Interview: Wes Siler

Wes Siler
Wes Siler is the 29-year-old editor of the New York-based website Hell For Leather. With the help of co-founder and photographer Grant Ray, Wes provides an edgy alternative to the formulaic bike reviews and conventional wisdom dished up by the mainstream motorcycle magazines. “It means going fast; it means breaking rules; it means doing things people tell us we can’t. It means riding motorcycles.”

What was the first motorcycle you bought with your own money? A bright yellow Honda Hornet 600. I think I was 19 and still on a restricted license—this was in England—so the dealership installed a kit that took it down to 33bhp. As soon as I got home, having dropped it at a stop light on the way, I got out my dad’s tools and pulled the restrictors off. Back out on the road, I gave it full throttle, the carbs cleared their throats I got to experience what 90bhp or so felt like. I never realized a vehicle could go that fast. I was hooked for life.

What do you think is the most beautiful production motorcycle ever built? I’m a sucker for bikes from the late ’80s and early ’90s and the pinnacle of motorcycle design at that point was the first gen Fireblade (below). That was the second bike I ever bought with my own money. I realize it’s not traditionally beautiful, certainly not like most bikes featured on EXIF, but there’s a certain simplicity of purpose and honesty that really speaks to my inner teenager. That huge frame, braced swingarm and the dual headlights just evoke engineering purpose and, to top it all off, it’s got speed holes!

1992 Honda Fireblade
What motorcycle do you despise? It’s no secret that I utterly loathe cruisers, they’re just everything that’s wrong with the world summed up in two wheels. No specific brand, if they’ve got forward controls, too much chrome and an inverse relationship between power and engine size, then they’re all the same in my book. A couple years ago I broke my arm crashing a supermoto and couldn’t ride for about six months. The first bike I got back on was a Star (Yamaha) Stratoliner and within the first hundred yards I’d unsuccessfully tried to go around a corner at the posted safe speed and ended up bouncing four lanes over as the entire right side grounded out. Luckily this was in LA and the road was about eight lanes wide. I then had to ride that bike 700 miles out to Moab in Utah and every minute of it was pure torture. It didn’t go, didn’t brake, wasn’t comfortable and couldn’t manage more than 100 miles between fill ups. This was a problem as it was 110 miles between gas stations and there weren’t bungee points to strap on a jerry can.

Yamaha Stratoliner
What is your idea of perfect happiness? I haven’t found it yet, but when I do it will probably involve somewhere far away and warm, a fast bike and my beautiful girlfriend Vanessa. The more challenging and dangerous it is the better, somehow I always feel like I’m wasting away if I’m not risking my life.

Electric motorcycles: Yes or No? An emphatic yes, but you probably know already that I’m their biggest supporter. I do spend a lot of time outdoors, so I’m into the idea of protecting the environment, but that’s not the reason I’m into them. At 29 years old, electricity is making motorcycles relevant to the outside world for the first time in my life. If our dangerous, socially irresponsible, often illegal passion is going to survive then it can’t just matter to a bunch of misanthropic gearheads, it has to matter to everyone else too. Electric power works so much better on bikes than it does in cars that this is our big opportunity to take motorcycles mainstream.

What is your favorite journey? My buddy Grant and I just got back from a two-week ride through Labrador (below). You probably don’t know where that is, and that’s the point. We were told at one point during the trip that we’d be welcome to speed down the dirt road at 100mph while drunk, helmetless and shooting at anything that moved. We didn’t of course, at least not the drunk part, but the point that we could was we were free to do what we wanted. That’s the gist of any two-wheeled experience—freedom—and we found it. Plus, we saw humpback whales jumping in the ocean, orcas hunting and, a first for both of us, the northern lights.

