Head Check – What it Feels Like to Ride Motorcycles by Jack Lewis
Take the go-for-broke Gonzo journalism style of Hunter S. Thompson, the classic story-telling of Mark Twain and the folksy wit of Will Rogers, put them all together and what do you get? Jack Lewis.
In Lewis’ latest book, Head Check – What it Feels Like to Ride Motorcycles , it all comes together like that.
I sat down with the book one snowy night planning to start out with just a half hour of reading before turning in. Three hours later, I was still reading and it occurred to me that Lewis spins his yarns with steely threads that keep you in the book.
Lewis’ anthology brings together a range of his work, some previously published and some unpublished that spans the range of emotion.
“Riding Home,” for example takes us along as he returns home to Oregon from a tour of duty in Iraq. He reunites with Honey, his BMW R69S, gets it going after years in storage and departs for a tour of his favorite roads on the home-front.
It is not merely a motorcycle ride; it is a ride of remembrance, re-connection and the beginning of re-assimilation into life without IEDs, snipers and endless war.
In it, he crosses more than state lines and at the shore of the Brownlee Reservoir unburdens himself of a grim reminder of the violent duty station he just returned from; a sniper’s bullet that spent its terminal energy in a sandbag instead of his head.
“Now I stood and held it up to let it know a place of peace before I drowned it. Then I threw it as far as a shredded rotator cuff could manage, out over the reservoir and down to the bottom forever, hushing its sibilant hiss, killing my own death. For now.”
That somber mood doesn’t dominate the book, however. In general, the tone is uplifting, comical, ironic and vibrant; it is the darker side of Lewis’ narrative that makes the rest of the story all the lighter.
For example, Lewis takes us along on another ride of a more whimsical sort. In “Stalin’s Revenge,” he builds the case for the Ural sidehack. To do that and make it both informative and entertaining, he provides a remarkably well-researched history of the brand, not that so many inquiring minds want to know, but it is interesting. From there, he gets to the fun stuff as his book’s title suggests, “what it feels like to ride motorcycles.” In this case, what it feels like to ride a “bikeasaurus” in the form of a late model Ural, which he posits is a charismatic, internationally hybridized improvement over those lame, unreliable Urals of old. Lewis puts it this way:
“The spare tire mounted over the Ural’s boot shows Model A Ford charm, and its leading link front suspension is more steampunk than reruns of the Wild, Wild West. It’s the only production vehicle simultaneously as agricultural as a Massey-Ferguson and frivolous as a parade float, guaranteeing more social intercourse than 30 grand worth of turbo Haya-blinga. Squids, soccer moms and O.C. chopper wannabes all grin at Stalin’s Revenge.”
The ride itself, Lewis offers, is as follows: “Herding a Hack is something like riding a motorcycle but steering a light truck—right up until the third wheel flies and you’re countersteering all over again. Sidecar inertia makes the rig pull right on acceleration and dart into oncoming traffic under braking loads.” As to the ride in the sidecar:
“Riding down in the sidecar is a separate reality. People and dogs often giggle about it, but then some people pay to be flogged with knotted cords. I generally prefer to keep my whip hand on the throttle, but sometimes it’s your turn in the barrel…”
Later, in “Green Flash,” he switches up to his new BMW R1200S, which he has christened “Black Betty” and confesses the folly of his attempt to make Betty wheelie:
“It’s common knowledge that shafties don’t wheelie. Figuring to show my date a for-real wheelstand, I quit stroking Betty’s throttle bodies and gave them a heavy grope. The rangy black bitch was bellowing and stretching toward heaven when I fat-toed her into neutral. She crashed down faster than the walls of Jericho at a bugle recital. Uff da! The brochure never mentioned a fully interactive crotch-tank interface. Well, it probably wouldn’t hurt unless I tried to walk, or breathe, or something. So impressive to the new girlfriend…”
There’s a lot more fun to be had in “Head Check – What it Feels Like to Ride Motorcycles ,” even some well-chosen black and white images, but I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll say no more. Despite his disclosures to the contrary, I’d bet Jack Lewis is as good a rider as he is a writer, too. No matter—next time your travels take you near a book store, put the kickstand down a while and check it out. Better yet, go to http://litsam.com/ and order direct and they’ll send you a signed-by-the-author copy.
- Title: Head Check – What it Feels Like to Ride Motorcycles
- Author: Jack Lewis
- Published: 2014 Softcover. 290 pages.
- Publisher: Litsam Inc. Shoreline, WA, USA. http://litsam.com/
- ISBN-13: 978-1-935878-08-7 E-ISBN: 978-1-935878-09-4
- MSRP: U.S. $19.99 (Signed copy directly from publisher; see the website above)