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16 events that shaped Sound RIDER!

So the question comes to mind -- with our 16th birthday this month, how did we get here and how did we keep going? Do you know of another monthly online regional motorcycle magazine that has been operating this long?

I was certainly inspired to create Sound RIDER! out of my love of riding motorcycles coupled with the stunning geography of the Pacific Northwest. But let's take a look at 16 turning points that inspired the magazine and keep it going today. Listed in as chronological order as possible, here we go.

  1. Aiming to enrich - When the idea of Sound RIDER! came to mind, I knew I wanted it to be more than entertainment. I had always felt good about the focus one owner of a compny I spent 10 years in had shared with me one afternoon. "If I'm enriching someone's life with the product we provide, I'm doing the right thing." That has stuck with me to this day in terms of the content we produce for the magazine.

  2. 1990s tech boom & bust - The 1990s tech boom was pivotal in me getting laid off for the third time in my life during a 25 year career in the music industry. The MP3 showed up, piracy was everywhere, Apple started laying it out to the record labels what the new game was within iTunes and consolidation within the music industry was commonplace near the end of the decade/century. So, like many, I got squeezed out and took time off to review my options. I knew I'd better switch gear from music to tech, I had a grandfather who'd done quite well in the publishing business with McGraw Hill and there was little in the way of 40-hour-a-week jobs available to me in the Seattle market. I concocted the idea of creating lifestyle online magazines, wrote the business plan, got some funding from inside my family, and we were on our way. When the bottom fell out of tech in 2000, we slipped underneath the radar keeping overhead low and finding ways to make ends meet doing a few side jobs here and there like networks, websites and graphics for small businesses, many here in the Pacific Northwest.

  3. Growing the family - When Sound RIDER! began, I had two motorcycles--a Honda Helix 250cc scooter and a Honda Pacific Coast 800. These two bikes allowed me to travel all over the Pacific Northwest on pavement. In 2002, I acquired a dual sport and enjoyed my first off-pavement rides in more than several decades. By 2005 I was riding the Oregon Back Country Discovery Route and exploring all kinds of gravel and two track roads. That led to several books that exist today about dual sport rides in the Pacific Northwest. More on the books in a moment.

  4. Learning the code - You can't be a small operation like this and not learn code. I don't want to bore you with the stories about 20 hour days, 2 a.m. phone calls to developer co-conspirators, forgetting to eat now and then, but I've always liked learning code and I'm a lot better at it now that even five years ago. Over the years, I've had to learn HTML, CSS, ASP, ASP.NET and tidbits of Java to get the site where it is today. But it's the developers I've worked with who have not only solved a few issues but also pushed me to be better.

  5. Evolving a wardrobe - Through much riding in all kinds of weather, I've gone from wearing cowboy boots and blue jeans, to gearing up head to toe whenever I ride with protective textile gear. Over the years, I've learned to stay warmer on cold days, and cooler on hot days. Having that knowledge allowed me to ride many more miles comfortably.

  6. Starting an online store - As I was preparing a story about Nikwax waterproofing products, I asked a dealer if he would carry the line, so readers had a place to purchase the product. He laughed and told me if a rider has a leaky jacket, throw it away and come in a get a new one. I was inspired by that line. So much so that I held the story, set up an online store and started selling items like Nikwax that were not readily available in most dealers. It wouldn't be competition to the dealers since none of them carried the product anyway.

  7. Creating Events - I learned from the music business one of the most essential ways radio stations connected with their listeners was through events. In 2002, we introduced the 3 Pass Blast event with great success. It was a timed ride of 200 miles using American rally rules and riders could do it any day during the summer. During that period, long-time friend to Sound RIDER!, Bill Farley, coaxed me up to Canada in July insisting I check out the Sport Bike West Rally and consider doing a sport bike rally of our own. In 2003, Sportbike Northwest was born and eventually morphed its way into Rally in the Gorge.

  8. Publishing paperbacks - Also in 2002, I worked together with Dave Preston at The Cycle Barn to bring to market a book he'd written for his son, Motorcycle 101. We did a few units on it but it was nothing to write home about. Nonetheless, I wanted to pursue the book publishing side as an author myself. After all, I was already writing quite a bit for the magazine. Over the years my riding wisdom had grown as well as my knowledge about riding in the region. In 2006, we popped Packing Light/Packing Right, a book filled with tips and tricks to enlighten riders about ways to enjoy their travels more by carrying the right gear and leaving the wrong gear at home. I followed that up with the third and first commercial edition of Motorcycling through the Columbia River Gorge, a book I had written to be used by those attending our Rally in the Gorge.

