When I first found out that I’d be interviewing Jaime Dempsey, the effervescent motorcycle-riding host of Ride n’ Seek on The History Channel Asia, my first reaction was to go on Facebook to find out what my friends thought about her and to crowdsource additional questions. One of the groups I tapped was a bike club I’d been a part of for years. The only reply came from a former colleague of mine and fellow member.
“I don’t have a high opinion of her,” he said bluntly. “Do you know how contrived the scripts in her show sound? Can she sound less like Samantha Brown and more like Tony Bourdain?” It was a response I could, in my head, hear him saying, in his disdainfully superior Singlish patois. Having worked closely with him for years, I knew that behind his words was a thick slathering of machismo and casual misogyny. She’s just a girl. Meh. Me better biker.
Dude, I do not think so.
For those who don’t get The History Channel Asia, Ride n’ Seek follows Dempsey around Southeast Asia on two wheels. Her first seasons brought her to Borneo and Malaysia, while the most recent seasons have her riding across the Philippines. Along the way, she makes stops at key locations to meet the locals and experience what the places have to offer. She rides. She rides a lot.
Before being a TV presenter, Dempsey is first and foremost a motorcycle rider, now 12 years strong. She rides all throughout the two months in Asia spent producing each season of the show, something one writer calls “the wildest side hustle a motorcyclist could dream of.”
When she’s not doing Ride n’ Seek, she spends most of her time back in the US astride her bikes, whether on the road or off.
After training under Filipino motorcycling guru, Mel Aquino, at the Yamaha Off-Road Training Camp in 2017, Dempsey bought a Honda CRF150 and a Tacoma pickup so she could do dirt and trail riding as often as she could. “For the last year I’ve been riding off-road every weekend as much as possible. I’ve actually booked a day after HistoryCon with Mel to go trail riding, and I’m so excited to show him how far I’ve come. I’m really psyched,” she grinned.
With partners Anya Violet and Corinne Lan, Dempsey also works on Atwyld, a women’s motorcycle and apparel brand they founded to fill an underserviced market of female riders. “Inspired by the void and built for the voyage,” Atwyld promises apparel that is both stylish and functional for women like Dempsey.
Now, to be fair to my former colleague, Dempsey’s show does have its moments of cringey contrived dialogue. As with most travel shows, Ride n’ Seek is part exposition, part scripted material, and part spontaneous reaction. It’s in this last bit where Dempsey’s personality shines, and where the viewer is drawn in and engaged. Around every bend is a surprise plotted out by the show’s producers, who never tell her exactly what she needs to do next, whether it’s ploughing a rice paddy with a carabao or shimmying up a coconut tree. They set her up, drop a bomb, and film her reactions. And I think it works.
As with most travel shows, Ride n’ Seek is part exposition, part scripted material, and part spontaneous reaction.
White, blonde, female, heavily tattooed, riding all sorts of motorcycles, Dempsey has a TV crew just shy of 20 people following her everywhere, and she’s grown into a local celebrity on this side of the Pacific. She plays her part as closely to her real self as she can. She’s not an actress, she tells me.
“One thing that I’ve learned to do throughout these seasons,” says Dempsey, “is just be more of myself on camera, and really be genuine. And that is what I think people want to see.” She’s absolutely right. Her candid, authentic moments are the show’s best bits. They make me want to be beside her, sharing her adventure. I want to be her friend, the one that tags along to wherever she’s going.
Dempsey does admit that creative decisions are mainly up to her show’s producers, which is why the show’s tone isn’t quite like Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. “I don’t have a lot of creative control,” she says. “I do make suggestions, and mostly it’s about motorcycles. I’m always pushing for more motorcycles. Last season we did get to visit a motocross track in Palawan, and that was my idea. I told them if you guys want some excitement, let’s do this! You might see me fall down. Oh, we’ll see you fall down? Okay, we’ll do that!” And by the way she tells the story, it’s this stuff that she loves.
“I have to fight for [more riding time] sometimes. We’ll film a segment and then, like I said, I ride by five times, and they’ll say, you can get in the van now and they’ll get someone else to ride or they’ll put the bike on the truck. And I’ll be like, ‘No! This is why I’m here. I wanna ride!’ So I have to fight them a little bit and get them to let me ride when we’re not actually filming. But I win.” She might be a little on the small side, but she’s a tough lady.
Dempsey credits the show for her own growth as a rider. “Ride n’ Seek has really helped me become more comfortable on different types of motorcycles, because every season we introduce a new bike, there’s a new sponsor. I’ve ridden Harleys, Ducatis, Urals with sidecars, off-road bikes. It’s really helped me become more comfortable on any kind of bike, not just the ones I own myself. More comfortable riding in any kind of terrain or weather condition, rain, dirt. I think I’m just more of a confident rider than I used to be.”
“I have to fight for [more riding time] sometimes. We’ll film a segment and then, like I said, I ride by five times, and they’ll say, you can get in the van now and they’ll get someone else to ride or they’ll put the bike on the truck. And I’ll be like, ‘No! This is why I’m here. I wanna ride!’ So I have to fight them a little bit.."
If the past six years have taught her anything, it’s that “motorcycles bring people together. That’s how I really feel. The motorcycle community all over the globe is very supportive. We want you to learn to ride. We want to help teach you to grow. We want to help you see the world from the point of view of two wheels. You become a part of your environment. You’re not just looking at it through a bubble. You become one with it and that’s something we all want to share. So, if anything, that is something I’ve come to understand is a global thing.”
I ask her, what does she love most about her job?
“Connecting with the community. It’s something you see, say, when you stop for some food and you park your bike and another biker is having food as well. Oh, is that your ride? Yeah, that’s my ride. And then we start talking about each other’s bikes and where you go riding, giving each other suggestions, and you immediately make a friend. I just love connecting with people over that.”