I think that during times of change and transition I gravitate towards touchstones of constancy—routines and familiar icons to which I can anchor pieces of my life—and while these touchstones may often be small they are not insignificant. For instance, we’ve recently moved to New York City, and every night my four-year old son likes to read stories on the same couch cushion with a sliced up red apple on the same plastic plate. His little sister goes to sleep with two homemade stuffed animals crafted for her by her great-aunt. Lindsay gets her soy-no-water-chai-latte from the same shop each morning where I suspect they are already getting it ready when she steps off the subway.
For myself, I find that I am noticing all the motorcycles in the neighbourhood. Perhaps it’s because I have orphaned the Radian this fall and am suffering from some separation anxiety. Or, maybe I just miss riding. In any event, there is a nice little blue Honda 550 half a block down our street. One street over and a block and a half up there’s a slightly pretentious Triumph Thruxton parked outside of a slightly more pretentious refurbished brownstone. Every afternoon at 2:30 a Ninja howls down the street. Not surprisingly, Harley-Davidson’s are sprinkled here and there while, surprisingly, in Manhattan’s Upper Westside, I have seen a strong representation from both BMW’s GS family and Suzuki’s V-Strom. Maybe in the heart of the city people really need adventure bikes. I’m not sure where they’re riding them (the V-Strom was particularly muddy), but I’d love to find out.
And those touchstones of familiarity become important because in a new place even the things that are the same are just different enough to be a little disorienting. For example, November 11 is Remembrance Day in Canada, but here they call it Veteran’s Day and it’s part of the larger “Salute to Service” week. Consequently, motorcycles and the military have understandably been on my mind. Motorcycles certainly figured prominently in World War II for both the Axis and the Allies. Naturally, Harley-Davidson had a warm relationship with the US Army: the WLA was most widespread and was fitted with a Thompson machine gun holster on the fork leg.
Indian motorcycles had a somewhat subtler presence with their 741 or ‘Scout 500’. It probably goes without saying that BSA, Royal Enfield and Triumph loyally served Britain. Germany, of course, had BMW in addition to Zündapp’s KS-750 (which appears with its machine-gun equipped sidecar in so many WWII movies). Incidentally, we owe our beloved “jerry can” to German innovation—something I have been grateful for on more than one occasion.
However, I think that the motorcycle’s contributions to the world are not effectively measured in terms of the war effort—although military spending arguably contributed to mechanical and technological improvements for motorcycles in general. Still, an homage to our military servicemen and women is always appropriate. Indeed, the Triumph Bonneville featured at MotoVida was created in honour of the client’s grandfather who served in the RAF. And I think that if, like this Bonneville, all grenade pouches were re-appropriated for cell phones, then we’d undoubtedly be on our way to a better world.
Moreover, a great many motorcycle clubs have been, and continue to be, comprised of veterans gravitating towards touchstones of familiarity as they re-entered a civilian world that was even further removed from their military service than my transition from rural British Columbia is from Brooklyn’s Crown Heights. Indeed, by comparison my life is a mercifully void of the risks and rigors of military service; but the challenges I face so often seem overwhelming enough for me and I count myself lucky that I don’t stand alone.
Motorcycles then, while a noble and worthy pursuit in and of themselves, suddenly become a catalyst for something far greater: Friendship. And, friendship, according to Aristotle, is one of the Virtues. I tend to agree with him. After all, having a space where camaraderie, companionship and community are valued and honoured is perhaps one of life’s greatest treasures…and we do well to preserve them.