Five Books Every Motorcyclist Should Read

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Everyone’s got a favorite book on motorcycles. Also, thanks to audio books and Bluetooth communicators, there’s nothing stopping you from listening to a story as you ride. Have you ever ridden that stretch of I-40 from Tucson to Tucumcari? One of these books would have made the ride better. Here’s five books every motorcyclist should read.

hells-angels
Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs by Hunter S. Thompson
In the mid-60s, the father of gonzo journalism spent nearly two years riding and reveling with the notorious Hell’s Angels. Thompson paints a vivid portrait of the era, when foreign wars and counterculture movements were gripping the nation and dividing generations.

Better, Thompson’s first book (published in 1966) is not a made-for-television family drama. While Hollywood was using melodrama to popularize and demonize the biker lifestyle, Thompson was documenting the scene with an exuberance and verve that would ultimately become his trademark style and, some say, the voice of a generation of writers.

Best, it’s a kick in the head to read.

Sample Quote: “California, Labor Day weekend…early, with ocean fog still in the streets, outlaw motorcyclists wearing chains, shades and greasy Levis roll out from damp garages, all-night diners and cast-off one-night pads in Frisco, Hollywood, Berdoo and East Oakland, heading for the Monterey peninsula, north of Big Sur…The Menace is loose again, the Hell’s Angels, the hundred-carat headline, running fast and loud on the early morning freeway, low in the saddle, nobody smiles, jamming crazy through traffic and ninety miles an hour down the center stripe, missing by inches…like Genghis Khan on an iron horse, a monster steed with a fiery anus….”

 

proficient-motorcycling

Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well by David L. Hough
Yeah, I know: reading a book to learn how to ride is like watching a circus to learn how to juggle. Still, there’s a lot to be gleaned from those who have been there and done that. And few have been further and done more than legendary motojournalist David L. Hough.

Culled from his renowned column of the same name that ran for years in Motorcycle Consumer News, the lessons in this book make for a thorough primer for the beginning rider.

If you’ll indulge me an anecdote: When I first started in motorcycle journalism, as an assistant editor at a national magazine (with regional distribution; go figure), a copy of Proficient Motorcycling was one of the first items of swag I was gifted. As my colleagues were trying on brand new gear and planning sponsored trips to exotic locales, “Oh goodie,” I remember thinking. ”A book.” Here I was, stuck in the cubicle with a copy of Proficient Motorcycling and the only demo the boss would, at that point, let me ride: a 250cc cruiser. Yet, between that bike and others, I became a pretty good motorcyclist that summer.

Granted, there’s likely nothing in here an experienced rider shouldn’t already know. But, if you’ve got a newbie on your Christmas list, here’s a fine, fine gift idea.

Sample quote: “Personally, I’m not willing to gamble my life that the blind curve ahead isn’t blocked by a fallen tree, logging truck, or wandering horse.”

 

ghost-rider
Ghost Rider: Travels On The Healing Road by Neil Peart
If you’re a music fan and you’re reading RideApart, then you’re probably familiar with the heartbreaking story of Neil Peart, the drummer and lyricist for legendary Canadian prog-rock trio Rush.

In a 10-month period, Peart’s 19-year-old daughter, Selena was killed in a car accident and his wife Jackie died of cancer. In an attempt to sort out the tragedy, he set out on his GS from his home near Toronto for a head-clearing ride to Alaska. Problem was, by the time he arrived his head was (understandably) still muddled, bitter and angry. So he kept riding and writing, down the western half of the U.S., through Mexico to Belize and back again. Ghost Rider is the moving, heart-rending document of that trip.

The story has a happy ending; Peart is still the drummer for Rush, but is also now the author of several books and hosts a rather entertaining (strictly FFO) website, NeilPeart.net. Unlike most other classic rock bands who every other year seem to trot out yet another “farewell” tour, Rush is still playing and recording original music.

Sample Quote: “I used to think, ‘Life is great, but people suck.’ But now I’ve had to learn the opposite: ‘Life sucks, but people are great.’”

 

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  • Nathan Haley

    “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” – what I sort of wish people would think of when I tell them I ride.

    • Mike

      Ugg, I hate to disagree with you brother, but Zen was terrible for me. My review… http://adventuretouringmotorcycle.com/zen-and-the-art-of-motorcycle-maintenance/

      • Dan

        +1 Tried and failed to get through this book several times. Considering how excited I am about the underlying material, always walked away surprised at what a snooze fest the book was.

      • Julian

        Mike, i agree with the fact that it is not an easy book to read, a bit boring sometimes, but the simple fact that you do not talk once about the main subject makes your review….”cheap”.

        It is like giving an opinion about a bike just after driving two blocks with it.

