What is it about motorcycles that turns some riders into social activists? From charity rides to roadside rescues, one of motorcycling’s most enduring archetypes is the rider who wanders the world to right its wrongs. Meet Lance Jones, an activist who is about to take that to the next level. In a season of angry protest and racial divide, Lance quit a dream job in the motorcycle industry to hit the road and heal his nation’s wounds with compassionate dialogue. His journey not yet begun, the power of a motorcycle to start conversations is already thunderingly clear. And so is the challenge to all of us to use that power to benefit our communities, too.

Show Notes

 

Here‘s a link to my newsletter from last spring, “Look For The Helpers,” the one that eventually opened the door to meeting Lance Jones.

This interview captured the moment when Lance’s ‘media collective’ and its mission were just being born, a moment when the most important task of an enterprise is to define itself. When it came time to prepare these show notes, I found myself unsure exactly how to describe Lance Jones, so I asked him. He proposed this: “Lance Jones, co-founder of actionjonze, is a mediator and activist committed to eradicating racial injustice and socioeconomic inequality.” In corporate life, that’s called a ‘stretch target’, and it shows you what people are made of. Lance, clearly, is all in.

actionjonze’s web site isn’t live at this writing, so I recommend you take Lance’s advice and follow him on your preferred social channels. He’s @actionjonze. Of particular interest lately has been his work with the community of College Park, GA, which feels like a rehearsal for the mission actionjonze has set for itself. And proof that Lance means what he says about conversation being the path to change.

In my prologue, I mentioned a genre of YouTube video dedicated to motorcyclists doing kind things. Here’s an example, one that had earned well north of 8 million views by the time I found it. I think there’s even a kitten in there somewhere. Some of these videos are suspiciously well timed, but you can’t argue with popularity. And they’re a lot more entertaining than crash videos.

I also mentioned a listener, Tom Calhoun of Quin Design Helmets. Here’s a bit more about them.

And in my request for your donations to the Movember Foundation this episode, I told you that they had just launched a program with motorcyclists in mind, but didn’t explain it (hit the link for details directly from the source). It’s a really interesting approach to mobilizing the motorcycle community for men’s health, and I’m excited to see what people do with the grant money on offer. The deadline for initial submissions is, unfortunately, only a couple of days away, but this is worth the read anyway. They tell me that if you have questions, you’re welcome to email them at [email protected]

Lance’s essay on his motorcycle journey was published on LinkedIn, and it appears you have to be a member to read it. Once you’re logged in, search Lance’s profile for “On noise machines.”

An interesting aside as you consider the notion that some motorcyclists are driven to help: Possibly the most famous modern day case of a motorcycling ‘knight in shining armour’ is the story of Pierlucio Tinazzi, a motorcyclist who died trying to rescue victims of the 1999 Mont Blanc tunnel fire. You can find his story here. In the years that followed, the record was clarified and Tinazzi’s exploits diminished somewhat, but the persistence of his legend somehow proves that the archetype of the heroic motorcyclist is embedded in our consciousness.

As a fumbling guitar hack with secret aspirations to be a blues master, I was thrilled to feature this track by four-time Grammy winner Keb’ Mo’, who really is one. If you want to know more about Keb’ Mo’s music, his web site is a good place to start. It’s here. There’s more in this thorough Wikipedia article about him. And below is the video for the thought provoking title track of his latest album, Oklahoma. My sincerest thanks again to Keb’ Mo’ and his team for their support of my sharing “For What It’s Worth” in this episode. (Image from and by kebmo.com)

Theme music arranged and performed by Harry Bartlett.

If you enjoy listening to This Motorcycle Life and want to show some love, please consider clicking on the moustache below and donating what you can to the Movember Foundation.

What does your motorcycle mean to you? For many riders, a bike is simply a tool, a vehicle for the body. But for some of us, a motorcycle is much more than that, a vessel that carries the stories of who we are and how we got here. Meet Matthew Biberman, son of legendary Vincent builder Big Sid Biberman. To give his ailing father a reason to live, Matthew proposed they build a bike together, a rare Vincati. That quest would turn out to be a remarkable story of second chances for both of them, and compelling proof that a motorcycle really can have a soul.

Show Notes

Matthew Biberman at the helm of Big Sid’s Vincati. Photo by Bob Hower / Quadrant Photography

Early in our conversation, I made reference to Rollie Free. Maybe you didn’t recognize the name, but you’ll almost certainly recognize the photo shown here. If the story behind it is interesting to you, I strongly recommend watching Black Lightning: The Rollie Free Story. It’s fantastic.

