Bodies in Motion by Steven L. Thompson | Rider’s LibraryRider’s Library Retro Review

Vibration in machines — motorcycles in particular — has long been identified as a problem to be solved. This was an adverse side effect of power production by a reciprocating internal combustion engine.

The notion that vibration is not only biologically necessary but psychologically essential to a satisfying interaction with a motorcycle would seem absurd — until you read Steven L. Thompson’s remarkable book “Bodies in Motion.”

Thompson explores this subject from the most fundamental foundation possible — the evolutionary forces that make the sensations we associate with riding a motorcycle a part of our human genetics — and not in a merely figurative sense.

Thompson’s exploration of the riding experience is not limited to the experience of vibration and how it makes us either love or hate the ride; he considers the forces exerted during cornering — camber thrust necessary for turning, as it is known, yielding centrifugal force — acceleration and speed.

For example, he quotes a remarkably on-point observation by T.E. Lawrence, famously known as Lawrence of Arabia, who lost his life in a high-speed crash aboard his SS100 Brough Superior:

“To explain the lure of speed you’d have to explain human nature; but it is easier understood than explained. All men in all ages have beggared themselves for fast horses or camels or ships or cars or bikes or airplanes; all men have strained themselves dry to run or walk or swim faster.

“Speed is the second-oldest animal craving in our nature, and our generation is fortunate in being able to indulge it more cheaply and generally than our ancestors. Every natural man cultivates the speed that appeals to him. I have a motor-bike income.”

In Bodies in Motion, Thompson examines research information from evolutionary science, human-factors research, engineering and psychology in a unique confluence that helps explain why some people can’t live without the experience of motorcycle riding and why some can live without it.

That content is conjoined in the book with extensive data from fascinating research done on vibration on nine motorcycles done at Stanford University. The motorcycles included were the 1994 BMW K1100LT, 1974 BMW R90S, 1969 BSA Rocket 3, 1998 Ducati ST2, 2000 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, 1978 Honda CBX, 1987 Honda VFR700700F2, 1968 Triumph TR6 and 1959 Velocette Venom.

The actual vibration study data tables are reproduced in the book showing comparative readings on handlebar vibration, seat vibration, and footpeg vibration at idle, under acceleration and at a steady 60 mph. What is in those comparative data tables may surprise you!

Book Data:

  • Title: Bodies in Motion
  • Author: Steven L. Thompson
  • Published: 2008 softcover.
  • Publisher: Aero Design and Manufacturing Co., Inc., 8 South 18th Ave. West, Duluth, MN 55812, USA (Aerostich).
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-9819001-1-7

Rider’s Library—note to readers: many of the books that we’ll feature in Rider’s Library may be out of print and some may be difficult to find. That could be half the fun. The Internet should make the search relatively easy but ironically, none of the books currently scheduled for eventual retro-review for the Rider’s Library section were found with the help of the Internet. They all were found at book stores, used book stores, antique shops, motorcycle shops, yard sales and so on.