“We’re gonna ride up to Laguna on Friday,” I shouted out of my helmet. Some guy named Sean that I’d met once and his girlfriend Tammy had run out of gas on their MV Agusta and I’d stopped to see if they needed help. “No highways after Ojai, just canyons the whole way. It’s like a 12 hour day, text Sean Smith.”
“Did you invite that Sean guy on the Laguna ride?!” texted Sean Smith shortly after. “WTF?”
Photos: Ashlee Goodwin
Top (from left): Sean Smith, me, Adey, Sean Matic, Cody, Ashlee.
Sean Smith and I are pretty careful about who we ride with. So far, the trip was going to be him, me and Ashlee on an Aprilia RSV4 and a Triumph Tiger Explorer. Adey was talking about joining us on the way back and our buddy Cody was sniffing around too. That’s four riders and a passenger used to using their bikes at their limits, all day long, without crashing, getting pulled over, breaking down or bitching. We ride in full safety gear, know how to work on our bikes and have ridden together a bunch, so I’m secure in the knowledge Sean’s not going to take me out if he comes up the inside with his knee on the ground and he’s safe in the knowledge that I haven’t killed his girlfriend if he gets ahead and doesn’t see me for a few miles.
Ashlee rode on the back of the Tiger and snapped pics along the way. Well, when the Tiger could keep the rest of the bikes in view that is.
Most other riders don’t seem to get that, while riding is something you should be super serious about, it’s not something you need to be super aggressive about. There’s no space on our rides for anyone with anything to prove.
All I ever wanted to do with my life was do fun shit and then write about it. But, in order to make that financially sustainable, I’ve had to figure out how to be an entrepreneur too. Well, I’m still figuring that out and wearing that hat stresses me the fuck out. My involvement with planning the trip extended to booking the bikes (at the last second, mind), getting us all press passes, conning a fancy hotel room out of Red Bull and very little else. Sean Smith was figuring out the rest, so it fell to him to try and talk Sean Matic out of coming with us.
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Cut to Thursday night and I was over at Sean and Ashlee’s to spend the night ahead of a very early start. Figured we could get the bikes adjusted, set up and packed, then hit the road at 6am. Well, that was the idea anyways. We mostly hung out, listened to music and went to bed way too late with none of the above done. At some point, it became evident that Sean Matic wasn’t giving up either, but we just left that until the morning.
I’m woken by a general shuffling and clanking from the kitchen and look at my phone. 7am. Damnit. The early start turned into coffee, breakfast, packing and texting Sean Matic. Turns out he had one less liter of oil than he needed to complete the oil change on his Brutale, so was planning to just let us do the ride alone while he drove his car to Pro Italia, bought the oil and drove home. That must have sounded painful to Sean Smith, who dug around in his closet, came out with a liter of the right type and told Sean Matic we were on the way.
I’m not a morning person and was being a grumpy bastard. It might be the weekend for us, but it’s not for the rest of LA, so there’s traffic. The point of getting up early was to miss all that. And the Tiger Explorer? It’s wider than a Goldwing when it’s wearing its stock bags (we compared them side to side). I make Sean ride it to the other Sean’s place while I take off on the RSV4. 20 minutes later and most of my fears are relieved. Sean Matic’s waiting out front in the world’s best fitting Dainese one-piece, brand new Sidis and his bike’s packed and ready to go with just a tank bag and tail pack. Whatever remaining fears we had were alleviated when he passed both Sean Smith and I later that day, on 58, knee on the ground and totally in control of his bike. Guess that’s one more for the club.
The ride up didn’t really turn out to be the epic experience we’d promised ourselves. It was Sean Smith’s first long ride post that whole six broken bones and a pulverized thumb thing and the back tire on the RSV4 decided to spend the latter half of the day throwing tire plugs out. Good roads, but the day just turned out to be long, hot and arduous. I spent most of it on the 1,200cc Triumph with three hard bags and Ashlee on the back. Its pegs go down smoothly, without upsetting the bike at all, but also very, very early, so I just cruised. Still, cruising through central California’s desolate beauty is pretty life affirming.
