Observation Check Column

Kit Palmer | May 13, 2020

Observation Check


In our seemingly “small” motorcycle industry, there are countless people who have made significant impacts. From motorcycle builders to race promoters, to product designers to moto-journalists, to riding coaches to dealership owners, and to many of the motorcycle riders and racers themselves, there have been many who have made the world of motorcycles a much better place. Unfortunately, often when these people leave our industry to start a new career perhaps, or simply retire, they do so without much, if any, fanfare or recognition for what good they have brought to our community. They leave with hardly a goodbye; one day, you just realize that they aren’t there anymore. Sad, really. Our sport is too small for this to happen.

If you’re a longtime reader of Cycle News, or not all that long, really, there is a name you used to see all the time in these pages, pretty much every week, in fact. And you might not have noticed its disappearance, or you probably wondered whatever happened to it and then turned to the next page. A few years ago, Kinney Jones hung up his camera equipment and called it a career. And that was that.

Observation Check Column | In our seemingly “small” motorcycle industry, there are countless people who have made significant impacts. One of those people is Kinney Jones.
Unfortunately, many motorcycle industry hard workers, such as photographer Kinney Jones, retire from the sport without any fanfare.

KJ, as many of us in the motorcycle industry knew him, spent most of his extremely active life shooting photos of motorcycles, motorcycle races, and motorcycle personalities. There is a very good chance that if there’s one shot that you’ve seen in a magazine that has forever been locked away in your mind’s image bank all these years, perhaps a classic shot of Jeremy McGrath doing a NacNac, or James Stewart doing one of his patented “Bubba Scrubs,” or Larry Roeseler blitzing it across the Nevada or Baja deserts, there was a good chance Kinney Jones took it. KJ shot thousands of photos for Cycle News and our sister publications, such as Personal Watercraft Illustrated, aka PWI, in the day. And he shot for other magazine, too, including Cycle World magazine and, well, many, many others.

On a personal side, I only know one or two other people who have been in this industry longer than KJ. In fact, we vaguely knew each other back in the late ’70s and early ’80s before either one of us worked in the motorcycle community. We raced against each other at local MX tracks, and he was always faster than me! He would sometimes show up at the races on a motorcycle sidecar with his Honda CR125 Elsinore poking up from the passenger compartment, blow everyone away on the track, and leave. Kinney is (still to this day) just as talented on a motorcycle as he is behind a camera. (And he’s still faster than me even with a hundred pounds of camera equipment on his back—insert pissed off emoji here.)

I joined the Cycle News staff in 1983 and had soon gotten to know Kinney pretty well while he was working for Malcolm Smith Racing Products. (By the way, it was Malcolm Smith himself who gave Kinney his first real break in the industry, but that’s a whole story in itself.) One day at Kinney’s Riverside, California, home in 1984, he showed me some of the photos he had taken as a hobby, none of which were of motorcycles (landscape shots, I believe), but they were—in focus! That was hard to come by back then. I asked him if he would be interested in shooting me on a CN test bike. A few days later, he outfitted me with some new MSR riding gear, we headed to nearby Reche Canyon and shot away. That was my first official photoshoot with KJ. We went on to do hundreds more.

In the later years, KJ and I doubled up for countless of Supercross and National MX races, sharing hotel rooms and rental cars. He always offered to buy me dinner as a thank you for “letting” him stay in my room, despite him always getting the floor or couch (freelance photographers, you all can relate I’m sure). We’d drive to the races together, do our thing during the day or night, and hook up again afterward and trade stories from what we had just seen on the track or heard in the pits. He’d quickly share his favorite shots of the day with me, which often included incredible images of a crash. He had the knack for being in the right place at the right time. He could predict where James Stewart and Chad Reed would punt each other off the track and be right there ready when it happened while looking through his Nikon’s viewfinder.

I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with KJ on race weekends. He always said what was on his mind (I quickly learned never to bring up politics in a restaurant), he always had great stories, and he would routinely offer to help me, like running out and getting us food and drinks, while I was frantically typing my late-night write-ups after the races. But the best part, he didn’t snore.

The worst part? Hands down, being a passenger with him in a car! He was an excellent driver, don’t get me wrong, but he drove a car like he did a motorcycle—fast. But, one day, I rode with him, and he drove around like my grandmother, and it was that way ever since. I never asked why or anything. Too many tickets, perhaps? I didn’t care or want to know; I was just thankful.

Kinney was always one of the friendliest guys in the pits, everyone loved him, but he had a scary side. Our young CN motorcycle photo models quickly learned to pay attention and not goof off and leave him hanging in between shots during a photoshoot with Kinney. That was a no-no. (And so was losing one of his slides! That was one of my greatest fears back then. Thank god for digital.)

I also respected Kinney for his work ethic. I think that anyone who knew and worked with Kinney professionally would agree that he busted his ass 24-7. He did whatever it took to get the shot that was requested of him and get it in the hands of those in need quickly.

I’m often asked whatever happened to Kinney, well, he’s doing just fine. He enjoys retirement and loves hanging out with his wife, Paula, and his entire family, especially his grandkids. He still rides motorcycles and still spends a lot of his free time doing what he likes best (besides golfing), and that’s exploring the Mojave Desert alone often now on four wheels instead of two in his Jeep Wrangler.

I wish that Kinney, and other people like Kinney in our sport, could, like many deserving racers, get a victory lap of their own when it comes time for them to step away. Their contributions to the sport and industry are just way too important to just let blow by without at least acknowledgement and a heartfelt thank you! Knowing Kinney, however, he would not have wanted any hoopla made over him, but, in my opinion, too bad. He should’ve gotten one anyway. CN


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Kit Palmer | Editor Kit Palmer started his career at Cycle News in 1984 and he’s been testing dirt and streetbikes ever since – plus covering any event that uses some form of a knobby tire. He’s also our resident motorcycle mileage man with a commute of 120 miles a day.