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Bodies in Motion: Evolution and Experience in Motorcycling First edition by Steven L. Thompson (2008) Paperback Paperback – 2008

3.7 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 420 pages
  • Publisher: Aero Design & MFG; First Edition edition (2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0981900119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0981900117
  • ASIN: B011MBPD7A
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,345,990 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Sev Pearman on December 7, 2008
"Why do you ride a motorcycle?" All of us have struggled to find the words that accurately explain our passion. What about motorcycling is so rewarding that it outweighs the risks and inconveniences? Why do we choose a mode of transportation that goes against the grain?

Author Steven Thompson first approaches the question from an evolutionary perspective. He argues that riders harbor an innate need to move about, acquired from our tree-dwelling ancestors. He coins the term "automobility" to define the positive sensations that humans (especially riders) experience while in motion. The motions experienced while riding a motorcycle, with its changes in speed, lean, and rapid acceleration and braking, echo the same sensations our ancestors felt while jumping in and swinging from tree to tree.

The author draws on studies of human biomechanics that demonstrate that humans enjoy, even prefer motion. Our bodies, on a non-mental level, are programmed to favorably respond to motion. This response to motion was originally a survival tool used by our ancestors to avoid predators and keep them going in their endless search for food. We are hard wired to seek out motion. Riders may simply be better attuned to this cellular-level drive.

We may be similarly programmed in terms of the types of machine we prefer. Humans are visual creatures. Mr. Thompson examines various engine configurations and motorcycle types as organisms. Why do V-twins and inline-fours thrive in the marketplace while other engine layouts stumble? Why do cruisers and sport bikes dominate the marketplace and other designs (super-motard, recumbent) languish?

By far the best part of the book is the discussion on motorcycle engine vibration.
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I tried to skim this book quickly on Friday night, after dinner, and a very long day, but gave up in frustration. I needed to start from the beginning, and read it sequentially. And I didn't expect to like this book - I'd pre-judged it by the graphics on the cover, and the concept of it. Many have explored the question of 'Why do we ride?' What more could be written on the subject? Just another book, new title, with content I'd probably seen before in 'Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance' or 'The Perfect Vehicle' or various short stories I've read over the years on the subject. I couldn't have been more wrong....

Two sentence summary:
'Bodies in Motion' is a fantastic and completely unique piece of motorcycling literature, explaining to ourselves why we ride motorcycles, and after reading it I understand why Andy Goldfine felt it was an important work. We're simply hard-wired to enjoy the many stimuli that motorcycling provides.

Detailed summary:
I tend to read at night, usually a chapter at a time in a series of short stories (my favorite type of reading / writing). 'Bodies in Motion' is so densely packed with new concepts and ideas, that a chapter at a time is about all I could manage. Actually, I'd read several pages, ponder the implication, read a few more pages, ponder some more, and at the end of each chapter I'd close it and go to sleep for the night. Read in that manner on weeknights, it was about a 2-3 week read for me.

Steven Thompson is an historian by training, a longtime avid motorcyclist, moto editor, and motorcycle racer. So BIM isn't a book of frilly prose about what we feel when we ride, ala 'Zen and the Art...' or 'The Perfect Vehicle.' Instead, BIM takes the tack of: "Given that we feel wonderful when we ride, why?
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This is an unusual book, the product of deep thought and extensive research to address a fundamental and personal question for any motorcycle enthusiast, namely, why do I like riding so much? A rider for fifty years, I've been told more than once that there are safer, more comfortable, and even cheaper ways to get around than riding a motorcycle. So why? Why? I'd always tossed out a simple answer to anyone who asked me (like my mother): "Riding is sort of like skiing," I'd say. Now, after reading Bodies in Motion by Steven Thompson, I have a better, more satisfying and honest answer: "I was born this way."

Yes, it's in my genes. I don't think this answer would have pleased my parents, but then motorcycling isn't about satisfying other people. Thompson deals fairly with the widespread opinion that social and cultural values are the drivers. While they are of some relevance, it's really our evolutionary heritage, the way we are wired in the Darwinian sense, that makes (some of) us love the feeling of riding. It's the 'feel,' the strong stimuli served up as the motorcycle puts the rider's body in motion that leaves the brain wanting more. The pleasure our hairy ancestors got from swinging in the trees was the result of an evolutionary force that guided their survival and development. That force is still at work in our modern brains.

Bodies in Motion is written on a high level and, necessarily, uses some of the vocabulary of the social and physical sciences from which the book's insights are drawn. It's not your 'quick read' whose purpose is to distract and entertain. It demands the reader's attention and a willingness to think about what's proposed.
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