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Under Asian Skies – The World is Colorful, Complex and Beautiful

Under Asian SkiesIf you had spent any time lately watching any of the mainstream news, it is easy to begin viewing the world as a diabolical, scary place, occupied by either victims or perpetrators.

However, not everyone ascribes to the mainstream media’s view. The recently released audio version of Sam Manicom’s Under Asian Skies provides one of the best alternatives.

The book is a sequence to Manicom’s debut travelogue, Into Africa, and picks up right where Into Africa left off. After spending a year as a relatively new motorcyclist touring the African continent, Manicom and his trusted companion, BMW R80GS motorcycle, known as Libby, take a cargo ship to Australia and then travel together from Asia to Europe. It would be an understatement to say that a lifetime worth of adventures and a few misadventures ensue. To name a few, there is an encounter with an Australian Hells’ Angel; a no less scary run-in with maddening Indian bureaucracy; smuggling of tractor parts into Iran on an ancient Setra bus; rides through world’s most breathtaking and most dangerous roads (with little distinction between the two); and sharing harrowing train rides with hundreds of strangers, crammed by a stroke of fate into the same rail car. There is even a love story to boot and many encounters with generosity, kindness and raw beauty of the universe.

Through his adventures Manicom does not wear paisley colored lenses. Far from it! Whether he chronicles back-breaking work of fruit IMG_0020 psrpicking in Australia or relays the frustration of dealing with the Indian port officials, who work with all the efficiency, enthusiasm and philosophical detachment of a turtle out in a mid-day sun, Manicom spares no color in painting a real picture of what he sees. Yet, he is also careful to place the picture in a proper historical, social and cultural context, thus removing the gaudy frame of judgment and arrogance so prevalent in the reporting of many of the “traditional” information sources.

What distinguishes Under Asian Skies from myriad of other travelogues is the sense of compassion towards all living beings; acceptance of the world without a grain of self-righteousness; and deep gratitude for the opportunity to experience the universe just the way it is. These qualities are especially evident in the audio version of the book, read by the author, where Manicom’s enthusiasm, sense of wonder, and basic humanity really shine through. In fact, while Manicom is clearly not a voice actor, it is impossible to imagine anyone but the author reading this book.

And, because Manicom not only describes what he sees, but makes an attempt to understand it, what emerges is a narrative of a world far different from the one seen on the evening news. The World according to Sam Maincom is colorful, complex and beautiful. Like his book, it is a multidimensional and rich tapestry, woven together by the experiences, joys, sorrows and extraordinary adventures of ordinary folk. What a joy it is to be a part of this World!Crating psr

Ride Through the Twisties and Bhagavad Gita

DSC_0571As I twisted the throttle rounding a particularly exhilarating curve along my favorite twisty road and heard the satisfying exhaust burble of my Teutonic sport tourer, I thought of the first chapter of Bhagavad Gita.  Bhagavad Gita is one of the most sacred Hindu texts and a literary masterpiece that served as the source of inspiration for among others, Einstein, Thoreau and Emerson.  The epic poem traces the dialog between Arjuna, a decorated warrior, and Lord Krishna, the Divine who presents Itself to Arjuna as his charioteer.  The topic of the dialog between Arjuna and Lord Krishna is the life in Yoga.  As I strengthened my bike I saw the smiling face of my Guru.  A profound truth was about to be revealed to me.

I took no hallucinogens before my ride and have not been diagnosed with any condition of the body or mind associated with randomly appearing visions.  It is just when I am on a motorcycle alone with the wind and fully present in the experience, things, important, often deep things, come to me.

Nearly three months ago I got back from India after spending three-and-a-half weeks studying yoga and meditation and absorbing the wisdom of the Himalayas with my youthful Master, extraordinary Yogi, and a fellow motorcyclist, Anand Mehrotra.    My experience in Rishikesh, a small Indian town on the banks of the Ganges River, at the foothills of the Himalayas was beyond powerful.

Yet, upon returning I had no idea what happened to me.  Sure, I felt uplifted and inspired and to anyone who would DSC_0515listen I would tell how trans-formative my journey was.  Inside though I felt more dissatisfied than ever with nearly every aspect of my life.  As the pressures of everyday routines began to mount, I quickly fell into the same destructive patterns I thought I had left behind long before.  Even though I maintained a daily yoga and meditation practice and even taught these powerful disciplines to others, the disconnect within seemed as deep as ever.  I often wondered if I felt into the trap Anand warned so much about – acquiring a new vocabulary and a few ideas, but no depth beneath.

