Robert Pirsig’s “Zen” Honda donated to Smithsonian

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The world-famous Honda CB77 that served as Robert Pirsig’s inspiration for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is headed to The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, published in 1974, is the story of a 1968 bike trip across America that Robert Pirsig took with his son. The resulting book sold five million copies (supposedly the best-selling philosophy book of all time), and has puzzled or entertained not only motorcyclists, but the public at large, ever since. But ever since the book was written, people have wondered what happened to the little Honda that took the Pirsigs across the US.

Now we know. It seems the bike was in Pirsig’s New England garage the whole time,  where he restored it himself from 2014-’16 with the assistance of a local mechanic. Pirsig died in 2017, and now his widow Wendy has donated it to the Smithsonian, along with a bunch of other stuff that he had laying around his garage. As per the press release, the Smithsonian is getting “Pirsig’s leather jacket, maps, shop manual and other gear from the 1968 ride, together with a manuscript copy and signed first edition of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Pirsig’s favorite toolboxes, with tools for maintaining his bike and other vehicles as well as tools he made himself, are also part of the donation.

Cool! The Smithsonian plans to add it to its museum collection in Washington, DC, so if you’re in the area, see if it’s on display, and you can check it out for free.

9 COMMENTS

  1. That was the hardest read in my life. I recall reading every chapter 3-4 times as I was so confused what I missed! Muscled through it to the end, but it was exhausting

    • Thank you Paul. We’ve fixed the story to reflect this. After all, I can’t imagine Robert Pirsig would have trusted the work to anyone else, and I’ll bet he didn’t do it with the radio playing in the background.

  2. I read the book many years ago. Interesting to see that a 305 was not an unusual motorcycle to take such a trip on in those days. Much less 2-up! I rode my Honda 350 (really only 325 cc) from Ontario to Nova Scotia and back in 1974.

  3. I finally got around to trying to read the book about a year ago. Count me among the “puzzled” cohort of readers. I guess I was expecting more equal measures of “Zen” and “motorcycle maintenance” rather than the predominant focus on the former. Perhaps I need the Coles notes version to fully appreciate it.

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