Remembering Bruce Reeve

Bruce Reeve, 1957-2019

Opinion: Bruce Reeve

PHOTOS COURTESY CANADIAN MOTORSPORT ARCHIVE / CYCLE CANADA ARCHIVES

Bruce Reeve was one of the rare motorcycle journalists who was comfortable riding any style of bike.

The Bruce Reeve we knew as a motorcyclist and a colleague was an expert rider, quick and safe and dedicated to improving his craft. In his professional role as a journalist with Cycle Canada, Bruce was bent on steadily building the magazine into one we all were proud to be a part of. He possessed a wry sense of humour and a firm grasp of facts, figures, technical details and the history of our sport and its people, places and machines. His memory of the magazine’s published content and his knowledge of motorcycling at large was formidable.

Bruce was a quick study who instinctively targeted the essentials of whatever caught his interest. At the same time, the verbiage of whimsy and hype was absent from his vocabulary. He took the facts seriously. Whatever the topic of discussion, you could depend on Bruce for a considered analysis and a clear-eyed opinion on the subject. As first managing editor and then editor of Cycle Canada in its golden era, he directed and inspired the publishing team to produce an award-winning magazine that gained readership numbers and respect year after year.

That thing on the wall is called a “phone booth.” Just goes to show how old this picture is.

Bruce’s early years were spent in Toronto, in a family with older twin brothers and a younger sister. Their father’s work as an engineer with a building products company took them north and from the age of five to 15 they lived in North Bay, Ont. At age 15 Bruce bought a 50 cc Bridgestone trail bike from a neighbour and learned to ride off-road. When the family returned to Toronto in the early ‘70s, Bruce was still too young to ride legally and had to push his bike to a sandy lot in West Hill where he and his brothers would imagine themselves to be motocrossers.

Bruce graduated with an arts degree from the University of Toronto. He landed his first full-time job as a copy editor with an academic book publisher but found it oppressively boring. Meanwhile, Cycle Canada was expanding after its successful debut of Canada’s first national series of motorcycle shows helped place it on a profitable footing. Its original format as a low-budget tabloid on newsprint was retired in favour of a glossy magazine in 1981 and more staff were needed.

Out on the track, Bruce could get his knee down with the best of them.

When a help-wanted ad for an editorial assistant appeared in the Toronto Star, Bruce was away in Alberta attending a publishing workshop at the Banff Centre. Fortunately, a friend spotted the ad and sent in Bruce’s resumé as an application.

Bruce accepted a job offer and joined the magazine as managing editor with the April 1982 issue. Having gained so much from his first experience at the Banff Centre, Bruce rode west in the summer of 1982 for a second session. His mount for the trip was a BMW R65LS, a sort of café racer styling exercise. The test bike was only marginally suited for long-distance travel but it showed Bruce’s commitment to his new career in the motorcycle publishing business.

Bruce, at centre, with Jean-Pierre Belmonte at left, and columnist Max Burns at right. Belmonte was editor of Moto Journal, Cycle Canada’s French-language sister publication, and became President and Publisher of Cycle Canada in 1989, when Bruce was appointed as editor.

In a reorganization in 1989 Bruce gained the title of editor of Cycle Canada and assumed responsibility for the creative team. He expanded on the principles established by its founder Georgs Kolesnikovs and followed by long-time editor John Cooper. In the following years Bruce and Cycle Canada gained awards from peers in the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors, including the category Best Magazine of the Year. Readers and advertisers were impressed and the magazine made steady gains in circulation and income from subscriptions and ad sales. Improvements in all departments created a virtuous cycle and the magazine reached its zenith just before the arrival of the digital age rewrote all previous assumptions about the economics of print publishing.

Bruce was not averse to riding in exotic places, but never allowed the lure of getting away from the office to affect his criticism of a motorcycle.

As editor, Bruce operated with limited resources but ran a tight ship. He oversaw the selection of photos and illustrations in close collaboration with art director Chris Knowles. All feature assignments and copy editing were done by himself. Errors of fact, of grammar or spelling or reasoning would be excised. Graceful prose was encouraged. It was a point of pride if your copy passed Bruce’s desk with minimal alteration. Prolific writer Alan Cathcart said his articles read better in Cycle Canada than in the many other publications worldwide to which he contributed. Yet Bruce would accord free reign to off-the-wall prose and ideas of a writer like Max Burns, who could be counted upon to amuse and offend readers in equal measure. Anomalies, absurdities and contradictions were fair game that often ended up in the year-ending feature called Bad Wrap that regaled readers with a wholesale slaughter of sacred cows. Bruce’s editorials in each issue were an authoritative and fresh look at issues of the day.

His career as editor was a great adventure that took Bruce to Japan, Australia, Europe and the Canary Islands for various new-model events. Journalists at these functions are often showered with gifts of riding gear and other swag. He maintained the magazine’s tradition of regarding these as belonging to readers and Bruce’s Garage Sale of helmets, boots and other apparel donated for photographic purposes was a highlight of the magazine’s annual Sportbike Rally in Parry Sound, Ont.

When Cycle Canada’s parent company, Turbopress Inc., was sold in 2004 Bruce stayed on until it became apparent that the new owners were bent on compromising the integrity of the editorial and design process that had made it great. He moved to a new job as news editor with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 2005 and was able to indulge his interest in the world far beyond motorcycle publishing. His Flickr account attests to his photographic skills and broad interest in all aspects of his community. Bruce loved music of all sorts and was a voracious reader. He and his wife Kim Dolan became avid windsurfers at Toronto’s Cherry Beach. Their two children, son James and daughter Oonagh, now are aged 26 and 23 respectively, and launched into young adulthood.

Bruce’s diagnosis of metastatic esophageal cancer last summer came as a profound shock to all who knew him. “It was devastating to all of us,” said Kim, “but he was very brave and graceful every second.” Bruce left us far too soon at age 62.

John Cooper was editor of Cycle Canada magazine from 1974 to 1989. A wake and celebration of the life of Bruce Reeve was held this week in Toronto.

John Cooper, at left, with Max Burns and Bruce, back in the good old days.

2 thoughts on “Remembering Bruce Reeve”

  1. I recall his story from a new bike press launch, at Hilton Head, if I recall. The place didn’t allow motorcycles, and while waiting for a ride while wearing full leathers, a woman asked him if he was going scuba diving. His dry wit made it all the more funny.

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