We arrived at The Clement sweaty and tired. MotoGP is Laguna Seca’s biggest event, so every hotel for 20 miles around sells out entirely, months before disorganized people like us decide to come. Red Bull had a single room for me, and my plan was that I’d give Sean and Ashlee the bed and I’d just sleep on the floor. I think the dude at check-in sorta caught on to what we were doing, because as soon as we’d gotten into the room and unpacked, he called up to say he’d arranged for us to swap with another guest who didn’t need a two-bed room. Great, now we had room for Adey and Sean Matic to crash too. I was still on the floor.
This was the first time Red Bull’s hosted me at an event and that’s obviously not the kind of relationship I want to screw up. I gingerly try and feel out how cool they’re going to be about me having a crew of friends along, but it’s quickly evident it doesn’t matter. Sean Smith sits across from the marketing dude at dinner and tells him catheter stories while he tries to eat. I’m busy playing the knifey game (like in Alien) with The Peter Ha from TechCrunch, at least until the bartender cuts me off.
Saturday morning, the idea is to make it to the track in time to watch MotoGP practice and make it to Brammo hospitality to hang out with our friend Matt Stutzman in time to watch the TTXGP bikes whir around. We eventually roll in as GP practice is ending and are immediately accosted by Gabrielle from Alpinestars, who drags us into his big tent so we can check out the TechAir technicians in action. They were busy too, mostly trying to keep Ben Spies in suits through his crash prone weekend. An on-site technician works on swapping out the in-hump units and their two cold-gas generators while a master seamstress sits behind him, making repairs to the suits themselves. Handling the suits Ben actually races in, it’s apparent that while the airbags and electrics and whatnot are identical to the production TechAir, the suit itself is drastically different, made from a thinner, higher-quality leather that’s more heavily perforated (one of my issues with the production suit) and is even constructed differently. Neoprene cuffs at the end of the sleeves hook over Ben’s thumbs to hold the sleeves down, there’s no such thing on the suit they’re selling to the public. The weight is also strikingly different. Based on the sturdy Race Replica suit, TechAir is one of the heaviest I’ve worn, but Ben’s feels to be approximately the same weight as my all-Kangaroo, 11lbs custom Icon one-piece.
The other oddity in the Astars tech department is a set of leathers that look a lot like Jorge Lorenzo’s and wear his number 11, but are covered in a black snakeskin print. Turns out he was trying to call himself “Black Mamba” that weekend, a fact glossed over or ignored by most media. I tried to convince 6’ 3”, Trinidadian fitness model Adey to tell the 5’ 6” Spaniard why “Black Mamba” might be an inappropriate nickname, but Adey balks at the idea of comparing penis sizes with a MotoGP Champion.
Next stop was Brammo hospitality. They’d splashed out on the suite below Honda’s very private corporate suite, the one where only top execs and their guests are allowed. Brammo made us feel at home though, so we invited all our friends that were there this weekend and put a sizable dent in the electric company’s supply of microbrews.
From there, we watched a bunch of AMA types run around the track. I was able to pick out a handful of riders like Suzuki’s Blake Young, largely because I’d been out on track with them at various points in the past, but couldn’t really follow proceedings otherwise. Laguna only has, by my count anyways, three JumboTrons, none of which can be seen from anywhere I’ve ever sat and the announcers on the loudspeakers are big on listing corporate sponsors and light on telling you anything of substance. If you want to learn how to make motorcycle racing boring, this would be a good place to start. Ashlee and I actually made plans to take over the announcer’s booth using hostile force, but cooler minds prevailed.
So we take off wandering, trying to find our all old friends and make new ones. Much more than just a race, Laguna MotoGP is probably the biggest consumer-facing motorcycle event in America, so all sorts of companies — from Cleveland CycleWerks to Nexx Helmets — are there. If you’ve spent any time in bikes, you’ll see pretty much everyone you know, and we did too.
