A few years ago I read Rush drummer Neil Peart’s book Ghost Rider (not to be confused with the comic book adapted movie of the same name). It was one of those books I kept in my saddlebags for those times when I stopped for coffee or got caught in a downpour and needed to get warm for a while. Peart’s book is fantastic and I intend to cover it in another post. In it he mentioned The Perfect Vehicle, a book written by Melissa Holbrook Pierson which I just finished and felt so strongly about that I thought it worth writing about here.
The foreword of the book begins like this: “At precisely this moment someone, somewhere is getting ready to ride.” What followed was a simple, yet beautiful description of a rider approaching a motorcycle, mounting up, starting it and riding away. I was hooked from the first page. The book is an interesting mix of the author’s personal history with motorcycles and a history of the machines themselves, the people who build them, race them and love them.
I have a habit, which drives some people crazy, of folding back the corners of pages in my books when there’s a reference or quote or passage I may want to go back to later. My copy of The Perfect Vehicle has about every tenth page folded back. Melissa Holbrook Pierson traces the early days of motorcycling when people feared them and thought those who rode them crazy, not understanding why someone would get dirty and possibly killed riding something with seemingly no utilitarian use, for riding to ride, for the sheer pleasure of it. She covers those who choose to race them, and even her own venture onto the track to learn from a racing professional.
This great book pays tribute to some of the women who rode and broke ground against pressure from governing bodies who disqualified their machines and tried to ban them from racing altogether. The author speaks poetically of the camaraderie among those who ride and writes about the psychology of group mentality (both good and bad) with an honesty I found brave and refreshing. The descriptions of the Blue Ridge Parkway were particularly memorable for me because I had a trans-formative ride along it myself in 2010 which is, in part, the reason I started this blog.
Mixed with the history and poetry is an account of her love of riding, how she got her start, her honest appraisal of the fear involved and what riding means to those of us who do it. A favorite quote from the book is “…I have composed great poems at sixty miles an hour, but there they stay, hovering over the macadam, reluctant to be brought home.” I’ve had that same thought so many times it’s impossible to count. That’s the beauty of this book, for me at least, it seems the author reached inside my head and wrote about things that I struggle to put into words. The Perfect Vehicle also explores the paradox of finding what you need when you finally stop looking. If you love motorcycles you’ll enjoy this book. I highly recommend it.
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