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Happy Camp to Willow Creek
Highway 96




Max Burns

Around the Bend (again) presents a wide-ranging collection of motorcycling columns by Max Burns from the pages of Cycle Canada magazine. Max’s columns first appeared in 1985, drawing an immediate following of devoted fans who continue to enjoy his writing today. This collection of nearly 60 columns shows Max at his unpredictable best, honing his obsessions with the open road, risk, politicians, and speed limits, among other things, but always connected to motorcycles and the people who ride them. Whether he’s extolling the virtues of a chip stand hangout in northern Ontario or denouncing a Brazilian airline en route to a sidecar tour arranged by the Amazonas factory, Max Burns is worth joining for the ride—and the read.

What Others Are Saying.....
“Max is a consummate pro as a writer, with a sheaf of national magazine awards to his credit, but he’s never lost the boyish impulse to write something nasty on the wall. I’ve wondered, at times, if Max isn’t in some sort of witness protection program— from some other solar system...”
--Bruce Reeve editor Cycle Canada  Read Intro

“Max is located on the place where fun riding intersects with everyday living. Around the Bend is mostly like a good hour spent at a bar with an old friend just after you’ve both come in from a long ride through some interesting new place.” --Andy Goldfine Aerostich/RiderWarehouse

“Every month we eagerly wait to see just what is going to come out of Max Burns' head. The intricate meanderings of his thought processes are wondrous to behold. And often surprising (as in one recent column in which the perverse bastard describes how he uses our paean to pavement, DHBC, to satisfy his base gravel urges...) Sharply observational, off the wall and just damn funny, who can't love his prose --it's lyrical, amusing and shit-disturbing all at the same time.  Max is a craftsman with words and Around The Bend shows him to be one of the finest and most entertaining motorcycle writers anywhere.”
--Brian Bosworth co-author of DHBC & DHWA

“I always turn to Around the Bend in Cycle Canada because of Max’s ability to take a personal event in his life and make a story that is thoughtful, engaging and reflects his unique outlook on life.”
--Peter Hoogeveen perennial Iron Butter

“Max Burns is pleasantly and entertainingly nuts.” --Larry Tate motorcycle journalist and raconteur

Max's Premise   Intro by Bruce Reeve   Sample Column  Max's website


For those who'd like to receive a piece of Max's mind monthly, we recommend a subscription to Cycle Canada magazine, a pretty fine piece of work in its own right.

Max's Premise (from the book)

I am a privileged and spoiled writer. For the most part, I write about what I want, when I want, a philosophy that has endowed me with a reputation for turning down at least as many assignments as I accept. True, this is not the best route to riches, but hey, if wealth was a prime motivator I sure as heck wouldn’t have chosen writing as a career. Come to think of it, I didn't really choose it, I sort of eased into it. Ostensibly, I was looking for a way to avoid a real job. Subconsciously, I was looking for a means of expression, an avenue to get some ideas out for discussion, a public platform for a few of my jokes. Although my words subsequently travelled down several literary paths, such as off-the-grid water and sewage systems, the quest for food nirvana, noise pollution, architecture, travel, docks, repairing lawn mowers, fireplaces, and on and on, being a Canadian with an interest in motorcycles counter-steered me to Cycle Canada magazine right from the beginning. So the relationship began, one that would see me operating in a variety of capacities for the magazine, most notably as author of Around the Bend.

Writing a regular column is a neat gig, particularly when the mandate is to be witty and controversial, with at least some tenuous link to a passion such as motorcycling. Around the Bend became my personal soapbox, a place to rant and rave about perceived injustices, to mock the establishment, to poke fun at everything and everyone (especially me), to explore life and its absurdities, and to offer my impressions on bikes (to the chagrin of some manufacturers), people (to the chagrin of some people), and places (to the chagrin of some residents), always with that link to motorcycles.

Truth is, linking a topic to motorcycles isn’t difficult because motorcyclists are such a wonderfully diverse group of people, in philosophy, disposition, and career choices. The challenge is to maintain the surprise element in a column that appears in every issue of the magazine. The reader shouldn’t know what to expect other than a good read. I don’t mind irritating a reader --in fact I don’t even mind if a reader stops being a reader out of anger over my words. What I don't want is to lose a reader because of boredom. There are writers who do very well churning out the same old crap, column after column, story after story, for undoubtedly there is comfort in uniformity. But I don’t want my readers to be comfortable. I want my readers to be entertained with serendipity, to have emotions stirred, to think. Doesn’t work every time, or for everyone, but that still remains the goal.

