In amongst the pile of magazines that were sitting on the coffee table of the new digs, an older issue of Spoke Magazine sat there waiting for another good old fingering. That’s what I love about magazines, I can come across an old issue of a good magazine and I just have to lose myself in it for at least the time it takes to make and savor a cuppa tea. It doesn’t matter if I’ve read that issue before or not, and it doesn’t matter how old that issue is, it still feels exciting enough to drop everything and just immerse myself in the world of magazine.
Spoke Magazine is one of the very best magazines currently in production anywhere in the world, and that’s despite heralding from that tiny little island in the Pacific, New Zealand. I’m not being rude about New Zealand in the slightest, why would I? NZ is most definitely one of the best places on earth for riding, people, scenics and lifestyle, but what I mean is that the fact Spoke even exists is even more amazing considering the tiny scale and remoteness of the New Zealand MTB market. There’s fark all people there (4million off the top of my head and without Google assist) and even if a good percentage do bike compared to other countries, it’s still a very small number. So how does Spoke keep going with so few potential advertisers? Well that’s because they have passion for the end product and they work tirelessly to make sure they can keep dropping bombs each print cycle.
Spoke rocks because they employ the holy trinity in magazine content: They find interesting stories from all sorts of mountain bikers and get some interesting viewpoints on things, then they garnish with high quality photography throughout the whole magazine, and finally they serve it all up in an extremely well laid out magazine.
For instance in this older issue of Spoke I found not one page to skip. Every page is loaded with relevant content. The content is leaned towards Kiwi content, but that doesn’t mean there’s not content from all over the world, it’s just usually from a more Kiwi bent, which is better than content by a little bender who is into fruit. Also they manage to balance having freeridey, pedaly and epic journey mountain biking all under one banner. Usually I feel magazines stretch themselves too far when they do this but Spoke seems to make Freeridey stuff not seem quite so teenage ra-ra and intimidating to the pedaly crowd. The pedaly stuff, well that’s most people right there anyway, but Spoke don’t get all religious nut about pedaling. And finally the content about some tofu scoffing computer geek with rat tails riding across some desolate wasteland which contains only mile after mile of dirt road is actually usually very readable and well presented. I usually stay clear of this kind of content, but I do find myself reading this stuff, even if it’s the last thing I read. But what i’m saying is Spoke is wonderfully sympathetic to all forms of mountain biking and that’s really cool. There’s enough division and sub-genres in mountain biking already so it’s nice when each form is presented so unbiased, and in a way that even make’s the tofu adverse like myself, look into weirdy beardy journeys of pannier bag discover. I think the recipe for Spoke is that they get the right people to write and shoot the parts. Influential credible people in the Kiwi scene so it lends substance to the pieces. Then the guys behind Spoke know what they are talking about with all aspects of biking so they can commission and lay out beautiful engaging pieces for any sub-genre of a niche category with the sub-set of mountain bicycling.
One of the cleverest things Spoke do is use the web to compliment their magazine, rather than stick with one or the other, or let one bring down the other. For instance, the website is full of very regularly updated information which is short and to the point. It also comes from a variety of sources so on any given day it could be about a local kiwi event, global MTB happenings, or something completely unrelated to biking but provides thoughtful, inspirational or funny content. At the same time they don’t try to compete with the big dogs in websites, so they aren’t killing hours each day working on temporary portal posts when they could be working on getting the magazine done right.
What Spoke also does is use the web to lead up and follow up on content that is inside the magazine. For instance, the bike reviews they have in the magazine are also complimented with very cool, slick videos on-line. I wish I could publish a couple of the reviews here but WordPress.com blogs don’t allow it still it seems. Instead click the link and see what you think for yourself. This means the reader gets more content, more information and more bang for his buck. It interests web readers to look at the magazine and magazine readers to look at the web. So by having both means greater potential coverage and marketing value for advertisers. I can’t believe more magazine don’t do this. Some do it a little, but not as much as you would expect.
Caleb Smith started the magazine in the basement of his P-lab when he was on an inward voyage of discovery to find his power unicorn back in 1983. Actually none of that is true. I’m not sure how it all started, I really should ask Caleb one of these days, maybe it’s even more exciting than my imaginery tale. Anyway, Caleb is a man with his fingers on the pulse, not just in mountain biking circles but in artsy fartsy circles (or maybe art fags have a cooler shape they hang out in. I can’t even begin to guess what that would be. Caleb has a really cool shaped house so that’s why I know he is cool and down with the trendies. I can’t describe what shape it is, but I can just tell it must be cool to the people that really do know cool and can critic cool things properly). He is forward thinking and creative. He is a photographer by trade so he sees the true value in beautiful imagery from both sides. He has shot for lots of commercial clients over the years as well as getting his own photos in numerous magazines worldwide. Actually I should add that he was cool until this happened. Everyone knows those big wheels don’t work and are for idiots.
I contribute to Spoke Magazine from time to time, and whenever I get the call to submit I will go out of my way to make sure I have some good words for them and they have them well before deadline. Now I’m not saying I flaunt deadlines with other publications, but because Spoke plan so well in advance I always know what is wanted from me months and months ahead of time and so there’s no excuse for last minute rush jobs. Another great thing about contributing to Spoke Magazine is they employ Eleanor Meecham as Editor. She is a wonderful copy editor who I enjoy submitting to and hearing her feedback. I’m terrible at missing my own editing from time to time, so I know Eleanor will pick up on it straight away and make sure the absolute best piece goes into the magazine. She will offer suggestions to edit the piece but never to put the piece through the grinder to make it sound like a different voice spoke it (pun intended). I’m no pre-madonna writer (Dog knows I just stumbled into it like a drunken into a strip bar – you know, deep down that’s where he was alwasy headed but sometimes three or four staggering steps can bring you there without knowing), but it is nice to know that If I intended to word something specifically or structure something to offer a certain read and feel to the whole piece then Eleanor will not go charging through the piece like a bull. However, sometimes someone does need to do that to my pieces and it’s nice that Eleanor is there to make sure it’s done right.
I think it’s time to wrap this up but I hope this has inspired you to look into Spoke Magazine if you have never come across it before, and if you have or you read it regularly then I hope this has reminded you how lucky you are. If it wasn’t for magazines like Spoke then mountain biking may look way more dull and staid. Sort of like fishing magazines. Go find Spoke on ZINIO for a digital copy and for back issues, join up for subscription and have issues delivered to your door, or take a trip to beautiful NZ and track down a copy in Whitcouls or a LBS. This is probably the best thing to do. Go have an amazing journey of your own, make some friends then get them to post each issue to you when it comes out. That way your paying full price, you get a beautiful present five times a year, and you get to have a pen pal too.