Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig

February 28, 2009 by: MCg

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

Author Pirsig states at the beginning of his classic 1974 book:

“What follows is based on actual occurrences. Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact. However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.”

And so begins the story of a cross-country motorcycle adventure that is not about motorcycles or maintenance or even long-distance riding.

What’s it About and Who is it For?

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a modern and popular book on philosophy: albeit, a book that has stirred controversy among philosophers.

But this book was not written for philosophers. It was written for everyone else, including you and I.

One doesn’t need to agree or disagree with all, or any, of the thoughtful points discussed; but it is a thoughtful book. The author has achieved a rare combination of entertainment and insight with the publication of this book and one that will likely be debated indefinitely into the future. It’s hard to imagine a reader not being inspired in some meaningful way by reading this.

In regards to riding, the author does use his motorcycle and cross-country adventure as an undercurrent upon which to carry his story. As Mr. Pirsig notes:

“A motorcycle functions entirely in accordance with the laws of reason, and a study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself.”

Hence, from a practical and rational posture, the book delves deeper into the “trinity of quality, mind and matter,” as noted here:

“Believe me, when the world is seen not as a duality of mind and matter but as a trinity of quality, mind, and matter, then the art of motorcycle maintenance and other arts take on a dimension of meaning they never had.”

And indeed, a central theme of the book revolves around that passage and the pursuit of “quality.”

Understated Riding Passages

Although the popularity of this book extends well beyond the world of motorcycles, and could certainly be enjoyed by readers without any interest in motorbikes at all, there are occasional passages that reflect an understated appreciation of that which only a rider could know:

“You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other.”

Having stated that the book is not about bikes or riding, the story does include anecdotes regarding the long-distance riding experience, and the background riding story also represents a contrast to the touring accouterments available to today’s cross-country tourer relative to a simpler era of long ago.

Robert Pirsig’s Motorcycle: What Bike Did He Ride

Although the author’s bike is referred to often in the book, the specific make or model is not. So, after you have read the whole book, you would not be able to answer the question, “What bike did he ride?”

But since the author took photos along the way, the specific bike can be identified as a 1964, 305cc, 28 horsepower, parallel twin, Honda Superhawk CB77.

By today’s standards, it’s hard to imagine anyone would ride from St. Paul, Minnesota, to San Francisco, California on a 305cc motorbike. But in the 60’s, that wasn’t considered a tiny bike for touring. (Although the book came out in 1974, the actual ride that the book is based on, took place in 1968.)

Although, having said that, my first coast-to-coast motorcycle ride was on a 550cc motorcycle and at that time (early 80’s), I never had any concerns about needing more power.

The book is a great read for anyone philosophically inclined, but holds an especially compelling interest for a motorcyclist.

This is a thoughtful book of understated wisdom.

This book is one of the few in my life that I have read more than once. I read it the first time when it came out, and recently revisited it again and enjoyed it even more.

Click the following link for more reviews of the book.

More Reviews of Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

Click Here For Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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