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Comment: The item shows wear from consistent use, but it remains in good condition and works perfectly. All pages and cover are intact (including the dust cover, if applicable). Spine may show signs of wear. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting. May include "From the library of" labels.
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The Perfect Vehicle: What It Is About Motorcycles Paperback – January 23, 2013

4.0 out of 5 stars 121 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"From my mother I learned to write prompt thank-you notes for a variety of occasions," Melissa Holbrook Pierson writes. "From Mrs. King's ballroom dancing school I learned a proper curtsy and, believe it or not, what to do if presented with nine eating utensils at the same place setting.... From motorcycles I learned practically everything else." Pierson, an intellectual New Yorker, is open to her own contradictions--she is bold and fearful, a motorcycle-crazed poet with a Ph.D., and these seeming incompatibilities are what make this book so good. She can write equally well about the visceral pleasures of riding and about the pains of heartbreak or her own displeasure with her fears.

This is the motorcycle memoir for those who are sick of memoirs--or motorcycles. It is a book for people who don't know what the big deal is about riding, or why the Guggenheim Museum in New York, in a swirl of controversy, would exhibit motorcycles as works of modern art. "Riding on a motorcycle can make you feel joyous, powerful, peaceful, frightened, vulnerable, and back out to happy again," Pierson writes, "perhaps in the same ten miles. It is life compressed, its own answer to the question, 'Why?'" --Maria Dolan

From Booklist

It's too bad that people with little interest in motorcycles will generally not be the ones picking up this book to read. Although motorcycle diehards will find their convictions confirmed here, motorcycle know-nothings perhaps could benefit the most from its unabashed pages, gaining the inspiration to try their hand at motorcycling down the open road. The author's 10-year love affair with motorcycles informs this extended homage to the thrills and chills of this exciting vehicle. Only 7 million Americans ride, Pierson cites; but they are a dedicated few, who seek no greater pleasure than being ensconced on a motorcycle, head down, wind roaring in their ears, "the road, constantly turning, constantly offer[ing] up the possibility of something unexpected around the bend." The author appreciates its dangers, but she hopes her reader appreciates the feeling of freedom that time spent on a motorcycle can provide. Discussions of motorcycle history and racing round out this buoyant book. Brad Hooper --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (May 17, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393318095
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393318098
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #565,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By D. L. Bratland on August 16, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book will further your insight into why motorcyclists ride and why they think what they do about their bikes, motorcycling, and each other. But by the time Pierson is on to her second bike mechanic boyfriend, you will realize that you're going to have to see the truth for yourself, because the author has her hands so full with her own issues -- anxiety, delusion, hypocrisy -- that she can hardly help herself or her endlessly sick bike, let alone help you, the questing reader.

She does give you all the clues you will need, so don't despair. It's just that you're on your own in figuring out what the clues mean.

The Fallen Bike Incident is a good example of Pierson's lack of self-knowledge, and why this book is accused of male-bashing.

In the rain, Pierson's bike has fallen over due to the soft, wet surface she has planted her side stand in. This is a classic blunder. It's in the curriculum of the motorcycle safety course (of which Pierson is a graduate) and she even mentions elsewhere in the book how, for this very reason, wooden blocks were passed out in the dirt parking lot of a motorcycle rally. You can easily conclude that it is her own damn fault her bike fell over, but you won't read her admitting it in so many words, and this lack of personal accountability is everywhere in The Perfect Vehicle.

In her motorcycle class she has been taught how even a grandmother can lift up even a fallen Honda GoldWing (800+ pounds of bike), but for reasons unexplained, she is unable to lift her sub-400 pound Moto Guzzi. Again, no admission that she failed to learn the very thing she was specifically taught to do; you just read that it didn't work out and draw your own conclusion.
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Format: Paperback
As a motorcycle newbie, I've been reading a number of technique-oriented books in order to become a better rider. But I wanted to find something about the actual experience with a more autobiographical slant. I spotted "The Perfect Vehicle" on Amazon.com, and it immediately caught my interest. The reader reviews were quite interesting, ranging from exuberant identification to scathing dismissal. Any book that generates feedback of such jarring disparity must have something to say, so I went ahead and took a chance on it.
Ms. Pierson has pretty much bared her soul in this book, and my attention never wandered from start to finish. She's a strong, yet vulnerable woman who embarked on a quest to reconcile her desire to find a man worthy of her love with a need for independence and adventure. Motorcycling was the medium that allowed her to explore both of these (apparently) conflicting dictates of the heart. After much relational and highway mileage, Ms. Pierson seems to have made peace with herself, and this book is a well-written chronicle of that journey.
"The Perfect Vehicle" does contain some interesting facts about motorcycle history, rallies, and so on. However, it's Ms. Pierson's relationships and riding experiences combined with the resulting insights that really make this book shine. Some reviewers have slammed her for being a man-hater, too introspective, or a Moto Guzzi snob, but I disagree (well, the Moto Guzzi bias might have some merit, but I have a similar affection for Harleys, so I won't cast stones). If I grow half as much as she did via motorcycling, I'll consider the money invested into my H-D Fat Boy well spent. "The Perfect Vehicle" is a great addition to the motorcyclist's library, and anyone who has a passion for adventure and self-discovery will enjoy it as well.
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Format: Paperback
The first writing in this book (the Forward) is worth the price of admission. If it stayed at that level, it'd be "off the charts great" ... up there with "Eat, Pray, Love".

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

In the Forward (and the Postscript, for that matter), her writing is concise, poetic, wonderous ... it is art. And it's about the motorcycle - exactly what the title promises it will be. It is simply awesome.

But from there on, she takes more twists and turns than her favorite ride. And they don't really live up to the title or its subtitle. Instead of addressing "the Perfect Vehicle" or "What it is about Motorcycles", it addresses Melissa's own journey.

And in this, I feel like she cheated us. She might have more aptly entitled it "Motorcycles, Men, and Me". And - even with that - it could be a good story. But that tight, crisp, clean writing in the Forward is not present throughout much of the rest of the book. It is more flowery, rambling, unfocused, and off-point from the title. This is where it dips to 2 Stars.

She also tends to spend a lot of time grinding an axe about her experience of being a FEMALE rider in what she perceives to be a Man's realm. But then again, maybe that points out to a dated book (she's relating experiences from the mid 90s). This is maybe 3-star writing.

I've been motorcycling for only 4 years. I got started in Thailand when a woman from German talked me into motorcycling with her through the Golden Triangle area along the Burma-Thai border. Now, when I bike in Idaho, often as not at least 1/3 of the riders I'm with are women. They are on Beemers, Harleys, Yamahas, Suzukis ... and this is IDAHO. Not exactly what you'd call a liberal state.
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