Cycle News Wheelspin
By Keith Dowdle
Growing up in small-town America in the late ’70s and early ’80s left a race enthusiast like me waiting anxiously by the mailbox for my weekly race fix to arrive. Remember those days? No internet, no social media and almost no motorcycle-racing coverage on TV except for the 10-minute snapshot from the two 45-minute motos at the Carlsbad GP once a year.
In those days, Cycle News was the one and only source for all things related to the motorcycle industry, motorcycle racing, and the latest breaking news which, to this day, is still covered under the heading “In The Wind.” Weekly updates on the world of motorcycle racing was about as instantaneous as it got back then—and Cycle News was the only source for that.
I was a moto kid working in a dealership 40-plus year ago, and our allotment of Cycle News newspapers arrived every Thursday. Like clockwork, as soon as they showed up, I would immediately stop whatever I was doing, un-band the stack of newspapers, stick the inventory in the counter display, take one for myself, and start reading. Back in those day, CN came as an ink-heavy newspaper, and my smudged fingers were a dead giveaway that I’d been reading on company time. Let’s call it market research.
“In The Wind” was always my first stop. I loved getting the inside stories, the latest poop, the good gossip. Knowing that I knew something that no one else in our little town knew yet. How could they? I had all of the issues of that week’s Cycle News, so I’d know before anyone. I’d move on from there to the motocross coverage.
Those were the days of Bob “Hurricane” Hannah, Mark “The Bomber” Barnett and Kent “The Rhinestone Cowboy” Howerton. Don’t those names get you excited? “Fast Freddie” (Freddie Spencer) and “King Kenny” (Kenny Roberts) were taking the world by storm, beating the legendary Barry Sheene and his Donald Duck–adorned helmet right in his own European backyard. It was all so exciting to me. It was a magical world, and I lived it through this magazine. It excites me to this day. Just writing down these names brings back a flood of memories.
Now, this is not a shameless plug for the magazine you’re reading but rather an introduction to how my life in the powersports industry evolved and how Cycle News played a huge role in that. I was inspired by the pictures, the stories, and the excitement of motorcycle racing through the pages of this publication, and I’m honored all these years later to be asked by Kit Palmer, who’s been the backbone of CN since the early ’80s, to write my own column.
I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people on the planet because at a very young age I fell in love with something that ended up taking me on a journey through life and into a world that I once only dreamed about while reading the pages of Cycle News. With the exception of Barry Sheene, I got to know every one of the riders that I mentioned above, plus many more. My passion became my career, my heroes became personal friends, and to this day I have no idea where I would have ended up had I not discovered motorcycles and motorcycle racing so early in life. From my wife to my livelihood to almost every single friend I have, they all tie back in some way to motorcycles.
Now, thanks to this opportunity in CN, I hope that I can entertain you with personal stories, inspire you to live your dreams, and maybe take someone along for the ride. Motorcycles have given me the opportunity to do things and meet people that I never would have dreamed of. But it wasn’t all fun and games. There was a lot of hard work, emotional highs and lows, and tragedies along the way. I’ll share some of that with you over the coming months. I’ll also give you a glimpse into decision-making at the upper echelon of a major manufacturer and an insider’s insight into why the OEs do what they do and how they think.
If someone had walked into my small West Texas dealership in the early ’80s and told me where my life was headed and how many awesome things I’d get to do and see in the world of motorcycling, I would have never believed it. And the great thing is that now there are more opportunities than ever before in the world of powersports. A passion for motorcycles can open up so many paths. I hope that some kid in some dealership, or anywhere for that matter, will read my columns and the other stories in Cycle News and get inspiration from this magazine the way I did all those years ago. You don’t have to be the next Ricky Carmichael or Marc Marquez to have a place in the world of motorcycling—you just have to keep it on two wheels. CN
Keith Dowdle is a powersports industry veteran with more than 40 years’ experience working for companies like Pro Circuit Racing and Shoei Helmets, recently retiring from a management position at a major OEM. He also served as a U.S. Marine, as the Chief Instructor for Combat Motorcycles, and rode motorcycles in combat during the Gulf War. You can follow him on Instagram@rkdowdle. -Editor