One of motojournalism’s greats has taken his last ride.
Allan Girdler played a major role in the development of motorcycle journalism, most visibly as Editor of Cycle World magazine, and also as the author of several important books about Harley-Davidson history.
Girdler was born in New York City, April 1937, and grew up in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. He got into motorcycles and hot rods before they were cool, at the age of thirteen. He graduated with a BA in journalism in 1959, becoming a reporter with the Tulsa Daily World before moving to California in 1968 for a job at Car Life magazine. After taking a gig at Road & Track, in 1977 he pursued his other passion — motorcycles — as editor at Cycle World. In one way or another, he stuck with CW for the next 40 years, offering up his wit and wisdom on everything two-wheeled. He also authored at least 10 books, mostly about Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Tragically, Allan passed away from cancer on April 15, 2021, just days before his 84th birthday. He is survived by his wife and four children. In memoriam, I’d like to relate a personal story about the man I greatly admired. We met at the Del Mar Concours d’Elegance in San Diego in about 1996. I’d read everything he wrote that I could find, and I soon learned he was as down-to- earth as a man of his abilities ever was. But the kicker came later that day during the dirt-track exhibition race at the Del Mar Mile.
By late afternoon, he and I were both yelling our heads off at the heroic antics of George Roeder drafting Gary Nixon out of the chute on the last turn before the front straight. Roeder swung wide, clear over next to the wall, and nailed it. Roeder stuffed his XR between the grandstand wall and Nixon’s Triumph with zero room to spare. Nixon flinched, and Roeder took the checkered flag by a wheel. Girdler and I went wild at the incredible race craft we had just witnessed, from just the other side of that very wall. That’s when I knew, on top of everything else, Allan Tracy Girdler was as genuine a motorcycle nut and race fan as ever drew breath. We each had a new friend by the end of that day.
A few months later, 9:30 at night, my phone rings. It’s Allan. In the first of roughly a dozen marathon calls (most about three hours long) over the next weeks and months, we talked about all things motorcycle — mostly my FXR and his ailing XR-750 street- bike. Two gearheads, mad over machinery we owned and others we adored from afar, revering, ranting, railing, and philosophizing over everything from the ridiculous to the sublime. He was peeved at the XR’s clutch, while I was concerned about the boom the Evo engine created for Harley sales and whether it would last. I told him how much I loved my FXR and what I had planned for it next. He told me his Evo 883 was the ticket for him, and he planned to leave it stock and ride the tires off it. After all, he also had an XR-750 to play with.
Even though Girdler’s now gone, I still picture him riding with his throttle hand, waving wildly with his left hand in the middle of a dirt track somewhere, grinning like a fool and apologizing for not wearing his helmet. Just like the picture you see here. I will miss him greatly, as will his fans and friends in the motorcycle sphere. Godspeed, Allan. –Kip Woodring