The book is entitled Bodies in Motion; Evolution and Experience in Motorcycling, but perhaps the better choice would have been Mission Impossible since what author Stephen L. Thompson set out to do in this work was to explain in hard scientific terms why it is that some people choose to ride motorcycles while others don’t. Or put another way, why do some people want a pickle while others just want to ride their motorsickle? I don’t have the answer to either of those questions, and after working through Mr. Thompson’s somewhat circuitous and overreaching disquisition it seems that he doesn’t exactly have an answer either, settling at last for an explanation concerning genetic predispositions to motion that could be applied every bit as aptly to the question of why dogs like to drive around in pickup trucks with their head stuck out the window.
Coupled to that exercise is a vast body—286 pages worth—of research data that demonstrate conclusively that different motorcycle models produce, duh, different levels of vibration. Based on those results, Mr. Thompson boldly speculates that those vibrational differences might well cause different psychological/ emotional/euphoric/transcendent states in the riders of those various machines, which is a tantalizing hypothesis but one that the author, alas, doesn’t chase down much, leaving the notion dangling out there like a loose thread.
I know that the foregoing doesn’t sound like a rave review, and I don’t mean to leave that impression since there was for me a benefit in struggling through this book, one that I suspect may have been Mr. Thompson’s unstated but underlying purpose in writing it. It got me thinking long and hard about why I started riding, and why I became addicted to it and remain so to this moment, and I can tell you unequivocally this: It sure as hell wasn’t for the vibration. And it wasn’t the pursuit of speed or reckless risk-taking or ancestral memories of swinging from vines that attracted me to two wheels, either. I just wanted to piss people off.
No, wait. That wasn’t it. At least not entirely. In truth, I can trace my personal moto-addiction to a point in time exactly 40 years ago and two life-altering words: Easy Rider. When that film was released in 1969 it resonated mightily with my desperate adolescent urge to fit in by, paradoxically, not fitting in, and struck me as nothing less than a golden template for how life could and should be lived; a template I still to this day can’t find much wrong with, and I would recommend it to all who would aspire to follow me down that long and winding road to ruin.
So here’s how you do it, kids: First you get yourself a righteous chopper (there are plenty of those available these days with no reasonable offer refused, and even unreasonable offers seriously mulled), and then you consummate a big drug deal with Phil Spector (which, bizarrely, is still within the realm of possibility). Now that you’re set for life, you stuff the dough in your gas tank (which is more of a challenge these days considering the restrictive lead-free bungs, but still a safer haven than a 401k), and head out on a big road trip. Then you visit a commune and a brothel (but since communes are scarce anymore, we’ll make that two brothels), and get beaten bloody in the boonies by toothless townies (I skipped that part, and suggest you do the same). Drop acid in a spooky graveyard (or if that’s not practical, ingesting some melatonin, valerian root, two pickled sausages and a Red Bull before bed will bring the same result), and get shotgunned out of the saddle by a cracker with a creepy goiter (good luck finding a goiter like that).
But getting back to the matter at hand, having been initially enticed into the two-wheeled life by Easy Rider, there then had to be other reasons and rewards that kept me there, and, frankly, they’re innumerable. But after reading that book, I commenced to enumerate them anyway, and one reason stood out above all others and that’s the smell of it.
Every locale in every season at every time of day and night in every weather condition has its own distinct bouquet, and you get a snootful of all of them on a bike. And once you have, they attach themselves to the moment and the circumstances, and become automatic triggers of memory when again encountered. Fresh-mown hay, mountain cedar, skunks, rain on desert sage, every nuance of every body of water, every flowering plant, the ozone of an approaching storm, and on and on. No sensory experience is more directly wired to memory than smell, so in effect, you’re compiling a personal album of vivid snapshots in your head, and it grows over time. The more of your life you spend on a bike, the more it becomes your life, and you end up pretty much riding a magical memory machine around the landscape immersed in your own existence and experiences stretching back years from the moment. No other means of travel will give you that.
That’s my prime motivator, anyway, and I suspect the same is true for a good many other riders. It’s also a phenomenon conspicuous by its absence in Bodies in Motion. Maybe Mr. Thompson or some other smart and curious researcher can take a look at that phenomenon. Here’s the question they can pose: Why do some people choose to wear full-face helmets while others don’t?
It’s all right here in the diaries.