We have a lot of books come across our desk here at CMG. Here are a few I’ve had a chance to read over the last while – ZK
Far and Away, by Neil Peart
In case you didn’t know, Neil Peart is the drummer and main lyricist for Canadian classic rock band Rush. He’s been touring the world with the band since the 1970s, and he’s been touring the world by motorcycle since the 1990s. In fact, he frequently combines the two – he often takes his BMW with him on the road, and rides between gigs.
Peart has written several books musing about riding; whether or not you like his music, there’s no question that he’s a thoughtful writer. His stories from the road aren’t high-octane tales of outlaw violence or narrow escapes from the law; they’re stories about an average guy and his approach to life on two wheels. He may be a high-profile musician, but throughout the book, Peart’s writing tone presents him as just another working man.
The chapters all integrate details of the exotic and domestic places he travels to and rides through, along with introspective looks at his own musical work with Rush, on tour and off. Motorcycling isn’t a separate facet of Peart’s life, it’s perfectly weaved in with the rest of his existence, and his book presents it as such.
Far and Away is also full of photos of Peart’s life on the road, most of them shot by the drummer himself. I found the wide page layouts quite enjoyable to read – every page looked different. More books should be made like this – it invites you to keep reading every time you open it.
The travel stories are interesting but you wouldn’t buy this book for excitement. However, if you want stories that make you re-think your views on riding and life as you view them from someone else’s perspective, then head on over to Amazon.ca with your $20.65.
Borderlands, by Derek Lundy
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance does not necessarily focus on motorcycles – in the best-selling classic, author Robert Pirsig uses two-wheelers as a tool to focus on more complex issues and ideas.
In a similar way, Derek Lundy’s Borderlands: Riding Around the Edge of America talks about riding, but not for the sake of it. Instead, Lundy uses his experiences aboard a Kawasaki KLR650 to present his experiences as he explores “the American obsession with security,” as the book’s cover puts it.
It’s certainly an interesting concept; Lundy starts the book by riding the U.S.-Mexican border, meeting with everyone from weary border guards to pragmatic locals to illegal immigrants to vigilantes trying to keep them out. Everyone has their own unique take on the situation down south, and Lundy presents all their viewpoints, starting at the Alamo and riding through Texas, westward to New Mexico, Arizona and ultimately California.
Through it all, Lundy takes the time to weave in historical background, and tales of life on the road. The book isn’t exactly motorcycle-focused, but Lundy’s riding is certainly an integral part of his journey. He has gravel-road offs, border guards ransack his panniers, Harley-Davidson riders give him flack for riding a KLR650 and he almost gets blown off the road by desert winds.
The second half of the book tells Lundy’s experiences riding the Canada-U.S. border; it’s an interesting contrast to the wild multi-culturalism, crime and prejudice Lundy experienced down south. However, Canadian readers might not be as fascinated with the second half of the book, because let’s face it – most of us live within an hour or two of the border ourselves.
Lundy’s experiences riding the Canadian border are woven in with tales of history and small-town cultural snapshots, same as the first half of the book. Lundy himself lives in Canada, and he’s more familiar with some of the areas he rides through at this point. At some points, he goes into long sidebars on the area’s history that could either interest or bore you.
Lundy suffers a potentially very serious injury close to the start of this segment of his ride – he drops his loaded KLR when an aggressive truck forces him to the shoulder in New England, and tears his ankle apart as he lifts the machine up again. The injury almost forces him to cancel the rest of the trip, but he soldiers on through, hobnobbing with Mohawks, Vietnam vets and small-town residents with family on both sides of the border, who just don’t understand all the fuss over the geographic line.
There’s no question that Lundy’s a great writer, and his book is very interesting; he’s won acclaim for his non-fiction works in the past, and this 409-pager is a great story as well. But there’s also no question that his own experiences and worldview as an immigrant himself have a great influence on how he perceives the issue of U.S. border security; however, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and if somebody doesn’t like his, they’re welcome to write a book of their own.
Don’t buy this book if you want a ripping motorcycle yarn full of two-wheeled adventure; however, if you’re looking for a book that will tell a story, make you think about geopolitical issues, introduce you to people from all sides of the U.S. border and also give you an idea of what it’s like to ride the border, check it out. It’s available from Amazon’s US site for$14; it’s sold out on their Canadian site.
Terry the Tramp: The Life and Dangerous Times of a One Percenter, by K. Randall Ball
There’s a whole sub-genre of crime books about outlaw biker gangs – people seem to really eat this stuff up. After all, what better way to while away an afternoon, than sit down and read uncensored tales of pill-popping, gun-wielding, V-twin-borne desperadoes as they work their way across the country, killing other bad dudes and treating women like dirt, right?
