Exclusive Interview With My Motorcycle Mentor Maynard Hershon, Part Two

Just Like Peter Egan, Hershon straddled the fence between reporting on two different performance disciplines

riding two up on a motorcycle
Hershon piloting the Triumph and eating a Nutter Butter at the Tour of the Gila in and around Silver City, New Mexico.Maynard Hershon archives

The name Maynard Hershon is familiar to avid bicyclists and motorcyclists. For years the Midwest native's byline appeared in several cycling publications, including Winning and VeloNews. His books Tales From The Bike Shop and Half-Wheel Hell are both dog-eared best sellers. But Hershon has lived a double life for decades, also writing for a handful of motorcycle publications, namely CityBike.

In Part One, I spoke with Hershon about his early motorcycle days, racing hare scrambles and doing hill climbs. We touched on several interesting historic facts, and due to the extensive answers from the colorful 75-year-old, we're publishing Part Two of my interview with Hershon here.

famous yellow mavic neutral motorcycle
Piloting the famous yellow Mavic neutral support bike during a race in Trenton, New Jersey.Maynard Hershon archives

How and when did you start piloting motorcycles during domestic bicycle races? How many years did you do that?

I was working for Winning Magazine in the '80s when the Coors Classic stage race came to California (from Colorado). Because I was a "bicycle media hotshot" and could ride a motorcycle, when I asked if I could help with the race, I got a flattering yes.

For the first couple of years, I carried still photographers. We’d stop and shoot the riders as they pedaled by, then pass the pack and find another spot for a “scenic.” Sometimes we’d shoot a little as we passed the riders.

Eventually, I began carrying what is called neutral support mechanics on my motorcycle or on a borrowed one. The mechanic would have two or three spare bicycle wheels strapped to his sides and a fanny pack full of tools. We would follow the breakaways, especially when the team cars were not permitted to enter the gap between the break and the chasing pack. We’d replace flat-tired wheels and sometimes repair mechanical problems.

I did that for years and years, more I think than any other American. I never worked at a European race. There was an old-boys’ network there that could not be penetrated, especially by an American motor-driver, as we are called in bicycle racing. All the Euros felt sure that we could not ride nearly well enough.

I carried a TV cameraman once in a women’s stage race in Idaho, and that was a different kinda program. With the still shooter, we’d pass the pack safely and ride 20mph faster until we found the next spot to stop and shoot them as they passed.

The TV cameraman wanted me to pass the women at 80mph...and I baulked. The road is closed, the women have it all, curb to curb. I felt I was endangering the women, passing that close and that fast. It takes a different temperament than mine, I’m sure. And it sure pays well...

You currently live in Denver. Where have you called home since leaving home?

I lived in the Bay Area from ‘66 to ‘97, when I moved north and east to Chico, California. After three years there, I moved to Tucson. My then girlfriend, whom I’d met at a major bicycle race in Philadelphia, moved to Tucson in 2002. We came to Denver together in 2006, so we’ve been here 11 years.

What is it about motorcycling that prompted you to peel away your bicycle writing efforts and focus on motorcycles?

Truth be told, the Pacific Northwest bicycle newspaper that was my last cycling gig went under. I’d still be writing about cycling…. I think about it a lot, just as I do about motorcycling.

Tell about about the bikes you’ve owned, and the ones you wish you would’ve kept.

I have owned a lot of bikes, and wish oh I wish I had some of them back. I bought a Matchless works motocross bike in ‘68 when I realized that my Triumph cow trailer was not ideal for the wet woods in the Pacific Northwest. I wish I had both back, the Matchbox and the Triumph. I wish I had my Moto Guzzi 750 Sport again, and my 200 Metralla. I loved my 125cc Sachs enduro bike and could ride it faster than bikes with way more horsepower. I had four Velocettes and loved them, especially the Velo Indian I bought in the early ‘70s. I miss my GB500 Honda, and my 1000cc Suzuki Katana.

Sigh….

Do you follow flat-track racing and MotoGP these days?

I love MotoGP and follow it via several websites and watching the races on TV. I did follow US dirt track events back when: I worked at Honda of San Francisco on Van Ness Avenue. Dudley Perkins Harley-Davidson was just around the corner. So I knew Mert Lawwill just a little and one of his regular pit men a little better. I had lunch once in maybe ‘67 with the H-D racing team, come to SF to work on their bikes at Dud’s.

I remember that those fierce creatures were genuinely nice guys. “Bad” Bart Markel got up, grabbed a coffee pot and poured refills for all of us. Glowing moment….

