Rich Taylor is one of those people in our industry that’s just about done it all. He’s had a successful professional motocross career, been lead test rider for multiple OEM manufacturers, had roles in the Moto XXX and Crusty Demons series, been a Hollywood stunt man, and started his own goggle company. Rich also happens to be one of the nicest and most humble guys you’ll ever meet and is a straight shooter that tells it like it is. Just a few of the reasons why we like him so much. His goggle company EKS Brand, which was established in 2008, continues to expand into markets worldwide and the brand is a big supporter of off-road racing. We asked Rich if he would do an interview with us and of course he said yes right away. Learn more about Rich Taylor, his exciting life in the world of motorcycle racing, and his company EKS Brand in this exclusive interview.
Dirt Buzz: Rich, it’s hard to know where to begin with someone such as yourself who’s been around this industry for so long. So I guess we’ll start from the beginning: when and where did motorcycling become a part of your life?
Rich Taylor: Well, it all came from my dad, Hook Taylor. He was in the ski industry when I was young but he rode and raced motorcycles in the summer, and like most of us, I caught the bug at a very young age. I can remember riding a big wheel with a helmet, gloves and goggles when I was like three… I didn’t actually get a real motorcycle until I was twelve but I always told everyone that I was going to race motorcycles when I grew up.
DB: Having grown up in a ski resort town you definitely didn’t take the normal route into motorcycling. You probably could have just as easily gone the ski racing route and never even started racing motorcycles, right?
RT: Yeah, I actually ski raced for most of my kid life. Like I said, I didn’t get a motorcycle until I was 12. I didn’t start racing until I was fourteen. My speed progressed quickly on the track due to the fact that I was able to ride and train with Bob Hannah and Danny LaPorte. They both had houses in Sun Valley, and in the summer, they would train up there. It was awesome. It was pretty easy to get fast when you ride and hang out with two of the best in the world every day. Not to mention, the tracks we would train on were located at 8,000 feet and gnarly! Big hills and rough as shit! I remember one summer I rode with those guys Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of each week. They would fly to the National for the weekend and then back at it the next Tuesday. I went to a local Idaho race that year and my dad said why don’t you race the pro class. I was currently racing the beginner class. I was 15. I said, okay? I went out and smoked everyone both motos—both days. I was as surprised as everyone else. That was it. I quit ski racing and lived and breathed moto from then on.
DB: You had a long and prosperous pro motocross career with multiple two-digit national numbers, as well as some top overall finishes—and even some appearances in the beginnings of the moto video movement with Moto XXX and Crusty Demons of Dirt. Would it be accurate to say that dirt bikes have enabled you to experience a lot in your life?
RT: Oh, for sure. Motocross was and still is my life. I raced on the circuit for 13 years and earned twelve two digit numbers. I finished as high as 7th overall in the AMA National series. I think my best overall finish was a 4th at Steel City one year? I think? I have been fortunate to race all over the world. Literally all over the world! I was racing in a time when promoters would pay Americans good start money just to show up. I made ten times more money in the off season going overseas than I did during the racing year. I won some FIM supercross championships, a Canadian SX championship and multiple overseas races.
I was in on the start of the “moto video” revolution. I was in the original Crusty Demons of Dirt. I think they paid me $300. They probably made well over a million off that one video. I did several other videos after that, more than I can even remember. Moto XXX, Steel Roots, Fifth Gear Pinned, What Up! the video … I don’t remember them all … (laughs). I hit my head way too many times. It was fun but now that I am older I sure kick myself in the ass for letting them take advantage of us like they did. Those producers made a lot of money off of us busting our butts.
DB: Bike testing is one of those rare skills that doesn’t come easily to very many people. Did you know you wanted to move into testing when you stopped racing? Or was it just something you happened to stumble into?