BMW F800GS in Labrador
Which ‘everyday’ modern bikes do you think will become future classics? The equivalent of the Honda CB750 or Moto Guzzi V7 Sport, if you like? That’s the question, isn’t it? Can a bike really become a future classic if all it achieves is a kilo or two less, a horsepower or two more and maybe some fancier traction control than its near-identical rivals? Any time a manufacturer tries to achieve some sense of timelessness, they shamelessly rehash the same old retro design theme, just with poor performance and too much weight. Where’s the innovation? Where’s the unique thinking? I really wish JT Nesbitt (below) would start designing motorcycles again, sadly I don’t think that’s going to happen. Having said that, I’ve been telling people that air-cooled Buells are really going to be remembered well in ten years time. Utterly unique, almost too much character and a story so tragic it’s made grown men cry. American innovation at its best and also at its most thwarted by corporate greed. They’re truly special motorcycles that never quite reached their potential. Buy them now, they’re ridiculously cheap.

JT Nesbitt
Who are your real-life motorcycling heroes? He’s going to hold this over my head for the rest of my life, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say Michael Czysz (below). He gave up a successful career as a rockstar architect to try and do his own thing with motorcycles and he’s succeeding at it. It’s not only the fact that he designs world-changing motorcycles from his tiny, impossibly tasteful modernist shop in Portland, but that he approaches riding as a lifetime pursuit of skill. He’s become pretty good at it too and runs the Skip Barber Superbike School at Laguna Seca where he’s the most passionate, knowledgeable and effective teacher you’re likely to encounter in any discipline.

Michael Czysz
Are you optimistic for the future of motorcycling? Absolutely, but it’s going to take a lot of work to get it to the point where that future is realistically viable. The success of publications like this one and Hell For Leather proves that the interest is there among a new generation of rider, we just need to find the point where that interest and the products offered by the motorcycle industry intersect. Luckily, motorcycling can still draw talented, creative people who would likely experience considerably more financial success and a lot less frustration elsewhere, all because they really love riding. Guys like you and I just need to find a way to swap them for the maroons currently running motorcycling.

What is your current state of mind? I’m feeling guilty for procrastinating when I should be writing features for Hell For Leather. It seems all I do these days is sit in front of a computer and write. I’m really looking forward to reaching the point where I can step back from that a bit and ride bikes a bit more.

[Portraits of Wes Siler by Neil Bridge—whose website is well worth checking out.]

Wes Siler

  • http://flickr.com/blueyes tony starr

    great interview. it’s nice to read more about the man behind HFL.

  • http://papasanphoto.com Papasan

    Good interview!

    At 50 years old it is hard to find any contemporaries willing to saddle a liter sport motorcycle. Just trilling to see a younger crowd enthusiastically embracing the sport. If they don’t it will die off, and that would be sad indeed.

    Good Luck & Don’t forget to write!

    Papasan

  • cap’n

    It’s wierd – I don’t disagree with anything he says, but he comes off as kind of an arrogant a-hole while saying it. I can’t figure it out.

  • stephan

    awwww my favorite websites just had a playdate!!!!!

  • http://subcaferacer.com Brendan Falkowski

    Didn’t realize HFL was produced by a young guy – loosely calling young under thirty – not to impugn the other interviewees. I’m 24 and motorcycling enthusiasm is hard to come by in my peers. Got a good vibe reading this one.

  • JR

    Yeah, at first I was like… kinda cocky Wes, running a feature on your own site about yourself… then I realized it was BikeExif I was looking at. Ha!

  • HATER

    That first picture should read:

    Wes Siler is SMUG

  • joe momma

    ….i was about to dismiss him as one of those poor souls who never had anythang but a jap bike……then he waxs eloquently about me buells……o k now……i am torn and perplexed…….doggonit……but he’s young…….??

  • T-Bone

    Is it me, or does he look like a young Jay Leno in the first picture? Probably not the look he was going for… :0) All that’s missing is the bulging wallet…

    HFL is a great site. Keep up the good work.

    I’m not sure bashing another’s love is good for the sport as a whole. I’ll still wave on my ‘unrideable’ Royal Star as you pass me…

  • KIK

    LESS “INTERVIEWS” AND MORE BIKES PLEASE,

  • John T.

    Chris, It’s the United States calling here. I truly enjoy the site. The quality of the content is extraordinary, including the interviews. Just the notion that you are granted the interviews means you are doing something right. Thank you for your effort.

