember when I first went to work [in Hollywood], they just had me riding motorcycles. Then someone handed me a sword. They said, "OK, now we want you to jump off of this embankment and swing the sword at this motorcycle, like you're going to take the rider off the bike." And I looked at them and said, "You're going to pay me to play?" That's how I feel. Sometimes I pinch myself. I love to go to work. I've stayed really young because I love what I do. Even now, I'll see people from high school and think, Man, do they look old...

Talk about your worst day at the office.
Working on the movie Yes Man [in 2007], I was on a motor scooter doubling Zooey Deschanel. There was a stunt car, which was supposed to slide, but I saw it was coming in way too hot and way too deep. I was laying this scooter over, trying to get out of the way, but the car slid into me. The ball of my hip punched through my pelvis. I got knocked out, broke my hand, burns on my leg from the exhaust pipe. I spent 19 days in the hospital.

Do those moments make you reconsider what you're doing?
No. It makes me reconsider what others are doing.

But you bounced back.
My goal was always to get back to work. When I finally got on set, after about a year, I had somebody on the hood of a car. I had to slam the brakes and pitch them into a camera without going too far or stopping short. I did it twice, like it was nothing. And I went, "I can't quit. I love it. I can't quit."

How much of your identity is informed by your profession? What is Debbie Evans without motorcycles?
I do other things. I have kids and grandkids. But if you took away my stunt work, I think I would feel lost. I love the challenge. I get to look and say, "OK, how am I gonna make this work?" I just love that aspect of figuring it all out. It's funny, driving the kids around in a Nissan Pathfinder, of course I would never even consider sliding a corner. But I'm thinking, if they gave me the same exact vehicle on set, I would flip the switch. I could make it work.

Do you have the best job in the world?
I feel like I have the best job in the world for me. Because not everybody can do the things I do. So, for them, another job might be the best job in the world. But this is something I was made to do.

Roland Sands, founder of Roland Sands Design.
Roland Sands
Founder, Roland Sands DesignKent Barton

I was born, and then I was on a motorcycle. That’s how I remember it anyway. I used to build ejection seat components and put shim kits together for brake-caliper spacers in my dad’s shop. I wouldn’t say it was child abuse, but I was definitely missing my Saturday morning cartoons. After growing up in the business, there’s nothing cooler you could end up doing. So, I took what I loved—racing, design, culture, art—and made that work in two wheels. I have a rule: If you want to get something done, pick up the fucking phone and make it happen. It took me a long time to learn that, but it works. And I couldn’t do just one thing; I have to continue [looking at] what’s next on a daily basis. That keeps me focused and working hard. Well, that and my kids. One is 2 years old, the other is 3 and a half. I’m taking care of things close to home right now. I wouldn’t change that for anything. Family comes first. But thank God I have a ­challenging job that I enjoy.

Andria Yu, Director of Communications at the Motorcycle Industry Council.
Andria Yu
Director of Communications at the Motorcycle Industry Council “‘Riding motorcycles is fun! Get proper training! Wear proper gear for every ride!’ I was always saying these things to my friends and neighbors anyway. Now I get paid to do it.”Kent Barton

The Dream Doesn't Always Last Forever (and that's OK)

I’d seen plenty of bike cops, but never a motorcycle paramedic. Then I moved to England, and there they were: EMTs on high-end touring bikes, decked out with rescue livery and blue strobes and ozone-scratch antennas, rolling through town.

In my village, the head medic was something of a celebrity. Everybody called him “Flymo,” but his real name is Mark Hayes. Mid-40s, shaved head, built like an oak tree. I followed him on Twitter, along with the 8,000 other citizens; his feed was a steady drip of rescue helicopter selfies, gnarly accident scenes, offbeat memes, and shots of his kitted-out service bike at various cafes. He also went fishing on the weekends. Clearly, this guy had it made.

Did he ever. Mark’s day at the office went like this: Ride into the city center at 6:45 a.m., post up at a coffee shop, wait for a call. “When it comes, woah, it’s this buzz,” he told me. During a 12-hour shift, he might respond to a dozen incidents. “I get there first, and I’m immensely proud of that. I thrive on the pressure of working alone.”

Being on a motorcycle broke down barriers. He was an authority figure, but somehow more approachable, more engaged. More human. He seemed to know everybody, from the businessmen to the homeless, all by name. Occasionally, Mark would see someone that he’d resuscitated walking around town. Just knowing they were alive always brought a lump to his throat.

Not that every incident was so dire. Once, he arrived on the scene to find a troubled caller locked inside their own home. (They slid the keys through the letterbox; Mark charitably set them free.) Another time, the caller claimed to be in crisis but just wanted help putting their socks on. (“Not really an appropriate use of the emergency line.”)

I moved back to America years ago but still keep tabs on my former village. Recently, I heard the motorcycle paramedic unit had been shuttered. I called Mark, who confirmed the news. After nearly two decades as a bike EMT, he’s moved into an operations role for the local ambulance service. “You’ve got to embrace change, and my new position brings different sorts of challenges,” he said. “Of course, I miss being out there on two wheels. It was a passion. It gets in your blood.”

He still has the bike and the bizarre social media cult. And he has nothing but fond memories from his time working the best job in the world: “On a glorious sunny day, riding around, looking after the people in my community—there’s absolutely no feeling like it.” —Max Prince