Uneasy Rider: The Last Print Issue of CityBike

Yep. Print is officially dead, for CityBike, at least.

But you know the old saying: “As CityBike goes, so goes the nation.” We fully expect The New Yorker and other die-hard standard-bearers, devotees to the printed page and long-form thought, to follow suit by the end of 2018. The writing is on the wall now. Or rather, the web.

It sucks. No other way to spin it, and I’m not going to indulge in blurring the facts to make it easier to stomach, like some meaningless corporate press release, 600 words of nothing.

Why? It’s probably obvious: economics and resulting priorities.

(Or, if you prefer, we’re doing it for the trees, man.)

Financially, print hasn’t worked for us in a long time. Consideration of this inevitability has been part of our internal routines since I took over in 2014, and the topic of what we do next has been an everyday discussion for the last year, maybe year and a half. My point of view has always been this: when CityBike stops working, we’ll stop doing it. Same applies to when it stops being fun or rewarding or whatever complex adjective is really required to describe the feelings associated with creating the mag, something that encompasses the near-constant, always-on busting ass balanced against the precious few moments of euphoria I get when viewing the final print file, and again when I take Big Vancy down to our printer to load up the pallet of mags under the cover of darkness.

Some amuse-douche will be chortling into his cappuccino about now: “Of course print doesn’t work, dumbass.” But the hackneyed “print is dead” is a gross oversimplification, dumbing down the surrounding issues to utter meaninglessness, and we don’t do that shit.

The more complex reality is that the motorcycling business ecosystem no longer supports CityBike’s print-centric efforts in the Bay Area financially, and in some cases, logistically. Shops close, dealerships get sold to what I can only call outsiders, owners whose connection to the community is often less real, more a fabrication of “events” designed to bring in potential customers. The remaining shops struggle to keep on keepin’ on in our increasingly brutal economic environment. Contacts at bigger, non-local companies change, over and over, and eventually the connection breaks. This all means fewer advertisers.

CityBike is free, and since we’re not the beneficiary of some mystical NPR-esque art-for-the-good-of-society program funding, or another slimy tentacle of investment and monetization for some multi-national media conglomerate Cthulu, this downward trend has very material effects. To paraphrase Bill Foster, the fucked-up protagonist in 1993’s depressingly prophetic tragedy, Falling Down, we aren’t economically viable.

CityBike is such an institution in the Bay Area (and beyond) that readers don’t realize we’re not a functional media company or whatever, not in any real business sense. Almost everyone I meet thinks the Wrecking Crew is a full-time staff, that the oft-referenced World Headquarters is an actual place. But we’re a small organization that isn’t even really an organization. We’re a band of true grit, real riders with “real jobs,” making the mag happen every month on top of all that.

With that in mind, our priority must be our website, our online presence. But even if our print business was still drowning us in dollar bills like the days of yore (hah!), there’s only so much time in the day, and we can’t do both well. If we don’t shift our efforts from the all-consuming print edition and focus completely on the web now, there will be no more CityBike.

Some of you are cueing up some version of “But it’s easy, just put your print articles online!” Please see the two paragraphs above: we gotta pay the bills, friend, and anyway, it’s nowhere near that easy. I’ve been extremely proud that, until now, we’ve continued to deliver a monthly publication when majors were switching to bi-monthly or quarterly, a publication that readers continually tell us rivals—or beats—the quality of the “real magazines.” That shit takes a lot of time.

Although the monthly production cycle over the last year or so has gotten breakdown-inducing at times, between ad agencies not paying, race promoters pissing on deadlines, and a constantly evolving pile of other snafus, I’ll miss print, intensely. There’s no replacement for all the creative work that goes into each issue, and honestly sometimes feels wasted on the newsprint-y paper we use. You really can’t do cool layouts online, not against any sort of deadline anyway. And I’ll miss the reader photos, random shots of a copy of the mag in some interesting place, Alaska or Japan or COTA or wherever. There’s some exceptional examples of these in “Tankslapper” in our August issue.

Ride Fast Take ChancesCityBike is now necessarily competing directly for readers in a world where clickbait bullshit rules; where big companies fund “content creation” solely to draw more eyes and dollars to their ecommerce websites; where it’s acceptable to announce free products that have arrived for review and then never actually run a review; where utterly inane, empty stories and barely-concealed brand pimping masquerade as articles; where posers and wannabes more interested in curated events, lifestyle pieces and the trappings of motorcycling—not riding—are the new normal; where accuracy and facts seems to have become irrelevant, as if motorcycling media is a microcosm of the fucking pathetic state of “real” media, of communication at large.

Fuck that shit. All of it.

I promise you right now, CityBike will never deteriorate to that. I said it a couple months back (Uneasy Rider: We’re Your Huckleberry): we’ll scuttle this motherfucker and go riding long before we’ll resort to factory-farming pageviews.

I’m not asking for money, and we’re sure not gonna start a “Save Moto-journalism!!!” GoFundMe campaign. But if you value what we do—our stories, our voice and irreverence, our no-bullshit swagger—please join us in our now-virtualized independent motojournalism revolution, once you’ve taken some time to process your grief at the end of our print edition, of course. Subscribers: we’ll be refunding the remainder of your subscription soon.

