the keefer, inc. story
On a breezy day in early 2001, a then 24-year-old Kris Keefer found himself sitting alone inside the confines of a heavily-used Yamaha box van, staring at a collection of number plates arranged neatly on the wall above the toolbox. Outside the van, Ed Scheidler—Yamaha’s legendary Research & Development Manager—and a crew of Japanese mechanics worked in a flurry of activity to swap suspension on a test bike while braving the growing winds that were now tormenting the scorched landscape of Los Angeles County Raceway.
Keefer was participating in his first official job interview with Yamaha, although he didn’t realize it at the time.
Finally, Scheidler stuck his head around the corner of the box van’s roll-up rear door and barked at Kris to grab his helmet and get back out on the track. Having just spun a few laps around the brutally rough course and knowing that the mechanics had applied another round of changes to the bike, Keefer donned his helmet, gloves, and goggles, and once more swung a leg over the pre-production YZ. After several more laps, Keefer piloted the then-top-secret machine back into the makeshift pit area behind the lone box van.
“So, what did we change?” Scheidler asked casually, as one of the Japanese mechanics took the bike from Keefer and lifted it onto a plain, aluminum bike stand.
Keefer pondered this question for a moment, then responded, “Nothing. You guys didn’t change a thing.”
The Japanese mechanics all chuckled quietly and exchanged a few inaudible comments to each other.
“Really?” Asked Scheidler, now clearly puzzled. “You didn’t notice any changes?”
Now pressed, Keefer mentally reviewed his recent session on the track, but still came up empty. “I swear, Ed, it feels identical to our earlier setting.”
Scheidler took a seat on the box van’s bumper, and motioned for Keefer to sit next to him on the worn diamond-plate surface. “Look, Kris,” Ed said in a tone that was neither condescending nor supportive, as Keefer took a seat next to him. “We have you out here for a reason; it’s your job to tell us what the bike is doing. If you can’t do your job, we can’t very well do ours. Now, tell me what you felt was different that time.”
Keefer searched his mind, taking a long pause before responding. “OK,” he finally said. “It’spossible that you guys made changes, but if you did, I didn’t notice. The bike feels exactly the same as the session before.”
The Japanese mechanics, now gathered in a semi-circle around the box van’s bumper, all looked at each other for a moment, then Scheidler smiled broadly. “Good job, Keefer!” he said cheerily. “You hungry?”
While Kris was sequestered inside of the box van, the Japanese mechanics had only pretended to swap the suspension; in reality, no changes had been made at all. This was a test to see if Keefer was the right candidate for a full-time testing job that had just become available. Suffice it to say, he passed, and was soon barreling down a road that would lead to an all-new career path.
What started out as a side job doing durability testing quickly ballooned into what is now known as Keefer Inc., a tightly-controlled network of professional test riders led by Kris Keefer himself. The primary goals of Keefer Inc. are to a) help companies and manufacturers develop better, lighter, longer-lasting, higher-performing, and cooler products while b) providing racers, riders, and enthusiasts with usable, dependable testing knowledge so as to help them make informed and appropriate purchasing decisions.
While the testing elements of Keefer Inc. remain the core of what the brand is about, recent years have afforded Keefer Inc. the ability to branch out into further aspects of outreach and content creation, including ride days, podcasts, guest editorials, Q&As, and riding schools. Although the testing jobs themselves may vary, the values remain the same today as they did back in 2001 outside of that blue box van: everything that Keefer Inc. does must meet exceptional standards of honesty, openness, and reliability, all delivered in the spirit of progress and improvement.
ABOUT KRIS KEEFER
Born and raised in the high-desert of California, Kris Keefer grew up on two wheels. What started as a fondness for ripping across the desert after school grew into an appetite for competition, with Keefer racing various desert and off-road events across the state. However, Keefer’s true love came when he discovered motocross at age 11—there was something about dodging roost and ripping corners on the track that called to Kris. By age 14 Keefer was competing alongside the sport’s top up-and-coming racers at amateur nationals like the World Mini GP in Las Vegas. Just as it seemed that his future as a racer was dawning, Keefer’s family life took a difficult turn when his mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disabling disease of the central nervous system. Since money was tight for the family, Keefer opted to put his racing aspirations on hold to serve as his mother’s primary caregiver. The ensuing years brought their share of heartbreak as her condition worsened, yet this quality time spent with his mother provided some of the brightest and most formative memories in Keefer’s life. Sadly, Kris’ mother passed away in 2004, but her positive influence over Kris is evident in the gratitude, passion, and humility that he lives his life with every day.
While Keefer’s professional racing career wasn’t always his full focus, it was inevitable that KK would end up competing at the highest levels of the sport. At age 27, Keefer lined up for his first professional Supercross race. Later that season, Keefer enjoyed a few laps in the spotlight when he holeshot his heat race at the Anaheim Supercross. Had the seats in Angel Stadium not been completely sold out that evening, it’s entirely possible that a few of the fans in attendance may have noticed that Kris’ KTM “125-ish” two-stroke sounded a tad beefier than the other 125 two-strokes in his class. As it were, though, the sound of the crowd cheering for the speedy California rookie drown out the motor noise, thus leaving the Myth Of The Big Bore one of nature’s greatest mysteries.
While competing as a local pro and dabbling in Supercross, Keefer caught the eye of longtime Dirt Rider Senior Editor Karel Kramer, who invited Kris to participate in a 2002 Honda CR125R/250R test that the magazine was conducting. Keefer’s natural honesty and talent for articulating what he was feeling on the track—as well as his natural style and photomodeling abilities—soon led to numerous gigs testing for manufacturers, eventually landing Kris a job as in-house test rider at Yamaha Motor Corp in 2005. In 2010, Keefer left Yamaha and began pursuing freelance testing opportunities under the banner of his new corporate entity, Keefer Inc. Soon thereafter, KK recruited into a full-time job as Associate Editor at Dirt Rider magazine, eventually working his way up to the title of Senior Test Editor. At the same time, Keefer discovered a new passion when he became the award-winning co-host of the famed Pulp MX show.
Today, Keefer splits his time between testing, co-hosting, racing, training, and cheering for the Miami Dolphins. He also enjoys coaching his up-and-coming son, Aden, on how to go fast on the track without being a total cool guy off the track. In his rare free time, Keefer is an avid trainer and enjoys running, cycling, off-roading, and hiking with his beautiful wife, Heather, as well as helping to mentor youth racers in his area. On any given day of the week, you can find Kris doing what he loves most: pounding laps on the motocross track and writing the best tests and comparisons available.