Custom hybrid bikes were a prominent feature of the high-performance motorcycle scene in the years between World War 2 and the arrival of suddenly-serious machines from Japan like the CB750. Probably the best known is the Triton (Triumph engine, Norton frame). The Norvin was another. The Vincati, while not precisely of the era, is unquestionably a tribute to this madness, and to a tuner culture that continues to shape motorcycling – in spirit, at least – to this day. Below, the Vincati in all its impeccable glory (Photos by Bob Hower / Quadrant Photography)

During this interview, I pretentiously tossed off the term “memento mori” (sorry about that). Believe it or not, though, it’s actually quite relevant to motorcycle culture. Literally, it means “remember that you will die”. As a term, it refers to objects that symbolize this inevitability, and this is where motorcycling’s ubiquitous skull imagery comes from. Often mistaken for an attempt to intimidate, that skull on your t-shirt or jacket is actually a reminder that life is fragile. Now you know. Feel free to be pretentious with your friends 😉

Here’s a bit of back story about Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, and here, from Rolling Stone, is a critical assessment of its significance. You can see why the question about legacy was irresistible.

I’m still gobsmacked that Big Sid was an Yngwie Malmsteen fan, proof again that motorcycle people are never quite what they seem. If you aren’t familiar with the artist, here’s what Wikipedia has to say, and below, a sample of his sound.

Here’s where you can learn more about the National Motorcycle Museum, which I confess with some embarrassment I did not know existed. Iowa isn’t… handy… but it sure looks worth a visit.

Here is a heartfelt obituary for Big Sid, from Cycle World.

Here’s the Bike EXIF story on Big Sid’s Vincati, which was a helpful resource for me.

Here’s where you’ll find the auction listing for the Vincent that Matthew Biberman built on his own as a tribute to the master.

And below is a completely wonderful interview with both Big Sid and Matthew at Jay Leno’s Garage. Leno test rides the Vincati, which is amazing. Even more so is the sound it makes. I can see why people get obsessed by Vincent engines.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of “Big Sid’s Vincati” directly from Matthew Biberman, he has graciously shared his email address with us. You can reach him at [email protected] . It’s a touching and well told story about a motorcycle. Which, like most stories about motorcycles, isn’t about a motorcycle at all. Highly recommended. “Big Sid’s Vincati” is also being published in Spain with, as Matthew mentioned, a fresh design and new material. You can find out more about this edition here. And be sure to follow Matthew on Instagram. He’s @mattbiberman

“Visions of Johanna” is excerpted in this episode with the enthusiastic consent of Nathaniel Street-West. You can find out more about this up-and-coming Nashville-based artist on his web site, and purchase or stream his music in all the usual places. Besides his fresh, honest sound and eclectic influences, I was also taken with Street-West’s personal story. It’s surely where the soul in his music comes from, and I have no doubt we’ll be hearing a lot more from him. Thanks to Nathaniel Street-West and Puffin Records for ending this episode on the perfect note.

Podcast theme music arranged and performed by Harry Bartlett.

If you enjoy listening to This Motorcycle Life and want to show some love, please consider clicking on the moustache below and donating what you can to the Movember Foundation.

Why do we really seek adventure? Meet Henry Crew, the youngest person ever to circle the globe on a motorcycle, alone. His life barely begun and full of questions, Henry put it all on pause and embarked on a record-setting 381-day ride for a cause, a journey he hoped would change his own story in the bargain. The compelling account of how and why he did it is a lesson in how true adventure is about letting go, and its prize is not what we find, but who we become. Listen carefully, and you might just hear the voice of motorcycling’s future.

Show Notes

An important message for listeners during the COVID-19 crisis: My friends at Movember have shared that they are hearing from members of our community who are “really struggling with isolation” and who have “lost friends and colleagues” to the disease. If you are one of those struggling, please don’t keep it to yourself. And if you think you know someone who may be, Movember has shared some useful tools to help you be there for them. You can find out more by following this link. Either way, don’t remain silent. One of the best things about being a motorcyclist is the family that comes with it, and there has never been a more important time to remember that. Thank you.

This is Henry Crew. I don’t know whether this image was taken before, during or after his trip, but it almost doesn’t matter. You can see the passion for this project on his face, and maybe just a little apprehension, too. You can learn more about Henry, his record-setting journey, and what he’s up to now by visiting his web site. If you’d like to show your support for what he’s accomplished, his UK-based Movember donation page is here. Be sure to say hello on Instagram, too. He’s @henrycrew. Below, two of many videos you’ll find on Henry and his journey, one speaking to the Movember cause, and the second a lovely take by the lovely people at Stories of Bike.

