Opinion The Journey TMO

The strange and sudden decline of RideApart

UPDATE: I wrote this piece in December 2013. A lot has changed since then, including the fact that I spent two years running RideApart. Here’s a link to all the stories I’ve written. The site has largely moved away from the things that I criticize in the post below, but I’ll admit there’s still some work to be done.
RideApart now churns out crap like this.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll have likely picked up by now that one of my favourite motorcycle websites is RideApart. Or, rather, was RideApart. In the last few weeks its quality has rapidly decreased and it has become something that both angers and saddens me, whereas it used to inspire.

And if you’re a long-time reader of this blog you may remember my story: I got my motorcycle endorsement in Minnesota when I was 18 years old, but didn’t actually make any effort to ride until almost two decades later. Then, suddenly, I had to ride. The reason for that instant awakening of interest has always been tricky for me to explain satisfactorily. It just sort of happened, just sort of became impossible to ignore. But I can, at least, pinpoint a handful of things that had a major effect on me — things that lit the fire:

  1. Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs by Hunter S. Thompson. It wasn’t all that great of a book. The writing is pretty weak at many points. But it helped open my mind to the idea of a motorcycle as transportation, rather than a shiny way for an old man to compensate for erectile dysfunction (a).
  2. The “You Know, I Know and They Know” video. There is a whole genre of self-aggrandising hipster/chopper motorcycle videos out there and I’ve probably sat through every single one. The best and most beautiful, though, is this one.
  3. That episode of RideApart when Jamie goes to Sequoia National Forest on a Triumph Bonneville. Jamie Robinson is a Yorkshireman who was once England’s best grand prix racer. He retired in 2008 and now makes a living being the guy you wish you could be by riding all kinds of bikes in all kinds of places. The great appeal of Jamie is that he maintains an enthusiasm for all bikes regardless of type or engine size; if it’s got two wheels, it’s fun.
    1. By extension, “Hell for Leather,” the accompaniment website to RideApart. Originally, RideApart was just the name of the video series. Early in 2013, the old Hell for Leather name was dropped and everything was joined under the RideApart name. Jamie left for MotoGeo and the RideApart site got a rather commercial-looking overhaul. That may have been the first clue…
First of all, you’re in Canada…
Be it in the guise of Hell for Leather or RideApart, I read the site religiously. The first thing I would do each morning at work was click on my computer and read all the new articles. RideApart influenced everything from my attitude in riding and toward riding, to the gear I wear. I found the articles to be interesting, informative and engaging. In general, they held that Jamie Robinson enthusiasm for all motorcycles and the truth that being on a motorcycle does not mean having to adopt some sort of accompanying lifestyle; i.e., if you ride a Harley that doesn’t mean you have to dress and behave like a member of the Cult of Latter-day Harley-Davidson. I also felt that the general tone of discussions in the comments were more friendly, more intelligent and more fun than one finds in many other places.
Then, one day it all started to go south.
To my mind, the downfall of RideApart began with this article, in which executive editor Wes Siler basically did a big tinkle all over everyone who has the audacity to be really interested in motorcycles. You know, like, those stupid noobs who would read a motorcycle-focused website.
“No, I don’t want to help you learn to go faster. No, I don’t want to spend my lunchtime talking about Marc Marquez, again. And yes, I’ve ridden that route before,” he whined in an article that I’m sure he would tell you was supposed to be funny.
But it lacked a key element in funny stories: anything resembling a sense of humour. Read that article and you can see that Wes is serious. He thinks he’s pretty damned special. And he thinks you’re pretty damned stupid if you don’t already know all the things he knows, if you don’t adhere to his view, if you don’t subscribe to his way. It is an article that is a complete rejection of the erstwhile all-encompasing RideApart philosophy.
I called him on his arrogance at the time. In a comment, I suggested he needed to humble himself. I told him to re-watch the video episode of RideApart where he gets The Fear and starts crying on the freeway and realise that he is not so much more fantastic than the people who help pay his salary by visiting his site. The comment was deleted.
When I knew RideApart had jumped the shark.
Since then, RideApart seems to have fallen into a long slide. Articles are increasingly arrogant and centred on sportbike riders who live in Southern California. Or, well, those are the articles worth reading. The rest of the site is filled out by intolerable fluff. RideApart seems desperate to turn itself into the Buzzfeed of motorcycling, with every other article written in list format and almost none of it having any real content.
“4 Reasons I don’t Split Lanes,” “10 Reasons You Shouldn’t Date a Motorcyclist,” “13 Things More Dangerous Than Riding a Motorcycle,” and on and on and on with an endless torrent of effluent. These articles are completely devoid of any actual content. There are a lot of words and pictures in them — enough to get you to click at least twice in the sory to increase page views — but no actual information. The lane-splitting article was merely a collection of unfounded opinions, the list of things more dangerous than a motorcycle was a list of things that were not in any way comprable to motorcycling and which were mathematically proven by one of the commenters to not, in fact, be more dangerous.
In that aforementioned article I commented that I felt RideApart had lost its way, that its endless lists and general alienation of all but a core segment of readers was offputting and disappointing. The comment, of course, was deleted.
So, I’m saying it here: You’ve let me down RideApart. Whereas you were one of my big inspirations to finally get on a motorcycle, you’ve now turned into the sort of thing that makes me just a little bit embarassed to be a motorcyclist.

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(a) Unfortunately, the Minnesota I grew up in had a whole lot of dudes who were clearly using bikes to compensate for the lack of something. They instilled in me a dislike of bikes and bikers that caused me to over-generalise and oversimplify motorcycle riding.