Motorcycling may be an incurable ailment. These books have helped one RealClassic regular survive the experience with his sanity intact......
Why do we do this? Out in all weathers, constantly in the teeth of a gale, either too hot or too cold and likely to be tipped into the surrounding scenery at any time. And we pay handsomely for the privilege! This disease of ours is usually incurable and even if we appear to get better we are but a carrier of the virus, waiting for it to resurface in the years to come.
What we need is a philosopher to help us to explain to the great washed, and indeed to ourselves, the reason why this passion takes over. Perhaps we have greater need of a psychiatrist? People have tried in the past; people like Robert Pirsig ('Zen and the Art...'), Melissa Holbrook Pierson ('The Perfect Vehicle') and Craig Bowne ('Philosophical Ridings'). However to me the writer who gets under the skin of our obsession is Peter Egan, who pens columns in America for Cycle World.
Egan's wry observations hold a mirror up to our hobby and evoke a smile of recognition of our quests and failings. His musings have been rescued from the sadly temporary nature of magazines (well, not in my house where the huge piles of past copies attest to my hoarding), and have been collected into two books; 'Leanings' and the aptly-titled 'Leanings 2'.
The list of the contents makes you want to dip in immediately: the nearly lost art of the kickstart; the museum of prehistoric helmets; to ride a Vincent; alas Albion; tank archaeology; accessory fatigue, and what to do in winter.
He describes a visit to the TT, the holy ground of racing, and a tour through England. He is overwhelmed with the insight that while the US has a short history, over in the UK every acre has been tended by innumerable generations which has moulded the landscape and created layer upon layer of history and culture - which perhaps we take for granted. He makes a detour to the derelict Norton factory at Wolverhampton and makes a pilgrimage to Marston Road while the factory is being demolished, and finds a few souvenirs of the day to day life that used to take place there.
Peter writes of several tours of the USA on a variety of machines, old British bikes (called 'Pom Bombs' by irreverent Kiwis), one known to his friends as a Norton Contaminator, small Japanese bikes and Ducatis. He is often accompanied by his long-suffering wife, who sounds to be a saint. The world needs more like her. Or maybe it's just me.
These short chapters encapsulate our shared passion. Just how many bikes do we need? Why do we buy back bikes that we sold years before? Why do we hold onto our old crash helmets after buying new ones? The culture of the black leather jacket. The quest for our perfect motorcycle; those essential 'improvements' to make it perfect... and hence boring.
After a while the eye wanders and a new, unrequited love begins. The old P&J is sold to finance the new dream, but a small flame continues to burn in the furthest recesses of the mind. Then years later those magical rides are mistily remembered and the search is on to find that machine, re-restore it once again, and re-live those halcyon days.
Imagine how much richer we would be if we didn't throw our money at two-wheeled conveyances, and the spares, tools, clothing, shows, etc that they devour. But then again how much poorer would we be in our experiences, memories and friends? Reading these books reaffirms my love of the myriad forms of motorcycling, and makes me realise that I am not alone.
Resistance is futile.
RC Reviewer: Rueben Fowles
'Leanings' by Peter Egan is published by MBI, ISBN 0 7603 1158 7
'Leanings 2' by Peter Egan is published by MBI, ISBN 0 7603 2164 7
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