Henry mentioned Kane Avellano in our conversation… here’s where you can find out more about him. Another one of those Millennials who don’t ride motorcycles, apparently (said Bruce, with just a touch of saracasm). Interestingly, the motorcycle Kane Avellano rode around the world for his record was a Triumph Bonneville, a bike whose emotional appeal surely eclipses its supposed capabilities as an adventure machine. Proving at the very least that the best bike for the job is the one you love.

Speaking of emotional appeal, one of the most interesting aspects of this story for me was Henry’s marketing-savvy approach to attracting publicity for his cause. In our conversation, we talked a bit about the role fashion has assumed in motorcycle culture, and how some in our community dismiss this a little too easily. To me, there are a couple of reasons why this was both a smart and necessary part of the story, and they serve as a lesson for what the industry might do to welcome new riders: first, when pop culture decides that motorcycling is cool, that benefits motorcycling, and we need to make room for that. And second, the communities that form around popular culture – fashion, in the example here – are naturally viral, and a far better way to get a message out to the world than simply trying to shout it from the rooftops. For the industry, I think this kind of thing is going to have a far bigger impact on on the viability of our sport than trying to find a few more horsepower will ever do. You can see a list of brands Henry has partnered with here. One that played an important role in equipping him for the trip was Malle, whose name you might recall from my interview with Hugh Francis Anderson a couple of years back. Here’s a quick look at what they sell. Beautiful stuff that also worked. And here is a peek at The Bike Shed, Henry’s point of departure, significant here because it’s a pretty groovy place in a pretty fashionable neighbourhood.

I humbly submit that Ducati won the lottery with Henry Crew, when you consider that the bike he borrowed didn’t even come from head office. Here’s a link to their treatment of Henry’s trip. I’m so impressed that the Desert Sled performed as well as it did, and Henry couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise. That bike is clearly worth a second look.

I hope you like the updated podcast theme music. It comes thanks to the initiative and talent of Toronto’s Harry Bartlett, who arranged and performed all of it. You can learn more about Harry here . If you want to say hi, or even look into getting music for your own podcast project, you can find him on Instagram. He’s @barryhartlett. Thanks, Harry.

Thank you to The Wild Horses for so enthusiastically agreeing to having ‘I Won’t Back Down’ featured in this episode. You can learn more about the band here, if your Spanish is good. And here is their Facebook page, where they’re sharing their quarantine experience with good humour and great music. Stop by and say hi. Stay well, guys.

If you enjoy listening to This Motorcycle Life and want to show some love, please consider clicking on the moustache below and donating what you can to the Movember Foundation.

 

The archetype of the rock star biker is cool, but are they real? This one is. Meet singer songwriter Mark Kasprzyk, front man for alt rock band Redlight King. Kaz talks about how motorcycles fit into the life of a touring musician, why so many rockers ride, and the challenges and rewards of piloting a 1950 Harley Davidson Panhead with a suicide clutch in LA traffic. Not only is this wide-ranging interview one of the most fun yet, it also turns out that rock and roll might just have one more thing to teach us.

Show Notes

Mark Kasprzyk of Redlight King (Photo: Parts + Labor Records)

If you’re interested in supporting this podcast by donating to the Movember Foundation, you can click here or on the logo at the bottom of this page. If you’re thinking of a bigger gift and you live in the US, Australia or the UK, you might want to wait until I have local pages set up for those markets so you can get a tax receipt. And if you live in the Greater Toronto Area, I’ll see you at the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride this fall… hit me up for a TML souvenir!

To learn more about Redlight King, their web page is a great place to start. Follow Kaz on Instagram to get news on their upcoming album. He’s @redlightking. You might find his label, artist-led Parts + Labor Records interesting, too.

Here’s the video for Born to Rise, the one that sparked the idea for this episode.

This interview with Kaz provides some more background on how it came together. For information on the Unknown Industries crew, check out their web site. Indeed, they are now a more commercial venture than was the case when this video was shot, but, hey, everybody’s gotta make a living. And these guys can still make those Harleys dance.

In our conversation, we also talked about a track called ‘Old Man’, and Neil Young’s song by the same name. This was a huge hit for Redlight King, and I’m happy to report the story is true that Young himself approved sampling the original song when he heard what Kaz had in mind. I think it’s brilliant, and all the better for being so personal.

