Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Size Matters?

The 'arms race' continues unabated. I find myself somewhat guilty as well, having upsized my ride two years ago by three-eights or so, depending on how you want to measure things (dollars/displacement/power/fun--take your pick). For over a hundred thousand miles, my old boxer was more than sufficient, but when the time came I moved up into a category of bike that barely existed when I bought the last one.

New bikes now cost what my parent’s house cost—and don’t come with basements or yards. And this seems perfectly normal in the context of our lifestyle of consumption. But here’s something that gave me pause:

Go to Monterey, Virginia, if you haven’t already done so. If you ride, you owe it to yourself. It’s near the Virginia-West Virginia border, west of Staunton (that’s STAN-ton to you foreigners and carpetbaggers) and is surrounded by what one of my riding buddies referred to as the best “technical riding” in the region. (translation—you better be paying attention or you'll be needing help getting out of the ditch).

On Monterey's main drag there is a nice little arts & crafts gallery filled with very nice works made by some very talented and creative local and regional artists. But in the back, almost as an afterthought, there is a personal motorcycle museum featuring the proprietor’s lovingly tended collection, bookended with ‘his-n-hers’ Ducatis (if I remember correctly). And there, tucked in the corner and proudly bearing antique plates, is a mint-condition, mid-‘60s vintage Honda Hawk 305, red and chrome. It looks like a toy, hardly the match for a scooter nowadays.

However, I realized that this was the model of bike that Robert Pirsig rode from the upper midwest across the Rockies to California and then along the pacific coast and at least part of the way back—with his young son Chris AND camping gear AND tools AND supplies for fixing the bike.

From this journey he got the beautiful, perplexing and elegiac “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” which though thirty-some years old, still bears reading from time to time. (For what it’s worth, Pirsig’s neurotic and fussy travelling companions rode a BMW) It’s a lesson that, as is the case with so many things, what you do matters a whole lot more than how you do it. I can’t look at big touring bikes in quite the same light anymore.

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