The collective group of racers around the world now suddenly has more time on their hands than ever before. Cole Seely beat them all to it. The 2019 season was his last as a professional racer, and he’s now finally settled into retired life. Fans can still follow Seely through his YouTube channel, where he chronicles his bike builds, riding and more. But that led to a shocking day when the long-time Honda man suddenly had a KTM in his garage!
We talked to Seely last week to ask about retirement, YouTube, KTMs and more.
Racer X: Every time I do one of these interviews, I ask the same basic question which is, you’re a racer, you’re trying to train and improve and get better every day, and how are you relaxing without any races…
Cole Seely: [Laughs] I’m fine. Best it’s ever been.
Exactly! I can’t ask you those questions now. You’re retired!
I know. in a different stage of my life right now. It’s been cool, though. I kind of took a few months there to just unplug from everything moto and unplug from routine and all that. Now I’m starting to kind of find my groove and find my routine. I only had an 11-year career, but you get so in a routine every single day. I noticed even drinking a certain amount of bottles of water, or now when I’m retired, I’m like, I need to actually pay attention to how much water I’m drinking! You don’t even really realize some of the small things like that.
So, for 11 years your goal every day was to try to improve, get faster, stronger, better every single day. How hard would it be to just suddenly turn that off, like everyone is supposed to do right now?
That’s what I was thinking. Originally, I had heard rumors that the supercross season was going to continue after, or a few rounds after the outdoor series. That would be really tricky because right now would be off-season. Seventeen rounds with a week off and then another week off into 12 rounds is hard enough to manage your energy and manage your training schedule. I couldn’t imagine doing it for an entire year of whatever that adds up to, 40-something rounds straight.
The unknown seems to be what’s ready making it tough. It’s like any time a rider thinks they have it figured out; it might change anyway.
Yeah, for sure. It’s not just the motocross industry. It’s every single industry in the world right now dealing with the same thing. Obviously, we’re the ones thinking about our own stuff. This is definitely a time in all of our lives we’re going to look back on and be like, remember that one season where everything stopped?
I hope everybody’s cool enough to be like, I’ll just take whatever I can get this year. But I have a feeling when you guys are as ambitious as you are and you want everything to be perfect and at its best all the time, it’s probably hard to just roll with it.
I feel so bad for Eli [Tomac] and Kenny [Roczen] right now because both of those guys have a really good shot at winning this thing, and no matter what happens it’s going to have an asterisk next to it. It sucks. Then again, we did run ten rounds and those guys do deserve whoever gets the championship. No credit taken away from either one of those guys, but it is definitely interesting. Like, yeah, ‘I won but we had to take a little break.’
Was it hard to figure out what to do when you first retired, so to speak?
Yeah. I definitely went through a two or three-week period where I thought I was depressed because I’d wake up and I’d be like, what am I waking up for right now? I have nothing to do today. I’m just in a routine. I was waking up at 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning, getting my warmup in, getting my breakfast, heading to the track. So, I was still in that routine. Then I’d wake up and I’d be like, why am I getting up so early? I really have nothing to do. So, it was just a weird neutral state of mind where I was like, what should I do today? It was cool, though. When you’re racing, you want those days so bad. You’re like, I just want a day off to recover! Then when you’re kind of thrown too many of them you’re like, what can I do now?
You started the bike build stuff and your YouTube channel while you were still racing. That must have given you some sanity at least when you stopped racing.
Yeah. I kind of didn’t think of it that way. I did them both while I was somewhat racing, but I had the help of my best friend Mikey who runs Bleach Designs. He would do the footwork while I was off racing or staying in Florida or whatever. So that helped out a lot. I wanted to continue this whole thing, once I retired, I wanted to really hit YouTube hard and do cool builds. I like doing it, not necessarily for a source of income or whatever, but like you said, just to have some time to do something, preoccupy my time. So, I wanted to hit it harder with that, but I just didn’t get some support that I needed to continue that direction. So, I was definitely like, Man, what am I going to do? How am I going to make this all work? That’s where the merch line that I came out with, the Seely Speed Factory that I started selling, was to kind of get some money together to put back into the builds and buy the bikes and buy the parts to continue. Right now, I’ve found ways to not only do builds, but today we’re out here at Brian Deegan’s filming on the hybrid supercross track and just doing different stuff that I really just didn’t have time for obviously being a full-time racer.
Seely's Honda CRF450L build:
When you first started it, did you have a vision of how many builds and stuff you could do, and then that ended up not being as easy timewise or budget-wise as you thought?