        I’ve read it in french, and it seems that they made some modifications so it would be more “clear” sometimes, but i think it is not the bad book you’re describing.

        It is not about the fun of riding or enjoying landscapes and people met on the road, i think it is a really selfish book, like if he wanted to write it for himself, to remember his thinking, but it is an interesting book.

        Note, i do not agree with all Pirsig’s ideas and yeah it is not easy to read (reading 2 or 3 times the same paragraph is not unusual) but the effort could be worth it.

        • Mike

          Good point Julian, I never thought about it as if he had written it for himself. And I agree that the review might be ‘cheap’, but I just could not force myself to finish it.

    • gregory

      Pirsig can’t write. Avoid “Zen and the Art…”.

    • John

      It’s not directly about motorcycles or motorcycle maintenance. There are moments of deep contemplation that turn to motorcycle maintenance–but it’s really the story of a man’s descent and ascent from madness while pursuing a spark of philosophical insight. I’d expect people to think I’m crazy if I tell them riding is like ZAMM.

  • http://thecrumb.com/ thecrumb

    Both Leanings books by Peter Egan. Obsessions Die Hard by Ed Culberson.

  • sospeedy

    I know there are lots to choose from, but what about “Twist of the Wrist” by Keith Code or “Riding in the Zone” by Ken Condon? Good books too…

  • LS650

    The true story of a guy who rode around the world in 1932 on a Douglas motorcycle:
    http://www.amazon.com/One-Caravan-Incredible-Journeys-Books/dp/1884313051

  • http://statesofmotion.blogspot.com/ FastPatrick

    Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s “The Perfect Vehicle.” A very different perspective on things from someone who definitely does not fit the stereotypical testosterone-heavy mechanically-fluent bravado of a lot of motorcycle scribblers. She’s smart, thoughtful, heavily favors truth over ego, and is a great writer on top of it all.

  • http://www.bikeexif.com/ Chris Hunter

    The Leanings books, “Shop Class As Soulcraft,” and of course “The Ride”!

  • Jack Meoph

    I’ve read Thompson’s book and I’ve watched Kino’s Journey: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kino%27s_Journey
    Yeah!

  • Robert Horn

    Great Books for the racing & hardware history fanatic (Like me):

    From Tim Hanna: “John Britten”, “One Good Run”, and “Kim The Kiwi On The Konig”. That last one was never sold in the US – has to be bought from New Zealand or Australia – it is worth the trouble. All 3 are keepers.

    PS – If you are a Britten fan (Who isn’t?), Felicity Price’s book is worth buying after you read Tim’s book. That book is usually stupid expensive, but they pop up now and then at realistic prices. The book was sold with 2 slightly different covers and titles – the books themselves are absolutely identical (I had both copies for a while).

    From Kevin Cameron: “Top Dead Center” 1 & 2, “Classic Motorcycle Race Engines”. That last one is sort of like TDC about engines – the writing makes up for the lack of illustrations – I don’t think much if any of it is reprinted magazine content. I sold my copies – a mistake – will buy them again.

    PS – If you mistakenly think KC is just a dry technical writer, and you’ve been at this a while, read his article “Diseases Of Enthusiasm” in TDC1. And then the rest of the first chapter on racing life. Really Good Stuff.

    Coffee table books, i.e., killer browsing books where you won’t learn much: “The Art Of The Motorcycle” and “The Art Of The Racing Motorcycle”. That last one is shot with higher contrast pictures than I’d like (Definitely not low key artsy crap that I HATE, but just a little dark in the shadows), but the perspectives are great. Lots of shots taken from an angle that you’d see if you were about to hop on the bike – makes me want to do just that. Even pictures of bikes you’ve seen waaay too many times like Manx Nortons are still fresh looking. That said, the last chapter or two on more modern bikes look like stock photos released from Offical Sources (c) and look like crap – I like modern bikes, but they are very poorly presented.

  • http://www.motopraxis.com/ Aakash

    My Triumph Haynes manual take the cake for my moto-related reading.

    Everytime I tell someone I ride a motorcycle, they ask: “So, have you heard of Zen…blah blah blah”.

  • Slacker

    Took a course over the summer and didn’t really know who the speakers were when I went into it… learned from David Hough and thought he was one of the better speakers and got Proficient Motorcycling for free (as well as signed) and didn’t even know the gift I was given until I looked him up when I got back home!

