Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“You see things…on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other.  In a car, you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.”

photo (6)I know I’m four decades late, but I finally read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” by Robert Pirsig, on the recommendation of a friend. Their rationale: This book, when read through the lens of your own perspective, can be life altering.  Well, the first few pages proved that and then some. I know it’s less about motorcycles – and even less a manual about motorcycle maintenance – but the metaphors relating to our collective love affair with our motorcycles and our lives in general produce obvious similarities. We are rarely able to think or speak of them with such eloquence.

As the classic story goes, the author takes a cross-country ride from Minnesota to California with his son and two closest friends. Along the way and among other things, he ponders and differentiates between the romantic vs. classical approaches to problem solving. In other words, between “living in the moment” vs. focusing on the “details.” For example, while the author could essentially break down and rebuild his engine on the side of the road, his friends tend to live in this strange place where they fail to learn or much less care about the inner workings of their own motorcycle. When their motorcycle struggles during the trip, they tend to see far less value in figuring out what’s wrong and trying to fix it themselves. They fully recognize that it’s a machine, but, a machine they won’t ever truly attempt to understand. They would just prefer someone else dig in and solve their problems for them. Whether it’s us and our motorcycles or anything else we deal with on a daily basis, I’m certain we can each relate.

Most importantly, though, this story tends to take me on a journey of physical and meta-physical discovery that really forces the question of the journey itself, the destination and the rationale for all of it. Which begs the question: why do any of us do this? Do we ultimately use our bikes and our rides, to an extent as Pirsig recalls, separate ourselves from “endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person years later wondering where all the time went, and sorry that it’s all gone”?  Well, I’ll reserve my opinion so you can decide for yourself.

All I know is, philosophically – and what I could not have said better myself – “You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge. And if you project forward from that pattern, then sometimes you can come up with something.”  This could be from my last ride or the next, or an obvious reflection of my life. I’m not sure I want to know.

And yes. Maybe I’m getting older, or better yet, Portland is affecting me. So be it. Despite its age (published in the early 70s), it’s a great book for anyone looking at a new perspective on our existence. And it has the added benefit of using our true love as a comparative example we can all appreciate.

Ride Safe. Ride Hard.

Joe

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