Here’s some background on motorcycle racer and bike builder Paul Bigsby, inventor of the electric guitar. And here’s a video of that very first instrument being played.

Googling around for inspiration while I prepared for this interview, I found this essay on how bikes and rock and roll came together. I don’t know that it’s the most thorough or nuanced telling of history, but it’s a fun read.

Musicians who ride are literally too numerous for there to be a definitive list, but my pals at EatSleepRIDE keep a Pinterest page on the subject that should get you started. If you want to fall very, very far down this rabbit hole, the short lists here and here ought to point you in the right direction.

Here’s the video for Redlight King’s cover of Rush’s ‘Working Man.’ You can tell that Kaz is proud of his roots, and he clearly brings that work ethic to his music, too. I think recording this track was a natural.

Thanks to Mark Kasprzyk and Redlight King for helping make this happen. It was a blast. Best of luck with the new album… I can’t wait to hear it.

 

If you enjoy listening to This Motorcycle Life and want to show some love, please consider clicking on the moustache below and donating what you can to the Movember Foundation.

Could you really leave it all behind and live on your motorcycle? Meet James Bai, a cubicle dwelling engineer who decided to do exactly that. James and his wife carefully planned their entire lives to make the dream of a never ending road trip come true, leaving nothing to chance… or so he thought. In this conversation, James talks about that process, what it really takes to live as a nomad, and how for him even more than most wanderers, it was what he hadn’t planned on that transformed his journey into a new beginning.

Show Notes

James Bai, on the road with his all-business Honda CB500X.

James’ journey – both personally and literally – began as something else entirely, a kind of hybrid of perpetual motorcycle touring and RVing, an experience he shared with his former partner. This was their blog. James said it was she who did most of the writing there, and the content definitely emphasizes the RV side of the equation, but it’s an intimate glimpse at how the life we plan isn’t always the life we get.

Wobblycat has done some travel writing for Ontario Tourism, and you can find that here. It’s great stuff, and a welcome resource for people planning to ride in this sometimes underappreciated part of Canada (at least by motorcyclists).

Wobbly’s solo travels in 2019. Riding a lot of miles is one thing, and for many riders the thing that counts. But I admire James’ preference for wandering… finding places he likes, and staying long enough to understand and enjoy them.

If the life of a moto-vagabond appeals to you, James shared some resources that will be invaluable, starting with Bunk-A-Biker, the community of motorcyclists who host riders on road trips. You can learn more about them by following them on Facebook, here. Another Facebook group focused on this lifestyle is Minimalist Motorcycle Vagabonds. If you’re a listener to Motorcycles and Misfits, you might remember Zee Traveler… I believe she runs both of these groups. You can learn more about her here. And finally, a resource that has come up a few times in this podcast, Horizons Unlimited.

James, somewhere near the northernmost point of his 2019 travels…

… and somewhere near the southernmost. His license plate seems like an invitation to say hi, if you happen to see him out there.

One of those mountain lakes that made such a strong impression. James told me in our pre-interview correspondence that he found nature “healing” during his solo travels. This image makes a pretty strong case.

James wrote me after our interview, feeling as if he’d somehow under-delivered on the question of what he thinks about during those long hours on the road. He said, “I often have incredibly deep thoughts — like black hole level deep. Insights into life, human nature, relationships, motivations, and other random things. It’s quite possible I solved world peace and the saved the environment, but I never remember these thoughts by the time I get off the bike.” Me, too, Wobblycat. Me, too.

If you want to connect with James Bai, Instagram is your best bet. He’s @wobblycat , of course.

This episode’s playlist recommendation, ‘Ol’ 55′, is from Owen Campbell’s album ‘In The Shadow Of The Greats’. He’s actually recorded this classic early Tom Waits track twice, and I flipflopped a few times before choosing this version, won over by its bluesy simplicity (the other version includes some piano, making it more Waits-like). Fittingly, Campbell was a globetrotting busker, a bit like Episode 1’s featured artist Denmantau, before being discovered on ‘Australia’s Got Talent’. You can find out more about him on his web site, which is here. His music is widely available on the usual platforms, and he has a notably strong following on Spotify, which might be a great place to start getting to know his music better.

What is it about soldiers and motorcycles? The connection between military culture and the machines we love is deep and goes back decades, but it turns out there’s more to this affinity than ancient history. Meet Valerie Lower, a combat veteran whose passion for riding took on new meaning in the aftermath of war and her struggle with PTSD. Her inspiring story is a reminder of what motorcycles can do for all of us, if we let them… and that we should never take those gifts for granted.