RT: I wanted to be a motorcycle racer more than anything in the whole world. It isn’t easy to make good money racing, so I knew I needed to figure out a way. I was lucky to meet Karel Kramer through Danny LaPorte. Karel was the editor of Dirt Rider Magazine. This was in ‘87. I had moved to my Mom’s house in California to live my dream. Karel just happened to live very close. I ended up being his main test rider for 12 years. That opened so many doors for me. The first year I worked for Dirt Rider I also met Willy Simmons who was another DR test rider. He was doing some durability testing for Honda and got me a job doing it as well. Durability testing is brutal. Three 30-minute motos and they take lap times. Honda hired local pros and would even bring out team guys to do it on occasion. It was a full-on stop watch race every day with some really fast guys. The slowest guy would have to buy dinner so it was on! Roger Decoster came out one day, he was the Honda team manager at the time. I just happened to have the fast lap times that day and he asked me to ride a pre-production bike and give him my thoughts. I told him what I thought and then a week later he called me and asked if I would come out and test some parts on the race team bike. I guess he liked what I had to say and after that they hired me full-time to be the race team and production bike test rider. I worked for Honda for 10 years. I’m pretty sensitive with bike stuff. I can feel a lot, which is why I think sometimes I didn’t do better at big races. I have tested with so many top guys, Bayle, McGrath, Lamson, Henry, Carmichael, the list goes on and on. And one thing I always notice is that most of those guys can ride anything fast. Little things don’t bug them. I always said that the top guys could ride a Hodaka and still win. In 1997 after the new aluminum-framed CR250 came out, I ended up quitting Honda after the Gainesville national. I did all of the testing for Honda on the new aluminum-framed bike and I hated it the entire time. I tried everything to get them to delay the bike for at least one more year, but they were already committed. Honda actually said they would give me some good parts (Works stuff) for the outdoor nationals. The stuff didn’t come through and Roger Decoster was now at Suzuki and hounding me to come over there. After getting my ass kicked at Gainesville that year I quite Honda. Not too smart. I had a great deal at Honda. I went to Suzuki that next week, got two bikes, hauled ass to Pro Circuit, threw some suspension on them and a pipe and then went to the Houston Supercross. I ate shit in the heat race and broke my knee cap and was done for the year. Roger wanted me to test full time so I sort of turned my focus towards that. I ended up testing for Suzuki for 14 more years. I was done in 2011. But they actually called me again this year and I have been doing 2018 and 2019 testing again for them. Never ending! (Laughs).
"I’m pretty sensitive with bike stuff. I can feel a lot, which is why I think sometimes I didn’t do better at big races." – Rich Taylor
DB: After testing bikes for so long do you still enjoy riding? It seems like that would take a bit of the fun out of it after a while. When did you know it was time to move on from bike testing and start something new?
RT: I hate to say it, because I now understand how lucky I was. YES, I hated to ride for several years. I would dread going to the track to ride the new bikes. I know, not many people can relate to that. I got paid well to ride someone else’s bike on a watered track and I absolutely hated it. I did it for so long it turned into a total job. It just wasn’t fun any longer. My whole body hurt and I was just bitter. Crazy I know. Towards the end of 2010, Suzuki was going through a lot of stuff. This is when the industry and our economy was in a nose dive. I had one year left on my contract and I was like, holy shit! Suzuki could dump their whole testing program. I knew I had to figure something out for the future and this is where my idea of a goggle company came from. And sure enough, they didn’t re-new my contract and Suzuki ended up stopping most of the U.S. testing until now.
DB: You’ve also had some Hollywood stunt roles, what are some of the movies and TV shows you’ve appeared in?
RT: Oh man… remember when I said I couldn’t remember the moto videos I was in… (laughs)… I have been pretty lucky to be in quite a few movies and TV shows. I started with stunts in 2001 with that Disney movie Motocrossed. Since then I have been in about 100 different features: Charlies Angels – Full Throttle, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Superbad, Supercross the Movie, Wanted, Fast and Furious, Invasion, Iron Man 2, Sons of Anarchy, Straw Dogs, Bourne Legacy, Lone Ranger, Into the Storm, Horrible Bosses 2, Point Break, CHIPS, Future World, Miles, Lethal Weapon… These are just some I can remember. I just got back from Hawaii doing some stuff on the new Jumanji movie with the Rock, Jack Black and Kevin Hart. We did some sick stuff, it should be good!
