Zen and the Art of Motorcycling


Why in the world would we take up a hobby that so clearly puts us in harm’s way? How do you explain to a loved one that you need to ride a motorcycle, but you don’t want your own kids to learn to ride? How do you explain that those daily news reports of a motorcycle fatality won’t one day be you? And why in the heck would a “responsible” family person ride a motorcycle in the first place? Lots of questions. Not a lot of good answers. But here are a few thoughts on the subject.

The Need for Speed
The power-to-weight ratio of pretty much any motorcycle will produce copious amounts of adrenaline with a flick of the wrist. So whether on the back of his Kawasaki GPz900R or in the cockpit of his F-14 Tomcat, Tom Cruise had it right: “I feel the need, the need for speed!” Why do we feel the need for an adrenaline rush? Maybe it’s to make up for the lack of the adrenaline rush we got from hunting our food. I don’t know, but I do know that I feel an exhilaration that I know I have sorely missed every time I ride my bike.

Motorcycles in Literature
Although less about motorcycling, or Zen for that matter, the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig was a great book nonetheless and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it here. Here is a Guardian columnist’s take on the top ten bike books.

Motorcycles in the Movies
If you haven’t seen The World’s Fastest Indian starring Anthony Hopkins, you need to. If you can, watch the extra feature that comes with the DVD which shows the true life subject of the film. For other silver screen fun, here is one author’s view of the top ten motorcycles from Hollywood.

The Zen of Motorcycling
Although I know that these two short films were created by advertising agencies for the express intention of evoking emotion and selling their client’s products, they do a great job of communicating the Zen of Motorcycling.
TC Bank – Dream Rangers (created by Ogilvy Taiwan)
Harley Davidson – Live By It (created by Carmichael Lynch)

Most of all, I think motorcycling brings those of us who partake a sense of active participation in what would otherwise be passive acceptance. My morning commute now is devoid of bluetooth conference calls, news talk radio and commute stress. It is now filled with exhilaration, intense focus and deft control of my trusty steed.

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