Motorhead Memo: The printed word

By Kip Woodring

Many folks say that the greatest invention of the last millennium is Gutenberg’s printing press. I’m inclined to agree, largely because it leads to almost every other invention since. The mass production and distribution of the printed word, not to mention imagery, has had an unequaled effect on everyone in society and every society on earth. Some say, in this 21st millennium, the printed word is dying… if not dead. I’m inclined to disagree with that. But something is going on and it caught up with me quite recently.

As a lad, I used to ride my 80cc tiddler to the closest motorcycle shop and buy “expired” leftover magazines. At 25 cents a copy or less (if the cover was missing) I could afford a precious few, now and then, on paper route money. I learned a lot from the articles, loved the pictures as grainy and small as they often were, and studied every page as though it were holy writ, my young and open mind soaking it all up like a sponge. Road tests, tech articles and a whole lot more… I kept almost all of them. Not a collection… a hoard. I referred back to them frequently, thumbed them to death to gain insight as to what I should dream of and aspire to in the future. Soon, there came a time when I could afford some new mags. They mostly told, in depth and in advance, what was new, what was happening, from whom, where, when, and how—the only pipeline into my passion there was at the time. After a time, a compulsion to read all I could from whoever printed it became second nature. There were plenty of good choices… so I chose ’em all. The stacks of monthlies proliferated like rabbits. With notable ebb and flow through all the times, triumphs and tribulations of my life, acquisition continued as a constant and a comfort for 55 years. Then, sneakily, silently and swiftly, something shadowy and seductive snuck up behind and started to compete, then take over.

Motorcyclist is the oldest, dating to 1912. During the depression, when motorcycling was at an ebb lower than today’s, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) took over to help it survive. (The AMA was mostly Indian and Harley BTW!) Today it has to survive another low… and has gone to six issues a year with a slim page count compared to the good old days.
Motorcyclist is the oldest, dating to 1912. During the depression, when motorcycling was at an ebb lower than today’s, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) took over to help it survive. (The AMA was mostly Indian and Harley BTW!) Today it has to survive another low… and has gone to six issues a year with a slim page count compared to the good old days.

As this is written, I have donated well over 6,500 car and motorcycle magazines and books to the Friends of the Library… over a period to two weeks. That’s about half of ’em. I was astonished! Then, on a whim, I booted my computer and discovered I had somehow, sort of surreptitiously, collected several hundred digital articles about the machines I love on the hard drive, with more available daily… if you know where (and how) to look. I was astonished! Finally… it dawned on me.

Digits and widgets

Hey, does anybody still use an 8-track to play music? Keep a jukebox in the basement to boogie to? Carry a boombox on your shoulder at the beach? Headphones and a turntable still giving you the full effect of Sergeant Pepper? Fact is, thanks to the digital revolution, all the music you can get at via these methods can be stored on a thumb drive, played on your phone or tablet… taking up a fraction of the space, with none of the bulk the older systems demand. Instantly accessible, portable, no skipping, scratching, warping or fouled tape, either. The music remains, the delivery systems don’t. Disney, for instance, has made a science out of this. Snow White was a movie from 1937, then a VHS, then DVD, now a digital download… which keeps selling to this day. You get the drift.

For a long time, Floyd Clymer’s vision of motorcycling was reflected in his publication… Cycle. Beginning as Denver’s Indian dealer while still in his teens, his claim to fame (among other things… ahem!) was his ability to ride a motorcycle, sitting on it backwards! Trouble is, he also had a rather slack attitude towards journalism, often publishing whatever the manufacturers fed him… true or false. Good enough… till this came along.
For a long time, Floyd Clymer’s vision of motorcycling was reflected in his publication… Cycle. Beginning as Denver’s Indian dealer while still in his teens, his claim to fame (among other things… ahem!) was his ability to ride a motorcycle, sitting on it backwards! Trouble is, he also had a rather slack attitude towards journalism, often publishing whatever the manufacturers fed him… true or false. Good enough… till this came along.

It was much the same with my moto mags. Time to reevaluate the delivery system. What had started as tidy, organized stacks under the bed and on the nightstand, then in the closet, grew and grew, filling up a long-wheelbase Dodge van when times were hard and I was mobile… then expanding to fill all the space in a 10′ x 20′ room once I settled down. And I mean all the space! The total clutter got to epic proportions and finally choked on its own bulk. You can’t read a magazine if you can’t find it. You can’t find if it’s buried behind and under thousands of others. You can’t dig it out if there’s no room to move the stacks. What good is that?

I’m not one who waxes lyrical about the smell of old books, or the tactile delights of bindings and silky pages… aesthetics be damned. I just want to read… but preferably without worrying about a low phone battery or an Internet connection. All the same, something had to give. Realizing I could carry a huge digital library around in my pocket, the decision I never thought I could or would make… came naturally.

