I’ve read a lot of books on motorcycling. I also generally like to read prose written by women. There are just so many stories from men that reading them gets a bit repetitive at times. There are also not nearly enough women riders, so for Melissa Holbrook Pierson to tell her story in The Perfect Vehicle: What is it about Motorcycles, is doubly special. Pierson has succeeded in combining all the greatest aspects of motorcycling into a love story turn mini-biography.
She takes us through her adventure of how she started riding, the apprehensions, the ignorance and all the things that all new riders face. It is very easy to identify with her. Along with her personal story come a plethora of odd facts, motorcycle history, and real dedication to trying to understand why motorcycles are so special.
She has her mind set on a Moto Guzzi as her first bike, and for the duration of the book keeps hinting at its elite status among motorcycle manufacturers. I must say, warranted or not, the mystique behind some guzzi’s are just undeniable, and thus, must agree with her. Guzzi is just a special brand, fueled by passion instead of numbers, they might just be the quintessential motorcycle manufacturer. It would be so easy to walk into a Guzzi dealer and expect Mario to come out of the back of the shop in a grease stained cover-all with his mustache bristling with anger as he yells at some customer about how they mistreated their motorcycle (I know Mario was actually a plumber). Or to see Luigi hanging out behind the shop with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth with an espresso in hand just starring off into the distance.
With her Guzzi, first a V50 Monza, and then a Lario, Pierson looks at the worth of life while becoming a rider and shares with her readers the cathartic, exciting and depressing moments which are typically experienced on a motorcycle. So why is this book special? Because she tells the story as only a woman can, with so much emotion you want to woop and holler at the top of your voice when she is victorious (which can be a bit embarrassing when you’re reading in a public place), and no matter how tough you are, you will wet your cheeks with tears, crying with her, when she fails. What was an eye opener for me, was the surreal calm with which she approaches most situation, and the disproportionate amount of insecurities she has about herself, her abilities, and life in general.
Her willingness to face these obstacles, and overcome her fears, one by one, as a rider and person, through relationships, playing mechanic, riding in adverse conditions and more is what makes this story worth reading. As a technical manual to learn how to ride, this book wouldn’t be the best choice, but as a story which attempts to answer the question: “What is it about motorcycles?”, it does a damn fine job!
Pierson is one of those rare and few who can remove herself from the situation, no matter what her emotions are, and take the reader through her thoughts, letting us get very close to her. This vulnerability made me not only fall in love with her, but also with Moto Guzzi. This book is single handedly the biggest reason why I now covet a Moto Guzzi V7 Café. I will not divulge any more information out of fear I might spoil it for you, so I simply encourage you to pick up a copy at your next opportunity, and spend some time learning about the way of the moto, even if you plan to never ride one yourself. Even if you know the way of the moto, throw it in the tank bag during your next road trip, and enjoy it at the end of a long day riding.
The motorcycle on the cover is a 500cc V8 racer (Otto Cilindri) Moto Guzzi, right up in in the rafters of aesthetics with the AJS Porcupine E95.
This book gets 5 out of 5 goggles!