In The Throttle Stop’s Next Gear Career interviews we talk to prominent motorcyclists and industry experts to learn more about what lead them to their current position and where they’re heading next.
Today we’re talking with the ridiculously talented rider, performer, and showman, Chris “Teach” McNeil about his career path. Chris will also be contributing to The Throttle Stop in the future. Millions of motorcyclists have seen his impressive raw talent on video and many have also seen his live shows performed at races and moto events around the world. Let’s find out the backstory about what makes Chris tick.
BM: Chris, tell us how you got started on 2 wheels. What were your early days like and when did you start pushing beyond simply riding?
Teach: Surprising to most people, I didn’t throw a leg over a motorcycle until I was 20 years old, although I did manage to break some bones on my brother’s YZ250 during my teen years. I have always been a risk taker, and when I bought my first cbr600, I promptly tried to see how fast it could go. Simply riding was never enough though, and not long after graduating college, I began to do what every child with a bike eventually does – pop a wheelie. I can remember the precise spot that I was first able to wheelie for an entire telephone pole length. Those early days were filled with huge near misses, many crashes, poor riding skill, lack of proper gear; but they were also some of the most fun and memorable times in my life.
BM: For a lot of us, your riding appears to be almost super-human and out of reach for the average motorcyclist. How much credit do you give to raw talent compared to practice, training, etc.? Are you still learning and improving?
Teach: I always tell people that I’m just a normal dude who loves to ride, and I stand by that statement. I have certainly been blessed with some level of natural talent on a motorcycle; but I think that much of my success comes down to attitude, and two particular facets in particular: the first is that I’m prone to taking risks in general and have a short-term memory problem when it comes to failure. The second is that I am very competitive and will often repeat skills ad nauseam (that’s Latin for until I’m beyond sick of it) until I have mastered them. As an example, there was a period of about 1 year where I went to my local practice spot every single day for two hours. This is not an exaggeration. Every single day of the year, whether it rained or snowed, was sunny or cold, and whether I felt like it or not. Not everyone can force themselves to do things like that, but I was able to push through it because I wanted to be the best rider in the country. Riding every day like that allowed me to progress at an abnormal rate, and from that point on, I felt like I could make the bike do whatever I wanted. As for today, I’m always trying to gain more control of the bike, with the difference being that my focus is not so much in freestyle specifically, but in other genres like trials, moto, adventure, etc.
BM: Your riding style is hard to define. It’s hard to describe without using the word “stunt” but at the same time it feels like a disservice to do so because your style is so different from what most people think of as stunting. From what we can tell you seem comfortable ripping on almost anything. How do you describe your eclectic riding style and how did it come to be?
Teach: Well, I appreciate that sentiment and take it as a high compliment. My entire objective with motorcycles has been to make the bike do what I want rather than just riding the bike and reacting to what it is doing. I’m extremely motivated by speed and get aggravated when doing anything too slowly. If it is boring to me, then I can only imagine just how boring it is to my audience; and to that end, if I’m exhilarated by what I’m doing on a motorcycle, then I know the audience is excited and on the edge of their seats as well. A lot of my influence and style comes from racing and trying to emulate the big drifts and slides that top riders are capable of. I’ve also never tried to do things better than other riders, rather, I’ve tried to do things my way – going big, taking risks, and really manipulating the bike. The closer to the edge of disaster I can put the motorcycle, the better; the more manipulation of the machine against physics, the better. And finally, as I mentioned earlier, I try to ride as many different motorcycles as possible – whether it is a friend’s bike or a different genre entirely, the more you diversify, the more you develop your overall riding skills.
BM: You’re in the enviable position of being paid to flog motorcycles, kudos. What were your first paid gigs and how did it progress from there to your current role as a BMW sponsored rider?
Teach: Thank you! It’s been a long, strange trip from riding wheelies down the highways of Boston with no sponsors to performing at huge events around the world for BMW Motorrad. In the early days, my entire goal was to ride for free and not spend any money on parts or travel; and my first paid gigs didn’t start until I had won nearly every contest in the U.S. and earned some sponsorship. The first paid sponsorship I ever had was courtesy of BikeMind’s own Brian Horton, who worked for Shift Racing at the time. Once that happened, I was able to leverage my position to gain more press via product ads, videos, magazine testing, contests and appearances. Quitting my teaching job and moving to California to pursue my riding career full time also allowed me to immerse myself in the moto world that is the West coast, and from there I was able to establish myself as one of the top athletes in the country. The BMW relationship began in 2007 as I was making the move to Cali, and through a variety of events, I proved my professionalism and earned an official ambassador role for the company, no small feat for a small town kid from Maine!
BM: In addition to jetting around the world for riding events and shoots, you're also a full-time high school teacher and family man. Does all that leave any time to ride or wrench for fun?
