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The Perfect Vehicle: What it is About Motorcycles [Paperback]

Melissa Holbrook Pierson
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

18 Jun 1998
Motorcycles can only be termed "charismatic objects": the feelings they call up in us are nothing short of primal. Those who are crazy about these sleek machines form a fascinating subset of society, segregated by the arcana and rituals of their motorcycling life - even as they manifest an essential humanness by their devotion to an activity that concentrates some instinctual drive toward tribalism. It is this paradox that led Melissa Holbrook Pierson, over the course of ten years of riding her motorcycle in the United States and Europe, to want to capture - amazingly, for the first time in the motorcycle's hundred-year history - the specific what and why of motorcycling. Pierson sifts through myth and hyperbole: misrepresentations about danger, about the type of people who ride and why they do so. The Perfect Vehicle is not, however, a mere recitation of facts, nor is it a polemic or apologia. Vivid historical and social accounts take up subjects as varied as the origins of the machine, the mayhem that has long been attractive to certain elements of biker culture, the often hidden story of women riders past and present, the tale of the defiant ones who taunt death on the racetrack, and especially a portrait of the normal heart - what might be called the silent majority of bikers. These are intertwined with Pierson's own story, which, in itself, shows that although you may think you know what kind of person rides a motorcycle, you probably don't.


Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; New edition edition (18 Jun 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862071195
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862071193
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.4 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 24,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

As Pierson tells us why she loves riding, many who share her passion will often feel themselves nodding, saying, 'Yeah, she caught it.'--Andy Solomon

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
From my mother I learned to write prompt thank-you notes for a variety of occasions; from Mrs. King's ballroom dancing school I learned a proper curtsy and, believe it or not, what to do if presented with nine eating utensils at the same place setting, presumably at the home of the hosts to whom I had just curtsied. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual book for reflective bikers 28 April 2003
Format:Paperback
This was quite unlike any motorcycling book I have ever read. The storyline is not particularly continuous but I could not put the book down and I'm now reading it for the third time. Its got stuff in it about the author's emotional experiences which I find totally believable and can slide into myself. The historical side is not quite so well researched but Pearson's accounts of her own riding and her troubles and joys are great. I recommend it to other motorcyclists.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Writer Writes 18 Feb 2007
Format:Paperback
Rarely does a book about motorcycles receive reviews from publications as diverse as The Times to Marie Claire. And even more rarely is a book a book published about motorcycles by a publisher that prides itself adhering to the highest literary standards.

Good writing is good writing whatever the subject. And Melissa Holbrook Pierson's book just happens to be about motorcycles. This book is a refreshing " bolt out of the blue" amidst a sea of anorak books. It is also a timely book from a quality publisher that will probably be read by more non motorcyclists than motorcyclists. Those who have previously thought of "dipping their toe into the water" of biking, but have been put off for a variety of reasons may be stimulated to take the plunge. The following lines are a foretaste of the books "unputdownability" :-

" At precisely this moment, someone, somewhere is getting ready to ride. The motorcycle stands in the cool, dark garage its air expectant with gas and grease."

It's a million miles from the broken bones and bhp culture the public expect from motorcyclists. And even if Melissa is an American who rides a V twin, don't despair:_ :-
" if I see another glossy photo essay on tattooed hellions accompanied by earnest text explaining to a horrified but titillated middle America that their bikes are called "hogs" I think I'll scream"

Indeed.

Its not easy to start motorcycling, particularly if you're a young lady in America and your V twin isn't a Harley Davidson. Melissa sees the motorcycle through the eyes of an articulate and intelligent artist. She gives to the reader the motorcycle in rich colours rather than stereotypical monochrome.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Confused 20 Nov 2009
By AK TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
The book mirrors the many confusions the author professes drive and haunt her.

What is it supposed to be, a historical account, personal experience? It's a bit of both and not done particualrly well at that. The historical part if full of errors and poorly researched.