Show Notes

Valerie Lower in 2005, during her first tour of duty. Here, she’s just replaced a hydraulic pump in an M88A1, an armoured recovery vehicle.

Fittingly, my conversation with Valerie Lower took place the week of Remembrance Day in Canada and other Commonwealth countries, and Veteran’s Day in the United States. This episode is dedicated to people everywhere who serve their countries in uniform.

Valerie’s battle with PTSD would eventually find her homeless before she was able to build a new life. She asked to acknowledge here the help of two organizations on that journey. The first is Blue Star Mothers of Pennsylvania, who gave her vital financial assistance when there was nowhere else to turn. The second is Equines for Freedom, who provided her with trauma therapy that the Veteran’s Administration c0uldn’t. Motorcyclists aren’t the only ones who rely on their communities, it seems, nor on the vital role volunteers play in creating and sustaining them.

Valerie also wanted to correct a detail regarding her time in Iraq: “I am pretty sure that at some point I said that when I was in Iraq for my first tour, that I was between Fallujah and Baghdad. That is not accurate. I was between Fallujah and Ramadi.”

Here’s the article I cited on the percentage of military personnel who ride motorcycles. The data isn’t fresh, I’m afraid, and the article actually deals primarily with the problem of safety, but I bet those numbers are still basically accurate, and I loved Valerie’s answer. And here is the article from which I quoted a veteran who, on the subject of overland motorcycling, talked about “controlling danger” and “[deciding] if you want to live.”

In our conversation, you may have caught our reference to something called ‘BDR’, which stands for Backcountry Discovery Routes. You can find out more about this amazing organization here. If this kind of riding is something you’d like to try, start by visiting adventure riding forums online… the people who ride these routes seem like a happy lot, and more than willing to share what they know.

Valerie’s beloved Suzuki VanVan has come up in two interviews over the last few months, which is probably because it’s awesome. Here’s the latest model, for those not familiar. Photo: Suzuki Canada

 

A photo of Geoff Hill’s new best friend in Pakistan, Saif, on tour with his daughter. Nice road. Nice bike, too.

This episode’s playlist recommendation, ‘Line of Fire’, is available on iTunes and elsewhere, and you can sample the whole track on SoundCloud. Many thanks to Junip and to YesKnow Management for letting me feature this track. You can find out more about Junip on their web site, which is here. Junip’s haunting vocals are by Jose Gonzalez, who also has an active solo career. You can find out more about him here. Bonus points if you recognized this tune from ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘The Blacklist’.

What makes a road legendary? From Route 66 to the Pan-American Highway, Geoff Hill is an award winning travel writer and long distance motorcyclist who’s ridden his share of the roads the rest of us dream about. In tales that are by turns romantic and hilarious, Hill’s self-described “boy on a bike” makes these dream roads seem suddenly more accessible, and their call all the more insistent. In this delightful conversation, Geoff reveals that it’s their very ability to make excited kids of us all that gives these places their magic, and leaves us with a message: just go.

Show Notes

Above is a picture of Geoff Hill, taken around the time of the ‘Clancy’s Boots’ trip. I call your attention to the fact that he’s flat footing a GS with his knees still comfortably bent, and invite you to draw your own conclusions about his height. The photo is borrowed from this article on the The Telegraph’s web site. I hope they don’t mind.

Here’s the playlist Atlanta rapper Wyldthang wanted me to share with you. Whether or not rap is your thing, it’s always inspiring to me to see motorcycle culture expressing itself, and what a unifying force it is.

If you haven’t read any of Geoff Hill’s motorcycle adventure books, here are some links. They direct you to Amazon’s US site, just because that’s where the majority of my listeners live, but Geoff’s books are widely available throughout the Amazon world. I’m following his recommendation to read them in the sequence in which the trips took place, and it definitely adds to the experience:

Way to Go’, about the Delhi-to-Belfast and Route 66 trips.

The Road to Gobbler’s Knob’, which chronicles the Pan-American Highway adventure.

Oz: Around Australia on a Triumph’, which is self-explanatory. You can see Geoff talking about that trip on YouTube here.

And ‘In Clancy’s Boots’, about his ‘round the world tribute ride to Carl Stearns Clancy.

On the subject of books, here is a link to Chris Scott’s ‘Adventure Motorcycling Handbook’, which plays a role in the story of Geoff’s decision to tackle the Pan-American, and which he recommended during our conversation.

