Riding with Rilke: Reflections on Motorcycles and Books (Paperback various publishers) by Ted Bishop 2007

Available from Abe Books here

This had to be the book for me: written by someone with a love for bikes and literature (like me) – and the snippets I had read on the net were excellent: ‘It wasn’t a mid life crisis that got me on the road, but mid life money’ (well something close to that). This book has lovely aspects – that self-deprecating, unassuming Canadian tone (it reminds me of the (now defunct – whatever happened to it?) One Wheel Drive people on YouTube), some insights into the personal politics of major literary archives, some fascinating information about T E Lawrence, some nice moments of humour. However, somewhere in the book Ted says he is looking for a way to link biking and literature but he can’t find it. And for me this is the book’s weakness – his sometimes laboured attempt to find unthought of connections between these two worlds and sensibilities. And trying to wind these two together seemed to result in a book that did neither very well. I also had the feeling that there wasn’t quite enough material for a book and that Ted had dived into some subsequent research to fill out various parts (mind you, knowing that 11 North Americans are killed every year in incidents involving vending machines is priceless).

The North American editors must have been nervous about the readership: surely even a biker who has never left Edmonton (the one in Canada – only marginally nicer than the one in North London – I’ve been to both) doesn’t need it explaining that ragu is an Italian pasta sauce or that when Albert Camus wrote ‘je voudrais m’acheter une motorclette’ that he really meant ‘I want to buy a motorcycle’.

For me the nicest part is near the end when the author hobbles back after breaking his back in two places in a bike accident. We’re prepared for the ultimate anti-climax – that he decides never to get on a bike again – but instead in a couple of sentences we see him reunited with the beauty of his Ducati Monster – and of course he has to ride it home from the mechanics – and at over 100mph.