News Feature

Motoveli, a Brooklyn 'zine for riders and creators



June 25, 2018 | Interview & photos: Rahoul Ghose

This month we sit down with Motoveli rider-in-chief Ryan Snelson to talk about his new publication for "riders and creators." With the first issue now available and a successful launch party put to bed, Snelson talks about the new concept -- 100 pages of "riding stories, interviews, and moto-inspired design experiments ... an original black-and-white take on modern motorcycle culture and creators in New York."

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1) Firstly, congrats on the successful launch. So, Brooklyn seems like the perfect place to birth a gritty magazine on motorcycles and art … that said what inspired the creation of Motoveli and what is the magazine’s mandate?

Thank you, we’re excited to be out in the world! People that ride in Brooklyn, or generally ride motorcycles around New York City have extremely resilient qualities. I think this actually applies to anyone who rides a motorcycle or creates art and design, but Brooklyn definitely has that extra grit you mentioned. The biggest inspiration for Motoveli is that we continue to do what we always do — to go riding, explore places, take pics, and talk about stuff. Instead of posting everything online, we take a step back and make a magazine about it. It’s a very meta project. We have to ride in order to make the magazine. I write a lot about this in the Editor’s Letter. The plan is to see what happens. The only rule is that the process of making the magazine can’t interrupt the fun of riding.

2) With the magazine industry in decline, do you see the future as being in these specialty, niche publications which offer readers something unique?

Yes, the magazine industry is already dead unless you’re a legacy publication. Motoveli is actually more of a softcover book or journal than it is a magazine. It’s definitely niche. I think independent publications have the freedom to do whatever they want — to be more experimental and take risks. That’s where the real fun is. The other reason to do print is because people expect free content online. The internet has commoditized content and that’s an unfortunate side effect of web 2.0. I do think people are willing to pay for something original and unique though. Paper is also really easy to use. We are ad-free but we run fake ads. It’s a vibe.

3) Are you covering the Brooklyn scene for locals or are you hoping to have a wider distribution to share the local scene nationwide? How many issues of the magazine are printed in your run?

We’re covering less of a scene and more of a behavior. For example, in the city we get stuck in traffic and split lanes. Upstate we ride twisties, or maybe we go on a camping trip. I’m interested in finding meaningful riding moments, and presenting those moments to readers in a fun and unexpected way. That could happen with an interview or illustration. The whole take is that we go riding and talk about stuff. We just happen to be Brooklyn-based. Each ride inspires design experiments and long-form storytelling. Sometimes the tone is serious and other times satirical. There are things happening in Brooklyn, but the editorial voice is really aimed at people who just love to ride motorcycles. Motoveli isn’t conforming to the cliché ideas that surround motorcyclists, and I think riders are connecting with what we’re doing. The premiere issue is a limited run — only a few hundred copies. If things go well then we’ll go wider.

4) Where did the name motoveli originate and does it have any specific meaning for you?

To me it evokes the name Machiavelli. More practically speaking it’s like when someone puts DJ in front of their name to describe they are a DJ. You can do the same with moto, and boom … instant motorcycle name. Moto this, moto that. Motoveli is a mashup of veil in Italian, which figuratively means to cover. Covering motos. It’s the plural of velo, which is bike. Motoveli is also a registered trademark for legal cred. The five stars in the logo come from the meaningless rating systems that we see online.

ryan snelson | rahoul ghose
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  The biggest inspiration for Motoveli is that we continue to do what we always do — to go riding, explore places, take pics, and talk about stuff. Instead of posting everything online, we take a step back and make a magazine about it.  

-- Ryan Snelson, rider-in-chief, Motoveli
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5) The magazine is black and white … how does that fit in with the philosophy of the mag?

Motoveli is shot almost entirely with smartphones. It makes the process more fun, and taps into the behavior we’re already doing when we ride. Aesthetically I’ve always loved the high-contrast of black and white. It reminds me of shooting 35mm and developing prints in the darkroom. If a photo originates as color I’ll convert it in post. The philosophy and style is to showcase the imperfect and not overthink it. To embrace device flaws and limitations.

6) Who are the movers and shakers behind the magazine (publisher, founders, editor, writers, photographers) and what are their backgrounds?

Right now I’m the sole “Rider-in-Chief” and handle everything. The premiere issue features local riders and creators. We ride Bed-Stuy to Bushwick with Alessandra Recine, talk mopeds and scooters with Dom Propati, and go Straight to Hell with our favorite band Night Surf. Andreas Ekberg did some custom illustrations, and Dennis Rainaldi photographed some crazy weather up north. This whole thing is passion project that’s evolving. I’m happy that everyone involved trusted me to do something like this. I’ve been a professional designer since 1999 and a lifelong motorcyclist. A few years ago I even co-founded one of those augmented reality helmet companies ... but it didn’t work out. As a kid I learned how to use cameras by photographing friends jumping bicycles. I shot riding videos on a camcorder and edited them to music on a VCR. Motoveli is such a natural evolution for me creatively.

