Mitch Boehm: Freedom Machines and Me

It didn’t take long.

Just days after I’d accepted the Editor post at Thunder Press, a longtime motorcycle buddy called and wondered aloud if I had enough ‘Harley stuff’ in my personal-and-professional motorcycling closet to do the job justice.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, “you’ve been a streetbike rider, roadracer, motocrosser, R&D expert, vintage enthusiast, moto-history buff and magazine editor forever, and that’s all good. But I don’t recall you doing all that much with Harleys and the V-twin side of things. Can you actually do this, you old fart?”

Do I have supportive and positive friends, or what?

Still, it’s a fair point. I’m not a biker in the rawest sense of the word. Only two of the 50 or 60 motorcycles I’ve owned and ridden (or raced) over the last 47 years have been from Milwaukee. And I do not have the bar and shield tattooed across my back.

But when I think back on all the motorcycle-related stuff I’ve done – from riding, racing, repairing and customizing motorcycles since I was ten (palm calluses and greasy fingernails included), writing about motorcycles professionally for 35 years, arranging, writing and editing Malcolm Smith’s autobiography, and so much more – there’s actually some solid connections to the incredibly unique, occasionally weird and always entertaining American V-twin world. The great Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Well, I’ve been to Sturgis, to Daytona, and to a few LA biker/gang rallies, and I took in nearly 100 Grateful Dead shows before Jerry kicked. So I’ve seen some weird. And I like it.

So I told my buddy to get bent. Nicely, of course. He just laughed.

The legendary Evel Knievel sorta got me going when my father took me to a big custom bike and car show at the Cleveland Convention Center in the early 1970s, the attraction being Knievel’s jump over 13 cars, if memory serves. It was every bit the spectacle you’d imagine it’d be for a 10-year-old kid seeing this sort of thing for the first time. Motorcycles were everywhere that day – production bikes, wildly customized choppers and trikes, dirt bikes, dune buggies, tub-bodied ATVs with six balloon tires, etc. I witnessed an awesome new universe that day, and the experience ended up nearly spinning my 10-year-old life off its axis.

My first bike, a Honda SL70, soon followed, and a year later a first-year XR75, which I did well enough on in local motocross races to attract a sponsor – Cleveland Motorcycle Supply, a well-known chopper shop on Cleveland’s West Side. If it seems strange that a chopper shop would sponsor a local motocross racer, you’re onto something. Luckily, a guy named Dale Dahlke – who ran the shop’s satellite location in my hometown of North Ridgeville – was a road race mechanic and tech inspector who took a liking to me and ended up building and tuning my bikes, and I happily ran the shop’s name on my jerseys in big bold letters as I moved to 100cc, 125cc and 250cc Yamahas during the next few years. In ’77 at that same Auto-Rama show, my tricked-out YZ100C motocrosser was displayed in the CMS booth alongside a radically chopped Harley with a triple-X-rated paint job on the tank. (See if you can pick it out from the photo here.)

Those Cleveland Auto-Rama shows helped jumpstart my childhood motorcycle adventures…

In 1985, I got out of college and somehow landed a staff editor job at Petersen Publishing’s Motorcyclist magazine, another experience that altered my life orbit forever. (Thanks, Art!) There I was introduced to actual Harley-Davidson motorcycles and their fans, both of which took a little getting used to for a kid weaned on Japanese bikes, a decade of motocross and – at the time – a little road racing. But I learned quickly, writing about the Motor Company and its products (and American motorcycles in general), watching as the Evolution engine helped save the company, and slowly but surely gaining an understanding of just how significant American motorcycles and their culture were in the world. A key moment came when I tested a Harley-Davidson FXRS-Sp, which to me was like a big, 1340cc Evo-engined Sportster. That thing not only looked bad-ass but handled, stopped and went pretty well, too. That was ’88, I think, and I’ve been a Motor Company fan ever since.

…which led to decades of testing, writing and R&D. I am a lucky man, indeed.

I ended up running Motorcyclist from 1993 to 2008 after stints at American Honda (R&D) and Cycle World, and the American-custom experiences just kept on coming. I attended Bike Week in Daytona every year, did Sturgis a number of times and visited H-D’s Milwaukee digs and museum. I took an even deeper dive into the American V-twin pond in 2017 when I joined American Flat Track as Communications Director. I attended all 18 races in 2018 and was exposed to thousands of fans, probably 80% of which were Harley- and Indian-riding biker types. We had some great fun at the events and rallies surrounding the races, and it reminded me once again of something I’ve always known: Motorcycling is about bikes and freedom and wind-in-the-face and a let’s-get-the-f_ck-outta-town mentality. But it’s mostly about people.

It takes good people to run a magazine and website, too, and we have plenty atThunder Press. We’ll miss some former columnists as we move forward, but plenty of familiar – and veteran – names will keep on keepin’ on, including tech maven Kip Woodring, Diane Jones, JoAnne Bortles and several others. Kali Kotoski will continue writing and managing things from our Minneapolis offices, along with ace designer Chad Cochran, who’s largely responsible for our fresh look.

We’re excited to announce two new faces to our pages, seven-time Grand National Champion Chris Carr, who’ll be writing about dirt track racing from a true insider’s standpoint, and 25-year-old Megan Margeson, who owns and rides a ’64 Panhead chopper whenever she’s not teaching middle school science classes. Margeson comes from a So Cal biker family and has ridden since she was little, first motocross and play riding in the desert and, later, Harley street bikes once she got her license. She’s toured the U.S. and Canada on her beautiful custom Pan, plans to ride it to Alaska later this summer with her Mom and Dad, attends rides and rallies on the thing seemingly every weekend, and is a member of the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps stunt team. She’s also a bit of a social media maven, so look for her on Facebook and Instagram, her page and ours. Be sure to check out Chris and Megan’s superb columns on pages 55 and 6, respectively.

As for our editorial mission going forward, it’s simply this: We’ll cover a wide array of American V-twin- and biker-specific stories – motorcycles, events, news, racing, customs, project bikes, products, politics, people, personalities, parties and more – and do it in a way that makes you want to get off your ass and ride and then read some more when you’re done, whether in our pages or on our website. We have some unique and compelling content lined up, so stay close and let us know what you think at tpress@thunderpress.net.

I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of you in the coming year at the rallies, races and shows, so say hello if you can. Meanwhile, enjoy. And feel free to go get a little weird. HST would approve.

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