“Motorcycle magazines were created for their staffs to have fun!” That assertion, from then-Editor Dale Boller, was the reason I came to work at Motorcyclist in late 1978. It expressed a philosophy that not only made the job attractive, but also made a perfect mission statement.
Motorcyclist's 1981 staff tour was rain-soaked from start to finish. Here, staffers debat
Still, my choice must have seemed bizarre. The magazine I left was bigger and profitable, unlike Motorcyclist, which was losing substantial sums. Furthermore, Honda’s ad agency was aggressively recruiting me, with an offer five times what Motorcyclist paid. But that seemed paltry if it meant spending days creating ad slogans for motorcycles rather that riding and writing about them. The magazine I was leaving had an uncertain philosophy, but having fun wasn’t part of it.
The editor’s saddle had changed butts with unsettling regularity since Petersen Publishing had acquired Motorcyclist seven years prior. The offices were dumpy and crowded. (I regarded that old building on Sunset Boulevard, once Howard Hughes’ hideaway, as a “creative environment.”) The biggest problem was that Motorcyclist, as one major advertiser remarked, was “sixth in a three-book field.”
I had known Dale and new Publisher Richard Lague for a few years and thought they could create a successful magazine, particularly if they saw having fun as the way to do it. I was in!
I immediately persuaded Dale to let me organize a cross-country comparison tour to Daytona Beach, Florida. Touring was hot, and shaft-drive bikes were arriving from all corners. I thought this would be a great way to do a thorough test. Dale didn’t really believe that we could pull it off, but we delivered the story and the issue on time, and in the process started a fun new tradition: the annual staff tour.
Another rising category, cruisers, was more problematic. The industry was selling them like addictive hotcakes, but Motorcyclist wouldn’t jump on the bandwagon. In those days cruisers were mostly restyled versions of conventional models, and they didn’t work as well as the bikes on which they were based. Manufacturers sometimes had trouble understanding why we printed such hurtful things about their tepid “customs.” This resolved itself somewhat when manufacturers began to create purpose-built cruisers, starting in ’81 with Yamaha’s Virago. Of course by that time Yamaha was convinced we hated cruisers and refused to loan us a testbike, so we had to buy one.
Dale Boller departed in ’80, and I reluctantly took the editor’s job. I couldn’t think of anyone else who would understand the whole “having-fun” concept.
My misgivings only increased when company president Fred Waingrow opened the first meeting I attended by looking at the financials and asking, “Why do we even have this magazine?” At least I knew the question we had to answer!
I was blessed with a great combination of people and circumstances. I shared Dale’s attitude that only guys who rode fast could tell you how a bike behaved, and Jeff Karr and Ken Vreeke were as fast or faster than any magazine staffer in the country. Joe Minton was unmatched in his knowledge of how to make a motorcycle work better. Our efforts to inform readers about riding smarter were boosted by the arrival of the Hurt Report, the first (and, unfortunately, still the only) comprehensive study of motorcycle crashes. This provided unprecedented information for riders interested in safety, but most of the other magazines gave it very little play.