Yeah, for sure. I don’t think I deserve free bikes or anything like that. I think my content definitely pushes brands and pushes people towards… Sometimes I think I get more out of it than racing for the consumer. For instance, the [CRF]450L build I did, I know a lot of people went out that were on the fence and picked one up because they saw what I was doing with it. So, I don’t know how that translates. Obviously, there’s no survey when you buy the bike, like, did you buy this because I told you to? It’s a new path, I guess. So, I’m just kind of trying to prove my worth. Luckily, I have guys like Troy Lee Designs and Alpinestars and 100% that are still backing me and helping me out. I’m trying to prove to those guys my worth, as well, while they’re still kind of helping me out.
But we cannot classify you as YouTube star yet? The huge checks aren’t rolling into that level yet?
[Laughs] No! The ad revenue isn’t there yet.
Your job was to race, now it’s not. Literally. Are you doing something else to make money?
I did pretty well as a racer obviously. I took a big hit financially going from making so much to essentially not having a job. I tried to be smart with my money while it was coming in. Even where I was living in Orange County was really an investment. I knew when I bought that place that I would sell it when I retired and make money on it. I was smart about it. Like I said, I didn’t want to dip too much into that though to try and continue the build stuff. That’s how the whole Seely Speed Factory came about. It was just a brand to kind of tie to the builds and keep some income coming in so I could put those back into the content and make sponsors that stayed with me happy.
Now the big deal was you popped up on a KTM. That shocked people. To me, we see people switching all the time, but it shocked some people.
Yeah. It’s definitely a big change for me. I try to explain it. I made a YouTube video about it to try to explain my decision on that. Really it was just a financial decision. What it came down to was I’m going to have to buy a bike. What’s going to be my cheapest option? Obviously, I have connections and I can get bikes for a little cheaper than the everyday guy, but when I was in contact with the Troy Lee team, they essentially helped get me on a KTM. That was my cheapest option, so I bit the bullet and took that option. So shoutout to Troy Lee for helping me out and getting me a new bike to build. I was also kind of curious to try them because I’ve been on the same bike for ten years now. So, I was curious how they handle, what the buzz is about on them, and also have access to some pretty interesting parts. I’m actually converting the suspension to run with KYB. So that’s something that you don’t see every day. Then it just so happens that Yoshimura who has been a long-time supporter of mine just started making exhaust systems for them. It’s going to have some different parts and the styling is going to be different. I already talked to Troy Lee about helping me style the graphics and style the plastics and all that.
But you’re not sponsored by KTM?
No. Since I had to pay for it, I don’t plan on keeping it orange or running any KTM branding, nothing like that. They’re not a sponsor of mine. Like I said, it was a financial decision. If I’m still on a Honda, they just think I still have the support, which I don’t. So, it kind of sucks. I feel like that’s free marketing. Even though with KTM it is I guess too. Like I said, there’ll be no branding. I refer to it as a Speed Factory bike because I deem that the shop that I work in and stuff.
It’s tempting. When you see KTM, they’ve got two-strokes, they’ve got dual sports, they’ve got such a wide variety. But then in the end what you got was a standard 450 SX-F, right?
Yeah. I want to build an everyday bike. I want to build the bike that I’m going to take to the hills. It wasn’t necessarily that’s the one I picked out of KTM’s lineup. It was, I wanted a 450. What can I get? I want an everyday track bike, everyday hill bike. The [Honda CRF450]L obviously is a great bike for riding on the street. Doesn’t really do that well on the trails or on a track. But I want a bike that when I’m going moto-ing I can ride this bike. If Straight Rhythm happens this year, I would love to build another two-stroke. I would be really interested to build a 350. I’m not going to stick with KTM with all these builds. The 350 just interests me a lot. I almost got that over the 450. I’ve never ridden one.
So really if you just have zero alliance to anybody, you could really start mixing these things up and pick anything?
Yeah. That’s the thing. I think when I made the switch a lot of people just assumed that I was KTM now, but I’m not. I’m like most of the people probably watching this right now. I can just go out and buy whatever appeals to me.
You mentioned Straight Rhythm. I think everyone on earth would say, “Dude, if you’re buying a bike for fun, it should be a two-stroke.” Will there be some more two-strokes in the future?
Yeah. I do want to build another two-stroke, for sure. They’re so much fun to ride. Not even necessarily like more fun than a four-stroke on the track, but just hearing that sound behind you or hearing your friend on it. There’s nothing better than the sound of a two-stroke. I probably will do another one within the next year or so, a two-stroke build. Probably once I finish up with this bike, that’s probably what’s next.
Straight Rhythm, it’s 45-second runs. You don’t need to train like a madman for it. Have you ever thought about doing a more standard race at some point? Get that itch at all?
No, I don’t. The Straight Rhythm thing, it’s such a fun event and like you said, you don’t need to train. It was just shy of four months from my shoulder surgery, that Straight Rhythm was. So, the time worked out where literally I got back on the bike. I could start training for three weeks and then race. It was tricky. My shoulder’s still not a hundred percent. So back then it was like, alright. I’m just going to have to ride at 80 percent and try not to crash because my shoulder can’t take it.