  • Omega Racer

    I would also recommend Sam Manicom’s books of his extensive world trip! Great bloke, great books.

    official website:http://www.sam-manicom.com/

    and an interview he gave me:

    http://omega-racer.blogspot.com/2012/09/exclusive-interview-with-sam-manicom.html

  • Curtis CE

    Great suggestions, I’ll add a few of them to my collection. I’ll suggest “Let’s Ride: Sonny Barger’s Guide to Motorcycling.” Contrary to what you might think when you consider the author (of HA infamy), this book is filled with great tips on how to ride safely, what kind of gear you should wear, how to buy a bike (new and used) and how to maintain your bike. It’s not an outlaw manifesto, or a Harley love letter, it’s packed with great information and tips on how to ride the right way, well into old age.

  • VR

    I hope there is an english translation of Herbert Tichy’s “Zum heiligsten Berg der Welt” beucause is one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure to read. Not only motorcycle related books, but books in general.
    I read the spanish edition.

    In this book Tichy writes about his second motorcycle trip to Asia in the mid 1930′s. He crossed nowadays Burma, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, etc on his “Stinky Devil”, but the best part of the book is when he lefts the bike behind to enter Nepal, back then forbidden land to foreigners, something that was punished with death penalty. He managed to infiltrate to one of the holliest placest and practically unknown for westerners; the Kailash Mountain.

    An amazing book.

    Next in line is “One Man Caravan” by Robert Edison Fulton Jr.
    Eager to start reading.

  • di0genes

    If you want to understand motorcycles read these five books.

    1) Modern Motorcycle Mechanics – Bernie Nicholson

    2) Motorcycle Engineering -Phil Irving

    3) Two Stroke Tuning -Gordon Jennings

    4) Tuning For Speed – Phil Irving

    5) Early Motorcycles Victor Page

  • Steve

    Lois Pryce “Lois on the Loose” A fairly new to biking woman does the Alaska – terra del fuego on a 225 yamaha.
    Dan Walsh “these are the days that must happen to You” A bike trip around the world written in a irreverent style only a Manc could do.

  • Tim Watson

    Here’s what the Hells Angels thought of Hunter Thompson and his book. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJK1XPFiqck

    • Mr. White

      As I replied to Mr. Smart’s similar post, have you read the book yourself? Thompson hung with the Angels for nearly two years, researched it all out of his own pocket. Out of nowhere when it appeared that a book deal was happening, the Angels suddenly wanted a piece of the pie. Thompson’s account of the Angels is mostly sympathetic.

      • Tim Watson

        I have actually read it several times and really enjoyed it. thought it captured a moment in motorcycle history very well. I posted this as it gives a different perspective on what the subject matter thought of Thompson’s book. Doesn’t detract from his book just gives the Hells Angels point of view. Just thought it was interesting.

        • John

          Fascinating.

    • http://www.motopraxis.com/ Aakash

      No, that’s what Skip Workman thought of the book.

  • Brammofan

    I think “Riding Man” by Mark Gardiner is one of the all-around best motorcycle books out there. If you are at all interested in motorcycle racing history, especially Isle of Man’s TT races, then this is the one for you. http://bikewriter.com

  • Eric

    I enjoyed Jim Roger’s “Investment Biker”, more of a book on international investing with a side of travel. But the dude and his girlfriend did cover more ground than any one else on two wheels and certainly was an educating read.

    Ya know what really got me into motorcycles as a kid? The Mouse and the Motorcycle.

    Jupiter’s Travels is still my favorite… as are all the ride reports on ADVrider.com

  • Scheffy

    One of my favorites has always been Kevin Cameron’s “Sportbike Performance Handbook.” Just the section on engines is worth the price of admission. You’ll come away with a better idea of the engineering behind your engine and most other bike systems than you thought possible because his technical writing is so accessible.
    Really though, anything by Cameron should be highly recommended.

  • james

    My top tips, Keith Code Twist of the wrist 2, literally the best book,I spent a year studying it and practising on a bicycle while i saved cash to buy my first bike at uni. I was pretty much rossi within two weeks and i credit it to be a major factor in me being decent at riding, 60,000 kays mostly spent knee down and no incidents yet, thanks keith!

    And a book absolutely none of you in the states will hear of, but you most certainly should try to get a hold of if your the more, hardcore kind of rider, less of the ‘my bright yellow roadcrafter suit means cars will never hit me” kind of rider. is Boris Mihailovic ‘my mother warned me about blokes like me’ guy is a bike journo down here in aus, sort of a clarkson style guy who gives absolutely no fucks at all. Google for his coloums and you will get a general idea, great writing, very hilarious. Honestly, look him up yanks.

    edit; fkn full of top tips tonight

  • Mr. White

    Have you actually read the book? The reason why the Angels turned on him is because they suddenly wanted money from him. They beat the crap out of him when they refused. If anything, Thompson’s account of the Angels is actually sympathetic and open-minded.

