Bryon Farnsworth | Different Times | Emeritus

The magazine business sure is a lot different today than during my time as Motorcyclist's publisher in the 1970s. I started my "literary career" in '68, when Joe and Betty Jean Parkhurst hired me away from BSA Motorcycles West to work at Cycle World. I had very little writing experience, but Joe said, "You just ride the bikes and do some slides and wheelies for the photographer; we'll fix the copy." At that time, they didn't have anyone on staff that was very good at riding. I was replaced by Jody Nicholas at Cycle World in '69, and went to Cycle magazine under Cook Neilson. Two years later, Kawasaki was opening a "skunk works" R&D; facility to develop motorcycles for the U.S. market. I was hired as a development rider, and helped bring the Z1 to market. I also worked in the racing department, bringing Brad Lackey aboard to win the first U.S. 500cc Motocross Championship for a Japanese manufacturer in '72. Then, in '75, I left for Motorcyclist.

Being publisher was a whole lot different than being an editor. Pete Petersen really liked motorcycles, and was totally supportive of the Motorcyclist staff. Fred Waingrow, Petersen's CEO/CFO, liked money, but he let us be creative. Our big advantage over the other motorcycle magazines was the Petersen Publishing Group. We had an excellent photo department headed up by Bob D'Olivo, a nationwide advertising sales network, the largest newsstand distribution and the jewel of off-road testing and client-hosting facilities, the Petersen Ranch. Not to mention the most experienced and versatile editorial staff including Bob Greene, Dave Ekins, Rich Cox, Jody Nicholas and Lynn Lovett. Everyone rode, and we covered every type of motorcycle.

Our circulation doubled the first year I was there. Our staff stayed at the Daytona Hilton during Speedweek, and we entertained advertising clients in the Goodyear Tower in the speedway's infield. We also hosted the annual Motorcyclist All-Star Awards banquet at Daytona. Later, Motorcyclist was title sponsor of Mike Goodwin's Superbowl of Motocross in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

I remember one day Pete asked me to give his two sons some riding tips on their Yamaha Mini Enduros at the ranch. Shortly thereafter, both boys were killed in a private-plane crash during a family ski trip in Colorado. Pete and Margie were never the same after that, and Pete wasn't as involved with Motorcyclist as he had been before.

Another incident poured salt in those wounds. An advertising client fell and broke his leg while taking part in an invitational ride day at the ranch, and sued the company. That pissed off Pete, and he closed the ranch to non-employees. We could test dirtbikes there, but no more hosting ad clients.

My job changed too, with more meetings about ad budgets, circulation, editorial cost savings, etc. I wasn't riding as much, and missed it. Fortunately for me, I was able to get my old job back at Kawasaki in '76. Before I left, I told Dick Day, the Automotive Group Publisher, that Dick Lague from Bombardier/Can-Am in Canada was looking to work someplace warmer. He heeded my advice and Motorcyclist really took off! MC

Cover shoot for the June 1976 issue with (left to right) Rich Cox, Dave Ekins and Bryon Farnsworth wheelying 250cc motocrossers at the old Petersen Ranch.