For my money, the back page of a magazine is often the best part of a magazine. I’m not talking about the back cover but rather the very last, single-page of content that’s created by the magazine staff. And bear with me here, I’m not suggesting that your favorite part isn’t great.
Most would argue that the cover is most prominent, and they would be correct. It is, after all, the first thing you see on the newsstand. Expert selection of a photo combined with the careful cajoling of words—placed just so—is meant to draw you in, to make you pull the magazine from a crowded newsstand and take it home. A catchy cover can mask mediocre content elsewhere in the magazine. And a mediocre cover can ensure that not enough people will read the fantastic stories that live within.
But imagine for a minute that you receive your magazines at home, as delivered by a postal carrier. Imagine the excitement as you pull it out of the mailbox after coming home after work or school. But remember that you have to make dinner or take care of the kids or do your homework or pay attention to the dog or….
At this point there’s no way you’re going to start leafing through the front of the magazine—you have no time to get sucked in. You go, instead, to the back page. You know where it is and you know it will be an easily digestible amount of content. Whether you learn something or laugh out loud, you’re satisfied for the time being—until time allows you to dig deeper into the meat of the magazine.
My first and only assignment for Bike, before being hired on as a staff member, was to ride the Sh*tbike in the All-Mountain World Championships in Downieville, California, and to write 300-and-something words about the experience.
While that was my first physical connection with the Sh*tbike, I’d already been following its adventures via the Sh*tbike Challenge on the back page of Bike, and was definitely a fan. And I was not alone.
Anyone who has ever spent any time around the Sh*tbike has stories to tell about it being recognized in random places and the people who want to have their pictures taken with it. Get close to it and you’ll see that it is covered in more stickers, scratches and Sharpie markings than a dive-bar bathroom. It’s amazing to think that in such a short period of time, an inanimate relic from the ‘90s was able to achieve such celebrity status.
Whether they did it knowingly or not, Bike’s then editor Lou Mazzante and the rest of the edit staff created a work of genius. The Sh*tbike was the class dork who got to hang out with many of mountain biking’s A-list cool kids, while never being completely removed from its roots. Without coming right out and saying it, the Sh*tbike proved that a bike is really just a tool—and sometimes the most worn out, beat up, uncool and old-ass tools are the ones behind the best stories.
When I signed on at Bike back in 2010, it felt like most of the best Sh*tbike adventures had already been explored. And yet we liked it enough—and knew others did too—to keep the Sh*tbike Challenge alive until the end of 2011.
Somewhere along the way, we anthropomorphized the poor hunk of aluminum and stickers, as evidenced by our repeated attempts to have the Sh*tbike inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. I think it’s safe to say that it’s about then that the Sh*tbike Challenge went from a simple slip in ratings to jumping the shark. Internally, though, it was a strong unifying force—something that with each new issue ensured a fair share of laughter. We buried the Sh*tbike in our November 2011 issue and sent it to purgatory a month later.
These days, the inanimate star of 34 back-page installments in Bike hangs alongside a revolving fleet of test bikes inside the workshop at the magazine’s San Clemente, California, headquarters—no glass case, no museum lighting. From time to time, it is pulled out and taken to events like the Sea Otter Classic where fans still ask about it.
Will the Sh*tbike be making a return anytime soon? I wouldn’t bet on it, but never say never.