The iconic magazine that inspired me to live a more adventurous life goes to the great bathroom magazine rack in the sky.
A few months ago, I received a plain, white postcard in the mail informing me that “as of October 1, 2020, Bike Magazine had ceased publication.” The card went on to tell me that they were “pleased” to inform me that the remainder of my subscription would be filled with Men’s Journal. Not Powder* or any of the other adventure sports rags that American Media LLC owns. Men’s Journal.
Ignoring their assumption that I’m a cis-male for a moment, (the number of women and gender-non-conforming people hitting the trails has exploded in the last few years), losing Bike felt like losing a friend.
I’d read and enjoyed a lot of mountain biking magazines early in my cycling life. But, I became a life-long Bike subscriber after I picked up the September 2001 issue from the bike shop I was working at. What sold me was a fiery column by Mike Ferrentino about America’s culture of consumption-at-all-costs and the destruction of what’s actually important, whether it’s our outdoor spaces, or our health (mental and physical).
I still have that issue.
The column was surprisingly political for a mountain bike magazine. I’m sure they got angry letters asking them to get back to mountain biking and leave politics alone. What made Bike Magazine shine was its willingness to take chances on articles that cut to the heart of our sport. Sometimes it got political. Mountain biking in the U.S., a sport largely done on public lands, is inherently a political act. Bike wasn’t afraid to wade into the controversies that threatened our favorite places and show us what we could do to save them. Like other magazines, Bike did gear reviews, but the stories never lost focus of what made mountain biking great: having a shitload of fun with your friends in the great outdoors in a more or less ecologically friendly way. Bike showed the simple joys of riding in new places, exploring, learning, and meeting new people. Above all, Bike stories reminded us that living an adventurous life was more important than all the shiny new gear we could fit in our garages.
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According to the postcard, I’d be getting a few issues of Men’s Journal until I let my subscription peter out. I can’t imagine that it will fill the hole that Bike has left in its passing, not least of which because it divides the sexes. Back when women made up a tiny fraction of mountain bikers, Bike published “women-specific” issues** featuring badass female riders showing the boys how it’s done. The magazine highlighted both the gear that made riding bikes more comfortable for women and the female voices who made our male-dominated sport feel more inclusive. I’m not interested in being immersed in 94 pages of man stuff at a time when toxic masculinity needs to be examined more than ever.
It goes deeper than just the tone-deafness of that move. I feel like I’ve lost an old riding buddy. Bike has pedaled along-side me for much of my adult life. Each month, writers like Kristin Butcher, and Mike Ferrentino showed me that being fit isn’t as important as being present and having fun. Aaron Teasdale’s words took me on adventures into the most remote places, facing down toothy predators, often with his family in tow. Ryan Palmer reminded me that there’s still a place for angry bike mechanics with more knowledge than customer service skills. Greg “Chopper” Randolph gave me all the bike advice I never needed with a dose of snort-milk-out-your-nose humor. Over the years, these and so many other writers and photographers have pushed me to stay healthy, challenged me to explore further, and inspired me to live a life motivated by experiences rather than things.
Hopefully, the writers and photographers who brought the sport of mountain biking to life in Bike will grace the pages of other publications. But it won’t be the same. Bike Magazine was greater than the sum of its words and pictures and paper. It was a living, breathing part of my life for almost 20 years. It can’t be replaced.
**This was a play on the term “women-specific” used by many bike companies to market bikes with geometries that fit “typical” female bodies with longer legs, shorter torsos, and shorter finger reach.
*After publishing this piece I found out that Powder, Surfer, and Snowboarder will be joining Bike in the great bathroom magazine rack in the sky. Read Steve Casimiro’s take on the shuttering of these publications in Adventure Journal.