One cool thing about working at print magazines in the good old days was that there’d be new magazines every day, from all over the world: Australian Motorcycle News with Fred Gassit on the last page, Bike from the UK along with SuperBikes and Performance Bikes; Motorrad from Germany, PS from Belgium or someplace, Cycle Canada, a French magazine or two. Even if you didn’t speak the language, there was a little foreign culture lesson in each one, tied to the favorite thing we all had in common. Cycle News came every Wednesday, I think, or was it Tuesday? I never understood how Paul Carruthers could put that thing out every week and still par-, er, celebrate as hard as we did at various press events. With all those mags lying around, if you needed a fresh story, well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. They’re also where much of our information came from in those days. Bike magazine and Motorcycle News still seem to be doing pretty well, mainly because their websites only exist to tease you with what’s in the current print issue. Which you have to buy.

Fred Gassit.

Fred Gassit.

I have a hard time remembering what we did all day when there was no internet atop everyone’s desk to google away at? Especially since we had no website to fill, and especially when even then the suits insisted the magazine could be no longer than 126 pages (or whatever it was that month), or you’d throw off the sacred advertising/editorial ratio (read: we ad guys would have to go out and sell more ads). Since that meant less work for us every month, I guess we never thought to complain or even question: Gee, Wally, wouldn’t people like a thicker magazine better, especially if it had more stories than ads? Wouldn’t that give us a competitive advantage?

The upshot was, when we were in the office, we wound up taking longer lunches, more of us smoked just because smoke breaks are good, and I for one settled into a path of slothfulness that did me no good when the modern world arrived unannounced. Not that I’m complaining. Okay, maybe I am.

BMW is launching its new K1600 Bagger to the world in a couple weeks in North Carolina, and they said we could ride one home to California if we wanted to (just like I did with the 2002 R1200 CL they also launched in Asheville – I know it was 2002 because I’m wearing the shirt from that event today here in the home office). The current ride-back idea was shot down immediately. JB needs to be back populating the MO web the next day, not meandering back on a five-day road trip blogging moto-poetry along the way! Actually moto-poetry just occurred to me. What if I uploaded two or three haikus to social media every day, which incorporated a road test of the bike?

Six-cylinder Bagger
from the land of Lager
I love you.

BMW’s not letting the R1200CL, which was liked but not well-liked, keep them from building a new K1600 Bagger.

BMW’s not letting the R1200CL, which was liked but not well-liked, keep them from building a new K1600 Bagger.

Speaking of 15 years ago, what got me all misty was news of the death of Sport Rider magazine last week. SR spun off from Motorcyclist, where I was “working” in the ’90s, in stately Petersen Tower on Wilshire Boulevard in L.A. I’m told, as I write this, that the reason you don’t want your motorcycle magazine to get too big, is because printing and postage costs then increase to a point which your normal bike-mag advertisers can no longer afford. Hmmm, sounds fishy, but okay. Rather than make Motorcyclist bigger, then, you make a whole new magazine, Sport Rider!

(Say, wouldn’t it make more sense to go after deeper-pocket advertisers than trying to put the touch on the same small players twice? These are the kinds of questions best not asked even of oneself. In those days the wall between advertising and editorial was sacrosanct!)

SR made perfect sense at the time, since your wing-footed deities like new SR Editor Nick Ienatsch and Lance Holst didn’t want to be bothered riding no stinkin’ touring bikes or cruisers anyway. Also, sporty bikes were all the rage as we tail-end Boomers bolused our way through the motorcycle anaconda. In fact, lots of stuff was booming in the ’90s, including the economy. Everybody complained at the time about not enough money, like people always do, but Mr. Petersen, who kept a stuffed polar bear he’d shot in his penthouse office (Guns & Ammo and other shooting mags were also in the building), came through with medical and dental and 401k’s for all us print-mag people and our families. How? People paid for the print mags.

Robert Petersen’s publishing empire began with Hot Rod. He died 10 years ago.

Robert Petersen’s publishing empire began with Hot Rod. He died 10 years ago.

When people felt some sense of economic security, and before everybody had their nose buried in their computer and iPhone, we all socialized more and got along better. If you needed a three-letter word for feline to complete the crossword, you had to get up and ask somebody. I picked up a little side job being the “Teen Adviser” for a while, as a result of befriending the Teen Editor-in-Chief in the elevator.

