Avid motorcyclists Palmer West and Jonah Smith, the founders of Aether, take their favorite California roads less traveled
Palmer West and Jonah Smith have been friends for more than 20 years. First they were movie producers, behind such critically acclaimed films as Requiem for a Dream, Waking Life and the documentary Religulous. But the shine of the film industry eventually wore off, and the duo decided to embark on a new chapter. Their mantra when making movies was to create ones they wanted to see, so when the pair decided to launch a clothing line, they abided by the same ethos. Their company, Aether, pairs a cutting-edge look with serious functionality, which extends to its collections specific to ski and motorcycle wear. “It was immediately recognized as a disrupter in a field where urban aesthetics often don’t play a part in the design process,” says West of Aether’s simply sophisticated range of motorcycling styles, made in technical materials. Naturally, to wear-test the designs, West and Smith often take to the open road on their BMW GS motorcycles, in search of twists and turns and undiscovered corners of this beautiful state. Here they recount a few of their favorite California rides.
“We went the long way and rode to the Mojave Desert via Joshua Tree, which took all day. There is an enormous amount of sand on that ride, so we kept dropping our bikes, which is not fun. We arrived in the desert at night and set up camp in a boulder field. Waking up among giant rocks was completely surreal. Our friend who was coming with us hurt his shoulder, so he drove to meet us. We used the opportunity to bring a whole bunch of gourmet meats. We cooked on the fire and drank good wine and scotch.” —Palmer West
“We did a circle through Death Valley and camped for two nights. To get to our camping spot for the second night, we had to go over Lippincott Mine Road, a treacherous, rocky path, with our 500-pound motorcycles. It took us most of the day to get up and over the pass. The topography of Death Valley National Park is really beautiful because the sand is all different colors. It’s freezing at night, and it’s illegal to collect brushwood in the national forest, so we collected dried cow patties and had a hay fire to stay warm. (It actually smelled good.) We woke up to snow in the morning, but then the sun came up and it melted immediately.” —Jonah Smith
“We followed Route 1 all the way up to Pfeiffer Beach, where we camped on the water. It’s about a six-hour ride from L.A., and it’s one of the few rides in Southern California you can do during summer and fall when it’s hot because you stay close the water. Once you get to Big Sur, there are a bunch of fire roads that are really windy and fun.” —Palmer West
“Every year we do a moto rally at Pianetta Winery in Paso Robles. We take off with a bunch of friends and customers and make the six-hour ride to the Santa Barbara wine country. On the way there, we go through Ojai and take Route 33, a legendary, twisty road in California. Once we arrive at Pianetta, there’s wine, a campfire, a barbecue dinner and a bunch of good friends.” —Jonah Smith
“On the way to Yosemite, we rode Ben Hur Road, which is a gem of a road. It’s narrow and super windy, and it has big, sweeping turns like a roller coaster. We stayed the night in Mariposa, which is on the west side of the park, and then entered from there. We drove through the park most of the next day, and to exit we took Tioga Pass, which dead-ends in Lee Vining, home of the Whoa Nellie Deli—an absolutely phenomenal meal at a gas station. As we were riding, a bear cub jumped in front of our bikes, literally falling out of the mountain above us and running across the road. We all stopped short and barely missed hitting it. Once we calmed down, we camped in Mammoth on the way home.” —Palmer West
Photography by SINUHE XAVIER.