Forty-Three Years of Reading Motorcyclist | Cranked

By Joe Gresh, Photography by Motorcyclist Archives

Twenty-twelve marks Motorcyclist’s 100th anniversary. A century of continuous publishing in the magazine business is an astounding feat, the likes of which we may never see again. There’s another streak, though—one going strangely unheralded amid all this centennial hoopla: my 43rd year of reading Motorcyclist.

The scene: interior of a 1960 Buick LeSabre, white pterodactyl tail-wings gleaming in the rear window, safety belts tucked unused at my side; my grandmother is driving. The speedometer, a bright-red thermometer laid on its side, nudges its way to 40 degrees. I’m a little kid, so I pass the time calling out the make, model, year of manufacture and displacement in cubic centimeters of every motorcycle we see on the highway. I know how many speeds their transmissions have. I know their cylinder disposition, their air-induction inclination. I know their top speed, their quarter-mile times to the hundredth of a second, and can name the color choices available for each, year by year.

All this I learned from motorcycle magazines. Lots and lots of motorcycle magazines. Frustrated by my trivial pursuit, Granny angrily says, “If you studied on schoolwork as much as you study on motorcycles, you’d be a straight-A student.” I don’t tell her I’ve been skipping school to ride my Honda Mini-Trail; no sense creating stress.

I bought them all: Motorcyclist, Cycle Guide, Cycle, Cycle World, Modern Cycle, Cycletoons. They shaped my myopic world-view.

Inside the magazines, images of tiny Maico transmissions and Husqvarna port specifications compete for attention with the latest multi-cylinder engines glowing from their covers. This stuff mattered to me!

I marveled at the fantastic engineering pouring out of Japan when told to marvel by witty, wisecracking moto-journalists. Their work was not in vain: Jumbles of facts and figures, generated for long-dead motorcycles, are safely stored inside my soft-drive. Instead of “Rosebud,” my last words will be “Eight-Bolt Webco!”

I can remember a story about a Honda SL70 that snapped its front downtubes running the Baja 1000. Two open-end wrenches were welded onto the broken tubes as gussets. So I ran the Baja 1000. I remember ominous first-year Kawasaki Z1 reviews, where the testbike’s shocks had been totally shagged: bouncing along at 130 mph and it had more to go! Firing those exact same memory synapses is the Kawasaki ZRX1100 in my shed. Then there was the Yamaha DT250 Project Lite; the writers stripped, drilled and shaved that motorcycle down to 190 lbs! Now I own a vintage Yamaha RT1 360, and it could stand to lose a few pounds.

Instead of the Internet knocking out the dead-tree-mongers, the Web has lowered entry barriers, spawning dozens of thick-paged “book-a-zines” that cater to every two-wheeled fetish imaginable (see Moto Retro Illustrated and Café Racer). Add to these the countless web-zines, chat rooms, forums and blogs that infinity-split niches into ever more microscopic audiences and you can see why I no longer have time to mow the lawn on Saturday.

I wasn’t around in 1912 for those fateful first issues of Motorcyclist, but if I were, I would have been a loyal subscriber. I’ll let you judge which is the greater accomplishment: Motorcyclist magazine laying it on the line every month for 100 years or me turning those same pages for nearly a half-century. Motorcyclist has endlessly morphed to meet the expectations of a diverse readership at once elbow-deep in a Knucklehead transmission rebuild or dreaming of owning their first motorcycle. In all that time, I haven’t changed. I still consume motorcycle magazines like Jolly Rancher candy. The grape ones.

Sure, it’s possible to scavenger-hunt my moto-fix on the computer, but I still like being spoon-fed choice selections monthly by a knowledgeable omni-editor. Structure and format reassure me. I like reading handcrafted stories and tech pieces that seamlessly fit into the rigid haiku paper publishing demands. Lately, I like being listed on the masthead of this century-old institution called Motorcyclist.

I just wish Granny could see me now...

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