In recognition of the success of the ‘Interesting Interviews Series’ on my cycling site, this interview is the first of a new feature dedicated to some really interesting people in our motorcycle world. So, let me introduce you to the founder, editor and boss of the magazine, Greasy Kulture, Guy Bolton. I first connected with Guy a few years back when I had just discovered Greasy Kulture and wanted to buy some back issues for extra reading and inspiration. Bizarrely, it turned out that Greasy Kulture (GK) HQ was only about 10 miles from my house! Anyway, after connecting through emails and eventually meeting, I’ve had the pleasure to spend time with one of the creative people that captures our love of the motorcycle, and prints it in what I believe to be an iconic ‘zine. Now it is your turn to learn about the man behind that iconic mag’.
Q: There is no direct link to motorcycling in this first question, but what who has inspired you this week and why?
A: I listen to Classic FM in the car and am always inspired by the classical composers. Bloody overachievers! I’ve also been really inspired, like lots of us have, by the bravery and tenacity of the Ukrainians. Ordinary people showing extraordinary courage is inspiring to me.
Q: How would you introduce yourself to another biker you had just met for the first time on the forecourt of a gas station?
A: I probably wouldn’t introduce myself but just ask them about their bike. I love hearing people’s stories about their motorcycles.
Q: What is really great about being the Editor and Publisher of a magazine?
A: Because I do everything on the magazine myself, I get to combine lots of things I really enjoy, like writing, photography and graphic design. The travelling is also a great perk (though I haven’t done much recently!). I’ve been to the USA, Japan and all over Europe numerous times as ‘Editor’.
Q: What keeps you awake at night being the Editor and Publisher of a magazine?
A: Money. The lack of it.
Q: As the Founder and creator of a brand and global magazine, how do you see the future of it developing from a content and reader engagement perspective?
A: I’ve considered doing a digital version of the print magazine but have always backed away from the idea. I like tradition and old things. Reading material you can hold. Fresh print you can smell. Motorcycles you have to kick-start. I’m a bit of a Luddite. So, I’d like to keep GK on paper. There is so much digital content out there and I’m not sure where GK would fit into it all, and whether it would have any relevance.
Long term I’d like to make the magazine bigger and better. Fulfill its potential. I’d love to do a ‘Rodders Journal’ type publication for bikers.
Q: Which biker has inspired you to ride bikes the most and why?
A: The two bikers who inspired me to ride motorcycles weren’t even bikers: Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin in the film ‘The Wild One’. I saw it when I was a young teenager and loved it all, the style of the motorcycles, and the style of the riders.
Q: How long have you been riding AND are you in a local bike club?
A: I’ve been riding motorcycles (friends’ bikes at first as my late Mum worked in the local hospital and wouldn’t allow us kids to own one) since I was sixteen. Over 40 years, which I can hardly believe. I’ve never been much of a ‘joiner’, so clubs aren’t really my thing.
Q: What do you think the mass market and custom motorcycle scene will look like in 2030?
A: Electric motorcycles will have an increasing influence on both. I just hope it’ll still be legal to ride the noisy, oily old motorcycles I’m into.
Q: What big bike events have you attended, which is the most memorable, and why?
A: I’ve been to all the big bike events that are most relevant to my magazine’s content, including the Mooneyes show in Yokohama, Race of Gentlemen in New Jersey and Born Free in California. All excellent, but if I had to pick one, it would be Mooneyes just because Japan is such an extraordinary and unique country to visit. And the bike scene is mind-blowing.
Q: What music are you listening to at the moment and what book(s) are you reading right now?
A: Funnily enough I’ve just bought my first vinyl single in years: on the Federal label, ‘She’s gone’ by Schoolboy Cleve. A rockin’ blues track recorded in 1957. So I’m playing that a lot. I also love Amyl & The Sniffers from Australia at the moment, as they take me back to my youth when I was an avid teenage punk. I’m slowly getting through a huge biography of Jean Genet but I think it will take me longer to read it than the author took to write it.
Q: What bikes do you have in your shed and do any of them have any special stories associated with them?
A: I currently only own one motorcycle: a 1952 Harley-Davidson FL Hydra Glide. A Panhead. I’ve had it 13 years and ridden it to France, Denmark, Germany and all over the UK.
One nice memory is when I was riding through France with friends in 2010 and I realised the big screw-in timing hole plug in my Harley’s crankcase had fallen out. Oil was blowing all over my left leg and it looked like the bike wouldn’t make it home. We stopped in a village and my friend Tom asked for a wine cork in a café, then whittled it down until it fitted the hole in the crankcase. It got me home and I ran the bike with the cork in place for months afterwards.
Q: What special skills do you need and have, to be the Editor and Publisher of a magazine?
A: In my case, I couldn’t do it without practical layout and writing skills and an eye for the right content. You also need a bit of self-motivation, organisation and an ability to work to deadlines. I suppose you also need to find the subject matter endlessly interesting.
Q: What would you say has been your biggest motorcycling achievement to date?
A: Keeping the magazine in print continuously for 15 years, I think, and never having a bad motorcycle accident.
Q: What has been your biggest single motorcycling learning to date?
A: One of my greatest lessons learned was on my bike test, a long time ago: don’t accelerate in the rain over a manhole cover.
Q: What specific things does motorcycling provide you with in your daily life?
A: Money. Inspiration. Stress relief. Excitement!
Q: What do you have on your motorcycling ‘bucket list’?
A: I would love to ride across America on a Harley.
Q: What is your favourite Moto t-shirt or top and why is it your favourite?
