Uneasy Rider: We’re Your Huckleberry

CityBike has long been a “print-first” publication, since before there was another way, and then well past—years, maybe decades—when we should have been doing more—or anything, really—online.

Photo: Angelica Rubalcaba

I’m not an intentional contrarian but I am kind of a maladjusted jerk, or as a friend said just last week, my voice is “characterized by a more cynical and rebellious attitude” than others in the motorcycle media. So I’ve enjoyed jaw-jacking about the struggles other publications have faced, secure in CityBike’s position as one of the last few Mohicans, still cranking out our real-deal independent motojournalism every month as the biggest names in mainstream moto-media disappeared or went bimonthly, or even artsty-fartsy quarterly, becoming even more obviously owned by advertisers.

The comparison is idiotic, of course: CityBike may have been a “real business” at some point but has long been an off-the-rails labor of love, laughter and frustration, pulled together in the wee hours while paying the bills by other means. We never had to answer to a parent company’s balance sheet, so we keep making a monthly magazine well past the point of financial sensibility. And anyway, my inspiration came from the bands and record labels that defined DIY before it was just jargon—Dead Kennedys, Propagandhi, Dischord Records and the like—so CityBike’s role as perpetual middle finger-waving underdog made sense to me. Not like Bonnier came to us with a sack of money and promises, but if they had, I’d have chosen to keep being the editor that washes bikes and loads the print run into the van late at night over the caged-bird existence of a formerly-free spirited mag now under the thumb of an organization that has consolidated publishing and marketing services into the same org, presumably resulting in gleeful hand-wringing from brands that talk authenticity but still crave control of the message.

When I took over in 2014, CityBike’s entire online presence was an exceptionally shitty fossil of a website, and the official policy was to put back issue PDFs online three months after print. The idea was that by delaying the PDFs into irrelevance, people would go to dealerships and repair shops for the mag each month, enforcing a virtuous, symbiotic relationship with local moto-business: we brought in customers, and in return had a place to stock the mags. There are countless stories from the last four decades of riders hitting the red rack at their favorite shop each month, and even now we get emails and (still) letters with such stories. But times, they keep a-changing: shops close, riders order online to save money or to gain access to broader selection, more shops close and the ease and economy of ecommerce becomes still more attractive. The Bay Area is particularly brutal in this respect, with an overworked, time-starved populace given to early adoption and ever-increasing costs that would make running a local shop nearly impossible even if revenue wasn’t progressively going elsewhere.

I remember sitting outside a Sacramento coffee shop in the early Nineties, talking with Kevin Seconds, vocalist and occasional guitarist of the seminal positive-punk band 7 Seconds, about Henry Rollins’ post-Black Flag work. Kevin told of conversations with Henry, a man long known for his tenacity and over-the-top work ethic, and Henry’s frustration that the Rollins Band didn’t draw attendance at shows the way Black Flag had. The End of Silence was a masterpiece, and still holds up to this day, but only a few people got it, at least in America.

I’m no Henry Rollins, but this memory has been a constant presence at the edge of my mind palace since we launched our new website in a fit of hackery over the New Year weekend almost five months ago. I’m disheartened that we did it so incredibly late, but I’m even more frustrated that it’s so hard to pull eyeballs away from websites that churn out the most inane regurgitations of press releases and bullshit stories devoid of thoughtful, creative writing and original photography.

The quality of media, of communication, of thinking, is at such a heartbreaking low in America at this point—why should motorcycle media be any different?

I’ve talked of potential eventualities of motorcycling before, the idea that this might be it, that there might not be a place for two-wheelers in a not-so-distant Red Barchetta future—not necessarily because of regulation but rather convenience, maybe both. The path to that future doesn’t have a place for shit-talking real riders in unflattering onesies, only favorable “influencers.”

Make no mistake: we’ll scuttle this motherfucker and go riding long before we’ll resort to factory-farming pageviews to stave off the inevitable.

All this is a long-winded way of saying in the plainest way I can: if you value CityBike, keep checking out CityBike.com and tell your friends. We’re doing our best to make our website as awesome as you guys and gals keep telling us the mag is.

This story originally appeared in our June 2018 issue.

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