The Perfect Vehicle: What It Is About Motorcycles

Melissa Holbrook Pierson, 1998, W. W. Norton and Company Inc., New York

Review  |  Normally I subscribe to the old saw that you should not judge a book by its cover but in the case of The Perfect Motorcycle I was hooked by the fantastic artwork of the legendary Moto Guzzi V8 grand prix bike on the cover.  As you might guess Pierson is a Guzzi freak and she leads the reader on a journey of self-discovery through motorcycling and the mystic allure of the Moto Guzzi in particular. 

The book is largely biographical and traces her journey from a New York rocker chick dependent on boyfriends to a confident woman-power motorcyclist. With a masters from Columbia, Pierson has writing chops. The Perfect Motorcycle, which is her first book, shows power and clarity and a depth of thought that is very entertaining.

Her story takes her from buying her first bike to road tripping with her semi zen master, semi asshole boyfriend to touring solo. She becomes more confident and pushes herself to grow and move out of her comfort zone. Pierson finds a tribe in the worldwide Moto Guzzi community and finally, in the community of women riders.  In a reverse twist, in her marriage she is the rider and her husband is not. There are lessons here that many women riders will find reflective of their own experiences. There are lessons pertaining to women riders that male members of the moto world would benefit from.

There is something of ourselves that we recognize in these machines that causes people to fall in love with them.

There is the usual All the Gear All The Time safety lecture that so many moto writers feel the need to resort to. But that said there are some very thought provoking passages on why the need to experience danger is a basic human condition and not the crazy pointless wildly unsafe thing that so many non-riders seem to think it is. People in the military describe an enhanced brighter more meaningful version of life that is the result of surviving and living in danger. This translates well to riding motorcycles. Every rider has experienced the momentary, and for some not so momentary, experience of being scared shitless while riding. Pierson does a good job of explaining why we gladly come back for more.

She does a good job of exploring the world of Italian motorcycles and why despite their glaring flaws they are so charismatic and alluring. It is not just the style, performance and history. There is something in their DNA that is very human. There is something of ourselves that we recognize in these machines that causes people to fall in love with them.

Pierson definitely feels the subject of motorcycles deeply and as a result there are truths here. The Perfect Motorcycle is an easy score online and will get you through some of those winter days as you hold out for riding weather. Read on. –M.B.