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Common Tread

Lemmy, Spurgeon, and Joe discuss why some motorcycles have no soul

Mar 30, 2019

Your motorcycle may, or may not, have soul. 

Depending on how you see the whole soul thing, you might feel that all bikes (or no bikes!) have some quality that sets them apart in a way that speaks to you. Some people say the right bike makes you look back at it every time you walk away. I always do that anyway, just to make sure I didn’t leave the lights on.

I’ll let Lemmy, Joe, and Spurgeon hash out moto soul in the newest episode of Highside / Lowside, available in both video and podcast form, as always, but here’s my take, for what it’s worth.

If there’s any hope of a vehicle having soul, I think it must communicate with you through some kind of feedback. If you don’t develop an understanding of the machine, that soul connection will be hard to find. Of course, all bikes provide feedback. Whack the throttle open or mash the brake, and you’ll get plenty of reaction… hopefully. Especially as a bike ages, it just does things that make it different from the others. Robert Pirsig had something to say about this in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:”

"...over the miles, and I think most cyclists will agree with this, you pick up certain feelings about an individual machine that are unique for that one individual machine and no other. A friend who owns a cycle of the same make, model and even same year brought it over for repair, and when I test rode it afterward it was hard to believe it had come from the same factory years ago. You could see that long ago it had settled into its own kind of feel and ride and sound, completely different from mine. No worse, but different.

"I suppose you could call that a personality. Each machine has its own, unique personality which probably could be defined as the intuitive sum total of everything you know and feel about it. This personality constantly changes, usually for the worse, but sometimes surprisingly for the better, and it is this personality that is the real object of motorcycle maintenance. The new ones start out as good- looking strangers and, depending on how they are treated, degenerate rapidly into bad-acting grouches or even cripples, or else turn into healthy, good-natured, long-lasting friends."

Whether that personality is soul or not is your call. Personality or not, the drift from factory-fresh to something unique is right in the middle of Spurgie, Lem, and Joe’s discussion. It’s been my experience that machines, even the ones left stock, really do change over time. Like Pirsig suggests, try riding two broken-in bikes of the same model back-to-back, and you’ll notice the differences immediately. 

Is that soul? Who knows. Try as many motorcycles as you can, and maybe you’ll find the answer.

As usual, HS / LS is available as a podcast from SpotifyApple iTunesStitcherLibSyn, and Google Play Music for those with accounts. The HS / LS podcast is an extended, uncut version of the discussion for an even deeper dive into motorcycles with soul.