Opinion: Bruce Reeve

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.

Bruce Reeve, with James and Oonagh back when they were all still young.

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.

Bruce near his Toronto home in 2008, still on two wheels.

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.

At the pub last November. Back row: Bruce Reeve, Norm Girndt, Mike Moloney, Hugh McLean, Costa Mouzouris, Mark Richardson. Front row: Brenda Cyr, David Booth, Jennifer Lees, John Cooper, Paul Penzo, Steve Thornton.

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.

Bruce at speed, and hard at work on location for Cycle Canada. Photo by Bill Petro.

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.

The glory days of Cycle Canada in 2004, with Bruce on the cover showing how it’s done.

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.

At the pub last November, with Cycle Canada’s current contributing editor Steve Thornton, Mark and Bruce.

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 –

The first editorial Bruce wrote as Editor of Cycle Canada, in 1989.

10 thoughts on “Opinion: Bruce Reeve”

  1. I don’t know how I missed the passing of Bruce , I was an early subscriber to Cycle Canada in the 80s when I started riding on the street.

    So much has changed since those days, there was Canada Cycle sports ,GPbikes ,Ontario Honda, now there is nothing left but corporate stores; mostly due to the insurance excessive overcharging for motorcycles for decades.

    Bruce made the magazine entertaining and honest, I looked forward to seeing how creatively he would put together the next issue without editorial compromise.

  2. Mark, a great job on this story. Thanks. Bruce was uniquely gifted with integrity, talent, and determination, much to the chagrin of competitors, I hear. Cycle Canada will not likely ever rise to the level it reached under his editorship. He was already missed, and now he’s missed a bit more.

  3. How does one write a fitting tribute to such a gifted writer? Good job Mark, I think you did it.
    I had the pleasure of working with Bruce for almost 10 years, and got to know him on a more personal level, often exchanging magazine test bikes at his home, near mine. My writing can’t adequately convey all my memories of him, but his words in the Cycle Canada archive will keep that part of his life around forever.

  4. A major reason why I became a lifetime CC subscriber is attributed to Bruce’s writing and his stamp on CC to be ‘independent’ of the industry. He certainly made CC an enjoyable read. Condolences.

  5. Lovely remembrance of Bruce, Mark. One teeny correction if I may: You write, “He was staying at a cheap motel but I was impressed that a journalist would have such convenient accommodation provided – better than my tent.” If by “provided” you mean comped, let me clarify.

    One of the things that separated Cycle Canada from so many media at the time — particularly special-interest consumer magazines — was that we went out of our way to pay our own way to maintain editorial independence. The fleabag Daytona motel we annually stayed in was fleabag for a reason: Bruce paid for the room out of his editorial budget. It was close to the track yet on the west side of 95 so somewhat away from the madding Harley crowd, there was a Denny’s for a quick breakfast right next door, and although we had a GSX-R-something-or-other stolen while locked and chained right outside our bottom floor room one year, none of us had actually been murdered in our beds. Practical Bruce liked that the motel’s location also provided easy access to scenic(ish) roads for bike testing and photography, he wasn’t fussy about luxury accommodation anyway, and he was a bit of a creature of habit. So that’s where we stayed, every March. And it was wonderful.

    Bruce’s high degree of editorial integrity would have been tested at most other magazines, because most other magazines didn’t have owners/management like John Cooper and Jean-Pierre Belmonte. John and JPB refused comped trips to overseas press launches and paid our own way until such launches became ubiquitous and it came down to accepting the comp or not serving our readers. They also took a financial hit many times for refusing to bend under pressure from advertisers to play nice. Cycle Canada justifiably gets credit for not pulling punches; it’s all true, and it was due to Bruce, John and Jean-Pierre.

    The picture at the top of your lovely story, by the way, was shot during testing at Shannonville and shows Bruce with two of the many people he patiently mentored: sweet, eager Piero Zambotti and Paul Penzo — from my experience second only to Claude Leroux as a photo model who could wheelie on command.

    A great editor and person, Bruce. Great people and leaders, John and Jean-Pierre. A great magazine is their legacy.

    1. Thanks for adding to the story, Chris. Wonderful recollections. And by “provided”, I did mean provided by his publication – I realized that a working journalist would have things like meals and hotels and gas and flights and even an expense account provided to him or her by the managing editor, and that’s how it was for me for the first 15 years. That’s how it should be for any media staffer, but alas, not any more. Good for Bruce and John and JP for holding out as long as they did.

      1. My bad for wording my intro para like that. I wanted to clarify in case your comment was misconstrued by readers. I need an editor…

        Another rule Bruce instituted later on was a ban on accepting the small gifts that usually accompanied attendance at a press launch (clothing and gear, mostly; not sure if this is still a thing). If it was inappropriate to refuse the gift, Bruce would later donate it to some bike-related cause.

  6. Nice. I knew the name and his involvement with the Parry Sound Sportbike Rally, but not a lot more. A real loss to the Canadian motorcycle scene. Condolences to his friends and family.

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