Monday, December 5, 2011

Motorcycle Writing: Selections for Armchair Riders

Is your bike put away for the winter? Are you recuperating from a "get-off" while your mechanic puts your bike back together? Looking to do some riding in far-off lands and doing research on how to best go about it? Do you just love motorcycling and enjoy reading about it when you're not in the saddle? Well, if any of these examples apply and you have some time to read about what you'd rather be doing, then I have some recommendations -- for and against, as it were. Please enjoy my motorcycle-specific book reviews.


Jupiter’s Travels: Four Years Around the World on a Triumph: Ted Simon A snapshot of a 70's ride around the world by a journalist (not really a motorcyclist at first) with a jones for adventure travel. The author holds little back, documenting his experiencing unwincingly (I winced often as I read this book). No support team, no real plans, no fear. Quite a book. Quite a man. A true pioneering motorcycle adventurer.

One Man Caravan: Robert Edison Fulton Jr. Not too bad for a 1932 motorcycle ride around the world. I've gone through a few of these motorcycle books in the recent past (see my other reviews). Some were really good, others not so much. This book by Robert Fulton is not too shabby for a 1932 account of a 'round the world motorcycle ride. And not as dated as one would think. I kept thinking to myself as I read this that the stories aren't that unfamiliar and sound like the author might've just finished the ride.

Some may cringe at Mr. Fulton's very non-politically correct manner of describing foreign cultures. I wasn't offended in the least and accepted his descriptions as "snapshots" of the past. Hey, the guy doesn't like monkey meat or the manner in which the animals are prepared for cooking -- and he said as much. If you are prone strict PC reading or easily offended by those that aren't, perhaps a more modern telling of a motorcyclist's travels would better suit your needs. If you want to read about a pioneer's experiences in an easy-to-read style, this book is for you.

One thing is certain--the author respected and admired the people he met as he sojourned through their lands and obviously enjoyed each experience without being patronizing. As well, he's one lucky dude. He lucked into many situations that could've ended or severely hampered his travels.

All in all, I enjoyed this much more than some of the other comparable -- and more recent -- books on the subject.

Long Way Round/Long way Down: Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman With all of the grief these boys have received from critics, it's a wonder that anyone reads the books and watches the video series. But indeed they do. A lot. These series are extremely popular. So they're actors with huge budgets, extensive support teams and unrealistic goals. So what? Their narratives are extremely entertaining and human. Both books document the ride, but more importantly, they show the logistics of taking on such a feat -- warts and all. Blood, sweat, tears and fears -- it's all there for the reader to see, to judge for themselves. And in the end, both books show down-to-earth friends accomplishing what they set out to do.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values: Robert M. Pirsig I enjoyed this profound novel on life, fatherhood, friendship, slipping-away sanity, love and, of course, riding and caring for motorcycles. Not unlike James Joyce's Ulysses, this may be difficult to follow at times, but will be worth the effort. This book has remained with me over the years.

Against the Wind: A Rider's Account of the Incredible Iron Butt Rally; Going the Extra Mile: Insider Tips for Long-Distance Motorcycling and Endurance Rallies; Against the Clock. These three books by Ron Ayres are made for the long-distance rider (LDR). Dry writing but exciting details. Like the title of the first book states, this is an accounting of the infamous IBR by long distance rider extraordinaire, Ron Ayres. Although he was a first-time competitor in the IBR, he managed to do very well, finishing in the top 10. Not too shabby. The last book is a fascinating read describing Ron's Guinness World Record ride visiting the 48 contiguous US states in 6 days and 31 minutes, then setting a new record by adding Alaska in exactly 7 days and 20 minutes. There was some serious teamwork involved, and it was a testament to Ron's character that so many other folks assisted him in achieving this seemingly impossible feat. I enjoy Ron's writing, for the most part -- he writes what he knows and the reader feels as if he's right there on the ride. He can be a bit tedious, explaining every little action in minute detail. He can also come off as curmudgeonly, but maybe that's understandable. These books are three of my favorites in that they show how a mere mortal can overcome apparently unattainable odds to...ride a motorcycle unbelievable distances.

Investment Biker: (On the Road with) Jim Rogers Jim and his leggy model-like gal pal Tabitha made it into the Guinness Book of World Records by riding their BMWs around the world. The bikes were probably not the best ones to use, but, hey, he had money to fix and replace them along the way. And that's one of the issues I had with this book: Mr. Rogers threw money around like it was an afterthought and it apparently crafted the way in which he viewed his international experience. If the regular rider had the option of dropping $3000 to get out of a tough spot, he or she might have a different perspective of the "adventure." I'm not taking anything away from these two travelers, as they rode those Beemers through some rough terrain, to be sure, it's just the manner in which they did it that sticks in my proverbial craw.

And then there's his naive and very opinionated political observations. Since he's very wealthy, all of his views are skewed by mainly financial aspects (For example, "Oh, the USA would be so much better if they'd just keep their hands off my capital those french geniuses!"). Well, that kind of thinking really spoiled the overall feeling of the book. I kept saying to myself: "Just ride your dang bike and shut your filthy rich mouth!" But I say that a lot.

The author's persistence -- and that of Tabitha -- definitely pulled them through some tough situations. And it likely caused some of their grief. He seemed to be saying, "Don't you know who I am?" as he waved yankee dollars under the border guards' noses.

All in all, it's a good and entertaining read. Like many other similar books recounting worldwide adventures on motorcycles, it could've been so much better.


One More Day Everywhere: Crossing 50 Borders on the Road to Global Understanding: Glen Heggstad This book could've been so much better. I got the impression that Glen was a USA apologist who felt that ANYWHERE and EVERYWHERE was better than America.