Wrong. But even if that sort of activity was cool (it definitely isn’t), you aren’t going to get much of it from K. Randall Ball’s biography of former Vagos international president, Terry the Tramp (not to be confused with the famous Hells Angel from that club’s early days, who went by the same name). The book covers most of Terry Orendorff’s career with the Vagos, from his birth in 1946, to his beginnings in the outlaw lifestyle in the 60s and 70s, during the club’s early expansion, all the way up to his arrest and 2010 jail sentence for tax evasion.
For all the notoriety involved with his high-level position in the gang, the book doesn’t really have a lot of lurid blood-and-thunder crime stories that blow back on Terry the Tramp. Sure, there are tales of barroom brawls and shootouts, insider details of dust-ups with rival bikers, tales of some drug-fuelled binges and plenty of motorcycle club politics, there isn’t really anything that would put Terry the Tramp back in jail.
Although there are plenty of tales of the misdeeds of others, the book’s subject is portrayed as a righteous dude who’s always looking to help out women and ease tensions between motorcycling brothers, while sticking it to The Man (his Facebook page details such diverse interests as hardcore tattoos and playing Bejeweled Blitz).
Whether or not you want to buy that story is up to you; it would hardly be fair for us to call it out, since we don’t know Terry the Tramp, or the book’s author, himself a former Hells Angel. But if you’re the kind of rider who doesn’t have much sympathy for the outlaw biker lifestyle, you might have a hard time swallowing the book’s line.
On the other hand, the book could be interesting if you want to learn some inside details of the biker gang lifestyle – how club leaders keep unruly members in line, how they perceive themselves unjustly threatened by law enforcement, how a club builds new charters, how a member gets into a club and how a member lands in – or stays out of – jail.
Terry the Tramp: The Life and Dangerous Times of a One Percenter is available at Amazon’s Canadian site for $18.81.
Revised I-94 Reader: Eclectic Stories and Rides, by Rand Rasmussen
Motorcycling is all about twisty back roads, right? Not according to Rand Rasmussen. We’re sure Rasmussen enjoys a winding ride just like the rest of us, but this particular book tells of his love affair with an interstate highway he travels regularly.
This tribute to the superslab isn’t a terribly long book – it’s only nine chapters and 60 pages long. But, the essays it contains are thoughtful looks into the joys of motorcycling that should ring through no matter where you ride, and they’ll resonate with you just as strongly as the stories from a much longer book.
Rasmussen’s road tales go all the way back to 1993, when he started taking his BMW R-65 down I-94, in the areas surrounding Fargo, North Dakota, and Minneapolis/St.Paul, Minnesota. The opening chapter details a camping trip with his partner to a folk festival, and the typically uncomfortable camping experience that ensued; anyone who’s camped by bike can easily relate.
Other stories tell of late-season rides that tested Rasmussen’s endurance and skill, modifications to his bike that allowed him to take his dog or put down miles in electrically-powered heat, and how a motorcycle-inspired epiphany led him to take a 550-mile trip just to have a few brief, life-changing sentences with the woman he loves.
Rasmussen’s passion for riding and his love for his well-worn route are evident throughout this short book. You’ll breeze through its covers quickly, but it’s worth the $3 download from Amazon – you’d spend more than that on your average motorcycle mag, with far less enjoyment. I’d recommend the $7 print edition from Aerostich, though – it’s a great little book to tuck into a corner of a shelf, to sneak out for a quick read that lets you escape on two wheels.
Women, Motorcycles and the Road to Empowerment, by Liz Jansen
Liz Jansen does everything – she coaches riders, speaks at motorcycle events, runs Triullium Tours, runs leadership events for riders, and also writes about bikes.
Her 256-page book Women, Motorcycles and the Road to Empowerment features stories from women out of all walks of life, from stay-at-home moms to professional stunt riders, telling how their decision to take up motorcycling has changed them and their outlook on life.
Some people are really into these sort of inspirational, self-help books, and some aren’t. While some of the riders’ life stories are pretty interesting to any motorcyclist, others won’t be that fascinating unless you’re a female reader who identifies with the subject.
You can pick up a copy of her book for $19.95 at her website. Men might not be very interested in the book, but you can always pick up a copy for your female acquaintances. But be careful, if you don’t want them to read the book, then run out and buy a Wide Glide and ride out of your life.
[…] Peart’s best-known for his work as drummer/lyricist for classic prog-rock band Rush, but he is a hard-core motorcyclist (often riding between shows on the road), and occasionally publishes books on his travels. You can read our short review on his book Far and Away: A Prive Every Time here. […]
I would add Hog Fever by Richard La Plante … the funniest motorcycle book I have read … in fact I read it twice and then lent it out and now it’s gone …