Mountain Bike

I'm going to do something brave and unconventional in today's Magazine Rack column: I'm going to review a magazine ("a periodical containing miscellaneous pieces (as articles, stories, poems) and often illustrated," according to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary), rather than a Web site, a record, or a toaster. I know, I know. Just bear with us and the ever-evolving mission of this sweet newsletter-doohickey.

The 9.85 longtime readers of this column know that I'm generally a fan of the way Rodale goes about its business. Men's Health and Women's Health rank among the few general-interest titles that consistently transcend the cliches of their genre, while Runner's World continues to lap (a non-deliberate pun, honest) the enthusiast-mag pack. It's Runner's World, in fact, that Mountain Bike most closely resembles: the first-person columns (RW's "Penguin" dude, MB's "All Over the Place"), the landscape-happy photos, the gear reviews tucked in the back.

So why is it that Mountain Bike, a title for people who, like, ride bikes in the mountains, strikes me as so flat and dry? The magazine hews closely to the Rodale blueprint, employing many of the same fonts and layouts that have connected elsewhere. It simultaneously appeals to casualists and the hard-core contingent. It offers the usual Rodale mix of hey-you-can-do-this! affirmation and whoa-be-safe-out-there! tips.

The problem, I think, is that Mountain Bike overly formalizes an activity that has always been considered a little bit rough and raggedy. It drains the personality out of the sport, presenting riders not as a bunch of off-the-cuff folks bopping around the foothills but as a mainstream community of upstanding citizens. By way of comparison, check out Dirt Rag magazine, which feels more true to the mountain-biker ethos.

The August issue of Mountain Bike implodes precisely 18 pages in, when the 15-page "Eye Candy" section on dudes and their rides commences. Rather than offering any kind of illumination, the story merely presents a series of faux-unposed photos and a few words about the featured individual and his bike. The drab black backdrop makes the pix less interesting visually than the mag's ads, while the accompanying passages read like a school book report ("This is Billy. Billy rides a nice bike. Billy likes riding his bike because it's nice"). That Mountain Bike would devote roughly 1/6th of its page budget to such pap boggles the mind.

Inconsistencies abound. On the August cover, Mountain Bike touts "The Best Trails You've Never Heard Of," but I only count a handful in the issue, split between features on Costa Rica (basically a photo essay) and Breckenridge. The mag also runs with an "Eat This, Ride Strong" cover line, yet produces a mere two measly sidebars on the topic. Meanwhile, one of the issue's few longer features, a profile on a woman billed as "America's Next Great Mountain Biker," barely rates a mention in the table of contents.

The quick bursts of quirk that find their way into most Rodale titles are missing here as well, with the exception of the last-page "Strip" illustrations. It's almost as if Mountain Bike wants to change the perception of mountain biking, presenting it in a way that will make it more palatable to corporate America. How else can one explain items like the "Heroes of Gear" Q&A, in which a burly frame builder comes across as savage and extreme as a librarian, or the near-total absence of images of mud-spattered riders?

There's not a lot more to say here. Magazines that provoke no reaction at all tend to have less of a shelf life than those that provoke a negative one. If Mountain Bike were to disappear without a trace tomorrow morning, I doubt anybody would notice.

Published by: Rodale
Frequency: Six issues per year, maybe? I can't figure it out on my own. If you try to subscribe to Mountain Bike via its Web site, the link prompts you to sign up for a Bicycling magazine contest/subscription pairing.
Advertising information (this link appears to be dead, so try this one for now)
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