The Evolution Of The Motorcycle Magazine

Tech Matters

When I was a kid, motorcycle magazines were tough to come by. There were only three national publications, and a handful of regional ones all of which were sold primarily through subscription or maybe at the parts counter of your local motorcycle shop. I'm not exaggerating when I say it was usually easier to find porn than it was a motorcycle magazine.

As motorcycles entered in the mainstream, motorcycle magazines became more widely distributed, and by the time I was junior high you could find them at any newsstand. Oddly enough, it seems like porno went mainstream at just about the same time, so maybe there's a connection?

The three biggies were Cycle World, Cycle, and Motorcyclist. They all sold for fifty cents an issue and featured largely similar content. I used to get two bucks a week allowance, so when the new issues arrived I'd buy all three and five candy bars, which at the time were a nickel, and hole up in my bedroom. I had to pace myself with the candy. If I pigged out, the resulting sugar buzz made it difficult to concentrate on the articles.

Cycle World tended to be a bit pedantic-especially after that second Snickers bar-but had great race coverage for a monthly. Cycle was more entertaining, and because it was published in NYC, seemed a bit more in tune with what was happening on the east coast, especially at the club racing level. It also had Gordon Jennings in the technical editors seat, (he also served as editor-in-chief as I recall) along with Cook Neilson and Phil Schilling, the latter two being indirectly responsible for my becoming a writer; although by no means should my name and theirs be used in the same sentence, unless mine is to serve as a bad example. Cycle and Cycle World were serious rivals, but Cycle always impressed me as being the more literate and entertaining of the two, so it's always been of some wonderment to me that Cycle World outperformed Cycle on the Newsstand, but at least they had the good sense to keep Cameron when they bought out Cycle.

Motorcyclist tended to be kind of an "aw, shucks", down to earth magazine, especially under the editorship of Bill Bagnall, who was a real old-school AMA-type, he even served as the organization's president for three terms.

Other magazines that had their fifteen minutes included Popular Cycling, Cycle Sport, and Cycle Guide, which was a particularly good magazine and the one where Art Freidman honed his editorial chops, before moving on to Motorcyclist and then founding Motorcycle Cruiser. Another one I enjoyed was Motorcycle Sport Quarterly, which was large format bookazine that dealt primarily with the technical and racing end of things. At two bucks a whack, but with articles on frame building and engine design it was well worth it. I still have the Fall 1970 copy sitting on my bookshelf.

Through the 70's motorcycle magazines tended to cover all aspects of the sport. Typically they'd have a road test or two, both street and dirt bikes were covered, a tech article, and some race reports, along with generalized motorcycle industry news, product reviews, the ever popular feature bike and, of course, a touring article. For a while, short fiction stories were popular, as were history lessons and cartoons. But as motorcycling became more role oriented so did the magazines, titles like Street Chopper and Easy Rider eventually hit the stands along with more conventional audience-specific mags like Road Rider, Dirt Bike and Motorcycle Cruiser.

A buddy of mine in the UK publishes a digest sized book that caters to professional dispatch riders. Besides that one, I subscribe to maybe a dozen others covering everything from classics to cruisers, and there's surprisingly little overlap in content matter. In fact, just last week I saw my first magazine dedicated to Extreme (or is that Xtreme?) Stunt Riding, and today I discovered two more.

That the magazines, like the motorcycles that they cover, have become so specialized comes as no surprise. In this business it's either evolve or die, hence we have niche-oriented magazines to go with our niche-specific motorcycles. In the main, I don't think that's a bad thing, if you want to read about cruisers, it makes little sense to wade through a test on an MX bike to get there. But that being said, I do miss all of those old "the controls fall readily to hand" school of journalism magazines. But in truth, not nearly so much as I miss those five cent candy bars.