He also had good things to say about Horizons Unlimited, which you can find here. ADVRider also has many fans as a resource for trip planning… just avoid the general discussion forums, unless you want to participate in endlessly circular flame wars about countersteering, car tires and octane ratings, and completely lose your faith in humanity.

Geoff Hill isn’t an Instagrammer, but you can find him on Twitter if you want to say hello. He’s @ghillster.

And Hugh Francis Anderson, whom I owe my thanks for making this conversation possible, is still living our lives for us on Instagram. You should definitely follow him if you don’t already. Not everything he does is on motorbikes, but everything he does is still pretty damn cool. He’s @hughfrancisanderson

Finally, you should definitely spend some time getting to know Daring Greatly, who provided this episode’s playlist recommendation (apologies for the sub-optimal sound… the featured track is actually from a YouTube video and, as far as I know, is not for sale). You can learn more about them on their web site, sample their sound on SoundCloud, and purchase their music in all the usual places.

I’ll confess that I’m amused by little serendipities like this, but America’s “Ventura Highway” is even more appropriate to this episode than it seems. It turns out that the genesis of this song was a childhood memory of a road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway. The “alligator lizards in the air” were clouds, as remembered by the writer and his brother as children, standing by the side of the road while their father changed a tire. You can see why it was irresistible.

Do motorcycles matter? In a time when the industry worries about its survival and riders quietly wonder if we’ll one day be legislated out of existence, it’s fair to ask why the rest of the world should even care. In this conversation with motorcycling advocate and industry troublemaker Robert Pandya, we explore why it ought to. Frank and passionate, Pandya dares us to think about why we ride, what would be lost if there were no motorcycles, and how all it takes for our joy to make the world a better place is simply having the courage to share it.

Show Notes

Robert Pandya, walking the walk.

You can catch up on Robert Pandya’s Give A Shift initiative here. I first met him (electronically, at least) when I contributed an article on the Canadian perspective of motorcycling’s future. You can find that here.

I generally think that an apocalypse for motorcycling is unlikely, even in the self-driving future of North American transportation. Still, urban riders might have a different view. This piece from the New York Times on being a motorcyclist in that city was just a bit chilling. Sorry if this content is behind a paywall for you.

A major media outlet characterizes bikers in black and white, and hints at a future of irrelevance.

There are four other current initiatives Robert Pandya wanted us to know about and be a part of:

The first is Discover the Ride, which is operated under the aegis of International Motorcycle Shows. Learn more about that here.

The second is All Kids Bike. You can learn more about this here. This one is worth a read, because it goes at the issue of social good very directly.

The third, also working with Strider, is Double Down, which raises money for, among other things, the All Kids Bike program. You can learn more about this one here.

And finally, though not directly about motorcycle advocacy, there is the Suffragists Centennial Ride, about which you can learn more here.

In our conversation, I brought up a project Pandya worked on with Indian Motorcycle six years ago, “The Spirit of Munro”. Here’s the video. This promotional campaign turned out to be the opening gambit in an effort that took the brand from oblivion to heartburn for Harley Davidson impressively quickly. Fun fact… the rider in the video’s action scenes is Todd Eagan, who was my guest for the second episode of this podcast.

You may have heard Robert mention something called TROG. The acronym stands for The Race Of Gentlemen, an event taking place in New Jersey the week this podcast was published, as it happens. You can find out more about it here. TROG is one of those acts of performative nostalgia that tend to divide opinion among motorcyclists. There are some grumpy folks who think it’s simply cosplay hipsterism run amok. And then there are those, me among them, who think that this kind of thing is an essential part of the recipe for keeping motorcycling alive and relevant.

The Art of the Motorcycle has come up on this podcast more than once, and not just because I wish I’d gone. That show at the Guggenheim in 1998 has turned out to be of enduring importance to motorcycle culture, and a turning point that we probably still haven’t fully digested. If you didn’t make it either, you can learn a bit about it here. Wikipedia is also worth a visit, doing an efficient job of explaining the controversy around this show at the time.

When I was wool gathering online in preparation for this interview, I stumbled on a number of academic attempts to understand why we ride, and why that should matter. Most were too nerdy, even for me (by the way, did you know there was a Journal of Motorcycle Studies?!). But this one caught my eye, mostly because of this quote from the abstract:

“As a nonspatial community realized on the nation’s transportation infrastructure of roads and highways, motorcyclists have endured discrimination and risk of injury by cars because of the meaningful connections with people which motorcycling engenders. Such connections also enable motorcyclists to resist the social fragmentation which characterizes postindustrial urban society.”

