If It’s On The Internet It Must Be True
Article By: Howard Kelly
Originally Published In The May 2019 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
Depending on your age and how recently you became a hardcore Harley guy will determine whether or not you know who I am. If you’ve been around a while, then you know I used to be the Editor In Chief of HOT BIKE Magazine at a time when it was regularly 300 pages a month. I was, at the time, the guy that could make your career in the business with a cover feature. As a little side note to that fact, I had 12 best friends a year and 237 people that thought I was an asshole—well, sometimes 13 best friends if we did a special issue. Why does that matter? Because before the internet, and especially before Instagram, being on the cover of a magazine, or even in it, was a huge deal.
I watched the motorcycle internet come to life in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. And for about the first seven minutes it was a concern, then I quickly realized it was over loaded with bullshit. When we put out an issue of HOT BIKE, we had to actually be responsible for what we said because it lived on forever. If I tested a motorcycle and said it had a problem with the steering geometry or the paint quality was substandard, if it wasn’t true, a manufacturer could sue us for libel because our words were in print— forever. We had a physical address, a parent company, insurance, payroll and all those things that meant we couldn’t just pop off with whatever lies or blather we wanted. We had a level of responsibility to the readers, the industry and yes, advertisers. Simply put, we had to be legit, and that was why the best custom builders in the country wanted to be on our covers—it meant something.
The internet was, and is, anonymous. When you posted on an Internet bulletin board back in the early days ranting about a crappy part or product that you hacked up installing in your garage without proper tools, and you posted your name as BIGBALLSVTWIN or some such small-dick cartoon name, you couldn’t really be tracked down. You could say whatever you wanted with no regard for the impact you might have on a business, people’s jobs, or a long term impact on a business from your short term f#@k-up trying to save a few bucks in your garage. We went to professional shops and showed how quality, skilled mechanics with the proper tools installed that part the right way and wrote good things about how it worked because it was done properly. That is when BIGBALLSVTWIN would jump on his computer in his mom’s basement (some things have not changed) and accused us of being advertiser sellouts, and all the other basement dwellers would jump in cheering him on. Yet, the truth, as we printed it, was that the part was good, but yes, you needed the $300 tool to install it properly.
Fast forward to 2017/18/19, and the Instagram crowd is dominating the news cycle. Guys on Dynas and FXRs doing wheelies—I had that in the magazines back in 1996—and influencers getting paid to tell you how great part ABC is. What do they have to lose by lying? I am not saying they all are lying, but if I give you three sets of handlebars, a jacket and ten t-shirts from my company, are you going to say my stuff is the best or the crappiest? What are the credentials of the guy/girl telling you the best energy drink to buy? Did they buy 10,000 followers or did they earn them with work and knowledge? I am not saying you have to grow up on motorcycles to be a valid source. However, wouldn’t you rather know the person providing you with technical information or product tests has actually ridden a motorcycle for a while, or do you want your knowledge provided by someone who bought a bike to be internet famous? Please understand, I am not trying to completely bash the internet and social media, but I am saying that everything you read on the internet isn’t true—just because you read it on the internet. Want proof, look no further than our current mainstream news cycle. Lies get printed, proven to be lies and the next day they are gone because of our 24-hour news cycle. The world is onto the next crisis and the lies of the day before, are gone—how many internet sites, influencers, and personalities have done the same thing in your lifetime.
I used to piss off hundreds of thousands of people a month when I was doing the magazine because I would write editorials that challenged their mob mentality thought. Many times, I wrote about how stupid loud pipes were when you acted like an idiot. I used to get letters—remember those? —and then emails about how loud pipes saved someone’s life, blah blah blah. Well, unlike many influencers, I actually rode/still ride a motorcycle every day. And I gave a crap what people thought about motorcycles, so I asked my readers to not be assholes late at night setting off car alarms, or not have bikes with no idle circuit (that is sarcasm) that forced them to constantly rev their bikes up for attention in town. I reminded them that the sound of your motorcycle is behind you and being visible in someone’s car mirror was much better than being loud once you got over 30mph. Why did I do this? Because I wanted my readers to think about riding for a lifetime, not for the current news cycle.
There are only a few motorcycle magazines left these days. I suggest you start buying all of them and make sure they stay in business because really, do you want to learn how to install a new cam bearing from some guy in three pictures on Instagram, or a YouTube video that conveniently edited out the part where the guy completely hacked things up, or do you want to get a step-by-step story about how a professional mechanic does it? Those influencers and internet heroes, if they are really good at what they do, will be in those magazines, doing it right, or, more importantly, they won’t be in the magazines. Then what will you believe? — Howard