The Vigor of Reality
My heart is beating. I can feel it. I can hear it. To be honest, I can even see it. Night is falling over the city and my motorcycle is waiting outside the door. The different shades of black are still clearly visible, but soon the light will trickle away behind the houses – and with it all the contrasts. I reach over to the shelf, grab my helmet, and dig my gloves out of the drawer. Wrap the scarf around my neck, not too tight. Run down the stairs, not forgetting to breathe. Anyone who says that the half hour before a ride leaves them cold is lying. Because getting ready to go out on a motorcycle stirs up an incomparable excitement in anticipation of the ride. The start of the engine, the vibration between your legs, the wind and the feeling that everything is just right.
“Only beautiful things lead us out to join the world beyond our heads.” This quote is from the book The World Beyond Your Head by Matthew B. Crawford, who makes a case for deliberately engaging with real people and real activities. Because in the age of digital overstimulation, that’s exactly what matters. A direct engagement with the world. Okay, you’d be forgiven for thinking that a ride out on a Low Rider S through a balmy summer evening isn’t exactly the sort of thing that brings you together with other people – because riding a motorcycle is a solitary affair and the cruiser doesn’t even have a second seat. But anyone who says that is confusing solitude with silence.
Anyone who says that the half hour before a ride leaves them cold is lying.
Lonely and unworldly is the time spent in the digital realm, in front of the computer, on the smartphone, even the time spent wandering around the city listening to music. Wearing headphones that isolate you from the rest of the world. Silence, on the other hand, is what happens in your head when you’re riding a motorcycle. The mind is filled with the sound of the V2 engine, an air-cooled Milwaukee-Eight 114 whose rich sound takes up so much space in your head that no other thought can interfere. If you want, you can think about the history of the Harley-Davidson brand on a long straight, but frankly you can just as well leave it be. They say that a brand reveals something about the personality of its owner.
Silence is what happens in your head when you’re riding a motorcycle.
But take a closer look at any motorcycle hangout and you will notice that quite a lot has changed. No one would be surprised to see an old BMW and a brand-new Harley standing side by side, the two riders talking shop with each other. No one goes betting as to who belongs to which bike. First of all, you could lose a lot of money in the process. And besides, motorcyclists are simply people who are passionate about one and the same thing. To learn about this new reality, you have to, well, experience it. Matthew B. Crawford writes: “We achieve this, ultimately, by relocating the standards for truth from outside to inside ourselves.”
Seen in this light, there are two types of direct contact. On the one hand, there’s reality in the form of the wind, whose humming mingles with the rumble of the engine and the sound of the rolling tires. The direct contact with the asphalt, the pothole that you have to drive around. The curve that needs to be taken properly. But also the moth that gets caught in your helmet, which forces you to stop and get off very quickly in order to get rid of the critter.
The mind is filled with the sound of the V2 engine, an air-cooled Milwaukee-Eight 114 whose rich sound takes up so much space that no other thought can interfere.
On the other hand, it’s the comparison with your doubts and beliefs, nourished by what you’ve read somewhere once. And the realization that the combination of man and machine, or an evening ride out on a Harley through a city in the south of a country, puts your thoughts in order and clarifies your view of the world.
“The great thing is to gather new vigor in reality.” This quote from Vincent van Gogh can be found on the first page of Crawford’s book. And it’s, well, really true.