The Devil Can Ride – Review

devil_book.jpg
Great idea and pretty well executed too.

I love the idea; find some of the best writings on the topic of motorcycling and compile them into one book. It’s just a shame about the title and cover art.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Devil Can Ride features text from some of the most famous motorcycling scribes in history such as Hunter S. Thompson (Hells Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga), Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) and even T.E Lawrence (of Lawrence of Arabia fame).

There’s also a fine sampling from magazine columnists including Kevin Cameron, Peter Egan and one of my favourites, Dan Walsh, but perhaps where the book really shines is with some of the lesser-known inclusions.

By far the one that stood out the most to me was a story by Jack Lewis who wrote about a ride on his beloved vintage R69-S BMW after returning from the Iraq war. It’s part re-acquaintance with an old love (the BMW) and part rediscovering the beauties of recharging the soul with a long solo ride through old stomping grounds, but it’s all captivatingly written.

Here’s an excerpt where Lewis describes the R69-S, also known as ‘Honey’:

Known in her day as the Gentleman’s Express, BMW’s dreamboat R69-S easily nabbed the U.S. coast-to-coast speed record in the mid-Sixties. Smooth, powerful, durable, well-featured and classy, this was the bike for chomping big bites of highway with swift ease.

“Gentleman’s Express” or not, a 1969 time capsule is nobody’s hyperbike today. This was the last of the Slash Two BMWs, produced the same year Honda shocked the world with the first “superbike,” its CB 750 with four buttery little pistons and a hydraulic disk brake. Suddenly, BMWs were considered more premium for their prices than for their engineering—even if they weighed in a hundred pounds less than the big-chested Honda.

Unlike my late-lamented rubber-band Ducati, since passed along to a steadier lover, you don’t chainsaw up the road on an R69-S, dodging gnats and hula-hipping the rear with tight throttle grabs. You don’t stand her on her nose at a corner entry, nor paw at the air in the lower gears. Honey offers a balanced palette of subtler colorations.

Too mature for slam-dancing, she asks for more of a graceful waltz. Even with a fresh shot of 7w Bel-Ray, her long-travel fork is on the squishy side. The big ass cushion squeaks like an old bed spring when you jounce over potholes or speed humps. A hard hand on the double-shoe front drum slows you at a predictable rate; “controllable” is a sweeter description than “weak,” but that control requires a powerful paw. Anyway, Honey’s lovely low CG  and modest torque mean it works best to simply carry speed through the corners—always with attention to those tires. Step, shuffle, slide to your right; step, shuffle, slide to your left. It may be slow dancing, but it’s still dancing, by God. And we danced and danced and danced . . .

There’s even a submission Canada’s very own Michelle Anne Duff, who recounts her 1962 race at the Isle of Man TT, a time of bikes with poor suspension, little braking, experimental Dunlop tires and fairies that hold the balance between life and death. It’s the kind of piece that puts you in the saddle and leaves your heart pounding a little faster at the end of the ride:

“With a riding number of 17, I was to start 80 seconds behind the leading pair. Riders funneled up to the line in relative order awaiting their turn, all engines silent. (At that time, all European races employed a push start with dead engines.) Numbers 15 and 16 were flagged off, and, along with number 18, I took my place in the twin starting boxes.

Gone were the usual pre-race butterflies, replaced by an air of indifference, my thoughts still pensive, remembering the events of the previous day. On a small platform to my right stood the starter, a small Union Jack held high in his right hand. A hand-sized clock in his left hand ticked off the seconds.

I had already pulled the Matchless’ piston back against the compression stroke to give the engine three forward strokes to build up momentum before another compression stroke happened. Fuel and chain oiler taps were on. I pulled in the clutch and concentrated on the starter.

Almost casually, the flag fell. I heaved the heavy bike forward, taking five steps before releasing the clutch. The engine turned and immediately fired into life. I swung myself into the seat and accelerated away toward the top of Bray Hill to begin the six-lap, 225-mile Senior TT.”

All that being said there are a few articles that simply don’t belong. Of course, there’s the obligatory Hells Angels pieces and although there is some interesting insight into the inner workings of such lifestyles, the one dimensional, stereotypical accounts wear thin quickly.

Ironically the only piece that I gave up on was by the editor himself, Lee Klancher. I suppose the danger of editing such a collection is that you’d dearly like to have something of your own included, but that’s why it’s a danger. Who edits the editor?

So aside from the occasional miss and flop we have a rather interesting collection of works that would not just appeal to the avid motorcyclist but may also sell the soul and the passion of the sport to the non-motorcyclist alike.

I wonder if that’s where the title came from? Trouble is I think the very title is what will stop that non-rider from picking it up in the first place, and that would be a shame.

The Devil Can Ride is published by Motorbooks, edited by Lee Klancher and retails for C$32.50. Available in all good book stores or from Motorbooks directly.

0 thoughts on “The Devil Can Ride – Review”

  1. Lore has it that Hunter S. Thomson used to be a bike rag scribe back before my time. I’ve looked all over for some examples to peruse but have found none. Word is he made Dan Walsh sound like…well…Peter Egan.
    I’d like to find a compendium of just these works.

Join the conversation!