In Moto Veritas

28 March, 2006 Weather: Cloudy and cool, 36°F (2°C)

Hello, and welcome to my new blog, Rush Hour Rambling. Thanks again, Paul Streeter, for coming up with that name. You must tell us what you bought with your Aerostich gift certificate.

For those of you who came here looking for The Baron in Winter, please notice the link on the right sidebar. That blog was retired, along with the Red Baron scooter, after a successful Minnesota Winter Scooter Commuter project. The Red Baron and I both survived, with lots of great memories and some bruised bodywork. You should be able to access the entire contents, along with reader’s comments, in the archive.

Spring is here, and that means life is getting busier. So are the roads. Traffic seems to pick up a bit during the Spring, because more people go out cruising when they are not commuting back and forth to work. We have a bit more traffic to watch out for, but there is also so much more to DO!

But for this first entry, I want to discuss my riding philosophy as it exists today. The best way to do that is to share with you the essay that I sent to Cycle World magazine when I applied for an associate editor position this past autumn.

Senior Editor David Edwards put out the call for budding moto-journalists to send in a one-thousand word essay on any motorcycle topic, from Ariel to Zundapp, along with a resume of their other journalistic experience.

In my essay, which totalled EXACTLY one-thousand words, I laid out what I have learned over the course of thirty-some years riding motorbikes. They never called, and that was six months ago. Of course, they never announced a newly hired editor either, unless I missed a memo…

Nevertheless, here is my essay:

In Moto Veritas

It all started when the wild boys came back from World War II. While the rest of postwar society got caught up in movies and music and other tame distractions, the boys found danger and adventure on two wheels.

Out on the open road, riding in packs with their buddies, they rediscovered the camaraderie they felt in the hedgerows of Europe, and on the beaches of the Pacific. Sporting colors like those of fighter squadrons, they competed against each other in contests of skill and courage, all over the wide open spaces of America. From hill climbs to hare scrambles, drag races to bar fights, they wandered the roads in search of… what? Some call it truth, but I have always liked the Latin term: “Veritas”.

For many, the motorcycle is the best vehicle for this kind of journey. It is the closest mechanical analogue to the cowboy’s faithful horse. You sit in a saddle, with your feet on pegs not unlike stirrups, and you ride high and proud out there in the elements. The machinery is minimal, simple, and elegant. You are not dragging two tons of tin around with you, while watching the world go by through a window. But this has all been said before in various books on the subject, and if you ride, you probably already know.

Motorcycling today is not as simple as it once was. Now it seems you must have a different bike for each particular type of ride. The motorcycle is no longer simply a mode of transport, but a Lifestyle. Each group has its own religion. They believe that only their unique combination of ritual and tribute will deliver their souls into Moto Heaven. Veritas indeed. It seems we spend so much time looking down our noses at each other that we fail to see all the cool rides we are missing.

The American V-Twin sect seems to dominate motorcycle religion right now, and I’ve counted myself amongst their ranks in the distant past. But things started changing in the 1980’s. Before the Holy Evolution, you had to be a competent mechanic and a full-time badass in order to claim membership. V-Twin Veritas involved a rigorous code of honor, which often conflicted with socially acceptable behavior.

Today, however, you simply have to pay your tithe and look the part at the various revivals and festivals they hold around the country. The rituals pay homage to the traditions, but more in the manner of an adult theme-park. Doctors and deviants, judges and pimps all meet in places which, for a week or two, are entirely devoted to indulging their perversions and taking their money. Well, why not? It’s the American way, isn’t it?

For a while there, in the 1990s, Ducati came on strong as a sort of neo-papist crusade in sportbike culture. I also belonged to that devotion. We worshipped at the feet of Saint Carl of Blackburn, during his glorious reign as World Superbike Champion. For me, riding a 900SS full-throttle into turn one at Brainerd was definitely a religious experience. In the Exotic Sportbike Brotherhood, we worshipped on the road, but we learned the truth in various courtrooms: “You cannot practice your religion in public, lest you menace the infidels.”

I was all set to convert to the Shrine of the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle, when I took a detour and followed Robert Pirsig a little too far down his peculiar rabbit hole….

Pirsig wrote “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, back in the 1970s. Many of us picked up that book, hoping to read a definitive tome which would teach us to adjust torsion bar valve springs and balance the six carburetors of the formidable Honda CBX, all while meditating in the lotus position. How disappointed we were when motorcycles figured only superficially in his mind-bending odyssey.

But I was intrigued, so I tagged along through his next book, “Lila”, in which he introduced the “metaphysics of quality”. That led to Sarte, Camus, and Nietzsche; years of unguided wandering in the mental minefields of philosophy. Soon, the brand and style of my motorcycle weren’t nearly so important as the places it could take me.

That was when I discovered the Dogma of Dual-sport, on the humble, ubiquitous KLR 650. I started writing “Backroads Diary” then, and my attempt to describe thumper theology went like this:

“He is not fast, after all, and he is not pretty. These things were important to me, once upon a time. I always wanted my bike to stand out in a crowd, and leave the punters behind out on the roads that mattered. When you watch motorcycle commercials on television, these are the essential themes. But for some reason, I seem to have gotten over that.

Today I want my bike to be capable of transporting me over varied terrain, for long distances, with as little drama as possible. The KLR is a good basic platform for this. You want simplicity? One cylinder, one carburetor, one spark plug. How’s that for a zen motorbike, Grasshopper? When I am able to ride it on one wheel, I will have achieved nirvana. Ohhhmmmmm….”

