Whatever: It's a Small World After All

John Burns
by John Burns

The more things change, the more we all remain MOrons

Hello. Is it safe to stick my head up out here yet? Yes, it’s true. Big Dirty Sean Alexander and Kevin Duke have Left the Building (not that MO actually has a building) – also our compadre Scott Rousseau from sistership Dirtbikes.com. As the wise man once told me on my way out the door, don’t think of this as a door closing, but as another one opening. Ahh… why not? The bad news is we don’t get to work with those guys anymore. The good news is they’ll be fine; Duke’s already slogging away making videos for a large marketing company with oceanfront offices – his strong suit, really. The other good news is that my direct deposit is still depositing. C’mon, that’s a joke. I’m gonna miss those big lugs.

It’s sad, but the occasional staff shake-up is really just the nature of the publishing business, which sometimes feels more like a game of musical chairs. God knows I’ve been the one stuck without a chair more than once. In 1991, when they killed off Cycle magazine, the aptly named David Pecker gathered us together and said, “we’ve decided to merge you all into Cycle World…

Merge doesn’t sound so bad, I thought…

“… and if you’ll see Nancy on your way out, she’s got a severance package for each of you.”

Hey wait a minute!

Guess who our intern was at Cycle in ’91? Little Scott Rousseau, formerly of Dirtbikes.com.

After letting me cool my jets for a year (in those good old days we lived in an ocean-view Laguna Beach cottage for $1000 a month, so it was easy to cool them), David Edwards gave me a job at Cycle World, and life was good. But I was slightly ambitious before I wised up, and the grass looked greener at Motorcyclist so I jumped ship. Once a week or so in my palatial 17th floor office, starting in the mid ’90s, my phone would ring. Some guy from Saskatchewan or someplace up there wanted to know if we had any job openings?

Ah, well, we’ve always got job openings, I told him every week: Send some stories, shoot some photos, show us what you got! The guy never did. One Monday Mitch Boehm the Editor-in-Chief came back from a bike show somewhere all excited about a guy he’d met and hired that weekend: “This guy’s great, a Canadian, his name’s Kevin Duke!”

Yo, that’s the guy who’s been calling me every week! The Dukester didn’t stay long at Motorcyclist, but he bounced around some other bike magazines and websites and kept at it until he became EiC of MO for a whole decade. Not a bad run. Mitch is now doing marketing/PR for American Flat Track.

It took about eight years for me to fall out of favor with the powers that were at Motorcyclist, circa 2002. But that was okay because I went straight to MO (the same day) as part-time Editor-in-Chief (there wasn’t enough money coming in for a full-time one). MO was a shoestring operation at the time, but we had a lot of fun putting on scooter GPs and things in the parking lot. Who was the first guy I hired? Sean Alexander. When a big-time ad agency offered me a real job not long after, Sean took charge of the whole MO operation in a way I was totally incapable of (finance, taxes, all that), and whipped it into something the current owners felt was worthy of paying serious money for in 2007. Sean himself was worthy enough to be hired by Kawasaki’s PR company, where he sat behind the Big Desk. When he’d had enough of the tasseled loafer life, he wound up back at MO some years ago as Editorial Director of a bunch of sites including this one.

The money was better at my swank advertising job and the perks were superb, but you never got to ride Carl Fogarty’s championship-winning Ducati around Misano or ride up the coast with Giacomo Agostini and Phil Read, and when the Great Recession hit in 2008 and bike sales and ad budgets tanked, the decision that it was time to go was made for me. Back on the streets…

The advertising business. The only part of it I cared about, anyway.

Not long after, there was a big shake-up at Cycle World! David E. was out (after a record-breaking run as EiC), and my old pal Mark Hoyer was in! Shortly afterward, so was I! For some reason CW just didn’t work for me the second time around, and after four years of weirdness, the same Editorial Director who’d shitcan, er, negotiated me away from Motorcyclist and who was now editorially directing CW, had the pleasure of strongly suggesting to me for a second time that I should explore other opportunities elsewhere starting immediately. (I take pleasure in the fact that that pleated-Dockers-wearing ED was shown the door both times shortly after showing it to me. Looks like he’s “mostly focused now on building a nice little e-commerce business in specialty music books.”)

Who could not love that face?

Was it the end of the road for me then? No it was not. The phone rang and it was my beautiful little ginger intern Sean, all grown up and back at Motorcycle.com, making me a generous offer I couldn’t refuse now that MO was a real-live money-making business. Okay, now the big fella has checked out again, but my point, which I have finally arrived at, is that none of it is ever as permanent as it feels like at the time, it’s always in flux. It’s a terrible thing to say in the current day, but I still believe if you do good work and are fair, occasionally even nice to people (in theory), most people who aren’t complete jerks will appreciate, remember and repay your kindness somewhere down the road. And Sean is one of the most caring and kind gentlemen I’ve had the pleasure to work with, which is why he was able to leave behind a great crew at MO, as well as an excellent group of stringers including the baked-fresh-daily Gabe Ets-Hokin, the enigmatically combative Chris Kallfelz, the cerebral Bruce Allen on the drums.

The real question is, do enough readers care? I’m told most visitors stumble into MO via search engine. “What’s the best motorcycle for a one-legged female little person?” And while the comments after every MO story are usually the best part, you can count most of the regular commenters on your fingers and toes. At Bonnier Motorcycle Group (purveyors of Motorcyclist, Cycle World, etc.), the editors seem to be all interchangeable between magazines now. Content is content. Not many people are Googling “where did Sean and Duke go?”, but I thought you should know anyway. I hate the way people are just disappeared (and I hope you’re well and happy wherever you are, Don Canet).

Maybe it’s progress. When you got news once a month in a magazine, things needed to be long and in depth, and the writer’s personality was going to out. Now that you get news every five minutes from ten different directions, well… maybe who’s firing off the short bursts of content matters less? The internet is revolutionary change, and we’re all in the process of finding out.

Anyway, until the day when we’re off to meet the baby Jesus in person, nobody really goes away, they just step out of sight for a while. A lot of great, wait, a lot of people have left MO over the years for greener pastures. Some come back, and if they don’t it never takes long for new green shoots to sprout from the patties we leave under our desks, Brent and Ryan, one of who might well be the next Ashley Hamilton. Wait, scratch that… really I miss Ashley too. So much cooler than that Brent Plummer guy who started MO in 1994.


Is it going to be different going forward? Yes it is. For one thing, Sean is a nut on a motorcycle, and you knew every ride with him was going to be exciting in one way or another. We had some absolute doozies. It was great riding with Duke vicariously, too, as he filed reports from all the coolest intros around the world he sent himself to. Somebody had to do it.

All we can do for now is keep plugging away and exchanging witty banter and cat videos on Facebook and in the Comments. Here’s to more good times to come with Dirty Sean, Duke Danger, Scott R. and all the illustrious MOrons who’ve come and gone – and come back again! Ride on, my people! Cheers!

John Burns
John Burns

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  • Craig Hoffman Craig Hoffman on Mar 07, 2018

    Lots of change in earning a living in general these days. From my personal perspective, the working world has gotten more mercenary, less stable than it was before the Great Recession. Working in the motorcycle journalism arena has always been tumultuous, and perhaps the rest of the working world has caught up.

    People working in the corporate world really have to look out for their own interests these days, as workers are disposable and/or "disruptable" by a different process or technology, or someone from another country willing to come in on an H1B and work for peanuts. So glad to be self employed in a boring profession nobody seems to want to disrupt and/or mess with - insurance.

    I wish JB, Duke and all the rest well. I love motorcycles, but it remains a mystery to me how one can make a living, be that immersed in them, and not burn out. Riding is what makes the rest of the bullshit I have to put up with as I go through this life tolerable. If riding itself truly became work, that would ruin it for me. Then what would I do? I have no idea how non motorcyclists get through life. I really don't...

    • Sayyed Bashir Sayyed Bashir on Mar 16, 2018

      Riding, testing and writing about motorcycles is fun as long as you don't take it too seriously. I suppose MO has been a fun place to work, so far, until they decide to outsource it to India like everything else.

  • BillW BillW on Mar 20, 2018

    I miss Brent and Ashley, and a bunch of the others in between (I've seen Fonzie's work elsewhere). Those were the days. But I'm glad you're still here, Burnsie! I've enjoyed reading you in all the various places you've been. I hope you hang in there!

    Do you still have that Jag?