    • Theodore P Smart

      I own a copy in fact. I also own a copy of Barger’s autobiography, Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle. Club and the details of the story don’t jibe with Hunter’s account. Read some of Daniel Defoe’s A General History of the Pyrates and you’ll find Hunter S plagerised whole sections for his tome on the Hell’s Angels http://pdr.autono.net/SonnyBarger.html

    • Guest

      Read the book. Hunter S. Thompson is a great “fiction” writer. ‘Nuff said.

  • Mr. White

    There’s been a few negative comments about Thompson being full of it posted here, along with a YouTube video of a Hell’s Angels thug dissing him. I would encourage anyone who rides to read the book. Not only is it a fascinating account of a sub-culture on the fringes of society, but a lot of the book is simply about the act of riding in and of itself. This excerpt says it all:

    ““…so the lever goes up into fourth, and now there’s no sound except wind. Screw it all the way over, reach through the handlebars to raise the headlight beam, the needle leans down on a hundred, and wind-burned eyeballs strain to see down the centerline, trying to provide a margin for the reflexes.
    But with the throttle screwed on there is only the barest margin, and no room at all for mistakes. It has to be done right … and that’s when the strange music starts, when you stretch your luck so far that fear becomes exhilaration and vibrates along your arms. You can barely see at a hundred; the tears blow back so fast that they vaporize before they get to your ears. The only sounds are wind and a dull roar floating back from the mufflers. You watch the white line and try to lean with it … howling through a turn to the right, then to the left and down the long hill to Pacifica … letting off now, watching for cops, but only until the next dark stretch and another few seconds on the edge … The Edge … There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others — the living — are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later.

    But the edge is still Out there. Or maybe it’s In. The association of motorcycles with LSD is no accident of publicity. They are both a means to an end, to the place of definitions.”

    • Jack Meoph

      Yeah, I agree. So the Hell’s Angels refuted what Thompson wrote about their thuggery, violence and debauchery……what a surprise. He may have embellished, but the book stands as a watershed moment in gonzo reporting. I couldn’t put it down, and I was in high school when I read it.

      http://miltondodd.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/hunter-s-thompson-hells-angels.pdf

    • Scott Pargett

      The truth always almost lies in the middle.

  • Joe Bielski

    I have two of those books in my backpack right now!!! Now that the season is over for me (here in Toronto), I have lots of time to read while on public transit…. yay public transit???

  • Aaron

    twist of the wrist. book one and two

  • el_jefe

    http://www.amazon.com/Two-Wheels-Through-Terror-Motorcycle/dp/B006CDFFZ4

    Great read and amazing story. Basically everything that could have gone wrong for Simon did for Heggstad.

  • Guest
  • KriegaUSA
  • Dave

    Sonny Barger’s autobiography is also on my must-read list. It’s a view from inside by one of the founding members of the Hell’s Angels.
    http://www.amazon.com/Hells-Angel-Barger-Angels-Motorcycle/dp/0060937548

  • V Twin

    Having ridden much of the world, over two decades. My advice is; don’t read other riders adventures, embark on you own!
    Forget all the hype of needing GS’s, Iv’e done it using old Enfields, Bajas…over India, Nepal, Thailand, USA… You will experience more going solo, certainly no more than two!
    Drop the books and pick up your helmet!!!

  • gregory

    I’d also recommend, “Don’t Ask Any Old Bloke” by P. G. Tenzing.

    The author was some high-up government official and basically quit his job and rode around the country. He’d pull up at some governor’s mansion on his filthy old motorbike… and it’ll turn out that the governor is his dormroom buddy from college, or something. Great read.

  • gregory

    Read Hunter S. Thompson’s article, “Song Of The Sausage Creature,” from (I think) Cycle World in (I think) 1997 or 1999. He reviews a fast Ducati. It’s an awesome read.

    It’s available at a few places online, amongst them:
    http://www.latexnet.org/~csmith/sausage.html

  • BillW

    While seconding most of the books listed here and in the comments, I’d add Hough’s two follow-on books, “More Proficient Motorcycling” and “Street Strategies”. For ride ideas, I like the “Motorcycle Journeys Through…” series from Whitehorse Press.

  • Motoreetto

    Oh you forgot the One Man Caravan written by Robert E. J. Fulton! That’s really a milestone!

  • twm1010

    How are Twist of the Wrist 1 and 2, and Sport Riding Techniques not on this list?

  • Jason Fogelson

    “Rebuilding the Indian” by Fred Haefele

  • Wendy Moore

    I would consign “Shopcraft…” and “Ghost RIder” to the dustbin of history. Read “Restoring the Indian” and “One Man Caravan” instead.