Jul 12, 2012

Motorcycle Magazines & Me

[I wrote this one a long time ago, as you can see by the copy-write date on the header. It's still mostly the way I feel about the leading motorcycle magazines.]

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day
In looking for product to review, I realized that one of the most arrogant things a writer and a magazine could do is review the competition. Since they don't know we exist, I decided if the cynical Shakespearean adage "discretion is the better part of valor" was catchy enough to gain traction, arrogance and courage might hook up as well. Another motivation for doing this review is that lots of new riders don't know what the rest of us read when we are not reading MMM. With that in mind, I thought it might be sort of a public service to describe our rivals. With that as my guiding light, I decided to do an analysis of the major motorcycle rags. (This is my definition of "major" magazines, your mileage may vary.) There are some pretty good on-line magazines, but I'm not going to look at them on this pass. I decided to list the magazines in order of my opinion of their value, so you'll probably have another bone with which to pick.

#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.

#3: Motorcyclist
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.


Erik R said...

I don't usually waste my time with large motorcycle magazines. I find the re-hashing of manufacturers press releases to be sad, compared to honest rider opinions. I know, don't bite the hand that feeds you...
I do, for the most part, like Roadrunner magazine. But, even they can fill space with things I really don't need to know about. The latest issue had an article about motorcycling in Iran. I don't plan on touring over seas, or any third world countries. I'd rather they fill their space with some lesser known destinations in the USA, and give the Blur Ridge Parkway a rest.

Anonymous said...

At the price they charge I wonder how long MCN can survive? They keep begging me to come back at half price I think, and I have almost bit a few times because I do enjoy some of their stuff. I occasionally walk to the library to read CW. I find myself buying several copies a year of RR, but I get turned off by all the cruiser reviews (be careful not to lean over in a corner or you might tear off the floor boards).

T.W. Day said...

I can't even read my own cruiser reviews and not want to strangle the writer (http://mnmotorcycle.com/bike-review-honda-vt1300-interstate-%E2%80%93-switchin%E2%80%99-to-glide/). It doesn't take many pages of guys plodding along CA highways on hippomobiles for me to toss the mag into the fire-starting pile. The same, unfortunately goes for stuff I might like but can't ride (almost every off-road bike made today because of the seat height and crotch rockets because of the knee bend required). I have learned, over the years, that I am a particular kind of motorcyclist. I don't value, respect, or care about motorcycles I wouldn't want to ride. I do like MCN's attitude toward rider training, their technical articles, the legal advice, and the medical advice. All useful stuff, even for an old guy and, sometimes, especially for old guys. No advertiser money in that, which is why the magazine costs so much. MMM is the polar opposite, we are "free" to the reader, but fully paid for by the advertisers.

Joe said...

I like Motorcycle Roadrunner. At least it is a magazine for and about touring on motorcycles. I want magazines that have articles about doing things and going places on motorcycles and the experiences they had along the way. RR has lots of cruisers but that really doesn't bother me. I just like seeing and learning about where they are riding. It bothers me not what bike they are riding. Motorcycle hate is unhealthy.

My beef with MCN is that it is portrayed and described by its supporters as being this sort of 'Consumer Reports' for motorcycles. I don't buy into that nor do I feel that they are CR for motorcycles when I read it. I think their new test bikes come from the same press fleets just like everybody else.

Here are the mags I currently get:

Roadrunner: I like to read about touring even if it is in Morocco.

Roadracing World: I'm a fan of motorcycle road racing and this is still the best rag out there imho. You just have to understand and accept your seeing the racing world through John Ulrich's eyes. I also like their sporty bike reviews. At least they're honest...all they care about is how it does on the track.

Adventure Motorcycle: What used to be Dual Sport News. Nice little rag that's been on again / off again. I get the electronic version.

T.W. Day said...

I don't know where MCN gets their bikes, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's the usual route. At MMM, we beg dealers to let us touch new bikes and try not to piss them off so badly that they won't let us ride one of their bikes again. It's a difficult line to walk; between the reader's best interests and the dealer's motivation for allowing the test ride. Reviews are difficult in all industries. I review audio gear, too, and have the same wrestling match.

I've never heard of Adventure Motorcycle. Thanks for that tip. I've become a big fan of Rider's Digest, a UK on-line magazine for the touring stories. I don't think motorcycles are important enough to "hate," but I don't have any interest in cruisers so nothing about them attracts my attention. Poor engineering is poor engineering and I try to avoid it when I can.

Anonymous said...