Separating wheat from chaff

Here are some figures you might find illuminating. In the U.S. the top magazines in regard to recent circulation are:

AARP The Magazine: 23,144,225

AARP Bulletin: 22,700,94

Costco Connection: 8,740,785

Better Homes and Gardens: 7,645,364

Game Informer: 6,353,075

Cycle World debuted with this issue in 1962 and shattered the complacency of what was then a very clubby and cozy little hobby. Once Joe Parkhurst’s reality and integrity intruded into the writing and testing of machines and men, fans became far more sophisticated and learned, expectations grew and expanded… just in time for the arrival of the Japanese!
Cycle World debuted with this issue in 1962 and shattered the complacency of what was then a very clubby and cozy little hobby. Once Joe Parkhurst’s reality and integrity intruded into the writing and testing of machines and men, fans became far more sophisticated and learned, expectations grew and expanded… just in time for the arrival of the Japanese!

Jeez! Three outta five aren’t much more than sales catalogs. BH&G I can’t account for at all (although my wife laments that her fave Martha Stewart Living has only half as many pages and half the circulation it had a decade ago. A clue?). Game Informer is also a fat clue as to why millennials don’t ride motorcycles!

Meanwhile, there’s this: Cycle World magazine had a circulation of a bit over 220,000 before its publisher Bonnier recently made the call to take it to a quarterly publication. The same company also owns Motorcyclist, the oldest motorcycle magazine title in the world, and determined that six issues a year would be enough of that. Sport Rider folded. Although Buzz Kanter’s American Iron seems alive and well by today’s standards, Easyriders in its prime was one of the top-selling magazines… of any kind… at, near or above, a million a month! Not anymore. Cycle World and Cycle both spent most of their respective lives enjoying circulation numbers consistently close to half a million a month. Way more than the circulation of today! It’s mostly the moto mags published in the heyday of all these titles and many more… that I’ve kept. It’s complicated and based on personal preference. Not intending to ignore or insult anyone involved… only to never give up on the printed word or the pictures that are worth a thousand of ’em.

The ’60s boom in everything motorcycle… included new magazine titles galore! Most are long gone by now, and several were not very worthy in the first place. But while it lasted, it was a bonanza of information and opinion for the enthusiast. Cycle Guide, Cycle Illustrated, Modern Cycle, Dirt Bike, Big Bike, Easyriders… to name a few… managed to not only document the machines and the hobby at the time, but affect it as well.
The ’60s boom in everything motorcycle… included new magazine titles galore! Most are long gone by now, and several were not very worthy in the first place. But while it lasted, it was a bonanza of information and opinion for the enthusiast. Cycle Guide, Cycle Illustrated, Modern Cycle, Dirt Bike, Big Bike, Easyriders… to name a few… managed to not only document the machines and the hobby at the time, but affect it as well.

Through not much fault of their own, the digital thing being what it is, print moto mags have been forced to re-trench over the last decade or so. Lordy-Lordy, it’s been ever-less depth in ever-thinner page counts for too long! I can only hope that the latest format changes and publication schedules… work… to keep print mags alive until they find their future. If you can’t beat the Internet, you shouldn’t compete with it.

Quality not quantity

Cycle World appeared on the scene in 1962 and immediately went to the head of the class because they actually tested new machines and told the truth about what they found. CW also invented the “data panel” that gave the reader the basic findings, all on one page. Quarter-mile times and trap speeds as well as zero to whatever speeds were standard… every test… every issue. In March 1970, Cycle published the first comparison test of newly-minted “superbikes.” Eight years later they printed (wait for it)… a 21-page… road test of the Honda CBX!

Then… this happened. Cycle was purchased by Ziff-Davis and soon staffed by the best in the business. Suddenly, what we could read about motorcycles and motorcyclists was sharply pointed, witty, sophisticated, thorough and thoroughly entertaining… literature, actually. Never before or since has moto journalism operated at this level of intensity and quality for this long. From 1968 through 1991, I still have every issue of this rag I ever bought… hundreds of ’em. Exhilarating and exemplary to this day. Read one!
Then… this happened. Cycle was purchased by Ziff-Davis and soon staffed by the best in the business. Suddenly, what we could read about motorcycles and motorcyclists was sharply pointed, witty, sophisticated, thorough and thoroughly entertaining… literature, actually. Never before or since has moto journalism operated at this level of intensity and quality for this long. From 1968 through 1991, I still have every issue of this rag I ever bought… hundreds of ’em. Exhilarating and exemplary to this day. Read one!

But more than that, there was the journalism, the sheer intellectual quality of writing and turn of phrase, that made these mags a must-read. Waiting impatiently for each issue to come in the mail or show up at the grocery store became an ingrained habit. It was great stuff cover to cover! Because the men behind the mags made it so. Guys like Bob Greene, Ed Hertfelder, Gordon Jennings, Phil Schilling, Cook Neilson, Allan Girdler, Peter Egan, and David Edwards, to name a few, didn’t just go for it… they took you along! I kept almost all of ’em!

