There aren’t enough women writing books about motorcycles. That’s not a purely mathematical observation. Rather, it is about the fresh perspectives and powerful insights that women can bring to most any subject, but it is particularly true about motorcycle sport that has been traditionally dominated by male riders and writers.
As it happens, “The Perfect Vehicle – What it is About Motorcycles,” by Melissa Holbrook Pierson is the first book by a female author featured in the Ultimate MotorCycling Rider’s Library. Unlike many of the books we have featured, Pierson offers a book about motorcycles and motorcycle lifestyle that has a fresh – even unexpected – perspective.
First, it’s not always just about the bike; at least not always directly so. Readers focused on motorcycles as the mechanical objects they are may feel that any other focus is merely a distraction. For those interests, a good shop manual or “how-to” book is good reading.
In The Perfect Vehicle, it is about the bike, but only in certain junctures of the story—and primarily oriented by Pierson’s affinity for Moto-Guzzi. That affinity may explain—at least in part—the presence of the 1956 Moto-Guzzi V-8 racing bike on the cover. Easily the most technologically spectacular Guzzi ever built.
A story about a journey may be more interesting if it includes what broke down along the way and what it took to fix it. Pierson takes the reader on several journeys in the book; not epic round-the-world odysseys, but interesting, nonetheless and some include roadside repair scenarios.
For other readers and riders, the story about the journey is more interesting when the sights, sounds, sensations, aromas, panoramas, people and emotions that are encountered along the way are the focus. Pierson satisfies those readers with narrative is so vivid you can almost feel the drops pelting your sleeves and see your fogging face shield when she rides in a cold rain.
Her description of riding in bayou humidity can almost make you sweat and her description of a pilgrimage to Mandello evokes the Italian sun. She even takes the reader along on her journey of discovery in Loudon, New Hampshire as she discovers what she didn’t know about motorcycle riding in a Reg Pridmore CLASS motorcycle riding school (see http://www.classrides.com/ ) for women.
One of the surprising side roads she takes in the book is about motorcycle history and women in motorcycling history—and there have been many. Pierson recalls endurance racer Clara Wagner, long-rang sojourners Mrs. Harry Humphreys and Effie Hotchkiss, Adeline and Agusta Van Buren, Theresa Wallach and Peggy Iris Thompson.
Along the way, she recounts the little-known struggle against the resistance women riders encountered from both individuals and institutions who had trouble accepting women as riders and competitors on motorcycles.
The book is also a deeply personal account of some of Pierson’s relationships with people close to her and an introspection of her own struggle with something that everyone who rides must confront: fear. She reveals that motorcycles can be both the source and the solution for fear:
“They can red-flag fear, call it out from its dark hiding place. They can let us shadow box with it, then give it the old cathartic heave-ho. And they give us another chance to remind ourselves that it’s all temporary and fragile. This gift is perverse, yes, but true. Knowing life can vanish in a blur gives the most compelling reason to hang on tight. Knowing we can hang on tight gives us the prime reason to lean hard into the first turn we see.”
The Perfect Vehicle keeps the reader turning pages not just because motorcycles are part of the story; it tells about so much of what goes along with them. In the end, Pierson reveals the Perfect Vehicle; the bike of the mind.
- Title: The Perfect Vehicle – What it is about Motorcycles
- Author: Melissa Holbrook Pierson
- Published: 1997
- Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc. 500 Fifth Ave., New York, NY, 10110
- ISBN: 0-393-04064-X
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.