Get Out Of Your Own Way
Edward Wilkinson was supposed to be working on Wall Street. A degree from Columbia, and what was probably some familial urging, pointed that direction. But after a few months in an internship there, he realized that fit about as well as a five-pound sack around a fifty-pound pile of you name it. So he went a different direction, one that’s taken him on the back roads of the lower 48, Alaska, and Canada and into a career developing products for like-minded adventure riders.
And it all started on a Puch Maxi-Luxe with a 2hp engine his parents helped him buy when he was a teenager growing up in Connecticut.
“My dad raced motorcycles in California and had crashed enough to tell me it was too dangerous. So the deal was he’d buy me the Puch if I agreed to always wear a helmet. Once I got the Puch, I immediately made some changes. I put on a luggage rack and a two-gallon gas tank. I took the pedals off of it and put a longer banana seat - anything to make it seem more like a motorcycle.”
The Puch lasted through several years of long rides until Edward’s interests started to lean elsewhere – white water rafting, mountain biking, road biking, and endurance rides. Just about any way to get Edward outside and keep him there instead of being on a motorcycle.
When Edward ended his short stint on Wall Street, he got a job in an outdoor recreation store where he was eventually noticed by Merrell, the shoe and boot company. He worked his way up through several positions there, still staying clear of motorcycles, until he saw something on a business trip that would change that.
“I was in Bangkok, and I noticed all of these people on mopeds hauling everything from entire families to pigs to plate glass windows. There was a BMW dealer in the hotel where I was staying, so I decided to go in. Well, I fell in love with a GS650 Dakar. So when I got back to my room, I went online, found one at a dealership in Chicago, and had it shipped to my parent’s home back in Connecticut.”
The problem was that Edward hadn’t told his parents because he still had a couple of weeks of business travel to take care of, and he didn’t have a license. His dad was the one that called Edward and told him the bike had arrived.
“When I got back home, I got my learner’s permit, found some old motorcycle gear from when I had the Puch, and started bombing all over the family farm. It just felt completely natural to me.”
Edward said he rode that single-cylinder thumper everywhere, including many 400-mile round trip visits to his parents from where he lived in Vermont. But what was missing was a real adventure. Something that would really put him and the bike to the test. So he promptly rode to Nova Scotia.
“It was out there, and it was an island. But the trip went badly. It rained during most of it, and at one time I had to ride through the night in the rain. Just brutal. Then the clutch cable went out, and I had to have one delivered. But other than the clutch cable, the bike handled great.”
Despite the weather and technical issues, Edward was bitten by the moto-adventure travel bug. He had that 650 for three years before it developed an electrical problem. Turned out it was a mouse nest in the exhaust, which taught him to never leave an open-ended exhaust in the winter again!
He traded up for a BMW 1150 GS then a BMW 1200 that he’d found on ADVRider. Unfortunately, that bike was in the shop almost more than it was on the road. Three broken final drives and camping out at his local dealer eventually got him a newer, more reliable GSA model kitted out with bags and other extras.
“I named that bike ‘The Beastie,’ and it made me feel like I could now do anything I wanted. I just became addicted to riding. I couldn’t stop.”
Ed was still at Merrell and saving up his vacation each year so he could go on multi-week trips rather than a week here or there. He had accumulated four weeks worth of time off, put his request in…and they nixed it saying they couldn’t have him out for that length of time. So the next day, he quit.
“They didn’t expect that, but it worked to my benefit. I was overseeing about a third of their product line at the time. So they said if I stayed and finished the new product line, they’d pay me through the end of the year, plus my Cobra (health) coverage for the year. I did that, then took off.”
That’s an understatement. Without knowing where his next paycheck would come from, Edward proceeded to spend the next four months riding through all of the U.S. national parks, through sections of Canada, and eventually ended up back at his parents place in Connecticut by way of Tucson.
It was about this time that he met Alisa Clickenger, a fellow adventure rider, who’d already started developing a reputation for interesting and long adventure rides. She eventually became his partner, and the two of them started planning a joint Trans America Trail (TAT) trip, which Edward completed riding a DRZ 400.
