#1: Motorcycle Consumer News (www.mcnews.com)
The advantage MCN has over the competition is that this little magazine (practically printed on rag paper) doesn't accept advertising. So, MCN's reviews should be uncontaminated by commercial influences; as if that is possible in corporate America. Sometimes, though, MCN's reviews are the best you will read when the product has serious problems. Unlike the glossy, advertiser-driven rags, MCN writers will occasionally tell you about the things they don't like in a bike, gear, or even the industry.
David Hough's criticism of the MSF's political tactics and training deficiencies, a couple of years ago, was the only voice in the woods. Since the MSF is sponsored by the motorcycle manufacturers and the organization exists to put a happy face on the sad world of motorcycle mortality statistics, the woods were thick. None of the other rags would have touched that subject, but MCN took it on for a series of articles.
Like most of us who review bikes, MCN wastes time describing the technical characteristics of the bikes they review. Anyone who is capable of cutting and pasting data from the manufacturers' press releases can look like a technical wiz by doing this and, since everyone else does it, MCN is wasting precious space in repeating that tactic. Skip the marketing drivel and go straight to the "riding impressions." MCN costs $41/year, so wasting time and space doing what everyone else does for $7/year makes me reconsider my subscription every time they do it. I do, however, hang on to MCN copies until I'm sure I've gleaned all value from each issue.
#2: Cycle World
There is one great thing about every issue of Cycle World, Kevin Cameron. The brilliant author of Sportbike Performance does a technical article, TDC, in which he takes apart yet one more complex idea and re-describes it so that the rest of us have a useful understanding of what is going on inside the mechanical world. Funny thing about CW. In writing this column, I looked all over the house for the magazine and was unable to find a single copy. After working my way through Cameron's column, I rarely spend any time on the rest of the magazine and give it away almost immediately. Kevin is worth the $7/year I spend on CW. No, I am not a Peter Egan fan. Apparently, making that statement alienates lots of local CW readers because Egan is a Wisconsinite and while Minnesotans hate the Packers and successful Minnesotans, we're supposed to love our neighbor motorcycle pundits. I find Egan to be long-winded and a little like listening to Paris Hilton describe her jewelry and makeup.
I go hot and cold with Motorcyclist. I, often, love the articles contributed to this rag from outside of their staff. For example, Ed Milich's article, "Field Guide to Common Internet Motorcycle Wackos" was as good as funny motorcycle articles gets; and accurate. The editors of Motorcyclist are thin-skinned, a little reactionary, and highly sensitive to their advertiser's needs/demands. I rarely read the bike reviews or "shoot-outs." Everything is wonderful and you should buy them all is the gist of those puff pieces and I can't afford the time to "read in-between the lines" to sort out what they really thought about the stuff they rode. I can't tell the reviews from the ads and there are pages and pages of ads. Motorcyclist's photo shots cater to the hooligan crowd and that doesn't do much for me, either.
Kenny Roberts mans their "MotoGP Desk," but rag's index is so badly laid out that I usually hear about what he's written from other readers long after I've discarded my copies. Sometimes the mag reminds me of those webpages designed with black text on a dark purple background. Sometimes it's too much work to fight through the format to see what the writers had to say.
#4: Rider Magazine
Rider has vanished into a weird marketing scam (Riders' Club), but it used to be a rider-based, rider-written touring magazine. I have hopes that someday it will return to that standard. I bump into Rider about a half-dozen times a year and in recent years that experience always reminds me of the magazine I used to like, but the current magazine is not it.