DB: Your dad Hook Taylor managed the powersports division at Smith Optics for many years and often you helped with the development of goggle products over there. Then Smith decided to stop making dirt bike product. Was that partly how you came up with the idea to create your own goggle line?
RT: Obviously because of my Dad’s history I had some connections and knowledge of the goggle industry. It was a shame when Smith stopped with moto goggles. My Dad, along with help from you, Dale, and others made Smith a top brand. I didn’t really understand why they stopped? When I started my company, Smith was still around and doing OK. So that didn’t have anything to do with me starting up. It was more about I had to do something because the testing was coming to an end and I had some ideas of how I wanted to build a badass goggle—features and price points. I wore goggles just about every day of my life since I was a little kid, whether it was on the ski mountain or on the moto track. I knew what I wanted. When I started my company, I did it from the seat of my pants. I took a second out on my house, designed a goggle with the features I wanted, and had it made. Luckily, I had a distributor lined up and it worked out. I could get into our goggle and why it’s the best out there but I don’t think that is what this is about. (laughs)… But it is the best out there!
"When I started my company, I did it from the seat of my pants. I took a second out on my house, designed a goggle with the features I wanted, and had it made." –Rich Taylor
DB: So, what makes EKS Brand products unique compared to other goggle brands on the market?
RT: I had a few really important features I wanted to address when I designed our goggle. First off, I wanted a great face foam. When Chad Read rode for Smith he complained a lot about sweat. We found a face foam that we had shipped in from China and he really liked it. When I started with our goggle I had to have that foam. Our factory had it and we just changed the thickness of it and we were dialed. It’s a four-layer foam with a thin layer of neoprene in the center to wick the sweat down the sides of the goggle. It works amazing. We have Broc Tickle and Josh Strang wearing our goggles and they don’t have to use a panty liner for sweat at all. It works that well. We also used a softer, more pliable frame material to help form to more face shapes for a better fit. We also created some unique ventilation and we have some strategically placed outriggers on our S goggle. Our price points really set us apart. We are considerably less money than most of the other goggles out there.
DB: We noticed from the start that you decided to support off-road racers and not just focus on motocross racers. Was it a strategic decision to focus on both segments?
RT: Absolutely! Off-road riding and off-road racing is the core of our sport. They are the group that understands price and quality. My feeling is that the off-road racer understands that just because Tomac or Roczen wears a certain product, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the best. I feel they just get it more than a majority of the moto guys. I make a goggle that is really good at an amazing price. I have a hard time penetrating the motocross market because the typical moto guy (not all, but a lot) thinks that because my goggle is less money than another brand, or because Dungey doesn’t wear it, it must not be good. Little do they know that most of the top goggles on the market today are all made in the same factory using the exact same materials. It makes me laugh (and cry) at the same time. (laughs)
DB: What’s next for EKS Brand? Where do you see the brand in five years?
RT: We are currently working on some new products, sunglasses, gloves, a wide roll-off system. Our plan is to continue to grow. I hope to keep the ball rolling! We are a family company. Between me, my Dad, my wife and the boys we basically do everything.
DB: We’ve found that once someone is in the powersports/dirt bike racing scene they rarely ever leave, whether they race the vet class, work in the industry, or just continue to ride every weekend with friends. For you, not only do you work in the industry but your sons now race motocross and you’ve assumed the role of race dad. How has that been?
