Where have all the motorcyclists gone?readerlogo

by Carrie Rogers

“In a car … You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene not just watching it, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”

Pirsig, Robert. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Morrow Quill, New York, 1974. Pg. 12.

The experience I just had at the motorcycle races at Brainerd International Raceway (BIR) leads me to believe that there has been a paradigm shift in the world of motorcycling. The number of bikes that were trailered to BIR and the number of bikes left at home astounded me. Most of these young men (younger than my husband’s quickly approaching 32) had trailered their bikes. This is not only an antithetic to motorcycling, their trucks and trailers ate up precious space on the infield and hogged the soft dusty roads.

While I did see many motorcyclists packing it in, they were the minority. Just three years ago on our first visit the trailered people were the minority. Three years ago it was a celebration of bikes of all shapes and sizes and riders of all abilities and genders. We saw everything from the Gold Wing with a trailer, to Beemers with all the matching gear to hack cyclists like us–everything in a Duluth pack bungeed to the cycle. It was fun. This year was the first year we went back. It was fun at times, but also distressing. When did this change in motorcycling happen? When did people stop wanting to ride those two lane highways? Haven’t we all read the first chapter of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? Don’t we all yearn for that open road? I guess not.

I am the first to admit that I am not the “perfect” cyclist. I rarely commute to work on it and have vowed for the last five years that I will learn how to maintain my own bike. Therefore I put myself in jeopardy by castigating other riders who for all intents and purposes know more about bikes than I. Yet I take this risk because what I saw was truly disquieting. I prefer the open road and to a fault cannot understand how others do not. These machines are meant to ride. It would be easier to bring a picture of a bike than to trailer it up for show to BIR.

My philosophy obviously differs from the majority who recently attended BIR. Motorcycling events should celebrate the capabilities of bikes and the ability of riders and to a certain extent BIR does. Everyone admires each others ride and there are good-natured exchanges of information and praise. Yet when you meet someone who trailered their bike from Mankato or even Minneapolis, you think twice about them as a motorcyclist. To be honest I never asked why these bikes were trailered up to BIR, but I knew no answer would satisfy me.

Maybe I am too philosophical about cycling. Commuting around in the city you don’t have time to meditate–it’s all quick quick rush rush. I seize upon opportunities like BIR to really ride my cycle. Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which is more about values than motorcycles, summed up the motorcycle journey when he wrote “Instead you spend your time being aware of things and meditating on them. On sights and sounds, on the mood of the weather and things remembered, on the machine and the countryside you’re in, thinking about things at great leisure and length without being hurried…(p. 15).”

If the recent events at BIR are an indication of the future of motorcycling (and I hope they are not) then I can only feel pity for those whose conception of being a motorcyclist is more related to status and show than the aesthetics of the journey.


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