Old timers will remember Playboy magazine’s ads back in the Sixties—the ones picturing some dapper fellow and which posed the query, “What sort of a man reads Playboy?” MAD magazine responded with its own version, “What sort of a man reads MAD?” And it was no surprise that the MAD reader turns out to be not the dweebish fashion plate in the foreground but the gearhead beneath the jalopy. Under the editorship of Al Feldstein, MAD magazine challenged the status quo of Fifties and Sixties conformity through humor, insight and common sense—and in doing so prodded the rising generation to think for themselves. The fact that MAD had a serious mission statement wrapped in humor is evidenced by the huge impact the magazine has since had on the world at large.
Sound familiar? To my mind, honest moto-journalism—and honest riding—are likewise signposts pointing to who we really are. And without a clear vision of the road ahead combined with a genuine recognition of our own ability to take on that road, who can survive the next curve or intersection? Knowing your own limitations and understanding your individual abilities are the driving forces of good riding. Because riding is all about individuality.
So what sort of a man, or woman—or rather entity—reads CityBike? Of all forms of transport, bikes are the best for the personal expression of the inimitable soul that bursts forth before the wind and the elements. Although individuality is the proprietorship of everyone, few in the world of political correctness—a world wherein arms are twisted to respect the ignorance of others—are willing to broadcast that fact too loudly.
In the Sanskrit literatures it is explained that each unique and individual living entity is like a ray of the Sun. The unlimited spiritual particles, namely ourselves, are tiny fractions of the whole—the Parabrahman. Each soul is indestructible and one of a kind. Outward preferences and projected images are merely external expressions of the undying eternal nature of the transcendental particle within the body. Call it motorcycle yoga: self knowledge is indicated when, after a mind-cleansing ride through the sun and wind, a rider exclaims, “This is who I am.”
The mental state of the rider, the physical body, the riding gear that protects the body, the personal skill, the choice of the motorcycle itself and the particular road traveled: each are reflections of the atma within. And in the wonderful world of two wheels only the individual who takes responsibility for his own thoughts, words and actions can make it across the finish line to ride another day.
On the other hand, the corporate world thrives on conformity. In slick moto-publications owned by mega-conglomerates, ad men are paid to sell you an image of what or who a rider is. The ads—and some of the content, too—seem to show the bike riding the person. We see race scores and are tempted to think, “Honda and Suzuki trounced Kawasaki.” But in reality it was the amazingly skilled rider—not the machine—who either won or lost the competition.
Those who are suckered into an image, a logo, a look, an insignia—and who do not take the required individual responsibility—are sadly the ones who are more likely to wind up as statistics. In a world wherein conformity is the norm, the lonely rider’s mystique is found in his ability to be in charge, to make his own choices, to assess himself honestly and to decide on the best way down his chosen road.
The great Brian Halton, the tough love mentor to me and many other moto-journalists, founded CityBike in 1984 on the principle of the mindset of the rider and the soul of motorcycling, before marketing techniques bifurcated motorcycles into a hundred new categories, from bagger to streetfighter, from pocketbike to maxi-scooter, from modernistic factory customs to old marques reborn.
Motos have pretty much gone mainstream since 1984, so you see well-written articles about bikes all over the internet, even on mainstream sites like Yahoo News. They are there to sell products.
When Brian coined CityBike’s tempting invitation, “It’s about motorcycles, take one,” it was more of an enticement to individuality than an invitation to moto-consumerism. To put that another way, what the elemental naked bike is to the world of two wheeling, so is CityBike to the world of moto-journalism.
When I first chanced upon CityBike at Tower Records, the hip—yet old school—attitude that permeated its pages wafted like a familiar scent that belonged to fond decades past. The nonchalant message was intriguing. Whether it was the irreverent Herb Chain (Brian), the obtrusive Question Man (Brian again), the old school moto-addiction of Ed Hertfelder or the pointed philosophy of dharma rider Joe Glydon, there was a callous lack of concern for the so-called ethics of an increasingly superficial world filled to the brim with post-Vietnam era hypocrisy. If there was still a wellspring of the sixties and seventies that had not been wholly undermined by an incoming tide of Reagan and Bush era materialism, I found it here in CityBike.
Today when—of all things—an electric bike has trumped the Pike’s Peak Challenge, CityBike has steered into its third generation of leadership. Naturally keeping abreast of the times is essential as the needs of riders can change as quickly as alpine switchbacks. With the growing popularity of riding, the world of moto-journalism has naturally become invaded by competitive corporate media that aims more towards the materials than the individual astride the saddle. Not that we should neglect gear and hardware. In fact, all the reputable manufacturers of motorcycles, parts and the paraphernalia that edify and protect the rider have to be some of the most honest people in any business today. But this all comes in second place to the individual rider.
CityBike was founded in the radical literary haven of North Beach. Writers from the great Ambrose Bierce and Mark Twain to Jack London and Jack Kerouac allowed North Beach and its environs to etch San Francisco’s indelible influence upon their works. And since North Beach has been a place that has never been shy of new kinds of exploration in writing, the name of Brian Halton who founded CityBike as a tribute to the most individual activity of the soul in search of freedom belongs on the list of this neighborhood’s literary pioneers.
CityBike was and is the original free moto-periodical, still around to speak to those freewheelers whose shining badge is their callousness towards corporate socialthink. It could be argued that this is CityBike’s most valuable intellectual property.
This story originally appeared in our August 2015 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.