  • Kevin Newell

    And I thought it was just me that felt Mr Siler was to say the least arrogant.
    I criticized him for making older riders the object of ridicule in an article he wrote. His response to me was and I quote, “If you haven’t caught on yet, we have a good time here at HFL. Roll with it, or, you know, we can have a frank discussion about how your generation [Baby Boomers] has driven the economy into the ground, sold our country to China, lost every war you’ve fought in or started and turned politics into a jingoistic pursuit of the lowest common denominator in order to turn a corporate profit. Oh and every bike currently made is tailored specifically to you, so don’t be too bitter.” Clearly he has already forgotten more about bitter then I will ever know.

  • Tinman

    Wille G will be remembered 50 Yrs from now, This Smug computer hack will be forgotten. Talk is cheap.

  • Sportster Cafe

    I’d rather ride a Vespa, then push my Harley!

  • Pete

    Said it before, I’ll say it again. Wes Siler is a hack.

  • http://www.myspace.com/end40 Mean Chuck

    . HFL is about as “real” and “edgy” as your average scripted reality show. Hypocrisy, ignorance and immaturity do not make up for knowledge or substance. Wes is a “real” drama queen and proves it everytime someone tries to honestly engage him and doesn’t agree with him.

  • PeteP

    @Papasan: You ride with the wrong 50 year olds!

  • PeteP

    And why do you guys hate him so much? I don’t get it. I read his website regularly, and get a lot of enjoyment out of it. He definitely expores areas that other more conservative writers (bloggers?) don’t.

    Not a lot of dirt cred, though. :D

  • ted

    i really like HFL and their witty and sometimes trollish style of journalism(granted their targets are the easiest to troll) but he tries too hard and comes off as a big diva and also a bit of a faker with his constantly in your face “street-cred” .while i do admire their steadfast stance against cruisers(and the juicy advertising tit that comes with it) i think their electric fanboism comes from more than geeky enthusiasm
    i find them both pretty funny in the comment section and i’ve butted heads many times in the electric section
    also give credit where credit is due,no other moto journalist in history has been called gay as much as him and still he tries to act all lawrence of arabia

    wes please invite me to your coming out party.wear the rainbow flag man

  • Sleeping Dog

    A 29 year old who’s tasted success smug? Isn’t that a just a stage of life or don’t you remember you’re 10 year high school and college reunions? Lot’s of opportunity for humility to come. Don’t worry enjoy HFL if its your thing, if not there are others.

    And cruisers due suck, so says this pudgy boomer.

  • Sleeping Dog

    That should be “do suck”

  • http://www.myspace.com/end40 Mean Chuck

    I don’t hate Wes I just think he should grow up, I was 18 once to but I didn’t act like it when I was 29. How can he claim to have a finger on the pulse of motorcycling industry as a whole and know what is best for its future when he blindly shuns an entire segment of bikes and riders just because he likes something different? I am ecstatic that the industry doesn’t build just what he wants, we would have missed out on some great bikes.

    There has been a lot of diversity in bike world the last ten years or so to the point we have a niche bike for almost everyone. Most bikes produced in that era do not suit me anymore that the bikes I own and modify suit anyone else but I can accept the fact that they make a lot of other people happy on two wheels and that is what counts. Someday he may grow up to be a proper motorcycle journalist but I guess for now he is content with being an angry know-it-all with an ego problem but I guess that seems cooler to people that you are trying to impress.

  • http://see360studios.com davidabl

    I guess 29 is the new 18 (just like 70 is the new 60)
    In Mr.Siler’s case that’s sometimes a good thing and sometime not.

  • http://papasanphoto.com Papasan

    Concerning comments made in regards to HFL: Apparently it has been once again proven easier to criticize than to create. HFL keep up the good work and take the infantile negative prattle with a gran of salt.

    Papasan

  • http://www.myspace.com/end40 Mean Chuck

    @Papasan- That is pretty funny since he does not create bikes, he criticizes them. So what does that say about him?
    Furthermore, if you are creating while writing that is called fiction. The purpose of journalism is informing not creating.