Then I don’t remember what happened, but everybody got old, saw the elephant, turned inward, and life felt risky enough already without needing to ride turbocharged GSX-R1100s every day. Then came 9/11, followed not long after by the Great Recession, and here we are. Probably just as many people still want to ride sportbikes, but most of the people in that age bracket can’t afford to anymore. I just got an offer for a 60-month 0% loan in my inbox – from Trek bicycles.

My explanation may oversimplify what went wrong, but even as wily a businessman as Mr. Petersen wouldn’t have been able to decipher Bonnier Motorcycle Group’s explanation for SR’s demise and BMG’s plan going forward:

BMG is shifting from a title-specific content and sales structure to one that empowers the editorial as well as the marketing staff to focus on one role across all BMG brands [I think that means titles]. This is compared to the previous model where many of the 13 [somebody forgot to make that 12] motorcycle media brands had their own staff members with like responsibilities. The change will better enable the Group to produce engaging content for audiences on the platform they choose, and help deliver solutions to BMG clients to sell products to the world’s largest network of motorcycle enthusiasts.“As digital channels become more technologically driven and advertising solutions demand greater optimization, these changes will help BMG deliver more informative and inspiring content to its audiences. The new channel-specific approach, in addition to expanding marketing-solution options for partner brands, will also help decrease the cost-per-acquisition and increase sales for the Group’s clients,” said Andy Leisner, Vice President and Managing Director of Bonnier Motorcycle Group. “We do not make these decisions lightly, especially when reducing staff, but we’re confident these steps will serve as a stronger foundation for our future and will benefit our clients and the motorcycle industry.”

The new model will remove the boundaries between BMG departments by changing staff responsibilities from one specific brand property or department to a specialized task that serves the overall Group. In addition, the strongest people in each discipline will be empowered to manage these roles, which will improve quality of the work produced.

I read that to mean, basically we’re becoming Lord of the Flies over here, and may the strongest, pushiest types within our organization win as we continue trying to preserve the print magazine era in the age of the internet. Good luck with that. Their best motorcycle magazine now only comes out six times a year. What does that tell us?

Anyway, I took the long way round to say hats off and good luck to old friend Kent Kunitsugu, who ran a more cerebral moto-mag than most for quite some time against increasingly stiff headwinds, and to his crew – who I think was down to Michael Gilbert. At least MG can devote the rest of the summer to the MotoAmerica 600 Superstock class, where he currently sits in second place. See? Some youngsters still want to ride sportbikes!

As for me, I’m off to one of the few remaining magazine racks in SoCal to see what the Brits and Fred Gassit are up to…

  • Alexander Pityuk

    I’m looking forward to K16 bagger event. It’s a pity you can’t take it home to give a more… user-ish review.

    • john burns

      that’s the part I miss. Instead of passing judgment over several days in the real world, I will pass it over the I’m sure lovely route BWM has laid out over a day or two, with frequent stops for food, BS, and photography.

      • Gruf Rude

        Oh well, someone has to take a hit for the team . . .

      • Sayyed Bashir

        How about dictating to Sena (with speech-to-text on your smart phone) while riding home from NC? This way you could upload an article to MO at every gas stop. Modern technology at its best. Have your cake and eat it too.

  • John B.

    I often ask people (especially Millennials), “Do you find your smart phone more interesting than most people?” Most laugh, and say something diplomatic like, “No comment!” If you watch how people spend their time, however, the answer becomes obvious.

    For all the wonders that come with technological advancements, something valuable is always lost. Though smartphones and tablets keep us intellectually stimulated and connected with our various milieus, they also keep us physically and emotionally isolated, and most human beings do not thrive in isolation. Somehow, for longer toothed individuals, to look at a person looking at his/her smartphone is less satisfying than to look a person in the eye.

    Today, most people work in isolation; even if they work in an office. In the old days (1990s), lawyers frequently discussed cases and case strategy face-to-face with other lawyers in the same firm. Today, nearly all clients refuse to pay for attorneys to talk with each other. To the extent these conversations occur, they happen via email as opposed to in person, with predictable limitations. Similarly, far fewer professionals go out for lunch on a regular basis; it’s too inefficient, unhealthy, and expensive. Besides, technology now brings your favorite meal to your doorstep. Many lawyers and some staff work from home. As such, law firms lack the energy and vitality they formerly had.

