The Death of the American Motorcycle Magazine

The Death of the American Motorcycle Magazine

What happened?  The motorcycle mags I’ve read for years are being erased like bugs wiped off your visor with a squeegee of questionable soapiness in a gas station.  At least the main ones – “Cycle World,” “Motorcyclist,” etc.

What happened?  I have some thoughts, devoid of any actual insider info, which is why this worth exactly what you’re paying for it.

For motorcyclists of a certain age, the magazine has been an important part of our relaxation time for decades – in my case over half a century.

In high school I had a class called “Study Hall” one year – and in those golden oldie days you are actually expected to study.  Stuff like textbooks.  Which I did some of the time, but if someone had a copy of Cycle World magazine and had already read it three times, it was surreptitiously passed around like illegal contraband, which in a sense it was.

I was soon devouring every motorcycle magazine I could get my hands on, and did so for decades.  I even had articles published in a couple of them, notably “American Motorcyclist” (AMA) and “Road Rider,” which later became “Motorcycle Consumer News.”  MCN still exists, as do some of the specialist mags, but the heavy hitters are now reduced to daily social media posts.

Why?  I think there are several factors:

READING: Reading is less popular.  People today process almost everything through their phones.  The technology allows a lot of graphics and videos to be screened along with the content, and people go for the video as it gives more color and motion and sound, and takes less time.

Which is where I disagree.  When it comes to motorcycles or high- performance cars, the more time I spend enjoying it, the better.  I have some slight hopes for the future, using the metaphor of – automatic transmissions in cars.  About two decades ago, design boffins began creating automatic transmissions that were faster and easier to use than manuals. First, they invaded race cars, and then, inevitably, the street.  The stated benefits were that the car was faster.  It was also a lot cheaper for the manufacturer to offer only one transmission.  This never made sense to me, as any high-performance car at a track day is capable of a lap time, in the hands of a pro driver, that is ten seconds a lap faster than I will ever be. Or you.

Now we see some manufacturers (thank you Porsche) beginning to offer manuals again, although in Porsche fashion they will charge you for it.

Perhaps in time people will return to the joys of spending a long time actually reading a packed magazine with articles about their hobby, whether it be motorcycles, cars, knitting, or cribbage.  (Confession – I know nothing about the state of the knitting and cribbage magazine industries).

TIME:  It is hard to justify a magazine with articles about race results when the race was held more than a month ago and has been covered to death already on TV, YouTube, social media, and on and on.  It is difficult to promote a first road test of a new model when again, it was done last month in video form.

MARKET: The economic collapse of the 2nd mortgage market in 2008 hit motorcycle dealerships and manufacturers harder than most other retail indusctries.  Many dealerships died as a result.  Cycle Barn went from 284 employees to about 48 in two years, and was eventually broken into smaller pieces – some of the business arms disappeared, and some were sold off to become smaller outlets.  Fewer motorcyclists meant fewer readers, and the OEMs were a little slow to respond with smaller and less expensive motorcycles meant for younger riders.   Younger riders tend to have phones embedded in their skulls, and view reading as a medieval form of torture done only by old men mowing their lawn in flip flops, shorts, and black socks.

GREED:   The big one, to me.  Putting out a magazine is a lot of work, takes a lot of time, and eats a lot of money.  When magazine people began putting out blurbs on social media, I think they quickly discovered that the ads they could splice in delivered significant income, without the hassle and labor of paying those pesky writers, hiring copy editors, and on and on.  I would not be surprised if the major magazines are now more profitable as social media “content providers” than they were as magazine publishers.

All in all, a sad state of affairs, much like our country at the moment. I have hopes for the future of both.

P.S.  If you are reading this on your phone there is some chance that your screen does not show my full web page – a tragedy that would prevent you from seeing the links so you can purchase my books!  And other stuff as well.  Go to on a full screen computer to correct this travesty.

Copyright 2019              David Preston

About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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2 Responses to The Death of the American Motorcycle Magazine

  1. Eric says:

    In the UK, the motorbike magazine business along with manual transmissions are doing just fine. Newsagents are full of bike magazines, and just about everyone I know drives a stick shift.

  2. Patrick says:

    Well Dave… We used to draw pictures on the walls of caves, paint images on various media and then came the photograph, then came moving pictures, color and now digital images, 3D and video and now digital-video… We used to inscribe images in mud, animal hides, onion-skin, and then Gutenberg invented the printing-press, now we have digital publishing… Magazines were the TV and video of their era and were the only way to access these esoteric or niche activities and topics and for advertisers to reach the target demographic of potential consumers… This is a eulogy for the physically printed medium of magazines.

    Apple Inc. is bringing magazines into the digital age with Apple News+ This brings interactivity to the magazine by integrating a variety of technologies that will evolve the genre…

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