Whatever we do, let’s not forget this is who we are. If the world became more like the motorcycling community, that would mostly be a good thing. But if we become more like the world can often be these days – judgmental, divisive, tribal – that will put motorcycling at more risk than anything it faces today.

Finally, thanks to the very talented Kyler Morrison for being so enthusiastic about having his latest single, “No Drugs,” featured on this podcast. You can follow Kyler on Instagram, of course… he’s @morrison_kyler. Learn more about his music here, and buy this episode’s playlist recommendation on iTunes, among other places.

 

Does riding motorcycles scare you? For more riders than we imagine, nagging fear is one part of motorcycling nobody talks about, and just feeling it can undermine our confidence. Meet Dr. Mark Barnes, a clinical psychologist who thinks that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and he should know: Mark also happens to be an avid rider on road and off, and a veteran motorcycle journalist. In this conversation, Dr. Barnes talks about how controlling fear is a skill we can learn, how every rider feels it, and how just the right amount might be the secret to getting the most out of your motorcycle life.

Show Notes

Here I am with William, my last horse. His calm, patient way might just have made a horseman out of me in the long run, but fate had other plans. When we lost him, I found motorcycles again. As Mark Barnes says below, “Life is funny, at least with enough distance.” Photo by Lindan Courtemanche

I must confess that I had not previously invested the time to get to know Motorcycle Consumer News, but I’m impressed. If you don’t know it, a visit to their web site would be a good place to start.

Mark Barnes has published a book, which he graciously declined to talk about in service of this episode’s theme. It’s called “Why We Ride: A Psychologist Explains The Motorcyclist’s Mind, And The Love Affair Between Rider, Bike And Road.” It’s essentially an anthology of columns from MCN, and I’m very much enjoying it. Here’s a bit more about it, and one way to buy it. 

In our conversation, Mark mentioned something called the Yerkes-Dodson Law. He was obviously paying attention in school, because it turns out that the study behind it is more than a century old. There is plenty to read online on this subject (including predictable efforts to debunk it… science can be a rough and tumble business). Wikipedia is a good start, if you’re curious. And this video also provides a pretty tidy explanation. It makes perfect sense to me, though… I can’t think of anything worthwhile I’ve ever done in my life that didn’t happen on a just-so bubble of ‘optimal anxiety’. Including this podcast.

Mark also mentioned a therapist named Brenda Bates, who treats riders suffering from PTSD after crashes. She has, indeed, written a book about this. Here it is on Amazon, along with a short bio of the accomplished Ms. Bates. A quick tour of Google suggests that this book has played an important role in a lot of riders’ lives. Perhaps most remarkable about her work is the fact that there are riders who love this so much that they’re willing to work this hard to come back. She might make an amazing podcast guest.

In an email exchange the day after our interview, Mark offered a coda to his story of being frozen with fear near the summit of Mt. Antero, and I’m sharing it below with his very kind permission. As I so often am by fellow riders, I’m humbled by his courage and honesty, here. I’d love to meet everyone I’ve interviewed for this podcast, but Mark Barnes surely has a special place on that list. Here in his own words is the rest of that story:

Mark’s bike on Mount Antera. This is the photo he was looking at as he shared that story.

“This morning I awoke with what can only be called a mild “flashback” of that harrowing trip up Mt. Antero that I should have labeled “Nightmare at 13,000 Feet” (an allusion to a famous Twilight Zone episode, if you’re too young to remember) [I’m not].  Recounting that event to you yesterday, albeit briefly, must have stirred up some PTSD within me that didn’t reach full intensity until the final feature in last night’s dream lineup.  While pondering this fleeting phantasmagoric re-visitation, I realized the terror associated with that event exerted a (mostly) unnoticed influence on our dialog: I remember feeling like I’d lost my place after summarizing the story, but I couldn’t recall the point I’d set out to make.  I had wanted to say a bit about what I ended up doing while waiting for my riding buddies to return from that final 1000-ft. leg to the top that I was unable to make, even though the remaining terrain was less difficult than what I’d already traversed – I was too locked up mentally (and therefore untrustworthy physically) from the protracted trauma of the ascent thus far.  I now realize that just telling you that tale was enough to reactivate my right amygdala sufficiently to disrupt/freeze my cognitive flow and prevent me from following through with what I’d meant to say.  This struck me as a perfect recreation of what had happened on the mountain.  And it’s the kind of abstracted parallel we psychologists are always excited to discover.

