Moto-Philosophy 101cafelogo

by Gary Charpentier

Damn, it’s been a long winter. I haven’t ridden, or even worked on any of my bikes since late November. I winterized Quasi-Moto in the prescribed fashion, draining his carbs and filling his tank with Sta-Bil-ized gas, and hooking him up to a Battery Tender. But then I got busy with the mundane requirements of everyday Minnesota winter life. I never even touched the Yamaha XS-650 which was supposed to be my wintertime Street-Tracker project. It sits out there now as I type this, waiting for me to rescue it from the vintage roadracer role for which it was originally intended. I didn’t even turn on the heat in my garage…

Instead, I hibernated. Like the great majority of Minnesotans, I hunkered down in my humble abode, and only ventured out to go to work, battling traffic in my pathetic little S-10 pickup truck. I read voraciously. I checked out books from the library, and even bought them from secondhand book stores occasionally, until there was never a spare moment when I didn’t have my nose buried between the pages of something hard-covered and heavy, in both the physical and metaphysical sense.

First off, let me tell you about “Tao of the Ride; Motorcycles and the Mechanics of the Soul” by Garri Garripoli…

What an ambitious title. This guy tries to work motorcycling into the ancient concepts of the Tao Te Ching, the 2,500-year-old book attributed to China’s ancient sage Lao Tsu. A lot of it is quite interesting, as you follow through a discussion of Feng Shui and Qi (pronounced “chee” ) and the way elemental energies are at work within us and through us, affecting the flow of everyday life. (“Use the Force, Luke!”)

He talks about balance as it relates to both living your life and riding your motorcycle, and he makes some valid points. But this author comes across with some seriously un-zen-like biases. For instance, Garripoli speaks only in terms of “cruising” on a Harley. He writes with derision about fast riders, breaking out the old cliche of the cafe racer planted in a tree. Then, when he crosses the California/Arizona border: “It’s like going through an invisible veil, where bikers pull over and pull off their helmets…I secure my half shell to my sissy bar and tie on a bandana. Freedom. Feeling the wind whip around your head unobstructed, shedding the weight of all that plastic, (GC: Ah yes, the notoriously heavy half-shell!) eliminating that wind resistance that wrenches your (GC: pencil?) neck, yeah.”

But the thing that really had me rolling on the floor was when he ventured into the scientific realm: “…the resonant frequency of the atmosphere, at the surface of the Earth,is 7.83 Hz. (the “Schumann Resonance”). As you move into the Earth’s mantle…the resonant frequency is between 8 and 14 hz… The conclusion is that when we are calm and centered, we resonate with the Earth.”

Yeah, I know, but it gets worse… ” Now, I am not about to make any claims about the healing power of a Harley, but it is definitely food for thought that the ‘natural’ vibration of a well-tuned Harley is at once harmonizing with the Earth’s mantle and putting it’s rider into a healing, alpha state. Might explain the attachment after all.” Ohhh-kee-dokey, Grasshopper… but wouldn’t the zen effect be even more pronounced on a big-bore Asian metric cruiser? What am I missing here?

After reading this goofy tome I got to thinking about the book that started me on the metaphysical trail in the first place: Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. Now, Pirsig wrote about some practical stuff in this book, but he also shared some troubling personal history involving madness and recovery that the average motorcyclist might choose to ignore. This is where the title misleads some people, and where the casual reader usually parts company.

Now, I’ve read this book many, many times, and I’ve always gotten something new out of it with each reading. Pirsig also wrote “Lila”, in which he only mentions motorcycles briefly. But in that book, he introduces something he calls the “Metaphysics of Quality”, which is a further development of principles he explored in “Zen…” . This book will send your mind into some serious loops and, if you are not careful, will make you question the very foundations of your own value system. There is actually a discussion group on the internet that is dedicated to the interpretation of world events based on this metaphysics at ““. I’ve been there, and I can tell you that you don’t want to go unless you have some serious time on your hands.

Then for awhile I read a lot of western philosophy: Albert Camus “The Rebel” for instance, Nietzche’s “Human, All Too Human” and Celine’s “Journey to the End of the Night”, a bit of something by Sartre… none of which had anything to do with motorcycles, but by then I was on some sort of mission.

Towards the bitter end of Winter, I fell back on Charles Bukowski’s novels of despair and debauchery, hoping they would carry me through to the first warm caress of Spring. Finally, as the snow melted and thoughts of riding began to bloom like dandelions in my mind, I brought out an old favorite from the pages of Cycle World. In the March `95 issue, there was a road test of the 900SS Ducati by the inimitable Hunter S. Thompson called “Song of the Sausage Creature”:

“Some people will tell you that slow is good — and it may be, on some days — but I am here to tell you that fast is better. I’ve always believed this, in spite of the trouble it’s caused me. Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube. That is why God made fast motorcycles, Bubba….”

There are copies of this floating around on the internet, and it is also reprinted in Hunter’s new book, “Kingdom of Fear”, which I highly recommend. But I won’t be reading anything heavy for awhile now; I just got Quasi-Moto out on the road again this weekend. I don’t want to be out there riding with the Tao, through Pirsig’s “High Country of the Mind”, and fail to notice that patch of sand at the apex of a corner. That’s just asking for an appointment with the Sausage Creature…



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