At 5pm, we had 10 minutes with Cal Crutchlow. On the way to the Tech3 garage, we ran into Johnny5, who told us to ask Cal if his cockiness was causing problems. That was my first question, which evidently rubbed Cal the wrong way. He tried to call Johnny so he could tell him “you’re a cunt,” but he didn’t pick up, so he just set about making me feel like one instead. I tried to lighten things up by telling him we have a mutual friend — Jamie — but that didn’t really seem to work. Sean dropped his phone off his bike on the way home, destroying the interview. There wasn’t anything of substance in it anyway, just the general racer nonsense and the general racer lack of insight, just served with a completely unhealthy dose of attitude. I was going to run the interview under the headline “Cal Cruthlow says ‘fuck you’” but who cares. Oh, and he heavily implied that Adey didn’t know how to ride “a motorbike,” which was at least funny for Sean and I. The foreign PR girl just cringed in the corner.
That night, we were sick of all the flat billers, so decided to skip Red Bull’s free bar and just try and get all our friends to meet us at a random dive bar Google told us about named Segovia’s. It was shitty as promised, but quickly filled up with everyone from MotorTrend’s Ed Loh to Mazda PR people to Marc from BRD to Barry, Mozilla’s “Creative Instigator.” The Red Bull staff came too, turns out their distaste for the XTREME!!! types is only matched by our own. At some point in the evening, Troy from Motorcycle.com asked what I was doing at the insiders’ party. He was a little surprised to hear that we’d organized it.
“All we asked was that you not embarrass us,” a Red Bull rep admonished at one point.
On race day, we had our system down. Stashed all the riding gear at Brammo’s suite, drank a few of their beers, invited our friends up, then started watching the racing. I was stunned by how much slower the CRT bikes are than the factory prototypes. We could see the speed indicator on the Start/Finish bridge and the CRT bikes were topping out at like 152mph while the factory Hondas were hitting 165. It’s an even drag race to that top speed out of T11, so that’s just an enormous gap.
Invited Harlan and the guys from Hollywood Electrics to watch the TTXGP race from Brammo with us, then realized I hadn’t shown my face in the Red Bull Energy Center yet. Towering like a castle over T1, the Energy Center is THE place to see and be seen while watching the race. Tammy had bought Sean Matic a pass for his birthday this year, that’s a really big present.
The view up there is unmatched, you can see the entire track except for the back section from 6 through The Corkscrew. But, with bad house music blaring, a bunch of pretentious Euros strutting about and people fighting for real estate at the viewing wall, it’s just too damn stressful and fancy for me. I wandered back to Brammo for the race, then spotted my friend Cody walking upstairs to Honda, so tagged along with him. After nearly getting kicked out by a bouncer, I watched the end of the race with Honda head honcho Ray Blank. His team won, but he described the race as “clinical.” Yeah, I didn’t really follow much of it either.
Ray also gave me the lowdown on the new NC700X (we’re riding it on Wednesday). Riding an early development prototype a while back, he said he was shocked and disappointed by how low-revving the engine is. It’s basically half a Honda Fit motor. Well, he was disappointed until they told him it gets 70mpg+, which is equivalent to the CBR250R, just with enough power to haul people, luggage and blast through cars on the highway. I’m looking forward to riding it now.
Thor from Portland’s See See Motorcycles called to say he was there shortly after, but had drunk all his beer by the time I walked all the way to T5 to see him. He handed me a shirt, we peed on a fence, and he took off to drive from there to LA, then back to Portland all in something like three days.
THE big event at Laguna is the after party Red Bull throws for the athletes on Sunday night. Adey wanted to pick up women, so I told him that if all he would say was, “yo,” I’d handle the rest for him. Something he immediately put to the test with some dumb blonde in one of those dresses that are so tight you can tell what brand of underwear they aren’t wearing. I have a really hard time with dumb girls. Choose better next time Adey.
