The Best of Peter Egan: Book Review (Rider’s Library)

The Best of Peter Egan: Book Review (Rider's Library)

Readable, relatable, real. Those bedrock qualities have made Peter Egan one of the most widely-read writers of our time.

Some may say that the statement should be qualified to read “automotive writer” or “motorcycle writer” or “moto-journalist.” I’m not so sure about that. His writing has an appeal that can cross a lot of literary lines.

Egan is multi-dimensional in his stories, often going beyond his passion for motorcycles to include music, guitars, airplanes, sports cars, travel in general and nearly anything that’s fun.

The Best of Peter Egan: Book Review (Rider's Library)

His first feature for Cycle World was published as a freelancer in 1977 and he became a staff writer for the magazine in 1980. His self-effacing humor, keen observation of the human condition, great story-telling skill and conversational writing style made him a mainstay in the pages of Cycle World magazine. His skills also found a wide audience in the pages of Road & Track magazine and with his rare spare moments, would punch out an article for Big Twin magazine.

Egan retired—more or less—in 2014, but he has continued to do encore features for Cycle World as an at-large contributor ever since, much to the joy of his myriad fans.

The Best of Peter Egan is his fourth book built on a compilation of his “Leanings” column and features he wrote for Cycle World. We reviewed the previous books, Leanings, Leanings 2 and Leanings 3 here:

That first story, “Dateline Missoula,” is the first item in his latest book and reading it will make it immediately apparent why Cycle World’s editor, Alan Girdler liked it well enough to publish it and more and ultimately brought Egan on as staff.

In “Dateline Missoula,” Egan recounts the attempt by he and his wife, Barb, to ride his British Twin from home in Wisconsin to Seattle. They didn’t make it. The bike was unsympathetically dubbed the “Manxton Contaminator Twin” by one of Egan’s Honda mechanic friends and only referred to by that name throughout the article.

In his first Leanings book, Egan revealed that the bike in question was a 1975 Norton 850 Interstate he had purchased new. With wry wit, deft insight and saintly patience, Egan turns what might have been a dark epic of mechanical frustration into a comic tale so good, you almost wish you could have been along—just not on a Norton.

In “The Right Bike for the Map,” (Cycle World, November 1996) Egan reveals how your destination(s) are best served if you plan to ride the right motorcycle and how buying a Harley Road King got him to dig out his biggest road maps to plan future transcontinental jaunts:

“Triumph 500s for instance, may have won the Jack Pine Enduro here in the US, but I always feel they were actually built for a quick spin down a country lane between two small villages in the Cottswolds. Or a run to the pub.

“Ducatis can cover a lot of ground anywhere, but they seem happiest in those pockets of the US that most resemble the twisting mountain roads of Emilia Romagna or the open sweepers of Tuscany. It’s what they were born to do.

“And Harleys? To me, they seem to have been built with the Great Plains and the deserts in mind…the American West. Big Sky bikes.”

In “The Emerald Tour,” Egan tours his ancestral Irish homeland and contemplates the migration of his own forebearers from the Emerald Isle to North America in typical Egan fashion: “My own relatives ended up in Minnesota, apparently because Ireland wasn’t cold enough for them, or had too few mosquitoes.”

In the book’s five sections, Egan moves chronologically from his early days as a freelancer (1977-1980) and onward by the decades from the 1980s up to 2016. The stories range from the comic misadventure of “Dateline Missoula” to the poignant remembrance for an old friend lost to cancer, Bruce Finlayson, in “Ride Hard, Ride Short.”

For those of us of high school age during the war in Vietnam, his “Letters from the World,” is a moving tribute to the men and women who served in that far-off land. He reminds us that the sacrifices made by those who served there—Egan among them—were made every minute of every day, not only when they were engaged in combat. He relates how a letter from an old friend back home in “the world” highlighted how their sacrifice included all the simple, yet priceless things all of us back home breezily took for granted.

“What I felt most of all in Todd’s letter, however, were the usual bohemian freedoms we all treasured so much. The freedom to own a sleeping bag of some color other than olive drab, to hike unarmed, to stay up all night or sleep all night, to get up when you pleased, to choose your friends and let them choose you. Most of all, the freedom to get on a bike and go. That was the key.”

Adding to the beauty of this landmark collection of Egan’s work are the wonderful images by artist Hector Cademartori and technical illustrations by Mick Ofield.

If you have never read Peter Egan’s work, treat yourself to a copy of The Best of Peter Egan and get to know him. If you’re a long-time fan, do the same thing; then sit back, enjoy the ride and you’ll be reminded of all the reasons why you became a fan in the first place.

Book Data:

  • Title: The Best of Peter Egan
  • Author: Peter Egan with a Foreword by Jay Leno
  • Published: 2018 hardcover, 288 pages, 42 color and black & white images, page size 9.0” x 5.7.”
  • Publisher: Motorbooks, an imprint of the Quarto Publishing Group, 100 Cummings Center, Suite 265-D, Beverly, MA 01915 USA. For more information: Call: 1-978-282-9590. See:
  • ISBN: 978-0-7603-6379-9
  • MSRP: U.S. $35; U.K. £25; $46 CAN