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22nd July 2005

'The Perfect Vehicle' by Melissa Holbrook Pierson

'The Perfect Vehicle' by Melissa Holbrook Pierson - From RealClassic reader John Wade recommends what might be the perfect book about the perfect form of transport...

If you told the average Brit male biker that this was the story of how a female New York artist 'discovered' motorcycling aboard a V-twin, they would probably snort derisively in their beer and dismiss it from thought.

They would be wrong to do so.


This is one of the few books I have two copies of - one to read and one to lend. For me (and I suspect, most of us) this book offers a perspective from across two great divides, one of gender and the other of nationality.

This alone makes it a refreshing change from the norm. It is also well crafted and intelligently written; judge for yourself from the opening lines of the first chapter:

'From my mother I learned to write prompt thank-you notes for a variety of occasions; from Mrs Kings 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 pretty much everything else.'

Classy, eh?

Throughout the book, the author's intensely personal experiences are interspersed by some very astute examinations of US and European motorcycling culture and history. Sometimes she displays the American talent for stating the bleedin' obvious, but there is also much that is fresh and thought provoking. There are some great road trips too ('with a hundred miles on the clock the going has taken on a life of its own. The rider has nearly forgotten what it means to sit anywhere but on this seat), and I have yet to read a better description of the fear / joy / apprehension that goes into buying your first 'real' motorcycle.

Even the author's panic attacks transfer to her bike: 'I had to force myself to go out and ride… the fear would glide effortlessly from my body to that of my motorcycle. It would be breaking down any minute; it would be no simple matter, either, but burned valves, thrown rods, expectorated spark plugs, or just an inexplicable cessation of all power. On some especially grand occasions I would be riding along through the beauteous world pressed by the heavy certainty that both of us were dying at once.'

In short, Ms Holbrook - Pierson is no dilettante, and writes with a true insight and love of her subject.

This is a great book.

Two things though; it helps if you like Moto Guzzis ( you assumed it was the other V-twin?) and please ignore the blurb on the jacket which, for the most part, cringingly misses the point.

Reviewed by John Wade


'The Perfect Vehicle' by Melissa Holbrook Pierson

  • Granta, ISBN 1-86207-119-5, normal price £6.00
  • Buy a copy from Amazon

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