Jones pulls back the veil to reveal the crazy life of a motorcycle journalist
I first met Peter Jones in the media room at Road Atlanta in early 2019, during a MotoAmerica race weekend. I’d read his columns and stories for years in several notable motorcycling print magazines. I always appreciated his engaging, entertaining writing style, and his ability to craft a compelling tale. He was chatting with well-known (in motorsports circles) photographer Brian J. Nelson, whom I knew, so I walked up to say hello. Brian introduced us, and I sat and chatted Peter up for about 20 minutes. He took a genuine interest in my work, and when I told him about Road Dirt, he smiled and asked, “So, which is it? Road or Dirt?” After explaining the history and multiple layers of meaning the name holds, he again smiled and added, “Very clever. I like it. I wish you the best of success. What’s your email? Let’s keep in touch.”
We’ve indeed kept in touch these past few years since, in email and on social, and when I had the opportunity to peruse his first in-print book, “The Bad Editor: Collected Columns and Untold Tales of Bad Behavior”, I fully expected an enjoyable read. I was not disappointed. What I did not expect, however, was the discovery of Peter’s road racing background, and the expository “peek behind the veil” of life as a professional motorcycle journalist he presents. So not only is it fun to read, “The Bad Editor” is quite revealing, almost scandalous in its revelations about the motorcycling world and those writers/editors who cover it.
Need a good read to toss in the bag for your next road trip? A can’t-miss.
The 1990s into the mid-2000s were heady times for the motorcycle industry in the States, with motorcycling at an all-time high, and motorcycle brands posting record sales in all categories. The moto-journo world was thriving too, with magazines of every niche and stripe filling the racks at book stores, grocery stores, big-box stores, and subscriptions off the charts. Americans were winning world championships in motorcycle road racing, dirt track, and motocross, and the phrase “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” was certainly ringing true in the U.S. industry. It is into this milieu that Peter Jones stepped onto the scene as a motorcycle racer, team director and a soon-to-be popular writer.
Jones’ book is divided into two distinct sections- the “Collected Columns” followed by the “Untold Tales”. The first section is as the title implies, a variety of Jones’ monthly features, columns and stories during his years writing and editing for “Sport Rider”, “Motorcyclist”, “American Roadracing” and “Motorcycle Street & Strip”, all magazines no longer in print, sadly. This assortment spans his years of riding, racing and writing from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. Jones’ knack for being entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time is observed throughout the book, but this paragraph from his “Gimmie Them Gs” chapter stood out to me-
“Thinking back over my life’s experiences with speed, I’m beginning to realize that it’s not so much the ultimate top speed reached that makes me all giggly inside. It’s more the speed at which that speed is reached. It isn’t so much the going fast that speed freaks like me desire. It’s the getting to fast as quickly as possible that we can’t resist. It’s not the fast, it’s the going faster fast. It’s an easy thing to get confused about, no? So speed freaks might be an incorrect appellation. It should be ‘G-freaks.’”
Jones and his prized Suzuki GSX-R 1000 Bobber.
The more I ruminated about that, the more I agreed. It made me smile, and made me think. I too really enjoy speed. But what I suppose I enjoy more is acceleration. The G-force rush of surging forward. Among Jones’ many stories in the book (and he’s a great storyteller), I continually found little nuggets which would immediately elicit a “wow, hadn’t thought of that” moment with me. Entertaining, and thought-provoking. That my friends, is good prose.
I emailed Peter once I had finished the “Collected Columns” section to tell him how much I was enjoying the book, and how far into it I was. He responded with much humble thanks, then added, “I hope you enjoy the second half even more.” I did.
The “Untold Tales of Bad Behavior” was indeed very entertaining to read, but I found these previously unpublished recollections and “insider peeks” into the life of a motorcycle journalist in the 90s and 2000s to be a real eye opener. These stories of taking brand-new bikes, loaned to bike mags Jones wrote & edited for, then thrashing them for top speed runs, cornering clearances, dyno chart data, etc., was a fascinating ride for me, on each page. Journalists’ relationships with brands, both bike and accessory/aftermarket, has always been a delicate balancing act between attracting/pleasing/keeping them as paid advertisers, and maintaining true journalistic integrity by being honest with readers about products. Jones admits he’s always tried to err on the side of honesty, and that hasn’t always endeared him to motorcycle brands who expected glowing reviews of everything they offered.
Jones and one of the many bikes he’s thrashed over the years.
Jones recounts the first time he ever landed a job writing for a major motorcycle publication, and moved to L.A.- “I walked into my first day at a full-time gig as a motojournalist like an excited purse dog, wagging my tail rapidly and nearly leaving a trail of pee on the carpet. I had been hired due to the chance vacancy of the entire editorial staff of a popular motorcycle magazine in the late 1990s.”
His occasional misadventures with the brands in these chapters are often hilarious, as in this reflection- “A manufacturer’s media liaison once told me a certain motojournalist was no longer welcome at his brand’s introductions because that journalist had said, in reference to one of the brand’s bikes, ‘This is the worst handling motorcycle I have ever ridden.’ I acknowledged that saying that was improper, though I privately knew the bike was the worst handling motorcycle I had ever ridden. But there are ways to express shortcomings without canceling the relationship. That said, since I am not mentioning brands, if that bike isn’t the worst handling motorcycle of all time ever until the Earth is consumed by our swelling sun, I do not desire to experience the worst handling bike ever made.”
The man, the myth, the miscreant.
Peter Jones’ book is a thoroughly enjoyable read, cover to cover. Engaging storytelling, plenty of chuckle moments, and a quite revealing look into the world of motorcycle journalism and brand relations, “The Bad Editor” is a playfully irreverent romp on two wheels with one of motorcycling’s favorite writers. I’m already reading through it again, just to find a few new nuggets to chew on I may have missed in my first pass-through. It’s been that good.
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