Joe Parkhurst, the Original Enthusiast

A photo essay of how he set the direction for 58 years in print

Parkhurst in a nutshell: smiling and riding a motorcycle. “I often marveled at the incredible life I was leading as it unfolded. Here we were at one of the greatest tracks in the world, and it belonged to us for the day. We could ride endless hours, as fast as we were able. Silly to say, it was fun…pure fun of the kind few experience. And we got paid to do it! Did I ever feel guilty for such an abuse of privilege? Naaah.”Cycle World Archives

Before Cycle World Vol. 1, No. 1, in 1962, motorcycle magazines were just mouthpieces for the industry network, but Joe Parkhurst changed all that. As Peter Egan once said, Cycle World was finally a magazine “for those of us who wanted to buy motorcycles rather than sell them.” Parkhurst put it simply in his later years: “I was just a guy who worked on magazines, loved motorcycles, and could never find anything worthwhile to read about them.” He had been art director at Road & Track, long our sister publication, and was editor and art director at Karting World, the first high-quality magazine on that subject. “Editorial integrity and quality, though essential to the success of a magazine, were not readily accepted by an industry that had never ever heard a disparaging word about its products,” Parkhurst said.

Gordon Jennings, Cycle World’s first technical editor and good friend to Parkhust, said it best in one of his final columns for Motorcyclist before his death in 2000: “Joe Parkhurst founded Cycle World on the then-radical notion that a motorcycle magazine should do road-test reports that provided consumers honest, objective acceleration numbers and equally honest, if necessarily subjective, comments about handling, braking, and rider comfort. Cycle Publisher Floyd Clymer denounced Parkhurst’s plans, saying that taking an advertiser’s money and then criticizing his product was the same as stealing. … Parkhurst talked the printers into extending a line of credit, sold his sailboat and Porsche, drove around in an old Ford station wagon with matching holes in its floor and exhaust system, and on a couple of occasions, borrowed eating money from me. It was hollow-belly time for him, and things started that way for many lean months. I think most men would have tossed in their cards. He didn’t, and CW became America’s first modern-era motorcycle magazine, burying its feeble competition. … Give thanks to Joe Parkhurst, who started it all. Others might have done it, but Joe did.”

A love of competition was a part of Cycle World from the beginning, and firsthand participation has always been key to progress, understanding of technology, and a great story.Cycle World Archives
Technical Editor Gordon Jennings with a Bonneville salt-flats official for the 1963 attempt at a speed record. Jennings rode the beautiful Triumph Bonneville to a class record of just over 137 mph. “After Gordon set the record, I decided to give it a try,” Parkhurst recalled. “Nearing 140 mph passing through the timing lights, I rolled off the throttle, and all hell broke loose. The engine backfired through the left-hand carburetor. The explosion blew off the bracket holding the exhaust pipe, footpeg, and rear brake pedal. When the blast hit the hot exhaust pipe, everything caught fire. As the bike slowed, the flames got worse and the fiberglass fairing began to blaze. The Triumph and I then parted company. It came to a stop 100 yards away and continued to burn. The bike was burned to a crisp.”Cycle World Archives
There were many trips to the racetrack and many Cycle World-sponsored racers. National-level racer Tony Murphy talks to Jennings (back to camera).Cycle World Archives
Early tests included Murphy’s 350 Manx Norton, Yamaha TD1-Bs, and whatever else the CW team could get its hands on.Cycle World Archives
Model for the all-around Cycle World enthusiast? Parkhurst himself, a lover of all types of riding. Here he is rocking his signature style on a Montesa trials bike.Cycle World Archives
Headquarters at 1499 Monrovia Ave., purpose-built to house enthusiast magazines, and even a planned rooftop restaurant with motorsports theme. Fine dining never came, but John Bond’s Road & Track, where Parkhurst had been art director for a time, and Cycle World shared this building on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific for ­decades.Cycle World Archives
Parkhurst with his signature style in the 1970s. In 1973, he sold the magazine to CBS Publishing and stayed on as ­publisher until 1977.Cycle World Archives
The evolution of the Cycle World logo. Current style was inspired by the 1962 original.Cycle World Archives
Spiritual home for Joe? The Baja Peninsula. Parkhurst rode thousands of miles in Mexico’s off-road paradise, and chose Baja for the first Cycle World Trek, an annual industry invitational gathering hosted by him so he had another excuse to ride with his friends.Cycle World Archives
Always a man of style, Parkhurst cruises an Earles-fork BMW testbike in the 1960s.Cycle World Archives
As co-founder of SoCal’s Saddleback Park, Parkhurst led motorcycle sport and recreation with one of the first dedicated off-road riding areas. It also hosted world-class racing and racers, including the 1975 Trans-AMA series. Here, Parky awards International Class Champion Roger DeCoster the silver trophy.Cycle World Archives
Obviously enjoying one of his many trips to Japan as the country grew a strong foundation in the 1960s for its later industry dominance.Cycle World Archives
Paul Dunstall of Dunstall Norton fame at left, with Gordon Jennings, at the Isle of Man TT, 1964. The TT was a favorite of Parkhurst, and he’d write off his trips as “stockholder’s meetings,” even though Cycle World had none!Cycle World Archives
He never lost his sense of fun, and visited the Newport Beach office (and photo studio, obviously) on a regular basis.Cycle World Archives
Perfect pose for the man to whom we owe it all.Cycle World Archives

Parkhurst died in 2000, age 74, and left behind a legacy, a lifestyle, and a meeting place for all of us to share. In a lot of ways, Cycle World has also been a delightful textbook that continues to help people become more knowledgeable enthusiasts and better informed riders.