Which explains why I quit writing Around the Bend at the end of 1989. My head-space was in a bit of turmoil at the time and I feared this distraction might put that goal at risk, that I might begin writing the column out of obligation rather than pleasure. So I killed it. Fortunately, Chris Knowles filled the page in Cycle Canada with a new column, Off Camber. Fortunately again (at least for me), seven years later he too experienced a similar sense of approaching burn-out and retired his column. When Cycle Canada asked if I would like to resurrect Around the Bend, I quickly agreed. I was ready. My desire to write the column had re-ignited. And it continues to burn as I tap these words into my trusty, old 386 IBM-clone.

Another nifty aspect to writing a regular column that I hadn’t anticipated way back in the 1980s is the relationship that evolves between writer and reader. Some of you actually believe what I say. I mean, I usually believe it too, but the degree to which my words occasionally hit home with the readers can be very flattering and very rewarding. Even humbling at times. So I never lose sight of my obligation to you to provide honest journalism. And sometimes my words fall into a reader's life just at the right time and in the right manner to sum up an important moment for that person. When that happens, there is nothing more gratifying for me as a writer.

And therein lies the premise for this book --a bit of self-indulgence for the both of us. I wanted Around the Bend readers to tell me about their most memorable columns, both favourites and the ones that pissed them off. To my surprise, the most frequent response to this request was “I liked them all,” which was nice, but not a big help, guys. Hell, I don't even like them all. So I sifted through the many responses, tossed in a few of my own faves, and voilà, a book is born. The columns appear as published in Cycle Canada, by date, along with a few of the readers’ comments and/or author's excuses. Enjoy the read (again).


Forward Ho by Bruce Reeve (editor of Cycle Canada magazine, 1989-)

I used to think it strange that nobody asked me, “What is Max Burns really like?” It wasn’t that nobody was interested; the opposite was true. What struck me as odd was that readers of Cycle Canada magazine would try to tell me what Max Burns was like, because so many of them felt they knew him from his writing. Well, some of these readers may have been simply delusional, but this powerful connection between Max and his readers is one of the secrets of his success. I’ve talked to other magazine editors who have noted the same reaction to Max's work. Readers respond to it. Frankly, we're mystified. But as Max would tell you, ours is not to reason why. We should just print his stuff and send him the cheques. Of course, being an editor, I can’t simply leave it at that.

On one level, the reason Max’s writing appeals to so many people is that he seems an open, genuine and unpretentious soul, a devoted father and husband, sometimes even sweetly sentimental. Then there’s the other Max --deliberately perverse, anarchistic, joyously rude and bitterly misanthropic. But then don’t we all feel that way sometimes?

Although I’ve known Max for many years now, there remains an air of mystery about him. He’s a consummate pro as a writer, with a sheaf of national magazine awards to his credit, but he’s never lost the boyish impulse to write something nasty on the wall. Although Max has evolved as a wordsmith during the time I’ve known him, he seemed to spring out of nowhere with most of his style and writing character fully formed. I've wondered, at times, if Max isn't in some sort of witness protection program --from some other solar system. His writing can flow with grace and power, yet on rare occasions produce the strangest spelling and grammar mistakes I’ve ever seen, of the sort you wouldn't expect from someone whose first language is English --or from someone born in this galaxy.

Max would be the first to tell you he is not entirely comfortable on our planet. He speaks with horror of a four-year period in his distant past when he held a lucrative full-time job, something to do with bookkeeping apparently, following a wanton education as an art student. There are a number of unexplained gaps on Max’s resume, which will probably forever bar him from a management-trainee position at Burger King (though few are so adept at flipping whoppers...).

Fortunately for us, Max chose to invent a life for himself as a writer, starting as a contributor to Cycle Canada. Within a few years he was assigned his own column space, though he also continued to write feature stories. For a brief period in the late ‘80s, Max worked next to me as an editor in our office, but this seemed to revive memories of his previous full-time job, and he soon fled Toronto back to northern Ontario and the freedom of freelancing.

You’ll notice that Max's Around the Bend columns ceased for around seven years before resuming in 1998. He continued to contribute feature stories to Cycle Canada during some of this time, and on one occasion was assigned to cover a lavish, if poorly organized, trip to Italy to survey the operations of Ducati, sampling some production, prototype and race bikes in the process. I later heard that the Ducati people didn’t quite know what to make of Max. They found him a bit strange. Maybe so, but Max rode the wheels off a fleet of Ducatis and brought back a story both hilarious and insightful; nobody among the U.S. press on the same trip wrote anything half as good.

Around the same time Max's freelance career began to flourish as a writer for Harrowsmith and particularly Cottage Life magazine, where he won numerous awards. During this same period he went back to the land with his patient and beautiful wife Jackie, first living in a shack on the edge of wilderness while building an innovative, environmentally friendly home set in a hillside.