But it is the personal experiences that impressed me much less. The author endeavors to portray biking as not necessarily following the masculine, macho stereotype but then again she also describes herself, not willingly perhaps, as a perfect example of the male stereotype of a female biker - she started it to get more in touch with a boyfriend and tends to play the inept 'feel sorry for me' lamb on all occasions until she finds herself a new protector. In fact she makes female bikers look a lot worse - like a needy, confused, childish bunch - definitely unlike any female bkers I know.

On top of that the prejudice expressed in the book most certainly does not make it a unifying force, more a divisive one. If one drives an Italian motorcycle, that's OK, English or German is borderline acceptable, if it is a Harley, well she does not want much to do with it, any sportsbike or anything Japanese is a crotch rocket and needs to be detested in its fullness.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great! Get it! 4 April 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This is certainly a book for anyone who recognises a biking culture other than the macho - tho' this is mostly due to Harley riding authoritarians who are clearly insecure in their masculinity.
Anyway this fine book opposes that hairy nonsense and also conveys some of the joys and fears of biking. The opening is a meditation on starting a bike and driving out - a closely observed exercise in noting the minutiae which we all recognise but need reminding of - and in such sharp detail as this, its a joy to read. It's an excellent reminder of how we might focus our being and minds on the daily motorcycling epiphany; that is, moments of heightened awareness set in the ordinariness of living, with the bike as catalyst.
Read it and you'll surely know what I mean.
The book (as does Jupiter's Travels) takes a different road from the sweaty macho brigade who have done much to diminish motorcycling, for the author, throughout most of this fine book, dicusses the beauty of the motorcycle and the art and practice of motorcycling. If you like a bit of men/women angst that's here too.
I loved this book, and if you're not a helmeted thug with a 10 watt brain, you will too.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Wrapping is Better than the Contents 25 Feb 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I found the book a well-written disappointment especially if you get to this book (as I did) by way of the Saharan sand covered pages of Ted Simon, Jonny Bealby and Helge Pederson. These days it may be necessary to go literally to the ends of the earth to get the material necessary to write a good motorcycling adventure book and this one really doesn't go that far. I was confused as to what Melissa wanted to tell me as the book flips around between a history of motorcycling, an occasional "Zen and the Art of" style, a motorcycle workshop manual and then to a manual on road traffic accident trauma reports. By not having a central theme, other than her own "religious experience" of discovering motorcycles, she has to go to a variety of disparate places to try to keep the interest of the reader. In my case she almost failed and do Americans really call Ducati bikes "Duck's"?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply brilliant
If you love you motorcycle you need to read this book.
An absolutely brilliant read for anyone with more than a passing interest in motorcycling.
Published 7 months ago by R N White
3.0 out of 5 stars A BIT OF EVERYTHING
After reading positive reviews on motorcycle-related websites I'd been looking for this book for quite a while but as it was not available anymore at major highstreet bookstores I... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Stelvio Duke
4.0 out of 5 stars a good read...though not quite 'perfect'.
i bought and read this book after it came up in a marque search on amazon: i enjoy motorcycling and related writing, so i took a punt on it. Read more
Published on 11 Jun 2010 by Joe Crow
5.0 out of 5 stars Gleaming
This is a gleaming book. I like Pierson's writing style - easy, intelligent. I like the contrast between her personal motorcycle journey, her historical treasures and the... Read more
Published on 7 Mar 2010 by Both And
5.0 out of 5 stars What riding is all about
A well written book about the experience of riding a motorcycle. This is what it is really about. About the real culture of motorcycling and not the fake macho lie that some would... Read more
Published on 12 Feb 2009 by S. Addinall
1.0 out of 5 stars Complete drivel
I have got to say that I found this book to be one of the worst pieces of literature that I have read in many years. Read more
Published on 28 Aug 2000 by niall.gorman@virgin.net
5.0 out of 5 stars a great insight into Pierson's life through its one aspect
As a biker, I was into the book from the very beginning. The introduction was written in the form of a detailed description of one particular ride. Read more
Published on 5 Oct 1998
4.0 out of 5 stars Part bike poetry, part textbook by an interesting woman
This is a great read for biker and non-biker. The author gives us insight about why her Ducati is "The Perfect Vehicle", but she also tells us a lot about herself. Read more
Published on 25 April 1998
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