MC Life: The Future of Two Wheels

December 4, 2009
Steve Atlas
Steve Atlas
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Professional-grade speed and an attitude to match, Steve Atlas is the new blood at MotoUSA. Atlas has AMA racing creds that are even more extensive than his driving record.

How is Gen-Y changing the face of two-wheels?

 Left to Right  Ronnie Renner  Roland Sands  and Drake McElroy.
(Left to Right) Ronnie Renner, Roland Sands, and Drake McElroy.

For this installment of MC Life we’re going to branch out and tackle a broader subject: What is the future of motorcycling? Where do the creative geniuses of the younger generation intend to take us in their allotted disciplines? For this reason we gathered custom builder, Roland Sands, as well as two of the top cutting-edge freestyle motocrossers: Drake McElroy and Ronnie Renner, to see what they had to say.

We enlisted the RSD workshop, added some serious pyro effects and sat down for a Budweiser- and pizza-fueled roundtable discussion. The results may or may not be what you expect. Either way, these three are all innovators in their own right and are shaping the future of motorcycling as we know it.

“It’s not just about money anymore, it’s about being creative with what you’ve got,” says Sands in regards to custom motorcycle building. “I think with building a motorcycle you can start with just about anything and really get something cool if you put quality time and energy into it.”

McElroy reflected much the same, adding that, “I don’t really focus on it in a sense. I like to do the things that I like and some of them tend to be insanely popular and some of them tend to be a little bit eccentric and off the wall. You’re only living this life one time and you’ve got to do what makes you who you are. I’ve kind of just been this way my whole life.”

Renner, known for his crazy dance antics during freestyle MX shows, adds: “It’s right there in the title of the sport: ‘Freestyle’. I think that means being yourself and doing what you want to do. And it’s all about the fans. If there wasn’t someone in the stands to entertain, then none of us would have jobs. In reality, they’re the ones paying the bills, so to go out there and be a goon and entertain them is what it comes down to for me and it’s what keeps me having a good time. In return people remember me, win or lose, because I was the one goofing off and having a good time.”
How is Gen-Y changing the face of two wheels?

Roland Sands
Mr. Sands. Always the ladies man…

“I think before where you had to build a Harley and that was just the way it was, now it’s moving away from that. We’re continuing to push more and more away from that and making multi-brand custom combos,” Sands says. “My buddy Gregg Customs just built a (Yamaha) R1 custom flat tracker and it came out sick. Just taking different genres and putting them together to see what you get.”

As Roland breaks the status quo in the custom world, Renner is over competitions and is doing his best to guide freestyle into a more natural path – freeriding. “Yeah, even present day I don’t get my jollies off of doing tricks,” Renner comments “I’d rather go out to the desert any day and freeride rather than jump ramps and do tricks.”

As for the old guard, both Sands and Renner have found some resistance along their paths. “I don’t think they understand it as much,” Sands adds about the Harley-bred old-guard comments on his new work. “But I think anyone who is a fan of motorcycling can appreciate quality work. And, honestly, they are really the only people I care about, those who appreciate the work. It might not be to your taste but you can appreciate how much work went into something. You’ve got to put more and more stuff out there, and lately I’ve had a lot of older guys stoked on what we build.”

To look forward one must first look around for inspiration. Where do these guys get their creative drive from?

Ronnie Renner
Renner and the ring of fire…

As for Renner, there’s no question that to make money at anything other than competitions is very hard. Sponsors want riders on TV and in the magazines. “It’s not easy to make a living at this in America as everyone wants bigger and more death-defying tricks. I’m kind of baffled by it myself – what is next? I know I’m perusing freeriding more because that’s where my heart is and I love to ride my bike. I’ve found a way to film it and treat it the way snowboarding and skateboarding has and I think people can relate to that a lot.”

It’s for this same reason Drake has branched out into other areas. “When I did freestyle contests we were always really underpaid for what we were doing and the risks we were taking,” says McElroy. “Over time everything keeps getting gnarlier and gnarlier. At one point I lived in my pickup truck and didn’t care, but once you get older and have a couple kids and realize that you have people to take care of, it becomes apparent how dangerous it is and that you need to be a little smarter. It just wasn’t worth it business-wise to be that gnarly and pushing it at the contests anymore.”

The big question these days is whether or not it’s even possible to make a living in freestyle without the competitions.
“It’s not, man. But give me a few more years and I’ll give you the answers,” Drake adds, laughing.

To look forward one must first look around for inspiration. Where do these guys get their creative drive from?

“Inspiration exists all around me,” says Sands. “I actually try not to look at motorcycle magazines and TV shows at all. I take what is all around me, be it architecture, nature, whether it’s fashion, it’s society. Ya know, it’s really everything that inspires you and that’s something I try to reflect in my motorcycles and designs – it’s a constant pool I try to draw from.”
Says Renner: “My kids really were my biggest inspiration. My little guy Nate was really the one that made me grow up fast and put food on the table. I wasn’t making enough money racing and I liked jumping, so I just tried to turn it into something that could make some money. I had to learn the tricks the guys were doing so I could make this happen and make some money.”

Drake McElroy
McElroy: Soft spoken and always striving to push the world of two wheels. The man lives to ride.

Taking a look into the crystal ball, where does RSD fit into the future? “For us, we have a lot of different stuff we are working on right now, so it’s just really about taking advantage of those opportunities and being able to twist them up and change the status quo,” continues Sands. “Whether it’s a Sportster or a CBR1000RR or a 450 Café Racer, every bike is an opportunity to show people what’s next or what’s new. I look at it that I’m fortunate to be able to do this and to hopefully inspire people to branch out and try different things and expand what’s out there.”

And the future for Renner? Finding ways to entertain fans in other ways than FMX competitions, much like his recent Red Bull Experiments.

“I think the future is going to be more on the entertainment level,” Renner says, who jumped 60-plus feet out of a giant motorcycle quarter-pipe to set a world record. “Doing shows and putting a little more effort into the shows to make people happy; they are getting bored. The Red Bull Experiment falls right into the entertainment aspect as well. Those one-off events that bring a festival are all great for the fans.”

As for McElroy, one thing is for sure: “I will be on a bike for my entire life!” sums up the diehard two-wheeled fanatic. “Now I’m freeriding and doing other things so I have other income and I’ve had the best years of my life. I’m really into riding again, whether it’s street or dirt, I just love being on a bike. Red Bull has started doing internal camps for up-and-coming freestyle guys so they can evaluate their riders. They brought me on to help and that allows me to ride all the time while I’m there, so I’m able to keep my Red Bull deal without doing competitions. My goal is to be an ambassador for motorcycling in any way I can as this is the sport I live for and love.”

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