the Maximization of Cycle World magazine

Change is always hard for some people to accept, yet it is, by its very nature, completely unavoidable. When it comes to our media institutions, though, we expect them to look the same year after year, decade after decade.

CW1Motorcycle magazines are suffering the same attrition that motorcycle manufacturers are. As the recession – though improving – continues to linger, people are spending less of their discretionary money on luxuries like motorcycles and magazines. Add to that the downward spiral being suffered by all print media outlets as the internet age marches on. The advent of the iPad (& other tablet computers) has really taken a giant bite out of magazine subscriptions.

In some ways, I support that move, the move to digital, but in other ways, not so much. There is still something special about getting a magazine in the mail, seeing that 8.5×11 cover (or bigger, if you used to get Rolling Stone or Vintage Guitar, but even RS has gone to a more standard format recently) and looking at the table of contents as you walk back to the house. Plus, face it, taking your iPad into the bathroom is just a little creepy, because you never know when the NSA is going to co-opt the onboard camera & microphone and start checking out your bathroom habits.

(I bet if you weren’t worried about that before, you are now!)

I read several motorcycle magazines – Cycle WorldRider, Motorcycle Consumer News (which, honestly, is the best of the bunch) and Iron Butt Magazine (which I also work for) as well as some BMW-specific magazines – BMW Motorcycle MagazineOwners’ News (magazine of the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America) and On the Level (magazine of the BMW Rider’s Association). They all have their particular style and charm, from the stark, workmanlike aesthetic of MCN to the flashy, perhaps even Euro-trendy look of BMWMM.

(Yes, I am the kind of person who spots typos, spelling & grammar errors in magazines.)

A few months ago, I got my first copy of the redesigned Cycle World. At first, I was kind of excited about it. The new look was bright, colorful, flashy, bold and thorough – they left no stone unturned, no aspect of the magazine unchanged. After reading through the first new-look issue, though, I felt … strange. Unsatisfied. I went back and flipped through the magazine again, slowly, just looking at the graphics and layout rather than reading the articles.

That’s when it hit me. Cycle World was emulating Maxim. If you’re not familiar with Maxim, it’s kind of like a lightweight Playboy without full nudity. The magazine is filled with photos of beautiful celebrity women, often wearing nothing more than the skimpiest of swim suits or even just covering their juiciest bits with their hands/arms. The content is largely of interest to men and boys – lifestyle items like watches or fashion brands are treated as objects as much as the women between its covers are. There’s not much in the way of news or anything resembling actual journalism in it, but that’s not surprising as Maxim isn’t about news/journalism. It’s about image.

That’s what I mean when I say “the Maximization of Cycle World” – CW has become more form than function. In the current issue, September 2013 (rec’d 5 Aug), it’s not until page 34-35 that any one article takes up more than a half-page. Nearly every odd page (on the right side of the spread) is a full-page ad; the only exceptions are pages 3 (table of contents), 15 (Yamaha YZ450F “first ride” by Jimmy Lewis – and 1/3 of the page is taken up by a silly waste of space running some numbers in a grid) and 25 (has a full-spread ad taking up the bottom half of both pages). When we finally do get something substantive, Peter Egan’s piece, it’s not news but rather a column – one of Egan’s great stories about his adventures on classic and/or vintage motorcycles. Still, though, the piece is broken up by another of the silly number-based graphic grids and the 2nd page of the column has a half-page ad on it. The first actual in-depth, interesting article about anything truly motorcycle-related starts on page 40 – their look at the new Yamaha FZ-09. Even then, this brand-new (and quite impressive) bike gets a full-spread photo and just one (ad-free) spread of content – that’s 2 measly pages on a brand-new bike that’s sure to set the naked bike fans afire.

I’m not even going to get into the weird mish-mash of typefaces they’re using other than to say holy crap!

CW2One of the other “substantive” “features” compares 5 bikes to each other, but each bike gets barely a half page and the giant (and beautiful) photos mean that there’s only a couple paragraphs of content.

It’s sad, really, to see Cycle World go the route of the short attention span. While on the one hand it’s great to see them printing larger, slicker photographs, it’s a shame they’re doing so at the expense of the content. It’s as if they’re saying “Words don’t matter – only images matter.” I definitely disagree and will be letting my subscription to this magazine expire without renewal.

Until then, though, I’m going to enjoy the photos, because that’s really all that’s left to love.