Wes Siler is a full-time writer and in charge of IndefinitelyWild, a site about adventure travel in the outdoors. He is also quite the motorcycle guru, appearing on /DRIVE’s series called RideApart, which had videos based on the best motorcycles for beginners and some quite interesting canyon carving. In 2007, he was also the first Road Test Editor for Jalopnik.
We wanted to pick his brain about his past experiences riding motorcycles, especially when it comes to safety. So many new motorcyclist don’t err on the side of caution and start out with improper safety techniques or have the wrong mindset going into the hobby. Even more experienced riders may also fall prone to lax tendencies and may not be making safety their highest priority.
Q: Give me a little history to how you started riding. Was riding a motorcycle an upgrade from riding dirt bikes, or just an urge you had?
I started out as a car enthusiast, but quickly realized that bikes offered a much more pure experience and that their performance-to-dollar ratio was off the chart. This was in England, where motorcycles are a normal part of everyday life, so my progression through the ranks of performance and mentors were built in. It was also patently obvious that bikes just make much more sense as personal transportation, freeing you from the shackles of traffic and offering much lower running costs. Important in a country where gas is four or five times the price it is here in the US.
I joined some motorcycle forums, met friends through them, learned more about the sport and developed my riding ability and the rest is history. I sold my last car in 2002 and never looked back.
Q: What was the reaction of family and close friends when you started riding? Did they have any fears/concerns of your safety?
My mom worried a little bit, but I think mostly she was concerned that wearing a helmet was contributing to the acne I had back then. Again, motorcycles are more a normal part of life in England rather than the extreme sport or moron bait they are here. You start small, wear all the safety gear and prioritize safety over everything else.
Q: What was your own thought process in terms of the added danger to being on the road? What were the precautions you took?
I was 16. Danger was awesome. It still is.
Bikes don’t really have to be a dangerous thing and it’s a little crazy that they’re so widely considered such in this country. Do you think a family of three, all commuting on the same bike through Jakarta considers what they’re doing very dangerous? Our approach to motorcycles here is simply a ridiculous one, which creates the danger. Yes, buying a specialized tool for experts which is capable of traveling at 200mph, then attempting to operate it as a total novice while wearing cargo shorts and tribal tattoos is going to kill you. No one should be surprised by that.
Q: Looking back on when you first started riding to your current skill level, what advice could you offer your past self in terms of riding, in both skill and safety?
I had a couple great mentors, plus the entire culture of skilled, mature motorcycling England offers, so I was honestly as safe and cautious a beginner as you could expect. You have to take substantial training there, just to pass your test. Compare that to America, where the best new rider training on offer — The Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider Course, which serves as the practical license test in most states — is equivalent to the course you must take just to get your learner’s permit in the UK. And, most American riders don’t even do that much. You also have tiered licensing, so new and young riders start on small, light, easy bikes.
I do wish I’d been able to start riding dirt bikes earlier, but that’s a relatively inaccessible thing outside California (or the west coast in general) where I now live. Now, all my friends that I give road and sport lessons to leave me in their dust once we get off road.
Check back for Part 2 on Wednesday @ 10 AM. We will also be taking questions below for the possibility of Wes to answer.