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Common Tread

Motorcyclist magazine reimagined

Apr 13, 2017

I rummaged through my carry-on luggage, struggling to find the reading material I know I packed… somewhere. 

About three seconds before an impatient flight attendant with a loaded beverage cart ran me over, I found what I was looking for. Retreating to the safety of my tiny coach cockpit, I examined my options.

In one hand I held a well worn copy of Peter Egan’s original “Leanings.” This wasn’t my personal copy, but rather one I had recently bought for a woman I was trying to woo. In spite of her predilection for all things two-wheeled, she wasn’t sure our shared passion for motorcycles was reason enough to be seen regularly in public with me. Hence, I now have an early Christmas present for Lemmy.

Motorcyclist Magazine Revisited
In-flight reading: my literary options. RevZilla photo.

As much as I would have enjoyed reading for the hundredth time about Egan’s failed trip to Seattle aboard a 1975 Norton 850 Interstate with Barb on the pillion, I already know how that story ends. Instead I opened the new March/April Motorcyclist magazine, the first issue of the magazine's new six-issue-per-year format.

I actually had the pleasure of chatting with Ari Henning last year at a dinner hosted by Honda. We talked about where moto journalism is going, where it had come from, and who inspired us.

If you’re not familiar with the name, you should be. Ari is half of the duo currently at the helm of Motorcyclist magazine. Upon Marc Cook’s departure from the role of editor-in-chief of the magazine last fall, Ari and Zack Courts decided to split editorial duties and steer the ship together as executive editors. Their hope being that they could share the duties of running the magazine while still being able to enjoy participating in the day-to-day of riding and writing for the magazine.

Remember, the boss doesn’t get to do as much of the fun stuff. Just ask Lance.

The first major announcement under the pair's new leadership was that Motorcyclist was going to shift from its traditional format of 12 issues per year to six issues annually. Ultimately, the goal would be to place an increased focus on the quality of the content over the quantity, while prioritizing good storytelling. If this first issue is any indication of what’s to come, then we all have a reason to start regularly checking our mailboxes again.

Former Motorcyclist Editor-in-Chief Mitch Boehm penned the cover story, simply titled “ADV Origins: R80 G/S.” Boehm borrows an original G/S and rides it across Death Valley while inviting the reader along for the ride. He uses the journey as an opportunity to discuss the history of the bike that transformed the Bavarian motorcycle manufacturer and created a new class of motorcycles. Julia LaPalme’s larger-than-life photographs of his journey accompany his words as he travels across the desert on the historic machine.

Motorcyclist Magazine Revisited
Zack Courts dives into KTM's history and how it led to the new KTM Super Duke R. Image from Motorcyclist magazine.

Zack Courts’ approach to covering a modern motorcycle launch is completely revisited in “Kingdom Come: The Rise of a Company and a Country.” Abandoning modern SEO titling bullshit, there isn’t even a hint of the fact there is a First Ride Review of the new 2017 KTM Super Duke buried underneath pure, unadulterated, storytelling.

Newcomer Brody Cox takes you deep into So-Cal’s vintage motorcycle scene with “Charlie’s Place.” Void of artisan coffee references and pictures of chopped up “café racers,” the article examines one man’s passion for mechanical excellence with meticulous detail for restoring as opposed to destroying.

In “What Went Wrong: Getting Rear Ended,” Ari Henning revisits a close call with the wrong end of a Nissan Pathfinder in hopes that others will learn from his mistake. Instead of going on the defensive, spewing venom about distracted drivers and furthering the rift between those traveling on two wheels and those who opt for four, Ari takes a different approach. He reflects on what he could have done differently and ultimately takes responsibility for his role in the events leading up to the accident.

Aside from Boehm’s article, these articles aren’t even the ones promoted on the cover. The truth is, these examples are just the beginning of what you’ll find spread over the pages of this issue that prompted me to spend an entire transcontinental flight penning this article.

Motorcyclist Magazine Revisited
A wide variety of diverse content. Image from Motorcyclist magazine.

In the forward of Egan’s “Leanings,” Pete’s original editor Allan Girdler wrote, “I knew that when you’re a writer, you envy talent. But when you’re an editor, you hire it.” I understand the point Mr. Girdler was making, but I don’t necessarily agree with it.

Everyone has a different approach and a different style. I enjoy reading pieces that I know I couldn’t have tackled or perhaps I wouldn’t have approached the same way. On one hand, it both educates and entertains me, and on the other, it inspires me. Reading a really good article motivates me to continually go out and strive to be a little better, honing my own craft.

I write about motorcycles because I am, first and foremost, a motorcyclist. And when I am not riding I am either wrenching on motorcycles or reading about them. I am guessing a lot of you out there are in the same boat. We are lucky to have such a passionate reader base here at Common Tread and I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume that you too are always looking for additional content to consume.

Motorcycle literature should be fun and inclusive. It should inspire non-motorcyclists to join the fold and existing riders to try something new. The newest issue of Motorcyclist is all of that and more.

It may look like a gamble. It’s a step away from what moto journalism has become in modern years and it is a change I openly applaud. The real gamble, however, would be to stay the same. The media landscape is shifting and everyone is rethinking how they do business.  

If you haven’t already done so, do yourself a favor and pick up the most recent issue. The guys and gals over there did a fantastic job reinventing the magazine to give us all something a little more.