Having chosen to earn a living as freelance writer, Max has turned to such practical subjects as dock building, water systems and outhouses for articles and books that help pay the bills. Apparently he’s even been contracted by the Egyptian government to help draw up standards for dock construction on the Red Sea coast. God help them. But that’s business. What’s really fun for Max is writing about whatever he damn well pleases. In the past this has even included science fiction and romance novels, which remain stuffed in a drawer somewhere, but writing a column on motorcycling for Cycle Canada has allowed him to run freely with his imagination while still earning a few bucks in the process. It’s been a great process, really --Max writes Around the Bend for his own amusement, and we read it for ours.

Many of the columns collected here may be familiar to Max’s long-time readers, but I found them fun to read again and expect you will too. For those encountering Around the Bend for the first time, all I can say is this: the road is twisted, and you¹re in for a treat.

Avoid risk at your peril - by Max Burns
April 1998

A warm, spring sun found pal Paul and I looking for a good excuse to take the day off, which we figured most likely lay hidden down a nearby USE AT YOUR OWN RISK forest-access road. We were out on our dirt bikes, aimlessly dawdling along, the leaves barely in bud, the blackflies still grounded. The road cut a long, gravel crescent through the bush from paved secondary highway to paved township road, the northwest end being the fun section, tossing and leaping about as if searching for a concealed emergency exit when the theatre’s on fire.

To the wonder of no one present, what began as a relaxed outing soon escalated into a full-tilt, take-no-prisoners battle for cosmic supremacy. For miles, Paul and I charged through the corners, throttles pegged to the stops, XL and XR just a breath apart, sometimes even touching. For miles, handlebars thrashed back and forth as humanity and machines slid and bounced a mere heartbeat from oblivion, none willing to give an inch. And for miles, under the helmets, behind the goggles, Paul and I both grinned and giggled as we flirted with death and dismemberment. This wasn't mere foolish horseplay, mind you, it was important, a thing that mattered, a race of honour to see who could get back to the trailer first.

Midway through a corner --I don't recall which-- during a sudden slither –‘scuse me Paul-- a stray insight dusted its way into my helmet. That USE AT YOUR OWN RISK sign is in the wrong place. Rather than at the entrance to the forest-access road, it should be posted at the entrance to life, or at least at the entrance to adolescence.

Sissy stuff
Exposure to risk is an inescapable part of life. More than that, it's a primeval need that to date evolution hasn't managed to wean from our systems. Yet where evolution has failed, humanity itself is close to succeeding. Increasingly, we are becoming a society of sissies. Sure, we still want to take risks --to go mountain climbing, deep-sea diving, white-water rafting-- just as long as it doesn't involve any chance of injury or loss. After all, jeopardy is just a game show on TV.

So a person takes a risk, an accident happens, a person gets hurt. Could happen to anyone, right? Except the person who got hurt. Rare is it that the aggrieved pause to consider whether the incident was a result of their own desire, or even need, to push the limits. Somebody else must be found at fault, and if somebody can’t be, then blame it on El Niño. Either way, somebody else must pay.

Misplaced fault is particularly pitiful when the hurt or loss involves loved ones. How do you tell grieving parents that the main reason their kid's now impersonating a potted flower is because they failed to ensure the child had proper instruction, had proper equipment, or was even made aware of any risk? You don't. And overcome by disbelief, anger, and tears, they sue. Anyone; everyone. Psychologists call this transference of guilt. Lawyers call it a windfall. Insurance companies call it an excuse to increase premiums. I call it bawling for dollars. Isn’t there any onus on humanity to assume some responsibility for its own actions? Not even vegetables are entitled to a risk-free existence.

Speaking of which, years ago a few conservative acquaintances (they seem to have all forsaken me over time) claimed I was harbouring a secret death wish. They would point to the speed, the fast cars, the motorcycles, and anything else that set off their danger alarms, like old guitar strings that could snap in the night. As usual, that clichéd death wish was being confused with a life wish. If anything, life could use more USE AT YOUR OWN RISK options.

Couch victims
Given the choice, is it not better to die living than to remain living dead? The land of the living dead occupies the crypt in front of the TV, spits out the end of a narcotic needle, pours out the neck of a booze bottle, hides in the countless pages of over-regulation --basically lurks anywhere we subjugate our freedom in exchange for a pre-programmed existence, preferably with guaranteed minimal risk. Yet by seeking to eliminate risk, we unavoidably eliminate much of what makes breathing such a worthwhile enterprise. Obviously it’s safer to simply sit back and watch. But so what? Where's the advantage of being the last one buried if your spirit died years before you? When it comes to life, use at your own risk, and use often. Climb a mountain, hang-glide, bungee-jump, go out on a date. Or, to quote the Parry Sound Sportbike Rally’s perennial hard-luck winner Phil, “Ride fast and take chances.” But whatever you decide to do, make it your own choice and accept the consequences, be they success or failure. After all, you won’t have the chance once you’re dead or, worse, self-assigned to the comatose couch of the living dead.

As an aside, I won that race with Paul.

Max's website

192 pages Price: $24.95 
(includes ground shipping)