    Human beings have a limited capacity to change. As such, the “Every hundred years, all new people” truism serves a useful evolutionary purpose. Soon enough, people who remember working in the 1990s will exit the workforce to reminisce over a checkerboard with former colleagues about the good old days when men looked each other in the eye. (Online checkers is no way to spend one’s twilight years.)

    PS – I would enjoy reading about JB riding the BMW bagger home from North Carolina. Heck, I might even pay money for such content. Better yet, have JB ride solo and stay with MOrons along the way. Heck, everyone loves a poetic survival story.

    “To sleep, perchance to dream – ay there’s the rub.”

    • john burns

      I really like working at home now that I have reached a certain age, but 20 years ago I don’t think I would’ve cared for it much at all. Seems like we’re becoming a nation of piece workers, to keep costs down of course…

    • Old MOron

      Roger Waters wasn’t singing about smartphones,
      but this came to me after reading your post:

      Ooooh, you cannot reach me now
      Ooooh, no matter how you try
      Goodbye, cruel world, it’s over
      Walk on by.

      Sitting in a bunker here behind my wall
      Waiting for the worms to come.
      In perfect isolation here behind my wall
      Waiting for the worms to come…

    • Aaron Mezger

      Google ‘dehumanization by omission’. I found my recent awareness of the concept highly enlightening. I think it’s something I’ve been cognizant of for quite some time, but to have it verbalized and, in a way, quantified for me was very educational.

      • Old MOron

        Thanks for the suggestion. Interesting: “Aggregated over
        a lifetime, apathy, not antipathy, could best predict detachment from fellow humans.”

    • Born to Ride

      I was recently asked what is the one thing I’d do to prepare teenagers( my nephews) for the tumultuous years that are a mans early 20s. I told my sister to take their smart phones, lock them in the safe, and buy them prepaid phones with unlimited minutes and limited texting. Force them to experience the world around them rather than escape to the farce that is online interaction and diversion.

      There’s nothing wrong with reading your articles and news on the internet. Personally, I don’t find printed words much more stimulating than internet articles(provided you can read them through the ads). However, I take issue with having instantaneous access to the internet at all times. It creates a dynamic in the mind that the world around us should be interpreted through the lense of our portable uplinks rather than our eyes and ears.

      I too have become disillusioned that our social interactions are becoming reduced to cursory glances at the information that people want to show us. Our interpretation of nature and the physical world is just something to be posted to social media to tell a narrative about the poster. Instead of speaking, we limit ourselves willingly to the clicks of a virtual keyboard and arbitrary character limits.

      “Look a man in the eye when he’s talking to you”
      I cannot tell you how many times I was scolded thusly by my father growing up. I cannot remember the last time I spoke with a teenager who looked me in the eye more than he looked at his phone or his shoes or the wall. These types of social skills are imperative to living in the real world, but it seems like nobody really wants to live there anymore. Too much work I guess.

      • Old MOron

        To be fair, I think teenagers have always suffered anxiety while transitioning into adults. “Look a man in the eye when he’s talking to you,” is probably something that parents have said to their kids forever. And eventually we did learn how to talk to other people.

        Perhaps one of the attractions of social media is that you don’t have to eventually look someone in the eye. You can retake your photo a couple of times, crop it, filter it, then post it for your “friends” to like. When they post their stuff, you’ll like it, too. Everyone is happy. What the hell are these old guys talking about, look someone in the eye?

        • Born to Ride

          Well I think that you just affirmed my point OM. Learning how to be comfortable in your own skin and communicate effectively is something that comes after you overcome that anxiety. The phones and social media at your fingertips allow people to circumvent this uncomfortable experience that I consider essential to growing up. One of the things I love most about riding is that I am free to toss my phone in my backpack or under my seat. Focus on the world around me instead of being a slave to perpetual connectivity.

          • Old MOron

            Yes, it’s not a teenager problem. It’s the technology.

  • Starmag

    Have fun in Asheville, my home away from home. The BRP is best south from Asheville past the classic Pisgah Inn with amazing views to Cherokee, and the Greenhouse Moto Cafe and Wheels Through Time are always good moto choices as well. If you’re downtown, the Asheville Pinball Museum is a gas too.

    Are you going to have a cocktail-buying pillion evaluator along for the ride?