RT: Watching my boys race is way gnarlier than racing myself! I am lucky because both of my boys are really good and really smooth. Sort of like [Ron] Lechien, or [Stefan] Everts style—not the speed yet, but the style… smooth. They are both tall and lengthy like those guys. Richard (my older son) currently races for the Suzuki amateur team. He has done very well at Loretta’s the past two years and is getting ready to go pro. Zachary (my younger son) is amazing on a bike. He just got onto big bikes and was winning everything around here in So Cal. He was all set to do Loretta’s this year but he had an accident and got pretty badly injured. He will be off the bike for a while but he will be back.
DB: We imagine between EKS Brand and your sons’ racing careers there’s not much time left in the day. Do you still get the chance to ride and race on occasion?
RT: I still ride quite a bit. Like I said above, Suzuki called me this year to help test the new 2018 and 2019 bikes. That has kept me pretty busy. I also try to ride at least once a week on my own. I still do quite a bit of testing for Transworld Motocross, which keeps me on the bike. This sport is really hard to stop… (laughs).
DB: Needless to say you’ve experienced a lot in your career, but there has to be a few memories that really stand out as something you’ll always remember. Tell us a few of those moments.
RT: Jeez! We used to test for Honda at this track called “Honda-land.” It was in Simi valley. We would be out there pounding laps and Bayle would show up with his girlfriend. Honda-land had two outdoor tracks, a big supercross track and endless jumps. Bayle would just do back-and-fourth laps in the whoops, blitzing them before anyone blitzed whoops. He would do this for about 10–15 minutes then he would go and make a hip jump, or a cliff jump or something technical and usually pretty crazy. He would hit it like 20–30 times and then load up and go home. He would do this every day… then go to the race and smoke everyone!
One day Dave Arnold and Roger Decoster were out there with Bayle. They made him do some actual laps and he was pissed. At the end of the day they wanted him to ride the pre-production bike I was testing. He wasn’t happy. He jumped on the bike and rode it two laps in first gear standing up around the whole track. He came in handed Roger the bike, looked at me, Dave and all of the Japanese techs, and in his broken English said, “it’s shit!” and walked away. My mouth dropped… Dave Arnold just started laughing and said it must be a French thing… then everyone just laughed.
"He [Bayle] jumped on the bike and rode it two laps in first gear standing up around the whole track. He came in handed Roger the bike, looked at me, Dave and all of the Japanese techs, and in his broken English said, 'it’s shit!'"
DB: We can only imagine how many more stories like that you have. But because we know your dad so well, we have to ask: what’s your favorite Hook Taylor story?
RT: Well, you know Hook… One time at the Indy Trade show some magazine ad salesman walked up to our booth with a pair of Oakley blades on top of his head. At the time, we (Smith) were the only goggle/sunglass company advertising in that certain magazine. I could see my Dad’s face getting red with anger when he noticed the Oakley glasses. Just then he reached up, grabbed the glasses off his head, threw them on the ground and stomped on them shattering them into a million pieces. He did this in front of a couple hundred people walking the trade show floor. All of us watching were in shock. I was like: holy shit this isn’t good! He looked at the guy with a straight face and asked: “how much does Oakley spend in your magazine?” The guy’s boss was standing next to him and started clapping and cracking up laughing. I thought the guy was going to cry. It was pretty funny. But you have to know Hook.
DB: Haha! That sound's just like the Hook we know! Well, Rich, thanks for doing this interview with us. We’re sure there a lot of people out there racing off-road and motocross that are thankful for EKS Brand being involved in the sport. We wish you nothing but success.
RT: Thank you Dale, I am stoked that people want to hear what I have to say… (laughs). I have done this a long time and I plan on continuing for many years to come. You mentioned in a question above about moto guys staying in the industry. It’s true. This is a very hard industry to walk away from. Seriously how many guys do you know that raced or rode and stopped for some reason that don’t miss it every day. It’s the greatest sport in the world. Even when I hated to ride, it only took a few weeks off the bike and I was itching to get back out to the track. It’s a way of life I guess. And in closing, buy EKS BRAND… please! (laughs).
More information on EKS Brand products: http://www.eksbrand.com/
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