Ultimate Motorcycling 20th Anniversary – Don Williams Reflects

Ultimate Motorcycling 20th Anniversary - Don Williams
Editor Don Williams.

There I was, minding my own business at my Malibu home in October 2005, happily ensconced at ATV Action magazine in the Hi-Torque Publications empire, enjoying dirt bikes on the weekends while I rode ATVs all week long. Hi-Torque was an entertaining place to work, with all sorts of characters and legendary figures like Motocross Action’s Jody Weisel and owner Roland Hinz ringleading the circus. Then, I get an email from my wife’s stepsister’s husband about a job opening at a motorcycle magazine.


Editor’s Note: This month, we are celebrating Ultimate Motorcycling‘s 20th anniversary. We will be publishing reflections from members of the Ultimate Motorcycling staff and team. Ultimate Motorcycling Editor Don Williams talks about the long ride.

The ad read, “We have an exceptional opportunity for an experienced professional to serve as Senior/Lead Editor for Robb Report MotorCycling in our Malibu, CA office.” It went on to describe the responsibilities, all of which I met, but the kicker was the last line: “We will only consider local candidates.”

2006 Yamaha FZ-1
Don on the Yamaha FZ-1 during his first test for Robb Report Motorcycling in 2006.

Two things stuck out: I had never heard of Robb Report MotorCycling, and they only wanted local candidates. Both seemed odd, and I wasn’t interested in changing jobs, so I didn’t really think about it—or so I thought.

The seed was planted deep in the recesses of my brain, and a week or so later, it started germinating. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to see what Robb Report MotorCycling was about, so I drove down to Barnes & Noble to see if I could find a copy. Fortunately, one was on the newsstand, and I snatched it up.

When I got home and started flipping through the pages, I was startled. This was a motorcycle magazine like no other. It had exquisite photography, beautiful layouts, and highly sophisticated writing. Suffice it to say, my interest was piqued.

I sent CurtCo Robb Report Media an email, telling them I was qualified for the job and I’d like to have an interview. CurtCo HR asked me for a résumé and salary history. I declined to offer either, reiterating that I had been at ATV Action for 10 years and knew what I was doing. I figured I’d never hear from them again, but I was wrong. They requested that I come in for an interview.

At this point, I had a problem. I had never worn a suit in my life, let alone owned one—heck, that’s still true. Every job interview I did was in a t-shirt and 501s. I didn’t think that outfit was going to fly at Robb Report, which was situated in a landmark building facing Pacific Coast Highway on Pt. Dume.

Kawasaki KLX400SR
Don on his personal Kawasaki KLX400SR with Pt. Dume in the background.

So, I had an idea—I always have ideas. I decided to show my dedication to my craft and ride my Kawasaki KLX400SR down in my enduro jacket, pants, and boots. That would signal that I was a serious motorcycle rider.

The highly profession HR VP clearly wasn’t sure what to make of this scruffy guy in motorcycle gear who didn’t seem interested in impressing her with snappy answers to her carefully crafted questions. I only know how to tell it like it is, so that’s what I did, for better or worse. Still, I got the sense that she was intrigued by me when she left the office for a few minutes after interviewing me.

When she returned, she asked me if I would interview with the Robb Report Motorcycling Head Honcho Arthur Coldwells—right now. So, I did, and it changed my life irrevocably.

I sat down, and Arthur and I started talking about motorcycles. We talked a little about the magazine, but mostly just about motorcycles. We’re the same age, so we shared the same sense of motorcycle history and went on about different bikes. We hit it off immediately.

Don in Ohio testing the KTM 450 XCF-W.

After about two hours, Arthur asked me, “So, are you going to come work for us?” We hadn’t talked about the job. I had no idea what my responsibilities would be, what I would be paid, or what benefits CurtCo offered—that wasn’t part of the conversation, and I didn’t care. I replied, “Sure. Let’s do it!” And, I was hired on the spot.

As it turned out, CurtCo had its own cast of characters—a highly sophisticated yet still entertaining group. I dealt with serious artists like Roland Madrid and the brilliantly eccentric Robert Ross. They are two men I have great respect and admiration for, though I’m not sure what they ever thought of me. The incredibly talented and creative duo maintained the magazine’s visual quality through the post-Robb Report era via RossMadrid—a wise call on Arthur’s part. No longer working with Roland and Robert is one of the worst parts about getting out of the print game.

More down to earth, yet still at the top of the publishing game at CurtCo were Raz Cumbre and Bri Haupt in the production department. You might recognize Raz and Bri from our magazine app’s masthead;  they’re married now and our Design + Production Directors. It seems there’s no escape from our Motorcycling world. If there is, I hope they don’t find it.

Since the separation from Robb Report in 2008, Ultimate Motorcycling has evolved far from our highly affluential roots, and they started drying up after the Great Recession. We still have a successful magazine, though it’s an app rather than in print—not our choice or our readers’ choice, but business is business, and advertisers grew to prefer digital marketing. We have a website with nearly 30,000 stories to keep the wheels of commerce greased.

Ultimate Motorcycling 20th Anniversary - Don Williams on a Royal Enfield Shotgun.
At the world famous Rock Store, Don kicks back on the Royal Enfield Shotgun.

Former Online Editor Ron Lieback deserves much credit for the development of the website. He was behind our early adoption of solid “white hat” search engine optimization techniques that we continue to employ. Ron has his own SEO company, ContentMender, that I recommend you check out if you’re in that business.

When I was at ATV Action, I rode quads all over the United States, and it was great fun. At Ultimate Motorcycling, I turned into a globetrotter, fulfilling longtime dreams of riding in Costa Rica (Yamaha WR250F and WR450F), Sardinia (Suzuki V-Strom 800DE), Wales (Triumph Tiger 1200 XCa), and Portugal (Triumph Street Twin and Street Scrambler). I’ve also ridden in Spain several times—a destination that had never crossed my mind. Soon, I’ll be riding in France for the first time.

Although the publishing and internet landscapes are ever-changing, that simply makes them a challenge—and challenges are good. We’re always working to improve the website content and enhance the user experience on UltimateMotorcycling.com and the Ultimate Motorcycling app. I couldn’t do it without the help of a fantastic staff of motorcycle enthusiasts with a broad range of interests and perspectives. I love and appreciate you—from staffers to contributors, past and present—more than I could ever express.

If Arthur hadn’t had the idea to start Robb Report MotorCycling and Bill Curtis hadn’t gone along, none of this happens. If my wife’s stepsister’s husband hadn’t sent me that CurtCo help wanted ad, my life would have been unimaginably different over the last 18 years. Yet, here I am, with a wealth of experiences money can’t buy, and I’m not done yet.

There are many more motorcycles to ride and learn about, so join us as we endeavor to bring it all to you in a way that makes you as excited as we are about this incredible sport. Thanks for sticking with us all these years—we wouldn’t be here without you.