Put CityBike.com in your bookmarks, sign up for our email list, or just check in at our website a couple times a week for the latest stuff. Share our articles. Tell your friends.

Thank you.

12 Responses

  1. Chris

    Shit. This is (was) the only thing I got in the mail that I actually read.

    Reply
  2. Randall

    Commencing processing grief…..
    This little folded-up piece of tree was a connection to a local community that wrote well and rode well.
    I get it; it’s just the interface.
    But it feels like another shitty day standing in the sand on the Dunkirk of my life.
    Keep my money, Surj. I owe City Bike for 34 years of free issues.

    Reply
  3. John A.

    … end of an era …
    looking forward to keeping my head
    above “gross oversimplification, and the
    dumbing down [of] the surrounding issues”
    by keeping up with you all on-line …
    we don’t do that shit … god bless CityBike! 🙂

    Reply
  4. Jack

    The red box…my only reason to ride over the hill to Pacheco…you bastards! Just leave the boxes. Something else will fill the void. All the best:)

    Reply
  5. Brian

    I walk out to my mailbox to get my latest issue and What the Fuck? Just another example that the U.S. mail brings bad news more often than good news.
    If i read right, your plan is to refund the unused portion of my subscription?
    I’d rather Citybike use the money and start planning a future ride and bring donuts!
    What the hell you gonna say next, Donuts are going online only?

    Reply
    • Surj Gish

      Yep, Brian, we’re working our way through refunds. We’re all trying to improve our weight-to-horsepower ratios, so no donuts for now. 😉

      Reply
  6. James Choate

    Thanks for keeping City Bike going online. Keep my refund.
    – James C., San Ramon

    Reply
  7. Jim S

    I have been a reader since 1984, one of the many Bay Area riders who grabbed a copy the day it landed in those racks at bike shops and bus stops. I usually read the whole issue, every page, since there just wasn’t anything like it.

    I’m looking at your final print issue, drinking my morning cuppa ,knowing that the real pain won’t set in until next month, when there is no Sept print issue. I’ll follow the online version now, but it won’t be the same, that’s for sure. No one ever gets nagged for leaving online news sites lying around the kitchen table.

    Thanks to all those at CityBike who did so much to keep your paper out on the streets over the years, Gabe, Surj, Maynard, your circulation staff et al.

    Reply
  8. Justin W. Coffey

    This is both the best thing I’ve read in many months, and also the most awful. Being not from the Bay Area, and also a non-subscriber, I feel like I have little room to say much of anything, save for the fact that the issues of your book I have been fortunate to come across, as well as reading this site on the regular, make me sad to see it – the ol’ printed page version – go with the rest of them. Some needed to go. I won’t name names, but I am sure we can come up with a few collectively. But this, this isn’t something that deserved to get the ghost. I will continue to read this here site, and would hope that one day you can justify a quarterly, bi-annual or whenever-the-fuck-you-feel printed edition of CityBike Magazine.

    Oh, and one last note; the first time I met anyone that wrote for this thing was at he new Honda Rebel launch in Los Angeles. I asked what outlet they were from, shook his hand, and then watched as he dumped the clutch and smoked the rear tire of that new 500. Well done, sir. Well done all of you.

    Reply
  9. Dick

    Good article on the challenges and moral morass surrounding motorcycle publishing. Well written too. Many publications have deteriorated into extinction adopting a business model that was too ad centric, slowly shifting content from reader interest focused to advertiser interest promoting. I only became aware of this publication’s existence, but from reading the obit of the print version in another publication (that removed it a day later), I can tell the online version has retained some of the chutzpah of the original. If I may suggest three easy things: 1) stay focused on motorcycles, don’t let pointless reviews of accessories and apps and other garbage distract the reader, just because someone wants a review of their junk doesn’t mean you have to touch it 2) use good writing 3) build an app to distribute your content in a format where a limited amount of advertising is not overly intrusive (e.g. pdf). Best of luck!

    Reply
    • Surj Gish

      Dick, I know you’re new here, so I’ll go easy on you. 😉 Incidentally, I saw your comments on that other article, the one that’s gone, so I know your back story. 😀

      Our voice is no different online than it was in print. Period. It will continue to be that way.

      On your three easy things:
      1. We do what we want, and write about what we want to. We have never written about a product (someone’s “junk”) simply because that someone wanted a review, and we never will. But I disagree that accessories and yes, even apps, are distracting for readers, no matter how much you insist on insulting Holzfeuer in the comments on his review of the Riser app. We’re into bikes and everything around bikes—it may stop at just the vehicle for you, but not for us.
      2. Ok. We’re on the same page here.
      3. Unlikely. We already have recent back issues available online, and quite frankly, the online PDF viewing experience isn’t as good as we’d like. I’m not inclined to allocate resources to developing an app when a responsive website works across multiple devices just fine (we’re working on further improvements in this area). But we will never sink to the level of that other site or any of the others that overwhelm readers with garbage, clickbait bullshit from “recommended content” networks.

      Reply

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