    • john burns

      thanks, solo trip this time sadly…

      • Old MOron


  • Jon Jones

    Great piece. Sorry to hear of Sport Rider shutting down. There was a time I subscribed to at least 15 moto-mags.

    I just want to back…

  • Old MOron

    What?! JB is not allowed to ride the bagger back from North Carolina? What moron made that decision?

    Or maybe that moron is right. I don’t need to be enriched by the meditations of a moto bard as he crosses the country on BMW’s flagship vehicle. Why would I want to read anything fulfilling when I can click through mindless surveys and homemade videos?

    How is it that Justin Trudeau can explain quantum computers, but those Trumpers at VerticalScope can’t wrap their heads around motorcycle content? Tabernac!

    • DickRuble

      Justin Trudeau is full of S**T, that’s how.. and so are the others.

      • john burns

        you’re saying I’m NOT FOS, Ruble? Now you’ve finally offended me…

      • Old MOron

        What took you so long?

      • Gabriel Owens

        We CAN be friends.

  • Andrew Capone

    I still subscribe to 5 US and Brit motorcycle mags, but I get the digital edition to read on the iPad and phone. I probably have 100 issues all at hand, electronically, and as a mass transit commuter, its wonderful. And the format and ads are all identical to the print issue. I think that’s where this all goes, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Not everyone staring at their phone is looking at cat videos.

  • Gabriel Owens

    Would you be my co-signer for one of them bicycles?

    • john burns

      I pay for a really good used car what some people pay for a bicycle.

  • Gabriel Owens

    Oh the times they are a changing.

  • DickRuble

    “kept a stuffed polar bear he’d shot in his penthouse office ” — those were the days.. polar bears were roaming and you could shoot them in your penthouse.. at the same time editors were roaming the offices of motorcycle magazines.. They went extinct with Petersen.

  • DickRuble

    I do understand BMG’s approach; their Motorcyclistonline and cycleworld produce virtually identical content, afflicted by identically irritating advertising. There’s no point in paying people to produce duplicate work. This being said, their content is still acceptable. The reason I don’t read their S**T is their advertising approach. I’d pay $5 for a magazine if there was more content (loaded term) than advertising. I stopped paying when advertising got out of hand and there were more inserts to tear off than pages. The downward spiral is unstoppable.

    I’ve seen the future brother… (LC)

  • Well, that was uplifting. Now I’m going to drink a gallon jug of bleach.

  • lundque

    I remember all the old chopper mags, never did see the final Hardtail piece. And getting all the moto mags in the world with distribution check off memos attached from Greg Harrison’s team when I was at AMA. Fred Gassit was always a favorite, as were the beautifully photographed, high quality paper Japanese mags you read back-to-front. So, now I read you and Kallfelz, get Cycle News in my e-mail, and the like. Heck, I seem to have lost the bandwidth to read any print mags, witnessed by the Time and Economist copies that go from my mail box to the kitchen table to the recycle bin with nary a wrinkle from reading. But is any of this bad?

  • Walter

    Well done bittersweet article.

    But here’s a time saver— whenever you read a corporation’s reason for doing something, and they use the word “empower” in the first sentence or two, you can skip the rest and assume it’s a stupid decision lol: or possibly a smart decision that they don’t have the courage to fully explain.

  • schizuki

    “Mr. Petersen, who kept a stuffed polar bear he’d shot in his penthouse office”

    And how that polar bear got into his penthouse office I’ll never know…

  • B.Hoop

    Print magazines actually contained literature. I have mentioned before that I remember reading Mr. Burns’ story in Cycle about riding a Ducati Paso cross country. It opened my eyes to what was available in magazines, if you looked for it. I don’t know if I could read the same article online. The glare makes it hard to focus on screen for more than a few minutes at a time… certainly not long enough to read an article that is more than a few paragraphs. We are truly going down the sewers…

  • Crockette

    JB, much enjoyed your work in the 90s at that certain magazine that now publishes 6 times a year. Internet or not, glad I can still read excellent pieces like this one.

    Said magazine now has more glossy pictures, less technical info, and has become more of a ‘life-style’ mag. Guess they’re trying to become the Life magazine of motorcycling 🙁

  • 2nd amendment vs evil govt

    who cares about magazines when you can be riding the tail of the dragon on RT 129!