CityBike Book Club: Why We Ride

Tight deadlines at CityBike being what they are, I only had a few days to tear through this Why We Ride: A Psychologist Explains the Motorcyclist’s Mind and the Relationship Between Rider, Bike, and Road. Normally this isn’t a challenge for me—I read quickly, but this collection of Mark Barnes’ Mental Motorcycling columns from Motorcycle Consumer News warrants a much closer, more thoughtful examination. Spanning 21 years, and everything from dirt to track to traveling to wrenching (and more!), this book offers something for any type of rider to contemplate.

In the January 2008 column “Just Fast Enough,” Barnes takes an axiom overheard trail riding, “Ride fast enough that you can’t take your mind off riding, but not so fast that you’re worried about crashing,” and explores it both on the street and in the dirt. He expands the concept to not just the attentiveness necessitated by increased speed, but all manner of attentiveness; bringing to the forefront of his mind parts of riding that he’d previously been only subconsciously aware of. In doing so, he finds new and deeper enjoyment in riding, and challenges the reader to explore these ideas for themselves.

Another column (“Making Music,” August 2010) explores the parallels between the author’s experiences learning to play the bass and his very first track day. His struggles with both are about rhythm—finding it, memorizing it, becoming comfortable inhabiting it: specific in either case to that instrument and song or bike and track. “The different control actions became repetitive rhythmic sequences, as though the track were a musical pattern and my braking, turning, and accelerating were taking place on specific beats within the larger framework of the racetrack’s ‘song.’”

It’s an elegant analogy, and while I’m definitely not a musician, nor have I spent any time on the track, I feel like I understand both better after this column.

It’s interesting to see Barnes change as a writer over the years. His very first column (“The Joy of Maintenance,” October 1996) is a chatty, matter-of-fact discussion of the motivation behind working on one’s own bikes—a very tactile and immediate pursuit. As someone who does (admittedly not-great) work on her own bikes, this particular column really resonated with me. “I’ll be the first to admit that my tinkering has sometimes created problems where none existed.” Me too, Mark.

His later columns seem to dive more frequently into the purely mental side of riding. “Glory Days” from June 2015 is a recollection of his youthful exuberance and naiveté, and how outgrowing that recklessness has altered way he learns new riding skills. He argues that with the caution he’s developed as he ages, he finds himself approaching new challenges more thoughtfully and gradually instead of rushing right in.

Overall, Why We Ride is a book I’m looking forward to returning to throughout the years when I’m feeling contemplative, when I need a new perspective, when I’m uninspired, when, for whatever reason, I can’t go for a ride. It offers plenty to ponder.

$24.99. soft cover, 249 pages, 9” x 7”. Get a copy at Amazon.com.

This story originally appeared in our January 2018 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.

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