A curious devolution continues to this day. My current project is to ride a 150cc Chinese motorscooter through the teeth of a Minnesota winter. With the “Minnesota Winter Scooter Commuter Project”, I ride the fifty miles to and from work, every day that the roads are plowed, in temperatures as low as the machine will stand. I am using technology to cope with temperature, and riding skills learned off-road to overcome the challenges of winter conditions.

Hey, when the middle-aged mother across the street rides a Harley, how else do you stand out as the neighborhood rebel? 

So finally we come to the moral of this story. It’s a truth I have distilled into a simple slogan, worthy of a banal TV commercial perhaps, but veritas nonetheless.  

Here it is: Life is short. Ride everything. 








16 Responses to “In Moto Veritas”

  1. Steve Williams Says:

    Congratulations on the new blog. I’m sure many are waiting to follow your adventures. And if they ain’t, I am!

    “Life is Short. Ride Everything” I will definitely take every opportunity to ride everything I have a chance to ride but I keep thinking of a comment my MSF instructor made. He talked about how many riders crash their new bikes because they are riding them like their old ones. Two-wheeled vehicles have their own personalities I guess and require dance moves unique to each unlike the minimal effort needed to move from car to car or car to truck.

    So I will ride everything I can get my hands on, just don’t make fun of me for going slow…..


  2. Rob Tsou Says:

    Hey Gary, Nice read! Now what are you getting to replace that scooter?


  3. Rob Tsou Says:’d think I didn’t read the old blog or something..Hello Black Baron!


  4. Dick Aal Says:

    Great Job this winter. Looking forward to reading your summer missives and learning more. Keep up the good work.
    Regards, and have fun.
    Ride everything!!

  5. Keith Says:

    Have you applied at Rider? Cycle World seems to cater to the sportbike crowd, whereas Rider has more general appeal, in my opinion.

  6. irondad Says:

    This is weird. We are usually so much in synch. Last night I posted a piece about the value of riding one bike and riding it well. Of course, this is mostly aimed at the commuter side. How did we do posts in the same 24 hour period that were at 180 degrees from each other?

  7. Mad Says:

    Hey Gary!
    I wander in to see what comments have been added and what do I find? A brand new shiny blog! Mmmmm smell that fresh HTML! “Life is short, ride everything” indeed. I love to get my hands on new machines to try and in my short riding experience I’ve tried lots of bikes already, from Scooters to UJMs (I learnt that term from you). But there are so many new rides and types of riding to try! I want to do it all, NOW.
    I look forward to following your blog through till winter

    Ride it like you… umm didn’t have to pay for it (stealing sounds so anti-social)?

  8. bro shagg Says:

    Dude- What a read- I gotta ride with you sometime. Maybe you could try to set up something where many of your followers can get out to the Minne-haha area and spend some quility time on two wheels…


  9. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Thanks guys. This is really going to be fun…

    Steve, how could we make fun of you, when you are obviously a wise and eminently sane rider? And you make such beautiful photos! You go right ahead and putt, bro. I’ll be waiting at the next stopsign.

    Rob, I’m getting into all sorts of interesting stuff with Baron Motorcycles. I’ve taken on the role of Test Pilot / R&D Consultant, so I will be riding a variety of different machines. That’s all I know for now. This should be interesting…

    Thanks Dick.

    Keith, You may be onto something here. I wonder…

    Irondad, You are either with us, or you are with the single-bike terrorists! Of course, that sounds silly, doesn’t it? If you re-read the essay, you will see that I only ever had one bike running at any one time. With each bike, I take the time to become, er, intimate with it’s personality, handling quirks, and performance limits. This Test Pilot gig is really going to test my mental and physical adaptability. But this is what moto-journalists DO.

    Hey Mad, I AM paying for it! Being a development rider takes a lot of time and effort. But you know it’s going to be fun as well.

    Bro Shagg, If you build it, I will come.

    Ride well,

  10. jim Says:

    Glad you are back in black:)

  11. Eric Says:

    Hey Gary, great new page! I get to look forward to another great season of reading on my favorite subject – motorcycling! And what a great opening post for your new blog, it really sets the tone for what looks to be another great read.

    I can’t resist poaching your closing here….

    Ride everything – well.


  12. seagull Says:

    Glad to see it’s up and running!
    Looking forward to a great summer
    of rid’in and read’in.

    Rubber Down

  13. Dick Aal Says:

    Even the most basic of unfamiliarity can do you in. My fuel injected bike was in the shop for the 30K service and I took the carberator equipped bike out for a run. Being so used to the FI, I forgot to turn on the petcock even after looking at it 3 times wondering why the bike wouldn’t start. Kind of hard to run when there is no gas getting to the engine. Lucky for me that was the only thing I forgot and made the trip safe.

  14. Dave Eakin Says:

    I’ll second Keith’s suggestion to try Rider magazine – it (and Motorcycle Consumer News) are the only cycle subscriptions I have. I especially like the write-ups on all the trips contributing editors make.

  15. Mad Says:

    I didn’t mean it like that Gary, I was just typing the old biker adage “Ride it like you stole it” and decided it didn’t sound right so I adapted it.

  16. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Oh, I know that, Mad. Sorry. I have to be careful with those capital letters. I knew what you meant, I just phrased my answer wrong.

    Thanks for the comments, everybody. If I’m falling behind in answering these, it’s because new material is coming fast and furious. Springtime in Minnesota can be very hectic.

    Ride well,