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…