RIP Dirt Rag

RIP Dirt Rag

Last week the good people at Rotating Mass Media, the parent of Dirt Rag magazine, the Dirt Rag web site and Dirt Fest cycling festival, announced they were shutting down operations immediately. It’s a nasty blow. It’s a nasty blow for Maurice Tierney, the publisher; for the entire staff who worked on the magazine, including the past and future freelancers, of which I was one; and it’s an awful loss for the readers.

The reasons for this are numerous. The bike industry hasn’t recovered the way other industries have, during what is now one of the largest economic expansions in U.S. history. The industry was in a pretty good place in 2006 and 2007. Ad dollars could be found anywhere.

Ad dollars are increasingly spent digitally and the upshot is that it’s not good for anyone who works with paper.

I met Maurice in 1991 at Mount Snow, Vermont, in the expo tent, singular, during the NORBA National Championship. John Tomac won that year, but what I found most exciting was that Maurice was interested in picking up some new freelancers. My first piece was inauspicious, some rudimentary reporting about the trails that Northfield Mountain Nordic Ski Center had opened up to mountain biking. Back then Dirt Rag was saddle-stitched (stapled) and on white stock rough as construction paper. I’m pleased to say that the intervening years saw us both gain sophistication.

Some of you may recall a piece I did with them relatively recently: a conversation with Gary Fisher. It was arguably the most fun I ever had interviewing someone. And I can tell you that very few magazines would have run such a lengthy piece (north of 4000 words), even online. Their other, already deceased publication, Bicycle Times, ran this piece I wrote on a salad. I wrote about a salad for a bike magazine.

I was working on another feature for them.

That Rotating Mass produced Dirt RagBicycle Times, two web sites and Dirt Fest was meant to insulate it from the storms that publishers face. More legs to the table. It’s fair to wonder what sort of universe we are living in when five legs can’t keep a table upright. Even being an independent requires the independents to act like they are … not independent.

The loss of Dirt Rag isn’t just the loss of another magazine publisher. It’s the loss of a voice, a particular viewpoint, and one that especially different by virtue of its launch in Pittsburgh, which is to say its relationship to Los Angeles (the home of enthusiast magazine publishing) is, to quote Luke Skywalker, “Well, if there’s a bright center of the universe, you’re on the planet that it’s farthest from.” And that last was just the sort of sentence that Dirt Rag would have published. 

Being different is as unavoidable for those who are different as are the risks accrued therein.

 

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9 comments

  1. Marc Basiliere

    Growing up in New England and working as a shop rat during the early 1990s boom, most or all of the mountain bike glossies came from the West Coast, which was reflected in their perspective and content. The Rag was deliberately and stubbornly Eastern and [whatever the opposite of elitist is]. It was great to flip to the events and plan my next trip to races at the nearby Temple Mountain (three per season!), Waterville Valley, or the legendary Hillsboro Classic. I’m sure that many of the cultural and, uh, countercultural references went over my head, but the crew from PA spoke to my early mountain bike experiences in a way that the California magazines never did.

    Recent issues came in the mail in a form that had me concerned about Dirt Rag in the way that you think about an increasingly-emaciated acquaintance: not optimistic about their prospects but hoping for them and their family that they’d pull through. In an era where media increasingly turn to overt (and covert) branded content and there is so much competition for advertiser dollars it’s admirable that, by all accounts, the Dirt Rag team stuck to their principles and maintained their character to the end. Cold comfort, but it’s something.

    Having known and ridden with a number of DR contributors over the years I wish them and the core Rotating Mass team all the best.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Waterville Valley had the single roughest descent I can recall ever doing. I remember pulling as hard as I could on my Ritchey cantilevers and the bike wasn’t stopping. Afterward, I recall seeing Maurice standing in the parking lot with copies for sale on the hood of a truck.

  2. Hautacam

    As a lifelong west-coaster, i appreciated Dirt Rag’s east-coast focus and i enjoyed their gritty bike-messenger attitude and underground ‘zine aesthetic. It was… different, in a very good way. It’s great they stayed true to their roots and a shame that’s no longer viable. I hope they can find another platform for their content and editorial perspective.

  3. George

    This is sad indeed. DR was a magazine about the sport that felt… real. You opened the pages and even in it’s glossier years it still felt like there were human beings on the other end, writing and shooting pictures, who were more like me than a corporate entity putting out content. It would be nice if RMM would let the people who worked on DR and its components go grassroots with it to keep it going. Maybe there’s another benefactor out there. One can hope. Cheers to a fallen friend!

  4. Gary Terner

    I first met Maurice at a trail day in one of the County parks north of Pittsburgh. He showed up with a box of pastries from a bakery in Squirrel Hill, a Dirt Rag banner, a trunk full of Pulaskis and McLeods, and cases of Troeg’s beer. He dug in the dirt and moved rocks with us just like anybody. I was thrilled to become a lifetime subscriber to the magazine. I was saddened when Maurice left Pittsburgh for the West Coast and now I am sadder still to understand the the lifetime subscription was not for my lifetime. RIP Dirt Rag

  5. Matthew

    I attended Adventure Fest in 2017. I was an avid reader of Bicycle Times. (Best bike magazine in my opinion) It covered all kinds or riding and made me want to ride more. Sad to see them all go. the ad for Over the Bar Café in the back of Bicycle times made me eat there when I finished my bike tour of the Great Allegheny Passage.

  6. kurti_sc

    I have 2 visions of Dirt Rag. The version I fell in love with in the early 90’s was a breath of fresh hair, honest reviews, great reading, occasional poetry that made you really wonder what you were reading but thankful that it was there, and stuff that just made you think. Kind of like RKP! The travel stories regularly made me plan some detours on vacations, the interviews were super interesting – interesting normal people, and normal interesting people, and sometimes interesting interesting people. And I especially liked that i could still get it in print. This is the booth i would take my wife to multiple times whenever we visited NAHBS. And i always renewed for just 1 year b/c i knew they needed the dollars more than i needed the reduced rate. I was glad to do it.
    The other version of DR has been coming for the last few years. I won’t speak badly of them, but something had changed in the material and for me, at least, it was a turn off. I eventually stopped subscribing (after 15+ non stop years). Maybe others had similar thoughts? I hate to see them go too, but i’m more saddened by the loss of the earlier magic. All of that aside, I would be super stoked to come across any of them at a trail head. I wish them the best.

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