  • http://subcaferacer.com Brendan Falkowski

    So, this is the impending barfight where handful of guys approach Siler from behind. As a bystander (and stranger to him) you have the choice to let him get clubbed, or stand up to it.

    I’d put dollars to pesos that Siler has done more for motorcycling than you have. HFL and BikeEXIF are essentially level. Neither is run by a master builder, just people who love motorcycles and are sharing that passion. Nobody here is calling out Chris Hunter (BikeEXIF founder) as a computer hack — forgettable in 50 years. The sites will outlive us all, and our bikes. If Siler ruffles your feathers, then put up or shut up.

    Make your own site. It’s harder than you think to balance technical and journalistic skills; and keep momentum. Don’t troll here insulting two men who put their own time together to give you something to read.

    Also, have the courage to put you full name behind your words.

  • http://www.modsquad.co.nz al best

    Well put Brendan.

    The internet provides a safe haven for shallow people to criticize others. The motorcycle fraternity is over-run with self-important types who seem obsessed with letting us know who they deem to be ‘real’ or ‘fake’, as if they have been appointed as some kind of official arbiter. It’s pathetic. Motorcycling is one of life’s great joys. We all share that passion, that’s why we visit this site.

    So whether you fabricate your own choppers or just bought your first Vespa, you share a common bond: A sense of freedom and and adventure that 2 wheels and a motor delivers.

    Ride safe and have fun.

    Thankyou BikeEXIF, just for being.

  • HATER 2.0

    Bike EXIF is awesome and honestly, HFL is a pretty cool site too. That has nothing to do with Wes Siler being smug/self-important. I’m not sure why people try and defend him like “stop calling him an asshole! he runs a website and contributes to the motorcycle community”……..that may be, but that doesn’t make him any less smug/self-important. Have you noticed that Chris Hunter doesn’t get called an asshole every time he does something? Kind of makes sense……

    REGARDLESS, keep up the good work Bike EXIF and HFL……

  • Chris Naughton

    I heard Wes was 4 seconds A LAP slower than all the other US journos on a recently bike launch, yet he still slated the bike as not being good for the track..

  • http://ridethetorquecurve.blogspot.com/ hoyt

    A strong dislike for cruisers: “…an inverse relationship between power and engine size, then they’re all the same in my book”

    How does this stance reconcile against a disproportionate praise for Confederate bikes? The core of their bikes plays right into his disdain of the moto industry, regardless of the hyped style of the bikes

  • ted

    @Brendan the consensus seems to be that people like hfl but dislike wes siler who writes at hfl but is not the sole contributor.there is also grant ray and sometimes guest posters.

  • toecutter

    hippsters on bikes should be the title….

  • http://bikemoto.wordpress.com Al

    I checked his side out…found the “most commented story” section…over 300 comments on that one…4.clock in the morning later…

  • Bald Shaun

    I like HFL. Sure, Wes can come off as a bit of an @sshole. However, polite, soft spoken journalists are seldom very interesting. And he doesn’t like cruisers. So what? A LOT OF PEOPLE DON’T. Do you really need constant affirmation from everyone to enjoy your bike? He also seems to have an axe to grind with late model Ducatis, which I love. But I still enjoy the site. I don’t visit it for objective, fair, and balanced reporting. I visit it because it’s a well designed, entertaining, and very active site run by and for passionate motorcycle enthusiasts.

  • KIK

    Every time i look at this post i think of an old navy ad.

  • Ben Dover

    I really enjoy the Interviews on BIKEEXIF but Siler hasn’t earned enough stripes on his uniform to warrant my interest in what he thinks. I don’t have a problem with Michael Cysz being his hero, being emphatic about electric zingers and his not liking twin cruisers and Ducati’s for all the idiotic reasons he mentions but I just find him insincere and disingenuous. In other words a fake; a phony opportunist.. But then again, what do I know, I’m just a misanthropic gearhead.
    (PS: I know he REALLY likes the bikes that are built by the companies that hire him.)

  • Will Starritt

    @ Ben Dover – Are you THE Ben Dover, if so I met you in Nachos bar, Wimbledon SW London in 1998. You said I could have a try out.