After an hour or so of standing around, listening to bad white guy rap, everyone wandered home while I stayed and got chatting with Alex from Monster and my old buddy Kat from RevZilla. Alex was showing off pictures of his hot, bike-riding wife and then asked what kind of women I’m into. “Well, right now I’m into an older woman,” I told him, which he took to mean that I wanted to meet an older woman. So he looks over his shoulder and shouts hey , come meet Wes. Turns out is ’s mom. I thought that was pretty interesting and didn’t say no when invited me to come sit with hang with all the racers. She introduce me as “Wes who writes for Wired and GQ,” which seemed to drop their guard, since I wasn’t a bike guy.
At this point, the Red Bull rep looks over, sees where I am and give me an unspoken, “Remember that don’t embarrass me talk???” look.
At this point, I realize I’m sitting next to Cal, who’s suddenly all sheepish. “Sorry about yesterday” he mutters and I say no worries, asking him what he’s doing between now and Indy. Turns out he plans to spend a couple weeks in LA, so I tell him to give me his number and we’ll get together with Jamie for a beer. I get the whole, “I’m a famous person and you’re not, I clearly can’t give you my phone number” thing, so tell him he’s a wanker and walk outside to see what is doing. She’s with Josh Herrin and Tommy Hayden and about a dozen other racers that have decided to wander around Monterrey and see what trouble they can get into. It’s Monterrey on Monday morning at 2am, so that trouble doesn’t amount to much.
Sean Smith texts at this point to make sure I’m not in jail. “I’m not” I reply. “Hear all that noise outside the hotel? That’s us.”
All the racers at staying down at the Embassy Suites 5 miles away, so I call them three taxis, make sure they get in, then wander upstairs to go to bed. Sean and Ashlee are all snuggled up in one bed, Sean Matic and Adey are spooning in the other, so I steal their comforter and go to sleep on a floor in a corner where none of them will step on me in the middle of the night.
The next morning, Cody meets all of us at some hippie breakfast joint called “New Awakenings” that Ashlee picked out. A chorizo omlette, about four cups of coffee and a big OJ work wonders for my hangover and, after much delay searching for better tire plugs and reconnecting Sean Matic with the MV he left on the other side of town, we finally get on the road. Because we’re starting late, the plan is to just cruise down PCH through Big Sur, then hop on the highway and head home. Everyone seems pretty eager to ride though, pulling wheelies and passing cars before we’re even out of town. I’m on the RSV4, so once the corners hit, I start to pick up the pace. Growing up some place where passing a car isn’t considered dangerous, I take the lead and tow Sean Matic and Adey on his R1 through 30 miles of tight coastal curves. PCH is nearly always crowded with cars and bikes, especially the day after MotoGP, so any sort of pace requires pretty much constant passing. The cars are no trouble, but the packs of “motorcyclists” riding like retards throw up some obstacles, they never look in their mirrors and are scarcely capable controlling their bikes on a straight road, much less one like this, so are ridiculously unpredictable and dangerous.
It becomes obvious that the three of us are on a mission for some good riding though, so we just carve through everyone in corners, on straights, around the outside and up the inside. My conscious is screaming at me to take it easy, that we’re going to make one of these numpties crash, but sometimes what’s important is just getting to ride your bike how you want to on a road like this.
Pulling into the gas station at the end, we’re met with a 50/50 mix of anger or amazement by the bikes that trickle in after. Half are “how dare you?” The others are “how can I learn to do that?” We meet some HFL readers and they take pictures of our bikes with their phones.
Later that day, we’re racing up Highway 46 when we pass a CHP officer coming the other way. Cody was in the back and said he was at 145 when he saw the cop. That cop pulls over and makes as if to turn around, but by that point, all of us are back to 55mph. See why we’re so picky with who we ride with? The cop didn’t bother.
The ride from LA to Laguna and back is probably one of the best in the world. There’s no more varied landscapes or better roads anywhere in the world. Even if going there in person means you can’t follow the actual racing, the spectacle and sound and the whole circus of MotoGP makes our yearly trip worthwhile too. We’ll be doing this ride for years to come. You should do it too and, if I see you up there, I’ll buy you a beer.
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