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.
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: 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: 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.'"