Anyway, my truncated version of the story may have left you and listeners wondering how the hell I made it back down the mountain.  If I was unable to proceed that final, relatively less treacherous, thousand feet, how could I possibly have gone back down all those many thousands of feet that had just rendered me paralyzed?  Pausing where I did helped, in that it gave me a chance to do a variety of fear-management activities.  I practiced some deliberate breathing exercises, no doubt rendered less effective by the altitude, but still useful.  I came to grips with the shame and anxiety about being “that guy” in the group who fell below everyone else’s levels of courage, ability and achievement (and I’m still at peace with my decision to hang back).  And it was soothing to simply stare out over the vastness of the surrounding landscape in that shockingly silent and isolated environment – not unlike looking out over the ocean from a deserted beach in its involuntarily calming effect on my psyche.  Of course, there was one more consideration, the one you highlighted later in our discussion: there was absolutely no other choice.  This was also true in the story from the Fearless article that you may have expected me to recount, since I think I labeled that one as the scariest experience in my motorcycling history.  In that instance, I was as angry as I was terrified, because our being lost at nightfall was something that could have easily been avoided with more attentive navigation.  That anger helped me rally and served as very powerful propulsion during my stretch of resurgent bravery and riding acumen.  It may have been more accurate to call that one my all-time zenith of despair, rather than fear, although the fear factor was just a tiny tick behind.  The Mt. Antero ordeal was definitely the most afraid I have ever been, including when I had to face highly invasive brain surgery a year prior to the Colorado trip.  Ironically, I’d planned that trip as a celebratory counterpoint to the horrors of having my head opened up!  Life is funny, at least with enough distance.”

Gary Saunders’ mesmerizing cover of “Don’t Fear The Reaper” is excerpted here with the artist’s kind permission. You can find this track on Soundcloud here. And if you want to say hello and tell him how much you liked it, here is his Facebook page.

Finally, some listeners may have noticed an annoying little crackle in their right headphone during this podcast. It wasn’t you, it was me. The audio input/output jack on my computer is wearing out and causing signal issues. I’m sorry… I’ll figure it out. Thanks for putting up with it.

Does riding ever get old? For a lot of us, Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s book “The Perfect Vehicle” is a perfect record of how we felt about motorcycles in the rush of those first few seasons. Now, 35 years after her first ride, I talk to the author about what time does to – and for – that relationship, how it feels to be “riding toward the end”, and what motorcycles can bring to your life even after they’ve saved it. Passionate and insightful as ever, Pierson’s story shines an inspiring light on the road ahead for, as one critic put it, everyone who ever “loved a motorcycle”.

Show Notes

My Ducati, the day we met. Sorry, baby… it’s not you, it’s me.

In fact, I did sell my Ducati, shortly after this episode dropped. I wrote her a farewell letter, which you might find amusing. It’s on EatSleepRide.com.

If you don’t know Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s work (and assuming you’re a motorcycle person), start with “The Perfect Vehicle: What It Is About Motorcycles”, and then read “The Man Who Would Stop At Nothing”. You can get to know her a little better at her web site, where she also shares some more of her writing on our favourite subject. Here’s the rather more formal introduction to Melissa as an author. You’ll enjoy Anthony Swofford’s description of her literary voice. I’m sure she did, and I know I would.

“This book, a polished, winding meditation on the theory and fractiousness of motorcycles, celebrates both their eccentric history and the wary pleasures of touring.”―The New Yorker

As far as I can tell – I should have asked, I guess – Melissa is not on Instagram. However, she does have a presence on Facebook. Here’s her page for “The Man Who Would Stop At Nothing.”

In our conversation, Melissa graciously avoided naming a favourite book, but was pretty clear that this one meant a lot to her: Robert Edison Fulton’s “One Man Caravan.” Here’s a nice piece on this proto-adventure rider from Revzilla. Otherwise, there doesn’t appear to be a single repository for this man’s remarkable story, so I’d suggest you simply buy the book and discover it for yourself. That’s my plan.

Finally a big thank you to the very talented Cadence. Ross Lynde was quick and generous to respond to my request to excerpt “Still Crazy After All These Years”. You can find out more about the group here, and Ross had some suggestions for new fans: Our newest album “Home” (2018) featuring all Canadian composers.  Listen on Spotify or iTunes.  Includes David Clayton Thomas singing lead on ‘Lucretia McEvil’.  Cool sand art video of our version of ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’:  click here

David Clayton Thomas? Lucretia McEvil? I’m in.