One with Everything

Words of wisdom from Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a couple of thoughts about inside and out – plus a review of the brand-new BMW S 1000 R and a little story about a pair of old motorcycle gloves waiting in a drawer.
Text Wiebke Brauer
Photo Peter Schreiber

“The cycle swings into each curve effortlessly, banking so that our weight is always down through the machine no matter what its angle is with the ground. The way is full of flowers and surprise views, tight turns one after another so that the whole world rolls and pirouettes and rises and falls away.” It is remarkable how fresh Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance remains today. After all, the book was first published in 1974. Equally amazing are all the things you can take away from it when you think about motorcycling and about these past few months in which the world was forcibly slowed down and transformed into a large open-air sanatorium. In this dreary new world, inside and outside took on a whole new quality. Inside, that is our own four walls, the place we’ve all withdrawn to – and where we feel safe in our hermitic and hermetic existence. A private space that colleagues are given a glimpse of during our various Zoom meetings. Outside, that’s the afternoon stroll, going shopping – and the risk of infection. How small our world has become!

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“The whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.”

Robert M. Pirsig

Need relief? A motorcycle can help. Always has. Blurring all boundaries, it allows the rider to see the world with different eyes and to become one with everything. Motorcycling dissolves any distinction between the asphalt and the self, between the self and nature. We could even cite the classics of nineteenth century literature here, reaching for Goethe, who, in his poem “Epirrhema”, wrote: “Naught is inside, naught is out. For the inside is without.” Or just poke around one of those popular motorcycle sites on the Internet where you can find wisdom like: “Only a biker understands why dogs like to stick their heads out of car windows.”

Whatever words you use to describe it, in the most exhilarating moments the motorcyclist feels like a centauric monument. Space, speed and time cease to exist. Man and machine become one. The perfect symbiosis, the melting point. The rider merges with the technology, which is not only hard at work underneath your rear but also vibrates all the way into the vertebrae of your neck. You sense everything at close range: the explosions in the combustion chambers, the click of the gears, the vibration of the material, the rolling of the tires, the rumble and growl of the exhaust. Yet nothing seems noisy or disturbing, because the sound only provides an acoustic backdrop for the stream of thought leisurely meandering through your head.

Nothing against cars. Cars are great. But looking through the windshield of a car, you’re in a compartment. In a car, people are caged in and the world is enclosed in a frame. You watch the outside world pass by, a mere observer – you may as well be looking at a monitor, a smartphone, a tablet or an oil painting. On a motorcycle, Pirsig writes, the frame is gone. You become part of the scene, you could reach out and touch the asphalt at any time (in both the best and worst way). The sense of presence is overwhelming, “the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness,” Pirsig writes.

But let’s move on to the motorcycle that is down in the garage waiting for more pleasant temperatures: the BMW S 1000 R in its new roadster guise. The S 1000 R has been tuned for maximum handling. The completely new inline-four engine, derived from the RR’s powerplant, delivers an unchanged 165 hp at 11,000 rpm with a maximum of 114 Nm of torque at 9,250 rpm. The fourth, fifth and sixth gears are longer, and the clutch is smoother. The S 1000 R needs just 3.2 seconds for the sprint from zero to 100 km/h and can hit a top speed above 250 km/h. The completely new chassis, also based on the S 1000 RR, has been subjected to a diet, as they say. (We’ll spare you the Covid belly jokes.) It’s 6.5 kg lighter, with a curb weight of 199 kg, minus another 4.8 kg if you take the optional M package that includes carbon fiber wheels.

“On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore.”

Just one thing left to do: check out our old motorcycle gloves. The leather is worn, it has its own memory, remembers all the rides of the past few years, manifesting the moments in the material. The gloves no longer lie flat in the drawer but are frozen in an eternal grip – constantly pulling at the throttle. Won’t be much longer now, then they’ll be back in use. Until then, one more quote from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “The BMW is famous for not giving mechanical problems on the road.”

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