7) Will this be a monthly and what in the future do you hope to cover in terms of features, photo essays, etc.?

We have three riding seasons in the northeast, and so Motoveli will be released three times per year. Hopefully people buy issues and value the project enough to keep it going. I want to cover interesting moments. It could be a photo essay or interview or something else. We have a section called the A-Files which people can submit their action camera footage that they never watch or use. It’s a spoof on the X-Files. The ride is out there, ya know? We have a lot fun with that. I want to talk to the Grom rider I was following crosstown on my bicycle yesterday. He split so good on that thing, and was wearing a dope skeleton mask. I gave him a sticker and we chatted briefly at the light. I’m looking for people that figure out their own little riding hacks and do things differently.

8) How would you describe the Brooklyn moto and maker scene, and what makes it unique?

I think people that ride in Brooklyn fall into two camps — bike nerds and design nerds. The bike nerds like to wrench their machines and be creative with different builds. Design nerds usually don’t wrench, but they create a lot of motorcycle inspired art, photography, etc. There’s so much inspiration and creativity through both of those lenses. It’s exciting for me when both of those worlds collide to create something unique. Brooklyn is also a great blend of riding and bike styles. The commonality of course is that we all ride and can relate to that experience.

9) What do you ride and what’s your favorite urban moto trek? Favorite local spot to photograph a bike? Favorite local hangout?

My latest bike is a 2015 Yamaha FZ-09. It’s wild and so snappy. I love merging onto the FDR from the Brooklyn Bridge early in the morning. It’s a great little section with a nice curve and the views are incredible. I also love riding to Fort Tilden in the winter. My favorite shot is zooming out against any landscape for scale—to see how small the bike is in the world. It could be a mountain upstate or a wall in the city. I don’t have a local hangout. I work remote sometimes, and at night I like to ride my bicycle down 2nd ave in Manhattan. It’s really exhilarating. I need to stay on the move as much as possible. Riding, bicycle riding, skating. It’s good for my head.

ryan snelson | rahoul ghose
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  I think people that ride in Brooklyn fall into two camps — bike nerds and design nerds. The bike nerds like to wrench their machines and be creative with different builds. Design nerds usually don’t wrench, but they create a lot of motorcycle inspired art, photography, etc. There’s so much inspiration and creativity through both of those lenses. It’s exciting for me when both of those worlds collide to create something unique.   

-- Ryan Snelson, rider-in-chief, Motoveli
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10) I noticed you are currently looking to get the magazine into local moto shops and book stores … anywhere local currently we can pick up a copy?

We just launched last weekend and you can order online at motoveli.com. We’re not in any stores yet but hopefully soon. I usually sling a few copies in my bag … so if you see me riding just ask!

11) I also hear you are looking for riders to feature in future issues. Are you looking for any riders in particular, and what do you need from them? Who should they contact?

Although he’s not in Brooklyn, I would love to interview Steve Caballero because he rides, skates, and makes stuff. Plus he’s holding down a family and still doing it. I’m interested in learning about people's riding behaviors and motivations. Go to motoveli.com/contact and submit your stuff. If you can’t imagine a life without motorcycles then we should probably talk. Some requirements are that Featured Riders must live in the NYC area, and currently own and operate a motorcycle. If you get selected, we’ll go riding together and that will become the content. It’s a lot of fun.

12) Are you also looking for local contributors and if so, what are you looking for in terms of content … stories, photos, video?

Yes, riders and non-riders may contribute motorcycle related stories, photos, illustrations and video links. We accept submissions from anywhere but encourage northeast participation. The other day I met someone at the Triumph party who showed me a picture of a pizza box netted on the back of her bike. I loved it. That’s interesting. I can work with that!

13) In the future do you see the magazine extending through the website to include more visual content?

The magazine will stay in print. I look at the site as a driver to get the magazine. If I start publishing content online I think the magazine will suffer. It’s a tough balance though which I’m trying to navigate. In terms of more visual content I would like to collaborate more with other creators. We just had a launch party and created video remixes of original NES games like Paperboy and Excitebike. We projected everything behind three giant screens, and Night Surf performed a set of songs against it. I like these types of collaborations for more visual content.

14) Where do you see the magazine going in the coming year?

More experimental, more riding fun, and generally more awesome.

ryan snelson | rahoul ghose
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  Riders and non-riders may contribute motorcycle related stories, photos, illustrations and video links. We accept submissions from anywhere but encourage northeast participation. The other day I met someone at the Triumph party who showed me a picture of a pizza box netted on the back of her bike. I loved it. That’s interesting. I can work with that!  

-- Ryan Snelson, rider-in-chief, Motoveli
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You can find out more about the magazine and purchase a copy online at motoveli.com ... or follow the publication's Instagram: . You can see more of Snelson's work at: ryansnelson.com.

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