Teach: Life certainly is busy for me, especially with building a new house and the addition of a second child last year; but I’ve always found a way to pursue my passions in life, which means that while I work extremely hard, I don’t ever really ‘work’. I love teaching and I love riding, and without one or the other, I’m never fully satisfied with what I’m doing with my life. Family comes before everything for me, and my wife is extremely accommodating. She recognizes that I’m a better husband and father when I’ve had the opportunity to do what I’m passionate about, and to that end, she often kicks me out of the house so that I can ride and be a more relaxed person. The bikes rarely require more work than a couple of late nights can’t solve, and when I do have something more serious to deal with, my group of friends is solid and capable. As for fun, that’s a part of my daily life!
BM: Tell us about your home garage and local stomping grounds. We’re picturing a badass garage and you blasting out of the driveway in a drift past some very tolerant neighbors. Sound about right?
Teach: It’s funny you mention that. I’m about to release a video on my s1000XR where I do just that – rip out of the garage, down the road, and into the trails! I’m so very blessed that I sometimes don’t believe it. My garage is stocked with all the required ‘training tools’ for someone who lives in Maine: stuntbikes, adventure bikes, dirt bikes, trials bikes, mini’s, snowmobiles, jet skis, and of course, the gear to really get the most out of everything…motard wheels, ice tires, etc (open invite for you guys to come ride – I’ve got bikes!). I also live on a nice plot of land across the street from my parents (which is a key cog in the ‘Chris needs to ride’ machine), so neighbors are never an issue and they often provide food directly after a hard ride. My location is also pretty key to my riding career in terms of offering diverse challenges and opportunities. I ride at a private MX track 6 minutes away twice a week, and I have nearly unlimited trails out of my driveway. I also have a pretty challenging trials playground and stunt spot just down the street, and am within 3 hours of three or four road courses.
BM: How many bikes and motors have you destroyed in your line of work?
Teach: Back in the early to mid 2000’s, I hooked up with my longest sponsor and close friend, Argo Cyles, who provided me with 2 salvage motorcycles per year before I signed with BMW. The ability to not worry about parts or bikes is a crucial component to progression, and without Argo, I would have been forced to quit long ago. So, I guess you could say that I went through a bike a year during the learning period of my career; but once I gained a certain level of control, the carnage decreased dramatically. I think I’ve only ever popped 2 motors in over 15 years of riding freestyle. Surprisingly, freestyle isn’t that hard on equipment as long as you treat the bike with respect. The biggest abuse probably occurs to the suspension because the bikes aren’t really designed to be slammed down over and over again. But the motor, clutch and brakes are all OEM and rarely fail or even become worn out because of the finesse involved at high levels of riding.
BM: Tell us something about your moto-life that most people don’t know.
Teach: This is tough, but I would say that if you visited me, you wouldn’t know that I rode motorcycles until you walked into my shop. I don’t really have any trophies or keepsakes from any of my accomplishments; and while sometimes I wish I did have some of that stuff, I find that it keeps me looking ahead and focused on doing the best that I can today instead of resting on my laurels. I also love to ride anything with a motor and I hate to tune anything. I usually choose to ride around problems rather than spend time tuning the bike, which ultimately makes me a better rider and more prepared for less than ideal situations.
BM: We’re excited to start working with you as a Throttle Stop contributor. The plan is for you to share bike control pointers from your riding that us mere mortals can use to become better, faster, and safer riders. Can you tell us a little about what to expect?
Teach: I’m excited as well; one of the greatest gifts freestyle has given me is bike control, and it is amazing how many of the skills required for freestyle translate into everyday riding. So I’m going to try and demonstrate different aspects of freestyle and really break down the skills to accomplish each trick, and then show the readers how to apply that individual skill to everyday riding to hopefully improve their riding ability. As an example, the wheelie is probably the most well known hooligan act you can commit on a motorcycle and it often has a bad association for people; but those skills come into play in a variety of ways – from lofting your adventure bike over a small log to understanding just how much acceleration input you can give your sportbike when driving off of a corner. I’m confident that your readers will walk away with not only some more insight into freestyle and what is possible on a motorcycle, but also with tangible skills that they can then practice to improve their own abilities.
BM: Let’s look ahead a little further. What kind of changes do you see coming to the industry and your own career a few years down the road?
Teach: I’m not too sure about the industry, as I tend to really immerse myself in the woods when I’m not performing; but I think that there is going to continue to be a move towards smaller displacement bikes, as well as bikes that are more than just toys and can really do a lot of things well. As for me, I really love teaching and I love riding, so you’ll see me doing more and more rider training, and perhaps I will start my own school/excursion experience. It’s a natural fit, and I get requests all the time to teach folks how to ride. I currently guest instruct at both trackdays and some adventure schools, and the response has been great so far. Whatever it is, rest assured that it will be something I love and am passionate about!
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