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Love of Motorcycles, Love of Speed.

Discussion in 'General Motorcycling Discussion' started by mattb, Feb 15, 2007.

  1. I've instigated a group ride down the GOR with the small circle of riders with whom I commonly ride, though I ride with them variously such that some of these people have not met one another. We are communicating by group emails, and a discussion arose this afternoon where one person admonished others in respect of their gender-based talk of speed and riding competence. In fact I think this was a misunderstanding, for the fellow under fire shows in his actions that he takes female riders every bit as seriously, and that he just likes to tease.

    I wrote a reply, which was more a reflection on the way in whcih speed can be legitimate (even if more than anybody am insisting that we all take it slow and safely on this trip). I thought I'd share a part of the letter (I start here, part way in), for those who think about the matter also, whether in agreement or disagreement.


    I want to share some thoughts about speed which were I had after reading your email [...]

    I like to indulge in playful talk about riding, and in a tone that is playing on my image of the hard muscle-car/bike aussie guy of the 1970’s. (For all his crudely obvious faults, I do love him.) That is talk of tearing off at the lights and general banter in the spirit of the 1974 Australian biker film ‘Stone’ (“Yeh man: ‘cause when you ride a bike – I mean a BIG bike! – you’ve got all that power!"). This is talk about speed and loud pipes and big engines, but in fact it is simply play, including when it engages in gender-based stereotypes (though people tend to ignore the way in which jokes generally have some serious side – especially jokes that stereotype), and it doesn’t communicate with any depth what a person really feels about these things. And there are legitimate feelings of love – or perhaps rather joy - about them, which cannot be critically reduced to talk of testosterone – a reduction here of what a person feels to no more than an excess of chemicals in the system, or a dismissal, perhaps by implication, of immaturity, accompanied by the thought that nothing truly serious is being related to or can be loved here. I’ll focus on speed in defending a legitimate kind of love about these things.

    I want however to relate the issue back to gender. I’ve grown up in a family where it was the women who were the petrol heads. My Dad, who drives trucks and heavy machinery for a living, happily owns a Datsun, and always has. My Mum (separated) is currently hotting up an EH Holden, including what’s under the hood. Her closest friend and cousin, who died young of illness, was a female mechanic in a small town in the 1970’s. She liked fast cars, and it is surprising that she died lying down! However it seems to me obvious that a far greater majority of men than women love speed and power in their vehicles. People are always going to argue about whether this is through nature or nurture, and whether through a superficial or rich aspect of these, and I am open to the various theses (what would count as finally deciding these matters?!). Regardless, in many cases this love is an immature one, an expression of a love of prestige mediated by the forms of the particular youth male culture – a ‘show off’ culture which in many important ways lacks depth and reflection. They are like little boys high on candy, running around in circles, only the cause of their highs, and the activities and objects they like, have changed to more sexual and aggressive forms. Their relationship to their motorbike is also an expression of this. In showing off, the little boy breaks his arm, and the big boy gets killed. I don't think the love of speed here is a true love, so much as a love of oneself (of showing off), and an activity which releases excess energy.

    But the love of speed and the associated aspects of a motorbike are not reducible to this, though many people do thus reduce it. Perhaps these people are not to blame, as they cannot see what is behind the banter of those - young or old - who genuinely love speed, and many who love speed play on the banter which the young man of the previous paragraph takes so seriously, and thus obscure something that goes deeper in them (and it is possible and probable that there could be deeper dimensions to what is manifestly superficial in the above mentioned fellows).

    I am not implying that I speak with the authority of one who genuinely loves speed in the form about which I am writing. I love it at a distance, with a taste of it here and there. I think Damien loves it properly, and as a result he will ride through the twisting route at twice the speed of me, and wait for me at the other end. He has the skills to do this, because he loves the speed enough that he pursues it and through engaging in it has over time has become properly capable of it. (I think he has done this sensibly.) I will not take Damien as my example however, but people like T.E.Lawrence (of Arabia) and Burt Munro (World’s Fastest Indian).

    I said the love of speed wasn’t *necessarily* reducible to chemicals, to “testoeteroneâ€. That doesn’t mean that the love of it is not very physical, very much a passion in the blood. Lawrence writes (in the 1920's) that “The extravagance in which my surplus emotion expressed itself lay on the road.†But it is not simply hot blood that moves Lawrence. “The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind my battering head split and fended aside. The cry rose with my speed to a shriek while the air's coldness streamed like two jets of iced water into my dissolving eyes... The bad ground was passed and on the new road our flight became birdlike.†There is in Lawrence’s words a powerful aesthetic sense of riding at speed. He is alone, and does not care who knows of his (actually quite amazing) feats (indeed Lawrence, if you know his story, is at this time a remarkable example of anonymity). On those bikes (ie that suspension! those brakes!), with those roads, he typically flew along at 160km/hr. He loved the speed for itself.

    Riding was lawrence’s passion, but it was at the same time a passion for speed. Importantly, that was an aesthetic passion. Lawrence found a sublime beauty in speed- sublime in the sense also of awe-ful. It was also an aesthetic of such things as exhilaration and freedom. Of course Lawrence died because of his speed, and Bernard Shaw, who bought the bike for him, commented that “It was like handing a pistol to a would-be suicide.†Still, had he known he would die riding, I don’t think Lawrence would have given it up. One might reply that he was deluded if he valued riding and speed over life, but this speed had to do, for Lawrence, with living itself. Speed was a dominant aesthetic way in which he engaged with the beauty of the world. Speed was a beautiful aspect of reality and Lawrence made contact with reality through that aspect.

    This does not imply that we ought to encourage others to speed, even if that can be for them a way of engaging with the world’s beauty. There are other ways, and it is a good thing to go on living, to live long. But neither should we necessarily dissuade those who love speed in a way that goes deep, such as it did for Lawrence. (Though we migh of course 'caution' them.) When we think we necessarily should, it is because we assume that the love of speed is not only dangerous, but necessarily a shallow love. Lawrence was aware of the dangers, and he was no idiot. But I don’t think he would have been who he was – and he is somebody whose person I admire – if he wasn’t prepared to take the risk and engage with the world in the way that he did. He shows what it can be to love speed - that it is possible to love it in this genuine and deeper way.

    For me riding is sometimes about speed. More often than not it is rather about a spirited pace whereby the wind fans me, and yet the rest of my senses have time to be engaged, including my vision, as happens in a certain way at a cruising pace. This is not un-informed by the fact that I prefer the feeling of safety over speed…to a large degree! I think both speeding and cruising can be beautiful and legitimate. I engage in the dangerous sport of riding motorcycles, because I think the risks are worth it. What makes them worth it will be dependent upon the aspect of the activity which engages a person in that which is internal to it and yet beyond it: such as the beauty and the further aesthetic of freedom and exhilaration which I find in riding, and which connects riding with something important (beauty, the world) beyond it. These things engage me in this way and, for a person for whom they fail to do so, choosing to ride will not make sense, given the dangers. For person for whom speed does not engage them with these things, the same will apply with respect to it.

    What I have said about speed extends to power (and so cc's), sound, and other aspects of bikes. I have been trying to say that the love of it can have a depth which makes it a legitimate object of respect, and saying that it is so because it is a genuine aesthetic form which is capable of deserving the true depth which I claim the deeper love of it possesses.
  2. very interesting read :grin: well worth the read
  3. :shock: :cool: :grin: @ heading. I had no idea mattb! :grin: