I’ve always been the kind of person that develops intimate relationships with technology. Old phones, old trucks, old whatever — if it still worked, the quirkier the better.
In high school, I drove my dad’s ‘97 Chevy (for reference, it was 10 years old when I started driving ?). It had manual locks, manual windows, a cassette player that systematically ate anything you put into it, and a brake pedal that had to be preemptively pressed halfway before it would actually start braking.
And I loved it. I loved having a pickup bed to use as a quick hangout spot, I loved that it was a Cheyenne in a sea of Silverados, and I loved that it could still top 100 on the highway (sorry Dad!).
I’ve been the same way with so many old electronics. I rocked a Sandisk MP3 player while my friends drooled over iPods, and a Nokia ‘brick’ phone while they flipped and flapped their Razrs. To me, shiny new consumer electronics felt lifeless. While everyone around me chased the newest tech with the latest features, I was content to get to know, inside and out, tools that just worked.
Looking back, I realize I was probably destined to be a motorcycle addict. I couldn’t name another community that is as completely involved in their machines as motorcyclists. Don’t get me wrong — I have seen this attachment to machines in other communities and industries, and there are also motorcyclists who don’t feel that way. But it feels like compassion and camaraderie with our machines is the predominant feeling in the motorcycle community. Almost as if they are pets, or good friends.
What is it about motorcycles that tends to attract those of us who insist on anthropomorphizing cold, lifeless machinery?
The answer is, of course, complicated, and slightly different for each person — which is why motorcycles are so unique.
Part of it, I believe, is that motorcycles literally become an extension of ourselves, and we feel their quirks, their unique tendencies, deep in our bones. Over time, we get to know their behavior as well as we know our own muscles. How can you not form an attachment to something you know so well?
And another part is that when we’re riding, we get to see ourselves in a completely new context. Take, for example, target fixation. When I first felt the pull of target fixation, I realized that it’s not a phenomenon unique to riding. Target fixation is the motorcycle equivalent of being unable to get a song un-stuck from your head. It’s what happens when all we see is one outcome, and we focus on it so deeply that we end up pushing ourselves into that outcome.
When we ride, we exhibit the exact same tendencies we would in “real life,” just in the context of the road, and that new context allows us to learn things about ourselves, and explain our problems or habits in a new way. I believe that’s why so many people refer to riding as “therapy” — in our bikes we see ourselves (just like Robert Pirsig said).
And another reason, one that doesn’t apply just to motorcycles but to all technology, is that all technology was created by humans, and therefore, it is made — however inadvertently — in our own image: fallible, unreliable, and all-too-often catering to our shortsighted whims. It’s us, reflected back at us, with the same failures and triumphs.
There are some machines, however, some innovations, that capture the essence of what it is to be human, and allow us to fulfill our most deeply rooted desires, and transcend the fragility and futility of our existence.
We call them instruments, weapons, tools, vehicles; conglomerations of gears and circuitry that free us from our struggles and propel us forward.
That’s the essence of a motorcycle: imperfect, but striving.