  9. Getting a flat tire in the woods - Local motorcycle historian Tom Samuelsen and I were out pre-riding the first Sasquatch tour near Ellensburg, when I got a flat rear tire. Lack of a repair kit or spare tube made it impossible to repair the tire, thus we had to ditch the bike overnight in the woods and come back the next day with a fresh tube. This inspired me to create a list of what I would carry in well rounded-out tire repair kit. Once I had a kit that gave me peace-of-mind that I could get out of just about any flat situation, I sourced all the components through several wholesalers and put together the SR! Ultimate Tire Repair Kit. Since then, we've sold several thousand units and that has led to other in-house creations like Zip E-Zs and Medical USB Cards.

  10. Camping bad/Camping good - In 2004 long-time friend to Sound RIDER!, Harvey Gilkerson and I took a camping trip to the Gorge to pre-ride that summer's rally. The riding was great, the nights were not. I was camping on gear from the late 80s/early 90s and it was leaky, cold and downright uncomfortable and I swore off camping ever again. But in 2006, when we expanded our store offerings to include camping gear, I began testing new designs like comfortable air mats, warmer smaller sleeping bags and tents that didn't leak. Today I'm more than happy to camp when I'm riding.

  11. Getting some bike mods - I was on a trip in 2006, riding through Central California. I wasn't enjoying it and got on the phone with Brett Tkacs from Puget Sound Safety to talk about why. We determined that some of the ergonomics on the bike weren't right and I could use an upgrade in the riding skills department as well. That fall I went to work having local motorcycle saddle man, Rich O'Conner, build out a new seat, raise up the handle bars, switch out the suspension and several other mods which I was later able to run as a two-part feature in Sound RIDER! and use as seminar material that winter on the motorcycle show circuit.

  12. Getting some training - I'd always been an advocate of continued rider training for all motorcyclists, regardless of how many years they've ridden or what they think their abilities are. We can all learn new techniques and get over bad habits. Bret Tkacs introduced me to several classes Puget Sound Safety had developed, or were disseminating from other training camps. These courses were well beyond the basic and intermediate rider training programs offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Through classes like Advanced Street Skills and Lee Parks Total Control, I've learned to manage my motorcycle better, but better yet, I drive a car better and use the brakes a lot less, no matter what I'm riding/driving. That created a significant cost savings when, at 130,000 miles we changed the brakes on the car and discovered they'd never needed to be changed before. Typical intervals for brakes on my car are every 30,000 miles!

  13. Social Media wrestle - In 2006 Mark Zuckerberg introduced the world to Facebook and Twitter was coming up close behind. By 2009 social media was starting to blossom, but I was hesitant and even stated in the Sound RIDER! @ 10 Years book (Amazon Kindle) that I had no intention of getting into that game. To me it was time wasted. I'm not sure what all those users were doing with their lives before social media, but I saw it sucking up the attention of many, some of those who I suspected were missing out on reading our online magazine because they were too busy thumbing tweets and posts across social media. In 2014, Derek Roberts began working with me and was pushing me to move Sound RIDER! into social media to capture new readers and regain old ones. Yeah - I know I'm an old man set in his ways, but I agreed to give it a try. Then I had a brain storm. We were already posting short bits on information in our Newsbytes column, so why not tie that together with Facebook and Twitter and kill three birds with one store. It's worked well and we don't end up putting a lot of excess effort into social media as a result.

  14. Creating tours - Online magazine, store, rally - what, not busy enough? Well we needed a reason to get out and ride ourselves, so after tinkering with a few weekend tours, in 2009 we put together the first Sasquatch dual sport tour of the Pacific Northwest. In 2010, pulled that off and added the Road Trip tour that focused on paved roads. We've offered the tours each summer in one form or another. Because the routing gets a little intricate sometimes, these tours are now officially offered as GPS tours. Without one on board it's hard to say where you'll wind up at the end of each day. Highlights  in 2011, 2012 and 2013 during the Sasquatch rides: we took riders to the highest places they could ride a motorcycle in Washington, Idaho and Oregon respectively.

  15. Adding a podcast - Well, or course we're not busy enough. As radio stations have faded and most local talk shows are hyper-sports or hyper-politics, I began gravitating toward listening to podcasts on the internet. That got me thinking. It's been a while since we've had a local talk radio show focused on the Pacific Northwest, and as far as I could tell, there wasn't one coming down the pike anytime soon. With a $1,000 budget I purchased the needed gear and in February Derek and I brought for the first Sound RIDER! show netcast. You can call it a podcast if you want, but does anyone use an iPod anymore?

  16. Going Mobile - Obviously, no one keeps a website looking the same over time. In the life of Sound RIDER! the site has gone through four major revisions. Since 2005 there has always been some sort of mobile version of the site which we originally developed for things like Palm Pilots. Remember them?

    Today a fifth version of Sound RIDER! has just been launched, which  features Responsive Web Design, the way the online store already does. So regardless of what gadget you use, the site will morph its way to suit any format.

So there you have it. 16 milestones that have brought us to this point. I hope you'll stick with us another 16 years.

Tom Mehren/July 2015


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