Paul Dean is one of those behind-the-scenes personalities who had a major and far-reaching influence on motorcycling. Dean went from mechanic to racer to management for Yankee and OSSA motorcycles, then on to motorcycle magazine editor. He also was a member of the AMA Competition Congress, later became chairman of the AMA Board of Trustees and served on AMA Pro Racing’s Board of Directors.
Dean, who was born in Pittsburgh in 1941, became involved in motorcycling completely by accident. He started racing stock and sprint cars when he was 17 and had plans to become a mechanical engineer and work in the auto racing field. His plans were derailed when he was drafted into the Army, where he trained as a helicopter and airplane mechanic. While in the Army, Dean acquired his first motorcycle – a 1952 AJS 500cc single he bought for $35. After his stint in the Army, he applied to become an airline mechanic, a job he was eminently qualified for, but the airline said they didn’t hire Army aviation mechanics, claiming they had to be totally re-trained to get away from the military way of doing things.
Needing a job, he answered an ad for a parts manager at a motorcycle dealership, but when the owner saw Dean’s credentials, he instead hired him as a mechanic. In six weeks, Dean was made service manager, and in six months was promoted to general manager. “I began to think, ‘I wonder if a guy could make a living at this? It’s kind of fun,’” Dean said. It was during this time that he also began off-road and flat-track racing and building motors for other racers.
In 1970, John Taylor, owner of Yankee Motor Company, manufacturer of the Yankee motorcycle and the U.S. OSSA importer, was looking for a new National Service Manager at his headquarters in Schenectady, New York. When he learned of Dean’s reputation as an excellent mechanic and tuner, Taylor hired him for the position. Dean took on a large number of responsibilities at Yankee. In addition to his duties as National Service Manager; he also supervised the company’s racing activities, developed and managed its warranty program and wrote its technical materials.
“I wrote and did most of the photographs for the OSSA workshop manual,” Dean recalled. “I’d never done anything like that before, but at a small company, I was called on to do a lot of things. The manual was reviewed by Cycle Magazine as the best motorcycle shop manual in the business.”
Overloaded with all of his responsibilities at Yankee, Dean contracted with former Cycle Feature Editor Frank Conner to help with the manuals. Shortly afterward, Conner was hired as Editor of Cycle Guide Magazine and asked Dean to come on board as Engineering Editor.
“I turned him down initially,” Dean said. “I’d had some bad experiences with magazine editors in my job with Yankee and I didn’t think too highly of them.” Conner convinced Dean to give it a try, and in 1973, he moved to Southern California and began his career in publishing.
Dean was with Cycle Guide for 11 years and helped turn that magazine into one of the most popular reads for true motorcycling enthusiasts. One of the biggest fans of Dean’s work at Cycle Guide was Cycle World Publisher Jim Hansen. So, when the editor’s chair at Cycle World was vacated, Hansen offered the job to Dean. They reached an agreement, and in 1984, Dean took over as editor at Cycle World, was later promoted to Vice President and Editorial Director and has remained at that publication ever since.
Working in motorcycle publishing gave Dean a chance to expand his involvement in racing. He competed regularly in local motocross events and did a fair amount of road racing. His racing experience led to him be a part of several record-setting 24-hour speed trials. The first was in 1976, when he was one of the riders who took part in Kawasaki’s 24-hour speed attempt with its new KZ650 at Daytona International Speedway. Dean watched as the record attempt started, then went to his hotel to get some rest before his 3 a.m. stint on the bike. When he woke up, he walked out of his room to see the Florida night blanketed in a thick fog. At the track, Dean found that the record attempt was in jeopardy because several riders declined to ride at top speed around Daytona’s high banks in the fog. Dean, despite having no practice, agreed to ride extra shifts in the foggy darkness to keep the record run going.
“That was the scariest thing I’ve ever done on a motorcycle,” Dean remembers. “I couldn’t see much farther 20 feet ahead. The FIM had laid down a strip of reflective tape all the way around the track, and I rode at 145 miles an hour following my headlight’s reflection off that yellow tape. I’d be going straight, looking down at the reflection just a few feet ahead of me, and all of a sudden the tape would turn and I’d have to flick the bike into Daytona’s high banking. It was pretty crazy.”
Thanks in part to Dean’s bravery (or foolhardiness, depending on how you look at it), Kawasaki successfully broke the 24-hour speed record.
A decade later, Dean led a Cycle World effort to break that same record with Suzuki’s new GSX-R750. This time, the attempt was conducted at a five-mile-long tire-testing track in Laredo, Texas, using stock motorcycles picked by Cycle World directly off Suzuki’s production line. Despite a few difficulties along the way, the Cycle World team was successful in breaking the record, and the magazine’s ensuing article chronicling the attempt helped Suzuki’s radical new sportbike establish itself as a world-class performer.
A year later, Honda attempted to break the Cycle World/Suzuki record with its first VFR750F, and Dean provided the company with some of the valuable information his team had learned in their run. Then, mere minutes after successfully breaking the 24-hour record, Honda turned the VFR over to Dean and allowed him to ride it from Texas back to Southern California and perform a complete teardown of the engine. Dean found that the majority of the wear items in the VFR’s engine were still within installation specs, even after the grueling test.
Perhaps Dean’s biggest contribution to motorcycling is his long service to the AMA and AMA Pro Racing. In the early 1970s, Dean was a member of the AMA Competition Congress, which decided the Association’s racing rules. In the late 1980s, he became a trustee of the AMA’s Board of Trustees and served as Chairman of the Board from 1991 to 1997. During that era, Dean developed a plan to help elevate the state of professional motorcycle competition in the U.S. by creating a separate company, AMA Pro Racing, that exclusively manages all of the organization’s professional racing matters. And since 1998, Dean has been a member of AMA Pro Racing’s Board of Directors.
From racing, to a management position at a motorcycle manufacturer, to magazine editor, to AMA Board member, Dean has enjoyed one of the widest ranges of involvement that one person could hope to experience in motorcycling.