At some point, Edward’s story gets so far off-road that it’s hard to keep up with where he and one of his different bikes were at the time. But at one time, he found himself unemployed and at Port Orford, Oregon where he heard about the Continental Divide Trail, which he promptly turned around and rode to see if he could complete that. That whole addicted to riding thing.
While on that trail and during a stop in Breckenridge, Colorado, Edward had a chance to try a KTM. He liked it, but didn’t buy it – that would happen on the second to last day of the trail when he found himself in Silver City, New Mexico.
“Alisa had joined me later on that ride and we were looking for a tube for her Suzuki, so I found myself trying another KTM. I really liked that bike, so I traded my DRZ in and wrote them a check right there.”
Now most people couldn’t do that without some serious checking around. Which the dealer did and found out that Edward was well-known by the folks at Twisted Throttle. So Edward had himself a new bike and was completely satisfied. Unfortunately, Alisa wasn’t.
“She was ticked because she thought I’d rather buy a new bike than follow her on her trip down to Argentina. It really wasn’t about the new bike, though. I’m just not that interested in riding in foreign countries. Besides, my trips are more like military death marches and hers are far more ‘free.’”
So Alisa headed off to ride down to Argentina, and Edward got rid of his BMW in favor of the KTM.
Some after more riding and a quick passage of time, Edward found himself in Alaska, but with gear he wasn’t too happy with. He’d had some Klim pants that he liked, but they really weren’t made for adventure motorcycle riding. So he started to think that if they could make specific clothing for that market, they could be onto something.
Edward put together a presentation that convinced the company of the benefit of making waterproof, abrasion-resistant apparel for the adventure and off-road rider. Klim was so impressed, they hired Edward to head up the development of that line of clothing. The deal allowed him to start in May and still complete a ride in Alaska he already had planned in June.
He and Alisa rode up to Dawson Creek, Alaska with some spec Klim gear to do some product testing. They took what they learned from that experience back to Klim, and Edward was hired to oversee the development and introduction of Klim’s entry into the adventure riding market.
“Things were great at Klim until they were bought by Polaris. It’s not that Polaris is a bad company. They just added more bosses, which meant more meetings, and less control over the product. So I started looking elsewhere.”
Elsewhere ended up being Scorpion, where Edward works today.
“After the interview, I was in Steamboat Springs (Colorado) and had actually forgotten about Scorpion when they called and offered me a job. It meant moving from Idaho to Los Angeles, which meant we needed an address to move our furniture to. We looked at a map, picked a spot, and while Alisa was riding in Africa I had everything packed up and moved. It took a few months to get used to, but we’re in the middle of the North American motorcycle magazine market, and most of the Japanese brands have their headquarters in this area.”
Edward and Alisa have since moved to another part of L.A., and today he still saves up as much vacation time as he can to go on the long backcountry odysseys he finds so appealing. He now has several bikes he can choose from and create whatever adventure he wants. That includes an ‘05 Honda XR650R, an ‘05 KTM 950 Adventure, an ‘07 KTM 950 Super Enduro that he’s kitted out with combined set of tanks to give him a 450 mile range and a Warn winch to get out of multiple “you name it” situations. His daily commuter bike is an ’07 Honda CBR600RR that allows him to lane split with ease, and he also has a 2015 BMW S1000RR that he describes as his “scare yourself silly on the weekends” bike.
Given how engrained backcountry and cross-country riding is with Edward, I thought he’d have a good idea of the main items anyone should bring with them and/or never pass up. Here’s his short list:
· Water – at least a couple of liters (two gallons a day)
· Gas/fuel – never pass a gas station
· Be able to fix a tire – even if it’s tubeless; carry a tire repair kit and compressor or CO2 cartridge.
Sounds like good advice, but I also wonder what adventure riding has taught him in general. While his answer could be just as pertinent to anyone who likes to ride their bike long distances, on or off-road, it’s a reply anyone who rides can use when asked the same question by those who don’t.
“If you ride cross-country on a motorcycle, you realize how big this country is. You find out how the people change from one part of the country to the next. On a bike, you interact with people. You smell the smells. If you just fly and stay in a hotel, you don’t get that.”
For someone who’s crammed as much riding into the last decade and a half as Edward, that’s insight worth noting.
This story and others like it can be found in the book Asphalt & Dirt - Life on Two Wheels.