It is no exaggeration to say that in his day, Bruce Reeve was the finest motorcycle journalist in Canada. He began at Cycle Canada magazine in 1982 and became its editor seven years later. Under his leadership, the magazine excelled and won three separate awards for Best Small Magazine in Canada, chosen by the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors.
Not just Best Bike Mag, but Best Magazine with a circulation of less than 60,000. That’s quite an achievement. Those were the glory days of Cycle Canada, before the Internet came along and changed everything. It’s no small irony that after Bruce left Cycle Canada, he went to work for the CBC’s digital news department. Last year though, he was diagnosed with metastatic esophageal cancer, and last week he died, aged 62. He leaves behind his wife Kim, and their son James and daughter Oonagh.
It is also no exaggeration to say that Bruce Reeve is responsible for me becoming a journalist and, separately, for becoming an author. In 1986, after some encouragement from friends, I wrote a story about riding my dirt bike to the North-West Territories and submitted it to Cycle Canada. The editor, John Cooper, accepted it as a feature story and gave it to Bruce to handle. The magazine wanted photos and I had only slides, which were irreplaceable, and I didn’t want to trust them to the mail. I was travelling during that whole period, living off my bike in the southern U.S., and Bruce was in Daytona for Bike Week, so I delivered them to him in person. He was staying at a cheap motel but I was impressed that a journalist would have such convenient accommodation provided – better than my tent. I was paid $300 and I figured that was easy money, so applied to journalism school and the rest is history.
Well, almost. When the magazine was published, Bruce sent a box with a dozen copies to my home. I was so impressed to see my words and pictures in print that I went around town giving away copies to all my friends, until I realized I’d given them all away without saving one for myself. So I called Bruce and asked when he was going to send me some copies, as he’d promised. They should have arrived, he said. Well, they haven’t, I lied, and he sent me another dozen copies.
I told that story to Bruce for the first time when we met up in Toronto last November; it was a Cycle Canada reunion in a pub on the Danforth, near his home. He thought it was pretty funny. We all did, but we were looking for anything funny to talk about – everyone in our group at that pub knew he was dying. He was open about it, and pragmatic. The diagnosis had been a total surprise, coming from a routine physical to determine why he was feeling a little more fatigued than usual. Last November, several months later and back in chemotherapy, he said he felt okay, but had good days and bad days. That evening was one of the good days.
When Bruce was at the helm of Cycle Canada, it was the magazine’s best days, and it was Them and Us for motorcycle journalism. Psycho Canada we called it, and criticized it for its arrogance. In truth, some of us felt insulted by its ethical journalistic principles. Bruce helped establish the Parry Sound Sportbike Rally, where all the free swag from the past year was auctioned to the highest bidders and the money went to the local fire department. At one point, Cycle Canada even tried paying its own way at motorcycle launches, where all the invited hacks would stay at the Four Seasons with the bike maker and Bruce would slum it down the road at the Red Roof Inn, but that didn’t last because it limited the magazine’s access to information. It would be unheard of today.
The country’s bike media would gather at events and we’d all be pretty chummy, but Bruce would usually stay off to one side. He was competitive for his magazine, and we knew that he’d do pretty much whatever it took to get the best story. If that meant pulling rank to get on a motorcycle first, when it was cleanest and the tires were stickiest, then so be it – and Cycle Canada could always pull rank because it was the most influential publication in the country.
In 2002, when we all gathered at a private racetrack near Dallas, Texas, for the world’s first ride of the only existing Honda VFR800 on the continent, it was Bruce and Cycle Canada who got to take the bike out first onto the track, while the rest of us shuffled our feet and grumbled. And when the heavens opened and the rain poured and the oil on the track rose to the surface, and when we heard the almighty SHMUCK! of a bike going down somewhere out there in the deluge, we all muttered, “Please let it be Bruce who just crunched the bike.” It was and he heard no sympathy, and Cycle Canada had the only photos of the bike from the left side, because we could only take pictures of the undamaged side, on the right.
Soon after, Cycle Canada was sold to new owners who were less generous and didn’t share Bruce’s vision for the magazine. As a point of principle over something, Bruce told them he would quit as Editor and they took him up on it; Bruce told me after that he’d never expected them to actually agree, but suddenly, he was looking for work.
At around this same time, I was banging my head against a wall with a manuscript that I’d written for a book. “It’s great but it’s missing something,” people would tell me. “I hope you figure out what it is.” Nobody could say what it was missing. So eventually, I gave the manuscript to Bruce, who was a gifted writer and had originally aspired to be a literary editor, and asked him what was missing. He read it in two days, then gave me a two-page synopsis that told me exactly what it needed to be successful. And he was bang-on. I rewrote the manuscript to his direction and sold Zen and Now to a New York publisher for a six-figure sum.
As a thank-you for this, I bought him a drink in that pub last November. He shared time with everyone there, and he talked about Cycle Canada and the CBC and his diagnosis. Then he said he was tired, and he’d walk home.
We gave him a cheery wave and tried not to look when he left the pub. Most of us knew we’d never see him again, and that we’d never know another person of his ability and character. Bruce walked to the door with his old friend John Cooper and left without looking back; he had to be up early in the morning, for another round of chemo.
– 30 –