Once Cycle was folded into CW in the early ’90s… my tastes for print developed a decidedly English flavor. The Brits had lost their industry, but not their influence as far as I was concerned. In depth, intelligent, insightful while often as not, self-deprecating and funny. Bike led the pack but all of them gave the “vibe” of knowing perfectly well what they were talking about and wanting to help you, the reader/rider, as much possible.
Once Cycle was folded into CW in the early ’90s… my tastes for print developed a decidedly English flavor. The Brits had
lost their industry, but not their influence as far as I was concerned. In depth, intelligent, insightful while often as not, self-deprecating and funny. Bike led the pack but all of them gave the “vibe” of knowing perfectly well what they were talking about and wanting to help you, the reader/rider, as much possible.

Today, CW’s Mark Hoyer, the inimitable Kevin Cameron and the latest wordsmith to make it big, Paul d’Orleans, (among others), uphold the tradition. Hoyer’s got to manage both CW’s digital and print formats and d’Orleans is the epitome of the new way to go… a blogger who’s hit the big time in print media, writing for several mags both here and abroad! Cameron’s worth volumes and seems to walk his own path anyway. But most of the men and machines that shaped my life in motorcycles and inspired me to the paths I took along the way, were of the ink-and-paper era. Looking back is useful and fun but looking forward is necessary.

Time marches on, and what used to be obsolete POS used motorcycles… are suddenly “classic.” Another British magazine, started in 1978 to preserve that nation’s motorcycle heritage, surprisingly flourished, becoming the bible of old bikes. Classic Bike and a half a dozen others in the same mold… including Motorcycle Classics here in the U.S. have clearly tapped a nerve with us boomers. All of them have a their own slant and a decent page count, are written well and informative as hell on the idiosyncrasies of crocks. Worth a read… so they survive and thrive, till boomers go bust, at least.
Time marches on, and what used to be obsolete POS used motorcycles… are suddenly “classic.” Another British magazine, started in 1978 to preserve that nation’s motorcycle heritage, surprisingly flourished, becoming the bible of old bikes. Classic Bike and a half a dozen others in the same mold… including Motorcycle Classics here in the U.S. have clearly tapped a nerve with us boomers. All of them have a their own slant and a decent page count, are written well and informative as hell on the idiosyncrasies of crocks. Worth a read… so they survive and thrive, till boomers go bust, at least.

Modern magazines have to take on a different role… youthful appeal, unique artistry, elegance and taste, new angles and insights, in-depth perspectives on the sport that can’t be matched elsewhere. Modern moto mags must catch the eyes of the readers, keep their noses in the pages, brains in gear and hearts longing. Print books and magazines must always strive to be the “gold standard” in whatever format and form they take. You know… stuff you’ll want to keep under the bed or on the nightstand.

Forsaking old for new, the revamped, rebooted Cycle World sports “Issue 1“ on the cover… of a quarterly. They are trying. Number one, while quite pretty to look at, isn’t just a face; its pages reveal everything you need to know about Titanium, a hell of lot about Ducati Panigales and more. “More” for me critically includes the fact that with a full subscription you have access to “cover-to-cover”… (meaning every issue ever printed)… digitally! (Cycle News and others are following suit… can’t happen quick enough.)
Forsaking old for new, the revamped, rebooted Cycle World sports “Issue 1“ on the cover… of a quarterly. They are trying. Number one, while quite pretty to look at, isn’t just a face; its pages reveal everything
you need to know about Titanium, a hell of lot about Ducati Panigales and more. “More” for me critically includes the fact that with a full subscription you have access to “cover-to-cover”… (meaning every issue ever printed)… digitally! (Cycle News and others are following suit… can’t happen quick enough.)

Fortunately, there are many legs under the bed. We can have the latest trends and tidbits instantly via the web. Get the in-depth details and insights in our print magazines, or digital versions of same (or both in some cases)… and… take the old moto mags the digital route as well! Either on the web or with a good scanner and some patience. We’ll look back on it someday, as Dickens said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us!”

With the exception of a couple CW oldies that happen to be worth money, “cover-to-cover” is my enabler. Because I could lose the bulk without losing access, could divest myself of nearly 1,500 issues of that rag alone, yet still read any one of ’em! Most of the other titles that got tossed were simply not worth keeping for various reasons. But the point is, what remains of my collection has value of a different kind and a plan. A scanner and lots of spare time will eventually convert the bulk into tiny, light, portable, organized, accessible information… at my fingertips, at all times. So… behold a mere fraction of the remaining (but undiminished) hoard! Scan and stash, peruse online, or download and print… Gutenberg would approve!
With the exception of a couple CW oldies that happen to be worth money, “cover-to-cover” is my enabler. Because I could lose the bulk without losing access, could divest myself of
nearly 1,500 issues of that rag alone, yet still read any one of ’em! Most of the other titles
that got tossed were simply not worth keeping for various reasons. But the point is, what remains of my collection has value of a different kind and a plan. A scanner and lots of spare time will eventually convert the bulk into tiny, light, portable, organized, accessible information… at my fingertips, at all times. So… behold a mere fraction of the remaining (but undiminished) hoard! Scan and stash, peruse online, or download and print… Gutenberg would approve!

As for me, it was high time! When clutter gives way to collection… there’s room for all… at my house, anyway.

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