So, you’re not showing up anywhere else and racing?
No. I helped announce some of the stadium races this year, on the floor. So, if you were at Anaheim 1 or San Diego or St. Louis I helped with the announcing or whatever in the stadium. I thought maybe showing up at Anaheim 1 I would be like, “Man, I made the wrong decision.” When I got there, I was like, this feels so good to show up at the track and not be stressed out. I can say hi to everybody, do whatever I want. Then being on the floor and seeing the track, I was like, that jump looks fun, but sending it through that rhythm section does not look fun at all. So, I think that kind of gave me confidence in my decision to step away from racing. I love riding. I absolutely love it. I rode yesterday. I’m riding today. I’m trying to map out next week for my riding schedule. I love to go out and ride, whether it’s in the hills or spinning some laps on a track or whatever. It’s fun, but when it becomes a job it’s like any other job. There’s days where you do not want to show up and don’t want to put out. It’s hard. But like I said, I love riding and I love being on the bike.
You documented your retirement situation pretty well, but a lot of it started with you had to jump this huge jump that everyone was trying to jump in Tampa. It was scary. You crashed. You got hurt. So, if you go back to racing, now you’re signing up for those risks again.
Yeah. It’s an interesting thing once I kind of stepped away to really digest that and think about it. The Tampa crash definitely I would say was the start of my decision to retire. I was second in points at the time. There was no turning away from racing at that point. I was fully committed. Every time I would watch the footage when we got back to the truck, it’s how do I be faster? How can I be faster? How can I win tonight? How do I make up points on [Jason] Anderson? While we were battling it out for that championship. Once that happened, it made me take a step back and look at everything at a different perspective. It kind of scared me, in a sense, because if the bike had hit me a little higher it could have gotten my spinal cord. So that tripped me out. To add to your point also, the rhythm sections are so big now. I actually talked about this in San Diego with [Ricky] Carmichael and a couple other guys where I was like, the bikes are so fast now stock. This 450 that I just got is so fast stock. All of them are. Every single manufacturer, Honda, Yamaha, KTM, Suzuki. They’ve all so fast out of the box that they need to make the tracks bigger. We shouldn't be able to quad. If you’re going three and then going four in a rhythm section, you’re coming into such a tight, little transition with so much speed and so much force, and the suspension has to be so stiff and your timing has to be so on, that it’s not right. A triple needs to be the biggest jump on the track in a rhythm section. Obviously, we’re in a new age right now. Motocross is more of a jock sport than anything nowadays with the training and strict regimens that we’re all on. The bikes are so fast. The last thing that needs to change and hasn’t yet is the tracks. They’ve gotten better, but they need to get bigger. Some of the rhythm sections are bigger. Making the tracks bigger sounds more dangerous, but I think in the end we’d see less injuries and more safer racing.
How closely do you follow racing now? Are you texting your buddies to get all the inside scoop?
Not very into it.
It’s funny because the races are on the weekends and all my buddies don’t work on the weekends, so I always go out and do something with my friends, well, before quarantine. It’s funny because I forget which round it was—one of the rounds at the end there when Roczen won. Somebody told me Kenny won. I was like, sick, I’ve got to text Jordan [Troxell], who was my mechanic last year, Kenny’s mechanic this year. I didn’t even know. When I’m there, obviously I’m very into it. I’m very in tune with what’s going on, who’s coming through the pack. Being a racer, you know people’s riding styles. You pick up on little things. When I’m away from it, I’m completely away from it. It’s weird.
Do you have a coffee line that you’re associated with or something? How does this all work?
Yeah. Me and two of my friends, Max and Brian. I’ve always wanted to get into the coffee industry somehow. Back in the day, Brian Lopes, who I always used to train with, him and I talked about it, about maybe starting a little coffee shop or doing something like that. Just because we love it. Coffee is a universal thing worldwide where you drink it every day. That’s just part of your routine. Online it’s just BumpStartCoffee.com. I wanted it to be the best beans, and not something where you taste it and it’s like, these are too burnt, or I don’t really feel an after-affect. It doesn’t really pick me up. This stuff definitely gets you going. It’s really, really good stuff. It’s cool too though because people really connect to it, more than even my merch side of things where people are like, “Hey, I heard you started a coffee line?” That’s literally the first thing people say to me now. It’s something that I’m pretty passionate about. When I was racing, I would drink five cups of coffee a day. Two in the morning, one before second practice, one before last practice, one before my heat and one before the main. I was literally drinking that much coffee a day.
Were the trainers okay with this?
[Laughs] No! My temperament is just so mellow I need something to get me fired up.
So, you know two things: motorcycles and coffee. So, this is what you’re involved in now.
Yeah, exactly. That’s what I’m naturally accustomed to.
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