The life of a motorcycling journo can’t be as exciting as it sounds. Can it?

How do you conserve a Green Road?
January 31, 2016
Night Rider
February 14, 2016

Free gear, all expenses trips around the world, a new bike every week. The life of a motorcycling journalist is the stuff of dreams isn't it? Or is it more a case of insane deadlines, chasing invoices and gallons of coffee to get you through long lonely nights?

TRF member Jon Bentman is an established name in the motor media, a long time contributor to recently departed Trail Bike Magazine (TBM). Many trail riders were dismayed to see their favourite monthly magazine vanish from the news stands, but what's this, a phoenix rising from the ashes? Jon lifts the lid on Rust, the trail riding magazine born of the digital age and gives a few hints as to how you get one of the best jobs in motorcycling.


Hi Jon. What have you been up to this week? Is the life of a motorcycle journalist packed with test rides, free gear and hanging out with the good and great of the motorcycle world?


Well, yes it is, if I'm honest. This week started with the Yamaha WR450F launch in Almeria, Southern Spain. That test ride was 10-hours and over 200km including plenty of rocks and dried-up gravel beds and all the while chasing a certain rapid Dakar racer called Franz Verhoeven (he's a top privateer who races Yamahas, naturally) – so they made us work for our money. The report for that was something of a ten-hour marathon as well as RUST wanted to be first to publish. I needed to be quick too as I had to clear my decks before two back-to-back classic bike tests mid-week. The second was another marathon effort as it was over 300 miles away, so that turned into a 19-hour working day. So tail end of the week, I've got to prepare both those features asap to meet the Christmas print deadline for Practical Sportsbikes. As usual, even in a week where I do a lot of riding I'm doing ten times the amount of time riding in writing, travel and admin.


Jon test rides the new Yamaha WR450F for Rust


You are a long time supporter and member of the TRF. Is this for work purposes or something that you have a genuine interest in? Do you have a trail riding background?


To say I'm a long time follower would be more truthful, membership only came in 2014. My background is rooted in road racing, my father was one and although I'd fully intended to ride enduro as an adult, a chance ride at Brands Hatch at a race school got me hooked (my brother-in-law had been given a place as a birthday gift, so I was just company for the day) and actually I road raced again this year, it's still not out of my system.

It wasn't until I emigrated to New Zealand that got into the trail riding as that country has the most amazing trails – probably the best off-road riding I've seen in all my travels. But I'd followed the TRF over the years though the likes of MCN, Motorcycle Sport, maybe even TMX, admired their ethos and I'd always wanted to stop racing around for a weekend or two and take a pleasure trip on a bike, nice and slow, in the UK country.

And really that's only happened in the last 24 months given the (temporary) presence of a certain Honda CRF250L. I took a four-day ride from the coast of Kent to the North West coast of Wales with John Vannuffel and Christian James, back in the early summer of 2014, using as many green-lanes as we could, and that was transformative, probably the greatest ride of my life – which is saying something as I've ridden off-road in NZ, Australia, South Africa, South America and Canada. I was surprised that was my assessment too, but the ride was truly spectacular.

We have plenty to be grateful for, plenty of opportunity for fun and adventure right here in the UK.


Christian, Jon and John looking relieved to have made it coast to coast in one piece


Has journalism, and in particular motorcycle journalism, been a life long career? I think many of our members would jump at the chance of being paid to ride bikes and write about it. How did you end up doing what you do?


There's a family photo of of me sat on my dad's Domiracer at Brands Hatch. I'm less than a year old, still in nappies, so I guess I've been immersed in motorcycles from birth (I'm one of four children). So I had a paddock bike, then a BSA Bantam field bike, and then at ten I tried schoolboy motocross on a Suzuki 100, proper Roger De Coster style. I was rubbish though and after one or two particularly disturbing crashes my mother retired me before I did any lasting damage. My father was still road racing so we lived bikes every hour of every day, but I came back to bikes myself much later, probably age 15 or 16 with a Kawasaki and then a Fantic trials bike. Trials was brilliant and the best preparation I could have had for my adult riding life, be that road racing or trail riding.

I wasn't a journalist straight away, first a draughtsman, then after studying for a degree in estate management I became a chartered surveyor. It was only when I emigrated to New Zealand that I became a journo. I was road racing there and met the editor for their number one magazine, Kiwi Rider, and very quickly became their road bike test rider.


It wasn't always dirt bikes in the early years

After three years of that I went back to university and studied journalism so I could do the job properly, and became Kiwi Rider's editor. Like a fool I came back to the UK in 2003 to launch a magazine called MotoX and have been full-time a journo here since then.


Last year, many trail riders were saddened to see TBM (Trail Bike Magazine) leave news stands as the magazine folded. It had been one of the very few publications that really catered for our pastime. So, it was with a pleasant surprise that we logged onto Facebook a few months ago to see TBM's successor, RUST launch out of blue. What happened?


Warren Malschinger happened. He bought the physical and intellectual properties of TBM, put Si Melber back in the editorial chair and re-assembled the team. Warren's background is in international property and finance, but he's a former motocrosser now a trail rider, so has the financial capability and the inspiration to get the show back on the road.

Jon gets his hands on the new Honda Africa Twin


RUST is clearly a different proposition, with no print run, shorter content but more regular issues. What can readers expect?


Yes, this is 2015, nearly 2016 and print journalism is fast looking like the past (regrettably – I love magazines), so instead of TBM we have RUST, a digital format, although as long-time readers of TBM will see, it's still carrying the DNA of the original.


The end of an era...


...and the start of another

It's still early days for RUST and the full roll-out of the new format has yet to happen, it'll soon be a lot more dynamic by way of embedded videos, hyperlinks and such, plus a much bigger website with archives and more. It's USP, which isn't that U, is that it's shorter – although still a long-read in terms of article length – and more frequent. The reasoning being if you give a reader a publication on their tablet they're done, had enough after 20 page turns, no matter how enthralling the publication. Any more than 20 pages and you're wasting content. So best leave them wanting more (hopefully) and don't leave it so long between servings.


How do you think RUST as a magazine and company can play a part in strengthening the conservation of Green Roads?


That's a tough question. I think, just as in mainstream media, the job of the journalist is to be there reporting on situations, attempting to give an impartial and objective overview on what's happening, that and insightful well-researched in-depth investigations.

Here at RUST we love what the TRF membership love – bikes and the British countryside – so we can follow and report on developments at the TRF, perhaps lend a sense of an outside perspective, and through our independence, where appropriate, be able to champion the TRF's conservation of Green Roads without actually speaking as the TRF.

There's that, and there's hopefully providing the inspiration to get out there through features on riding Green Roads. We'd like to encourage more people to respectfully ride Green Roads. I stress the 'respectfully', we're not alone out there and while we fight prejudices we need to understand how others like to enjoy the countryside too, act appropriately and try to reach a mutually beneficial relationship with all countryside users.


Read about the TRF in Rust here