    As for HFL, Grant Ray and Wes Siler. The publication speaks directly to many, myself included. If it doesn’t speak to you that’s ok. HFL has its place and I admire the hard work the guys have put into it over the last few years.

  • http://see360studios.com Davidabl

    I gotta say that one thing I see going on here is the envy that old-timers have
    for youth. Youth, of course, tends to be arrogant because it think that it already knows everything.Which doesn’t help with the ‘generation gap” :-)

  • Hashish Skateboard

    Yes, but what does he want to be when he grows up…

  • http://see360studios.com davidabl

    I think you oughta ask him that yourself,. H.S.
    I’m gonna guess that it involves motorcycles..and celebrity….
    and that it’ll be a long,long,long, time before he finds himself on a cruiser :-)

  • hoyt

    @Bald Shaun – disliking cruisers (or other styles of bikes) is not the point.

    Confederate is given a pass even though they use a 131 cubic inch pushrod v-twin based on a Harley, then states above “they’re all the same in his book” if the chosen engine has an inverse relationship between size vs. power.

    131 c.i. is about 2147cc’s. Claimed hp is ~ 150

    (btw..At times, I like the production Wraith)

  • http://see360studios.com davidabl

    “Confederate is given a pass ” —because Art is in the eye of the beholder.
    Same was as it goes goes for one-off customs . All basically works of art
    with wheels and an engiine.. Some are just more low-brow than others.

  • hoyt

    ok Chambers. Call it art as much as you want, but there’s not enough b.s to get around this hypocrisy

    Considering his stance on this motor, cruisers, & their HD rants, one could think there would be further disgust to put such a motor in a non-chromed, non feet-forward bike such as the Wraith. “Oh, how tawdry.”

  • Ian

    Not really noticed the Confederate “free pass” myself, but if there is then let’s not forget that Grant used to work for Confederate.

    That said, I would have thought that some of the good feeling might have gone down when Confederate owners CMI sued Wes, Grant and Gawker Media for libel over an article posted on Jalopnik.

  • hoyt

    Prior working relationships & friendships with JT Nesbitt are more of a reason to call out that Confederate bikes use a cruiser motor based on HD architecture (with an inverse relationship between size of the motor and its power output.)

    I can care less about someone’s view of cycles, aside from pointing out a glaring inconsistency within their repeated stance.

    Criticizing HD for only making cruisers & this type of engine is justified. (The Motor Company)

  • PeteP

    Jeebus. Look, OK, so he’s got an opinion. Don’t like it, then stop reading. Start your own damn websites.

    Hell, and i’m an old guy who likes cruisers! (sometimes)

  • jim

    Hopefully, he’ll soon learn to stop making revealing assumptions like this:

    “My buddy Grant and I just got back from a two-week ride through Labrador (below). You probably don’t know where that is, and that’s the point.”

    Perfectly sums up the notion of self-centered arrogance:
    a) Only someone as cool as I could have travelled to such a location
    b) Surely, a provincial like you has no idea where Labrador is

    Decent site though.

  • hoyt

    PeteP – we all have an opinion and some of us have stopped reading their site for good reasons.

  • Mule

    @Ian,
    Chambers is an attorney, not an engineer or artist. Lawsuits are his specialty, not bike building!

    @Jim,
    Where the hell IS Labrador again?

  • jim

    @Mule

    “You probably don’t know where that is, and that’s the point.”

  • http://damiengaudet.blogspot.com damien

    Shit, if I was 29 (I am) and being hired to make videos about WSBK title winning bikes, I’d be smug too!

    HFL is a kick-ass site that I visit daily. Thanks bikeexif, these interviews are awesome.

  • Mule

    I read some of wes’ stuff on HFL. As much as I could handle anyway. A little bit of attitude can go a long way. All attitude, all the time is extremely annoying. I liked him better, before I read what he thinks. I mean this all in a postive way.

  • Thiago

    HFL is a cool website but suddenly found out they are charging to view pics and make comments on the website. I guess I will no longer check it out…