A: I have a few t-shirts given to me by friends over the years which I’m sentimental about, even though they’re well past their sell-by date.
Q: What’s your view on fashion in the Moto world?
A: I don’t think it has anything to do with me or the magazine. I see brands using choppers and the biker lifestyle to sell their products all the time. Everyone is seeking authenticity and to be part of something cool, I suppose, but seeing people like David Beckham on custom motorcycles makes me cringe.
Q: What is the most used and useful tool in your workshop?
A: Cable ties.
Q: Who is your local ‘go-to’ person when you need some work doing on the
A: Locally? I often ask my knowledgeable friend Pete Stansfield for advice if something goes wrong, and if the bike needs mechanical work, I’d take it to Skinny Choppers up at Pateley Bridge.
Q: Who are the other people closely associated with magazine content and production?
A: I couldn’t create the magazine without the generous help of freelancers: photographer Mark Kawakami has worked with me pretty much since the beginning and he’s based in Los Angeles. Mochi in Tokyo. Eric Kinsey in the Mid-West US. Roger Chambers and Penny Vickery in Australia. Garry Stuart and my brother Adam here in the UK. Readers have also enjoyed regular contributions from some very knowledgable columnists such as Rich Ostrander, Frank Kaisler (RIP), and Irish Rich.
Q: How do you think high profile magazines like GK can encourage the level of diversity and inclusivity in the motorcycling world?
A: By continuing to feature riders and builders of different ethnicities, and featuring women. Also, by not being a typical ‘biker magazine’. I don’t feature ‘glamour models’ posing with the bikes and find that cliché of scantily clad girls draped over motorcycles pretty tired.
Q: From a GK circulation perspective, how many countries do you have readers in, and which year saw the biggest reader volume? Any other interesting analytics to share?
A: We ship the magazine to most countries you’d imagine, and some you might not immediately associate with traditionally-styled custom motorcycles: Russia, Thailand, Peru. Most sales are in the UK and Europe, followed by the US and Canada, then rest of the world. Biggest and fastest selling issue was the first…..lots of people like to collect the first issue of a new title!
Q: What is your strategy for using the website and magazine together so that they are complimentary and not duplicating content?
A: I’ve never been much of a strategist, but the website and associated social media exist to sell the content in the magazine. I often get comments from followers saying ‘let’s see another view of that bike’ and I always answer ‘buy the magazine!’.
Q: What was the funniest/bizarrest thing that has happened since GK was created?
A: Some of the most bizarre things aren’t really repeatable and mostly involve bikers being bikers. One of the funniest things happened in Japan where I was an invited guest at the Mooneyes Hot Rod and Custom Show with my friend Pat. Following in the footsteps of innumerable sailors before us, we drank all the money we had for the two-week trip on our first night in Yokohama. We were woken in the hotel at 3pm the following afternoon by the very polite show organisers enquiring why we hadn’t turned up. We scrambled to get there with the worst hangover I’ve ever had to set up our stand, eight hours late.
Q: Favourite drink and why?
A: Milky Earl Grey tea. I drink gallons of it every day.
Q: Favourite food and why?
A: Currently it’s my wife’s chicken curry. She’s a great cook.
Q: What do you do ‘for you’ when you’re not working or doing stuff with the family?
A: I formed a band in the late ‘80s that Morrissey then employed as his backing band and co-writers for a huge US tour, just after I’d left! I still love playing music, guitar and double bass especially. I like watching some sport like boxing and football, and I like art…both making it and looking at other people’s.
Q: Do you see a special GK event of some sort taking place in the future?
A: In fifteen years, I’ve only ever put on one GK event, in partnership with my friend Benny Thomas, who became the creator of Mutt Motorcycles about ten years ago. It was quite good fun, but I’m not really an event organiser.
Q: Would you recommend this event to other motorcyclists, and if yes, why?
A: Don’t think it will happen again.
Q: What is the one piece of advice that you would give to someone who is thinking about buying a vintage bike for the first time?
A: Buy a van at the same time, plus a factory manual and a good set of tools.
Q: Which issue of the magazine is your favourite or most proud of, and why?
A: Probably issue 23, where I interviewed the late Bill Ray, who had been a LIFE staff magazine photographer and had snapped every iconic figure of the 20th century from JFK to Marilyn Monroe, The Beatles to Elvis, Andy Warhol to Marlon Brando.
I asked him about his work photographing the Berdoo Hells Angels in 1965, and I ran some of his original photos with the interview. It was the first time some of them had ever appeared in a magazine, as LIFE had originally rejected Bill’s images. He recalled that the Managing Editor had told him “I am not putting these smelly bastards in my magazine”. It was a bit of a scoop and he was a delightful. A fascinating interview subject.
Q: What other magazines do you read or have subscribed to?
A: I read Sideburn and DicE magazines, both excellent independent motorcycle magazines published by friends of mine. I also like the photography zines published by Café Royal Books.
Q: What are the big milestones on this year’s Guy Bolton calendar?
A: I’ve just celebrated 15 years of publishing GK, so the next big milestone is my first wedding anniversary in July.
Q: Describe in five words, the sensations that you got when you rode a Harley for the first time ever.
Heavy vibes, low down torque.
Q: Have you got any views on life, the universe and everything that you would like to share?
A: Not really. I find it helpful to think that there is some karmic balance in play, and that we’re rewarded for good behaviour, punished for bad. I also believe we have a short time to live, long time to stay dead, so make the most of it!
Here’s the link to the GK site: https://greasykulture.com
You can contact Guy Bolton at: [email protected]