What advice would you give to a young rider just starting out? Would you advise her to buy a practical bike for commuting, or something with horsepower to enjoy all of the road?

It’s so easy today to find a bike that isn’t intimidating but doesn’t get boring in a couple of months. It is strange to think that a 650, yesterday’s road-burner, is an entry-level bike today.

I think that a training course would be the way to go, perhaps even before the purchase. What if you discover that you don’t like riding? You can take the course on a borrowed bike. If you find after all that riding is not for you, you’re only out the cost of the training.

I see that a lot of young people ride their motorcycles or scooters entirely in the city. That would not work for me. The city is what you have to survive to reach the roads you want to ride, is my feeling. I also see lots of “aspirational” motorcycles, bikes that would never in years past have been first bikes, parked at the curb uncovered...all winter.

I see late model Harleys and Ducatis, bikes that riders around the world would give anything for… and they sit month after month, back tire to the curb, no cover, just as if they were beater cars. Just as if motorcycles did not have souls.

Ask yourself, new motorcyclist: Am I gonna be a rider or am I gonna be an owner? Is being seen with your bike or telling people about your bike gonna satisfy you? Do you not care much if you ever ride beyond the city limits?

If you’re the guy whose brand new Multistrada appears to be abandoned in the block north of our condo building, why in the world did you buy that bike? Did the 999 Ducati you had before not represent you well enough, parked for years in the same spot?

You’ve worked your fair share of retail. What do you miss about the old days, and how do you personally shop now?

I miss “belonging” to a shop, be it the Harley shop or the Triumph shop or the BSA shop. I miss the camaraderie among riders, the freely offered help, the taking care of your own bike because no one could afford to pay a mechanic to do all that work.

I miss having lunch with the Harley-Davidson racing team. I miss cow-trailing with the guys at Gazos Creek, near Pescadero, California. I miss riding down to Gardena for the Ascot Park half-miles and the TT National. I miss some of my riding friends who are gone now.

I’m not in multi-line motorcycle shops often these days, unless some event I ride starts at one of them. I have an independent mechanic who services my ZRX1200 Kawasaki. I love the ZRX Owners Association forum online: All the information you could possibly need, served with an attitude topping.

Which motorcycle makers are doing it right these days?

If they’re still in business, they must be doing something right. I admire Hondas and I think that Yamaha is on the gas, doing wonderful things, and I like Suzukis. Somehow I end up buying Kawasakis, not that I’ve loved every one I ever owned. I’m not the guy with the industry big picture, is the truth of it.

Tell me about the best motorcycle ride you’ve taken in the past 10 years.

I rode across the Ozarks to Nashville and went to a memorial concert for Guy Clark at the Ryman Auditorium. Went to several museums in Nashville, stood in front of Maybelle Carter’s guitar. I rode across Tennessee to the Dragon and rode it up and back. On the way to see my family in Indy, I stopped in western Kentucky and went to the town of Paradise, from the John Prine song. I rode to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and visited the National Corvette Museum and took the stellar Corvette Factory Tour.

I didn’t want a Corvette, can’t afford a Corvette and couldn’t drive it for four or five months of the year here. I have no earthly use for a Corvette. I took that tour and by the time I left the factory I was lusting for a Corvette. Whatta tour!

Where’s the best place on the planet to ride?

I love the Dolomites in Italy and I love the rural rides in England. I have learned to love even undemanding straight roads, two-lane rural roads like Highway 36 crossing northern Kansas. And I love riding in the mountains west of Denver; I’d hate to have to name a best place.

If there’s one bike, one helmet, one jacket, one pair of boots, gloves, and pants to grab for the remainder of your days, what would they be?

I’m pretty happy with my 60,000-mile ZRX. Maybe I’d try to find a 10,000-mile one if something happened to mine. I have a couple of Arai helmets and an old Nolan modular one. If I could only have one, it’d be an Arai. I have two pairs of boots, a Gaerne pair with buckles and a Gasolina pair that look like Mike Hailwood’s boots from the ‘60s. The Gaernes are sturdier; I’d go with those, but I’d keep my Gasolinas.

maynard hershon with his kawasaki motorcycle
Maynard Hershon at a BMW rally in SE Arizona in 2015 or thereabouts.Maynard Hershon archives

Jacket and pants would be Aerostich, Roadcrafter two-piece, I think. I have a Darien outfit that fits looser so I can layer up, but when it gets cold here, traction becomes a problem, so I don’t need Eskimo-style bulk. I have two pair of Helimot gloves, one pair heavier than the other. You’d have to arm yourself to force me to choose between ‘em.

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