Then, on that motorcycle ride I thought of the first chapter of Bhagavad Gita.  In it, as Arjuna surveys the two armies about to engage in a bloody battle with each other, he tells the Great Lord that he does not want to fight; that he finds the bloody battle he is about to engage in utterly pointless; and that he likes the great men on both sides of the battlefield and feels sorry that they will lay their lives down in a useless feat.   Krishna, the Almighty Presence, the God of Yoga, tells Arjuna to fight indeed and do so fully without caring the slightest bit about the results.  And only then, Krishna begins to tell Arjuna about life in Yoga.

You see, what I got on that ride is that true change begins with awareness which then turns into presence with whatever is.  It is only after awareness and then presence that we can even begin the teachings of Yoga.

As my iron stead settled into the rhythm of a serpentine road – I understood.  After three and a half weeks in the Himalayas I simply began experiencing awareness, not yet presence.  But, I was transformed indeed, as I took the first tiny step towards life in Yoga.

Viking 14 Large Tank Bag

Viking 14 Large Tank BagThe folks at Viking Bags sent us their Viking 14 Large Tank Bag a few weeks ago and after thoroughly testing it I can report that I’m quite impressed. If you ride as much as I do you know the value of a quality tank bag and the Viking 14 really fills the bill for both the commuter and serious touring rider. The Viking 14 (the 14 stands for its 14 liter capacity) is well made with Cordura stitching throughout. It features a sturdy carry handle, hefty zippers (which can be locked and are large enough to make access easy even with a gloved hand), all the pockets we’ve come to expect in a tank bag and of course a removable clear map sleeve.

The strength of the magnets in the base actually surprised me. I ride a V-Strom and you can see from the photo that the tank on a V-Strom isn’t smooth and flat but the Viking firmly grips the tank and hasn’t moved once in the dozen or so rides I’ve taken with it.

Here are some of the Viking 14’s features:

  • Heavy duty Cordura Construction.
  • Organizer included inside for Keys, wallets, cell phones etc.
  • Reflective piping for additional night time visibility
  • Easy to remove snap Pocket with zipper entry.
  • Duraflex® buckles throughout for added strength.
  • Flex Buckles throught the bag for extra strength.
  • Carry handle included.
  • Audio Slot.
  • Protective base.
  • Rain cover included.
  • Cell phone storage pocket.
  • Magnetic Base.

vikingbags-logoI won’t miss the need to loosen and tighten straps when gassing up and the Viking 14 stows away nicely in my top box to prevent theft (it also features lock loops if you prefer a strap to deter theft). At $61.99 the Viking 14 Large Tank Bag is competitively priced and, in this rider’s opinion, an excellent bag for the price.

Please check out the video below for more information and, as always, ride safe.

Slick New Gear

With the 2014 riding season currently underway, there has never been a better time to begin looking at the different options that you have available to you in the way of gear. Motorcycle gear usually means yearly investments for motorcycle riders, upgrading previous gear that needs to be looked at, and also treating you to a few new toys. A number of new products have been announced to much critical acclaim for the 2014 year. There is a lot of new gear available, allowing for upgrades for many of us. Take the following gear and products into consideration for the 2014 season.

Quality Saddlebags

For touring enthusiasts, there are multiple things that need to be taken into account when you are looking at new saddlebags for the 2014 season. Start by determining the maximum distance that you are planning on traveling this year. This will give you good idea of exactly how much storage space you are going to require in your high quality saddlebags. Make sure to find saddlebags that are going to be compatible with your specific motorcycle model. You will find that Harley-Davidson’s are always compatible with Harley saddlebags that are built for specific models, rather than going with some universal saddlebags that may or may not snugly fit your bike. Saddlebags are important because they allow you to carry all of your gear that you could potentially need in the event of a breakdown, or issue with the bike.

Tina Walker

UglyBROS Motorpool Pants

One product that has received a lot of attention is Uglybros’ Motorpool Pants. These pants are manufactured by a Korean company that has been in business for just 10 years in total. However, the company has taken the motorcycle industry by storm by releasing a number of high quality accessories and gear products, that are able to stand up to even the most stringent of wear and tear, while still providing a fashionable look. This particular pair looks like it could’ve come out of the Mad Max movie, with an olive color that has been stained, and a slim fit. It comes complete with both knee and hip protectors, as well as rip paneling to help protect the rider from industry. Although they are a bit expensive, costing $320 overall, it does provide a very unique look and is an excellent product overall.

