Big Loss in Motorcycle World: RIP Kevin Ash, Godspeed…

I am on deadline for some other article now, and am doing my usual procrastination move of putzing around, so I happened upon Cycle World’s website. I see something that instantaneously made me say out loud, “WHAT???” This can’t be.

Well known British motorcycle journalist who was the Daily Telegraph motorcycling correspondent and wrote for the American magazine Rider, and really, really nice guy Kevin Ash died in South Africa at the press launch for the 2013 BMW R1200GS on January 22. He was just 53. According to the post, Cycle World Editor Mark Hoyer arrived 10 minutes after the accident. Hoyer said they were riding on a straight, dusty, gravel road.

Then BMW came out with a statement: “It is with deep regret that BMW Motorrad confirms the fatal injury of Kevin Ash in a motorcycle accident during a launch event in South Africa. The accident happened to the north of a town called George, 250 kilometers east of Cape Town. Out of respect for Kevin’s family and friends, no further information is being made available at this time.” It was a major press launch and of course Kevin would be invited to be there.

Terribly shocking. He was a class act. You could tell by reading his articles or even just meeting him once or twice. It sucks to see an obit of him in his own newspaper he’s written in for years.

I’ve known some motorcycle journos who, when a fellow rider or racer dies, often it’s met with an “it is what it is” attitude sprinkled on the grief, because the risk can come with the territory. Any motorcycle rider and racer knows it. But the motorcycle world is reeling from the void that Kevin’s loss has created, and it will be felt for quite some time to come. Not just because he was a great motorcycle journalist, but because he was such a nice guy. And the world could only use more nice people like him.

At an event that could consist of some a-holes and egos, you would often gravitate towards and want to hang out with him because of his kind, good-humored, mild-mannered demeanor and knowledge of the industry and sport. In that way, he was different from some of the other moto journos, some of whom were there to impress.

Back in a previous incarnation, I was briefly in the world of motorcycles and I met Kevin at what was the first World Ducati Weekend. Back then it was a weekend. I helped out as a field producer for a cable channel. I pretty much hung out with him a lot of the time during this event when I wasn’t with the camera crew and getting interviews. He was instantly a new friend for the string of days we all spent celebrating Ducatis in Italy. He was very even keeled, unlike some of the other journos there and I’d sit next to him at the various lunches they held for journos and pick his brain about the industry, or more specifically, Ducatis.

At that weekend, I met Ducati’s famous Dr. Taglioni, who at the unveiling of the Ducati Museum invited me to see (from my vague memory) the orchids he grew in his garden, a trip I never did make (he would pass away a few years later). And I met other Ducati notables that created these bikes like Massimo Bordi and Pierre Terblanche. While I knew and met some of these bold-faced names in the motorcycle world months earlier when I first visited the Ducati factory, Kevin was my source of deeper background info on everyone that weekend, or at least someone to compare notes with. A walking encyclopedia, but with editorial comments and proper perspective. This was before what the “Information Superhighway” has become, with the immediate ability to look up info on a smart phone or search engine.

It was hard not to become enamored by this fabled Italian motorcycle company especially during that time as it was becoming a more ubiquitous marque on the world’s stage, and as a someone who’d been covering the industry for a while, Kevin gave me perspective of where the classic Ducati 916 fit in the sport bike world, changing it forever with its well-known design features and Ducati engine. He was also a wealth of knowledge when it came to shop talk about other Italian marques too like Piaggio, Aprilia, Moto Guzzi etc.

Around that same time I got to go to the famous CRC in San Marino, which was where MV Agusta had its research facility and had rarely let journos in, but there I got to meet famed Ducati and MV Agusta designer Massimo Tamburini and his boss Claudio Castiglioni, followed by an impromptu dinner at Castligioni’s house with his wife. Kevin was one of my first points of contact to kibbitz about and compare notes (since he was very familiar with everyone there and it was all a first for me) after my experience at MV Agusta and at dinner, where racer John Kocinski’s famous Cagiva motorcycle was prominently displayed on a granite slab in the living room. It was also shock to happen upon Castiglioni’s passing recently as well, and it was nice that he was given a full obit in the New York Times. Two people I met from those few weeks in Italy, now gone.

When I first met him I kept telling Kevin he should write for more American moto mags, but he was loyal to writing for Rider Magazine over here in the U.S. It’s not an understatement that Rider calls him “legendary” because he was really good at what he did and always willing to give  us younger journos in that field tips or advice if we had questions. I recall he also did some motorcycle forum type thing on AOL (this was back in the late 1990s) before the entire world was on the Internet. It probably became his website Ash on Bikes.

After we met, I saw him in New York the opening of the Art of the Motorcycle exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum. I interviewed Frank Gehry for this and was excited to see how he designed the exhibit and I went on press day and saw Kevin, it was nice to see a familiar face at the event. We said we’d go back and have a chat at the famous Four Seasons hotel, where BMW was hosting moto journos. I recall being given a ride back to the hotel with BMW designers in one of their 7 series cars, talking about three wheeled motorcycles, but while that was a fun ride with famous designers we read about, a highlight was back at the hotel. Kevin let me check out the fancy digs BMW put all the journos up in, having never been to this Four Seasons and having heard of their high-thread count/well-known comfortable bedding. This flagship one in the heart of midtown was mega pricey and I didn’t think I’d have any reason to see their rooms again, so he let me check out the room and I even called my significant other, who also knew Kevin, from the room to say, Hey guess where and who I bumped into? Funny.

When I sold my motorcycle articles to magazines around the world, like a Dutch moto mag, Kevin was one of the first calls I made to share the news. The magazine was called Weekblad Motor back then and I think it was Kevin gave me that contact and he told me about the jokes they all made about the mag’s title.

Back then I would call him when I was procrastinating on deadline and they were just waking up in the UK  and we would talk shop, Ducati shop talk that is, since he was always aware of the goings on of the personnel as well as bikes there. When his book Ducati People: Looking into the Lives of the Men and Women Behind This Legendary Marque came out, I ordered it at my local bookstore with he said whenever we’d meet in person again, he’d buy me a beer and autograph the book. With the way life often gets, we never did get to have that beer and the book is left unsigned. I’ve been known to mail books to authors special to me, to have them sign it, but it didn’t occur that we’d lose Kevin so soon. I figured our paths would cross eventually.

When I launched a car column, Kevin was someone who give me a few tips on making it better, telling me what they did over in the UK that worked. Last year when I first got published in the same newspaper as him, I meant to call or email him to say, Hey, I’m in your newspaper! But I never followed up on that fleeting feeling, since it had been years.

It’s interesting, when someone passes on, we don’t really think about their accomplishments, but what remains and what stands out is their character. For what small amount of time we interacted, what stands out now is that he was a really nice guy and having spoken to his wife as well, she is equally as nice as Kevin. They were raising three daughters. It’s all very heartbreaking. All I can think of is that Billy Joel song. He was too young. And too nice . This is all too shocking and heart-breaking.

Even if someone only has minimal interaction with another person in life, their loss can still be felt. As I read comments online , there have been readers who posted they had hoped their paths would cross with his someday, but now that won’t happen.

It’s perhaps yet another terribly sad reminder to make that phone call and reach out and connect with someone if you have the thought, because you might not get to down the road. Or if you want to do something you’ve been thinking about for while, hell, do it. Or telling someone simply that they mean something to you, whether you’ve said it before or hadn’t said it enough, one more time wouldn’t hurt.

The only regret is not having done it. We are all on borrowed time. And we all don’t have the same duration of time on this ride called life.