Zen and the Art of Trail-Runner Maintenance
Sometimes it takes two wheels to understand two feet
Illustration by Kevin Howdeshell
The engine of the motorcycle ticked like a dying metronome as the oil and metal cooled and settled. Nearby, I lay in my sleeping bag beneath the brilliant and vast Arizona night, and turned the page of my book. A dull ache spread through my body, reminding me of the punishing 65-mile trail run that I had put myself through in the Rocky Mountains only a few days earlier.
The book was an old copy of Robert M. Pirsig’s 1974 classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I often bring on long motorcycle trips. The moon illuminated a passage that I had underlined from a previous reading.
“Although motorcycle riding is romantic,” Pirsig wrote, “motorcycle maintenance is purely classic.” Pirsig’s book illustrated a bipolar world: The romantics conduct a life of imagination, creativity and inspiration, while the classics maintain a more practical life, “economical and carefully proportioned.”
To the classic, the motorcycle is about “pieces and parts, components and relationships.”
To the romantic, the motorcycle is about “feeling, intuition and esthetic conscience.” I had underlined the last two words, and scribbled off to the side, “for the romantic, motorcycle = freedom.”