Bitwell Gringo LE Helmets

Are you looking for a slick new helmet, and want something that has a cool, or futuristic or retro feel? Well, a number of limited-edition Bitwell Gringo helmets have recently become available. And not only provide you with the utmost comfort, but offers a 1970s styling that has become increasingly popular in motorcycle gear in recent years. Although they are not flashy, many of them feature neon colors. The best part is, many of the helmets are available for less than $200, which is a steel given the intricate and beautiful designs that the helmets are currently offering.

If you are looking to spice up your gear, and stay safe during this motorcycle season, you should consider getting quality saddlebags, stylish pants, or spicy helmets to add to your current fashionable look.


Interview with Grant and Susan Johnson


Several months ago we reviewed the Achievable Dream DVD Series, produced by Horizons Unlimited, a worldwide portal, resource and meeting spot for motorcycle travelers. Recently, Zen contributor, Henry Yampolsky, spoke with Grant and Susan Johnson, who after spending ten years traveling around the world on their modified BMW F80GS, founded Horizons Unlimited, which now has members in over 160 countries, hosts travelers meetings worldwide and provides one of the most comprehensive resources for motorcycle travel.

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Easy Like Monday Morning

The article “Easy Like Monday Morning” by Bud Miller/Zen MEasyotorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 2/02/2014.

Cori and I both started new jobs recently and with that come changes to schedules, new responsibilities, routines, and pressures. She mentioned during a recent conversation that at lunch she’ll find an empty cubicle where the sun pours in and take time to consider all she has to be thankful for. It struck me as a gentle way of calming yourself and finding a center of peace amidst all that is changing. I realized that I already do something similar on my daily commute on the bike.

Motorcycling is a unique pursuit. It can be at once spiritual, a vacation, recess, and meditation (and is often all of them together). It can be (and is for me) a chance to commune with nature, to consider what’s important, to clear your mental slate, and be a time when you aren’t trying to please anyone other than yourself.

Like any successful and mutually beneficial relationship, riding should elevate and inspire. Monday morning need not be dreaded. Many a Sunday night over the last decade or so I’ve drifted off to sleep after checking the weather with thoughts not of the workweek ahead but rather of the Monday morning ride. It’s a way to carve out a little more time to give thanks in my own way.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “…tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” That’s usually what it boils down to; a head full of nonsense that just needs to be swept away. Life’s challenges never cease but one thing remains a constant, the morning and evening commute (or any ride for that matter). That’s when I’m easy, easy like Monday morning.

Into Africa – Just Listen to the Voice

Into Africa Front Cover JPG 237kbRecently, I went on a harrowing train ride across the Sahara;   rode through the dusty back roads of Ethiopia; experienced unconditional generosity of a Zulu man and even got to spend some quality time in a Tanzanian jail.  I also felt the breathtaking majesty of Victoria Falls; bargained for papaya at a Kenyan roadside market and drove through South African villages, still reeling from the effects of the years of Apartheid.  My guides were adventurer, Sam Manicom, and his trusty companion, Libby, a BMW R80GS motorcycle which took Manicom on a year-long journey across Africa.

Actually, I experienced Africa while never leaving Philadelphia which went through a blustery and snowy winter of historical proportions.  But, for about ten days, as I drove my car to work over pothole, gravel and ice-covered roads, I was almost expecting to encounter the searing desert oasis of flowering shrubs, palm trees and green grass.  During my commute I was listening to Sam Manicom’s Into Africa, read by the author.   

I have read Into Africa before and really enjoyed it.  However, listening to Manicom tell the story of his journey was an experience unlike any other.

Into Africa is an extraordinary adventure by a relatively ordinary bloke who one-day, almost on a whim, decides to learn to ride motorcycles, and then quits his job as a shoe store manager, and takes a year to ride Libby, the motorcycle, through Africa.  As we learn from the book, aside from riding a motorcycle, painting is one of Manicom’s favorite pastimes.  And, the man can paint a museum-worthy piece with just a few words.  The image that emerges from Into Africa is that of a diverse, complex and awe-inspiring continent with many colors, shades and shadows, whose people face every-day adversity with grace, ingenuity, unconditional kindness and a great sense of humor.

Yet, it is not just Manicom’s ability to paint a picture with words that make this book so moving.  Rather, it is Sam Manicom’s voice.  It is a voice of zen-like acceptance, compassion and gratitude that deeply permeates his narrative.  Thus, Manicom manages to treat even the worst moments of his trip and tackle some of Africa’s well-known ills with humility, humor and even a sense of appreciation.  Manicom’s voice makes it clear that he takes to heart the key lesson that Africa and its people have taught him – “remember your yesterdays and dream of your tomorrows, but live the day!”

