Q&A with Mike Cushionbury
Editor-in-Chief at Mountain Flyer: The Mountain Bike Journal
Mike Cushionbury has decades-long experience in the world of mountain bike/biking journalism. His latest gig, editor-in-chief at Mountain Flyer, is good news for our communities of mountain bikers, writers, and photographers: Mike is a long-time proponent of independent media and print magazines. He shares viewpoints on all that and much more in a Q&A post with MTBeer. Thanks, Mike, for taking the time and for being so candid with your responses.
1. Tell us a little about yourself in relation to mountain biking. How long have you've been riding mountain bikes? Racing? Etc.
As a kid of course I had a BMX bike and then transitioned into motorcycles early on. I loved motocross and Supercross but somehow got deep into the SoCal trials scene as a competitor. I loved it. This was around the time when all the top moto guys were getting mountain bikes for training so of course I had to have one as well. This was about 1983 and my first mountain bike as an early teen was a Diamondback MeanStreak, which was the brand’s first ever real mountain bike. It had a bullmoose handlebar that cracked within a few weeks so my first upgrade was a new stem and an aluminum Flight Control handlebar made by the original Controltech brand, which I’m sure broke as well at some point.
At that time my life was all about motorcycle trials. I would practice every day, even if it was just doing endless figure-eight’s, balancing, and hopping like a motorized bunny in the front yard. A few times a week after school I’d go to a local dirt lot that had rocks and other obstacles. Once I started college, I was no longer competitive in trials because the only time I was riding was during competitions and my performance was suffering so I gave it up and took up mountain bike racing as an alternative. That worked out well. I’ve raced in some pretty amazing places, met so many great people, got a fantastic career that made it all happen and certainly went farther in cycling than I ever would have in trials. Though, I do still love motorcycles.
2. When did you first get involved in writing/journalism/editorial work?
I have a Communications degree with a Journalism impact from Cal State Fullerton. At the time, I thought I wanted to be involved in TV news, possibly writing content for the anchors. When I was in college I was working at a SoCal bike shop and would do weekly rides with Richard Cunningham who was the editor at Mountain Bike Action (MBA) at the time. One day, shortly after graduating I asked him, “What does it take to get into your business? I have a degree in Journalism.” And the rest is history. I stared at MBA in late 1994 and my entire professional career has been in the bike industry. Besides a few short stints on the marketing side, it’s all been magazine based, over 25 years now.
3. Considering today's media landscape, what role does print journalism have in the mountain biking community?
It’s more important than ever, especially for independent magazines and journalism like Mountain Flyer which doesn’t answer to anyone but ourselves and our dedicated readers. You simply won’t get from any website the great story telling and beautiful images that comes with high-quality, glossy print that we produce on paper.
Magazines are meant to be read from cover to cover, not scanned over on a too-bright computer or phone screen. You can hold a magazine, keep it on your coffee table, re-read that compelling story or just go back and enjoy the beautiful photography. With on-line publications and the current climate, it’s just hit after hit as fast as possible to feed the internet machine. Even with our bike tests, we take great care in testing, delivering a story and providing great photos from professional photographers. Sure, we have a website and social media but that’s a complement to the magazine, not the other way around where print might come second. We will always put print first.
4. Someone interested in pursuing mountain biking/adventure/travel journalism might read this. Any advice on how to get started?
Have a strong voice, write like you talk and don’t force it. There are many in the biz who don’t have formal degrees but are still great at what they do. It’s often easier to get published on a website at first, which is good. It’ll give you a resume, so to speak, so editors can see examples of your work. Blogs are good too as a reference. Many valuable contributors I work with have high-quality websites. For me personally, keep in touch so I have your name handy. Often, I’ll reach out to a contributor (or potential contributor) and ask if they want to do a certain story or I’ll simply check in and see if there’s anything in the hopper.
You never know what can happen. For example, in our new issue the story 50/51 was seeded by a random Instagram post I saw. I thought it would make a great feature and it did. It took some work (the author had never written a magazine feature before) but it came out amazing and it’s a perfect example of what I mention below about going with illustrations when there aren’t any photo assets.
5. A quick follow-up to that: What are some "do's and don'ts" when someone is writing a pitch to an editor?
Have a solid outline and some good writing samples. Our contributors are professionals, yet you don’t necessarily have to be to get published. A solidly written pitch with photo assets will get you in the mag as a contributor fast. I want to know how your story is unique and most of all how it will be supported visually because photos shot with your phone won’t work for us. Words are easy to edit, but photos, not so much. If you have a great storyline but are unsure about photo assets, pitch me on a way to illustrate your story. We work with some of the best artists around who can make your story come to life and in many cases an illustrated story adds additional flavor to the issue.
As for don’ts, don’t ever fail to deliver a feature story once it’s been agreed to run without ample notice. Online sources can work around this, magazines can’t since we must deliver the final product on a set date to the printer. And please don’t just send me a block of words with no title or by-line. Funny aside, I once worked with a columnist who didn’t have a computer so he wrote his entire column on his phone and would send it in the body of an email. Proof that anything is possible if you really want to contribute.
6. Back to you and mountain biking: any favorite place(s) that you ride/road trip to on a regular basis?
I’ve been fortunate in that because of my career I’ve ridden (and ride) in so many amazing places that I don’t road trip much. Additionally, I’ve been lucky that where I’ve lived (Orange County, CA, Emmaus, PA, San Luis Obispo, CA, and now Prescott, AZ) I’ve always had amazing trails and roads right out my front door. Obviously when I raced I’d travel but now I prefer to stay home and ride, unless I go somewhere for work, which generally includes riding.
7. Current bike(s)?
Let’s see, I still have my trusty 2016 Pivot Mach 429SL with Shimano Di2 XTR which is a great bike. I’ve replaced the suspension and wheels so it’s still running like a champ. I have an Evil Chamois Hagar that’s awesome on many of the trails here in Prescott and I’ve been riding an Evil Following a whole lot. It’s a perfect bike for a former XC racer like myself.
8. If you're someone who has a post-ride beer, what might be in your cooler?
Usually Miller High Life to end a ride and on special occasions perhaps a Milwaukee Mimosa to start the ride (look that one up). At the restaurant a nice IPA—Elysian Space Dust if they have it.
9. Any last words?
Ride yer bike, have fun, respect other trails users and support independent journalism by subscribing to Mountain Flyer. Also, if you have a story idea and want to contribute, I can be reached at email@example.com
Note: all photos courtesy of Mike Cushionbury.
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