In many, many parts of the book he ridiculed silly Americans for visiting sterile foreign countries and enjoying themselves! And, for shame, they even spent capitalist dollars in ritzy restaurants!

His mantra of, "Why can't everyone be like me?" got old very quickly. While traveling through filthy, corrupt countries where he was robbed and threatened by the "wonderful" natives, he constantly reminded the reader of the evils of America. Classic example: the way he yearned to be back in his beloved California, while three pages later he tore down the USA's way of life as decadent.

No, Mr. Heggstad missed numerous opportunities to write about the facts and keep the America-hating vitriol to himself.

But, like others of his ilk, he just couldn't help himself and all the reader gets from reading his account is a bitter, angry "world citizen" who attempts to shed his American skin by celebrating the "rich" cultures of 3rd world countries.

Another beautiful and ironic example of Mr. Heggstad's naïve and misguided perspective: He ridiculed US State Department warnings as silly and intended to scare Americans from visiting wonderful countries. Hmmm, tell us about your experiences with the "wonderful" natives in Colombia. Were you treated like a world citizen? (SPOILER ALERT: Fore those of you who haven't read Mr. Haggstad's book about that trip, he was taken hostage and tortured by Columbian terrorists...just like the State Department warnings had cautioned Americans about.)

I sold this book for $1 and bought Jupiter's Travels. I have read--and prefer--One Man Caravan; I recommend those two books for those who loving adventure motorcycling AND love this country.

The Perfect Vehicle: What It Is About Motorcycles: Melissa Holbrook Pierson A real man-bashing epic short on the motorcycling zen. Oh, what promise this book had and oh, how I enjoyed the first couple of chapters. However, the author's consistent criticism of everything white American soured the entire book for me. I sent it back to Goodwill Industries, from whence it came. Like other reviewers have commented, the start and finish show potential--it's everything in between that really sucks.

While it's apparent that Ms. Holbrook-Pierson has a motorcycle jones, she can't help but spew disdain for white, male, Harley-Davidson riding Americans. Her theme of, "Why can't we all be strong women-- without men-- riding Italian bikes in a true socialist society?" gets old really fast.

The tears she sheds for lost loves seem hollow after the considerable man-bashing dedicated in chapter after chapter of vitriol disguised as. "oh, poor me!" One wonders why she ever married a man and if she's still married.

I find it ironic in one chapter where, while championing her prison pen-pal--a black felon imprisoned for crimes the author chooses to leave out of her narrative--she chooses to further savage the white male motorcycle enthusiast, referring often to that species' penchant for yelling, "TITS" at any and all females.

I can't imagine what took place in this author's past to bring about such hate, but the motorcycle enthusiast would do well to find another source of motorcycle literature. The author's work will find its place not in describing the essence of the bike culture, but instead in joining fellow liberals in documenting/gushing over famous motorcycle lovers like Che Guevara's, "pre-killing-spree" cycling adventures.

Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road by Neil Peart I just don't know what it is about some folks who can't hide their distaste for Americans. They come to the USA, enjoy our beaches, ride on our roads, see the sights, then go home and spout anti-American nonsense. It's frustrating when the french do it, but, hey...consider the source. But friggin' Neil Peart? One of the best drummers from one of the very best rock and roll bands ever? That really stung.

Worse yet, I read two other books he authored (about cycling and motorcycling). It's apparent the guy can write. Nice writing style, wonderful subject matter -- horrible choice of attacking his core audience.

He's managed to turn motorcyce touring literature into a communist manifesto when there was potential for so much more.

Cases in point: 1) He goes on and on about staying away from fat, dumb, white Americans who seem to keep getting in his way! How dare they try to enjoy the Grand Canyon while SIR PEART is here! At every turn he is grousing about them Damn Yankees and our penchant for having a good time while he's trying to be an "artist." He constantly "lets it slip" that he's "someone famous" but remains perplexed as to why them stupid Americans won't leave him alone. To be fair to Mr. Peart, he carried that crappy attitude all over Cameroon and parts of Europe, too.

2) His political rants fall flat as everyone knows he chooses to reside in California, USA. He even married an American girl. For all the USA-bashing he does, and all of his snide comments about our politics, he somehow manages to leave his beloved canada and grace us with his presence. Thanks, Neil, thanks a whole lot.

Turns out Mr. Peart is just rotten inside, and I doubt that the untimely deaths of his wife and daughter caused it...he just seems like a miserable person altogether.

In a way, reading his books turned out to be like discovering there was no Santa Claus or seeing your hero without his hairpiece. It just ruins the experience and it's never the same. Now I can't even listen to a rush song without hearing the commie chant.

Stick to writing pop lyrics, Neil. And do it from canada if you really hate us that much.

Endless Horizon: A Very Messy Motorcycle Journey Around the World by Dan Walsh For the record, this is the US release of "These Are The Days." Same book, different title.

This piece of work should be on everyone's "not recommended" book list. Like Heggstad's "TWTT", how many times can one man boast of his prowess under the covers in one book?!

No one is going to put this guy in the same class as Ted Simon, and he can't be compared to any serious adventure motorcyclist. His lack of understanding of bikes, other cultures, basic history, politics, geography and social norms is astounding. I'm amazed that the editor didn't inform Walsh of the erroneous information he piled into this...pile.

Regardless, he ignorantly rides through some great parts of the world, blissfully unaware of the facts or anything interesting that he's missing. It's sad really, that he had such an opportunity but was such a putz that he drunkenly rode on by, jotting down his asinine observations between the many women he allegedly beds.

Truly not worth reading -- even if you find it for free.

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