It is in the audio version of the book that the true voice of the author who relieves his adventure in every chapter comes alive.  It is this voice that makes reading Into Africa a great experience and listening to it a truly special one.   It is listening to Sam Manicom read his book that could transport you into Africa.Zambezi-Sunset


CamaraderieThe article “Camaraderie” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 1/19/2014.

I follow the Dakar Rally every year, partly because it kicks off my riding year as it takes place right after New Year’s Day in sunny South America. I also tune in because I’ve always been a fan of endurance events dating back to my running and biathlon racing days. I just love to watch people test themselves and admire the qualities it takes to not quit when many would.

This year’s race has been an amazing test for motorcyclists with an early marathon stage that left less than half the motorcycle competitors remaining in the event. Every year during the two weeks of the race there are poignant scenes of racers coming to each other’s aid. This year one particular act of sportsmanship saw Kevin Muggleton, his own race over, assist fellow rider Mark Davidson who entered a checkpoint exhausted and demoralized. Kevin made sure Mark was fed, buoyed his spirits with an embrace and a pep talk, loaded his road book and humbly and heroically sent him off to finish the stage.

It’s always moved me the way competitors will extend a hand to help one another and it reminds me of the way we motorcyclists look after each other on the road. It has something to do with each of us knowing the risks and the rewards and being willing to share each in equal measure. There have been times that I’ve pulled over just to take a photograph and have had fellow riders pull up and ask if everything is okay.

Last week I took a leisurely, solo, Saturday morning ride on an unusually warm winter day and ended up at the Maurice River Diner in southern New Jersey. I sat by the window and watched at least a dozen other riders pull in for a late breakfast. Upon spotting each other we all tend to exchange nods or smiles that seem to say “how unbelievable is this day and how happy are you to be out in it with your face in the wind drinking it down in gulps?” It also says “see you on down the road and if you need help I’ll be there”.

Kevin Muggleton’s act of sportsmanship and humanity at the Dakar demonstrated a quality that all motorcyclists have in common. We are just as willing to share in each other’s joy as we are to share in, and thereby lessen, each other’s sorrow.

Let Me Try

let-me-try-772x517The article “Let Me Try” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 12/29/2013.

Last month temperatures were predicted to hit the mid-60s and above here in southeastern New Jersey. A rare late December gift that lets us get out on the road in normal gear after thinking it’d be a few more months of dressing like a NASA astronaut to get a ride in.

I looked forward to riding in the temperate weather but lately Big Red’s electrical system has been giving me fits. Intermittent losses of my low beams, turn signals, and neutral light had left me not riding and delaying finding a local mechanic to deal with the matter. Given that the holidays were upon us and I’m new to the area I was loathe to give my bike to someone only to have it languish there causing me to miss this weather gift only to get it back after the new year when it’s sure to be snowing and/or too cold to ride.

Over the years I’ve taught myself (with the help of YouTube and a few rider forums) to take care of most of the usual repairs that crop up with a bike that has the number of miles on it that Big Red does. Electrical, though, is something I haven’t yet had to tackle. I’ve wired a GPS and swapped the stock horn for an air-horn, easy stuff; but this issue had me walking past the bike hesitant to tear apart the wiring harness to find the cause of the problem. I tend to take baby steps where these things are concerned; wary of leaving myself without a ride should I get in over my head.

One of the best side effects of motorcycling is the spillover confidence it generates. Things you once thought you hadn’t the skill set to tackle become a simple matter of education and concentration. Quite often it’s as simple as doing what you are comfortable with, stopping to re-evaluate before proceeding, and also having the ability and willingness to seek help when it’s clear a solution isn’t forthcoming. My homework told me the trouble could be a relay, fuse, sensor, a burned wire, or a half-dozen other possibilities.

I figured I would try and that I may be capable of more than I give myself credit for. The problem may be minor and I can always stop and leave it to a professional if it turns out to be something beyond my abilities. Often solutions are a mere matter of deciding to act, like so many other things in life. Avoidance causes stress, self-doubt creeps in, and you find yourself afraid to begin and retreating to the safety of excuses and delay. As M. Scott Peck wrote: “If we know exactly where we’re going, exactly how to get there, and exactly what we’ll see along the way, we won’t learn anything.”

In the end, a thorough cleaning and securing of Big Red’s two main electrical connectors fixed the dilemma. An $8 can of connection cleaner, a little research, a block of time to devote to the issue, and the patience and confidence to give myself a chance left me riding on a warm late December day having learned, once again (and in large because I ride), that I am more capable than I had imagined.

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