Rick’s Gentleman’s Express Blog

Motorcycle news and opinion

Archive for November, 2008

Ted Bishop’s, Riding with Rilke

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A guest book review by Peter Priest —

“I just took Ted Bishop’s book back to the library. Riding with Rilke was published in 2005 and I can’t think how it got by me. It must have attracted some attention when it came out: it was a runner-up for a Governor General’s award that year. I must have been doing something much more important than reading that summer. Riding a bike, maybe. Building a house. Making love.. There aren’t too many things more important than reading.”

“It seems that Professor Edward Bishop researches and instructs at the U. of A. in Edmonton. He also rides motorcycles. So does his significant other, a medical doctor who owns and operates a vintage BMW (‘Matilda’) with a built-in speed wobble. This bike and this wobble eventually lands her guy in ICU with some badly broken internals. Altogether about six weeks’ worth, not counting the skin grafts. Bishop opens the book by telling about the day that began it, and just how that grabbed him.”

“Quite a few of us who have spent time on (and accidentally off) two wheels have had encounters with fear and with prolonged pain. All would agree that it ain’t nice at the time, but it’s undeniably character-forming. Being face-to-face with no tomorrow has a wonderfully maturing effect upon a rider. Bishop says that he remembers some of what took place but much of the detail is foggy.”

“Some time before the nasty incident, the Prof got money via his Alma Mater to go on an extended visit to the University of Texas at Austin to study rare and original manuscripts. Notably those of Virginia Woolf. Ezra Pound, likewise. As well as both D.H. (he of the dirty book) and T.E. Lawrence, the famous faller-offer. Also some of James Joyce’s early (and first) editions, books which you and I can’t get a look at without doing all the rigging in advance which Bishop had to do. So there is quite a lot of talk about books in RwR.”

“Well, I can stand some talk about books – I was a lucky guy when it came to being able to afford the time to read them. And a collection of maybe a quarter million books – with access to more – is a joy nearly for ever. Lester B. Pearson’s 1960s government, godbless’em, handed me cash to hang in and do nothing but read for four years. So while the literary content of Ted Bishop’s account might seem a bit dreary for some, I got plenty out of it. To have Virginia Woolf’s actual suicide note on the desk in front of you, well, it ain’t every day.”

“It’s a lot to do with Ted Bishop’s skill as a writer that he weaves the book-stuff nicely into the action. And the action is attention-getting. Professor Ted buys himself a honking great Ducati to get him from Edmonton to Austin and back. A monster. Yes, the Monster. Il Mostro. Not the bike they claim makes for comfy long days in the saddle. But it makes a lovely noise and it eats up the miles. The only rule which he makes for himself is that he won’t eat in a franchised restaurant, and the resolution that he won’t do that extra 100 miles a day to keep a schedule.”

“So off Ted goes to do his vacation-with-pay in Texas. He finds that some peculiar American traits make people along the way not so very Canadian-friendly. But Texans, he reports, are invariably pleasant and welcoming. He experiences some desolate roads, and some marginal food poisoning.  It’s all a great and airy travel yarn; with some of it – the early chapters – encouraged and published by CC’s former editor, Bruce Reeve.”

“Predictably, Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art. comes in for discussion. Another long road trip with the same form of transportation. But while Ted Bishop seems to admire and endorse Pirsig’s thoughts and preoccupations unreservedly, I myself wondered at the time of reading it (and I still wonder) what was all the fuss about. Why did this book become one of the big sellers of all time? It didn’t have the scope nor the depth of War and Peace, nor was it as much of a thundering good long yarn as Gone with the Wind. Or maybe I just missed the point. What was the point?”

“More critical examination would have to ask a question too about the speed wobble and its horrific spit-off. (About everyone who reads this will know what the phenomenon is.) If you knew that your GF’s old bike had sloppy steering head bearings, and could be trusted to try to buck you off at more or less exactly eighty miles an hour, why would you choose to be doing that speed while overtaking a semi-and-pup on a two lane highway?”

“I once knew a PhD who preferred not to personally change light bulbs because he got them cross-threaded, but Ted Bishop doesn’t sound like one of those. Much more likely is the fact that this descriptive sequence makes a great dramatic beginning and ending for Bishop’s book. That is to say, fact and reality subverted to serve a purpose for attention-getting fiction. The same trick that Shakespeare used to start Hamlet: a ghost at midnight and everyone jumpy about it.”

“Riding with Rilke is a treat to read, though. Better, I would say, than Robert Pirsig’s book. Two hundred and sixty pages, more or less. Thirty-two Canadian bucks. (How can they do that!) But that’s what you pay taxes and maintain public libraries for. Get after your local librarian if you haven’t read it.”

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November 20th, 2008 at 9:20 pm

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Are big cruisers the SUV’s of motorcycling?

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Before the current economic downturn, conspicuous consumption was the order of the day. This is common to most booms. Showing off your wealth (or at least your borrowing power) is fashionable. When the bottom inevitably falls out, showing off is suddenly considered crass. Penitence becomes the new order of the day.

The Detroit (not so big anymore) 3 automakers are now pushing their way to the head of the government handout line. Their story is that they were just giving customers what they wanted — supposedly a steady diet of bigger, heavier and more ostentatious SUV’s even though the best-selling car here in Canada for what must be a decade has been the Honda Civic. Now customers suddenly don’t want giant SUV’s anymore when the choice is between making a mortgage payment and filling the tank.

Alongside the escalation of Escalades on the automotive side there was a similar explosion in demand for ever more gigantic, mountain-motored power cruiser motorcycles. All the motorcycle companies were on board with this one, not just Harley and Victory, as the magic 100 cubic inch barrier was broken and then made to look positively small as displacements went well past the 2 litre mark.

Are these two-wheeled behemoths now the SUV’s of motorcycling, doomed to sit in garages gathering dust until the loans are paid off and then to be dumped for pennies on the dollar? Are the owners of these things going to be willing to “downsize” to a more sensible sized bike or are they going to just quit motorcycling as quickly as they took it up if they cannot afford to have the biggest toy on the block?

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November 19th, 2008 at 9:37 pm

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Where are all the posers now?

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It started long before the current economic collapse: reports last spring from Daytona of vacancy signs in motels along the sought-after oceanside strip. Attendance was down — way down — as people sensed that a crash was coming and that the expensive tough-guy biker image was now discretionary spending.

Is this the end of the ride for all the people that bought into the Harley lifestyle at thirty to forty thousand dollars for a tarted up Electra Glide? Are motorcycles now just like so many giant SUV’s — symptoms of a high-flying boom that is now over?

Sure the rich will always find a way to stay rich as the pretenders fall back. Unfortunately for motorcycling, in affluent markets motorcycles are not perceived to be everyday transportation but expensive toys and will probably be shed as belts tighten.

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November 11th, 2008 at 10:20 am

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Where are all the motorcycle lobbyists?

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The recently tabled Ontario “safety” legislation regarding carrying children under 14 years of age as passengers on your motorcycle is a symptom of some real problems in Canadian motorcycling.

Where are organizations like the CMA, MMIC and Canada Safety Council? Is their influence so weak that legislators don’t even bother consulting them before proposing legislation that affects motorcyclists?

Another recent example is the so-called “street-racing” law in Ontario that could net you a $10,000 fine for lifting your butt off the seat of your bike to absorb a bump in the road.

Is there anyone out there who will stand up for the rights of motorcyclists, or are we all just second-class citizens?

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November 4th, 2008 at 10:26 am

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