The Value Of The Road Trip!! Thoughts on "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"

Thoughts on "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert Pirsig

I have read this book several times and whenever I am a bit lost on what is important, it is one of the places where I find direction. The novel, published in 1974, uses a long motorcycle trip to frame a prolonged exploration of the world of ideas about life and how best to live it.

It references perspectives from Western and Eastern Civilizations as it explores the central question of the how to pursue technology so that human life is enriched rather than degraded. Narrated in the first person, it incorporates a parallel presentation of trip details and an ongoing retrospective concerning dramatic events from the Narrator's past, creating rich symbolism and including numerous analogies reinforcing the overall theme of coming to terms with the mysteries of why we exist and how best to live. His continued concern on what is real "Quality" in life is especially compelling to me.

I grew up near Chautauqua, New York in the far western corner near Pennsylvania. In this very rural community is an oasis of spiritual and philosophical learning where people come from all over to relax, study and re-connect. Pirsig in his narrative refers to his experiences as "Chautauquas" which I took to mean an open forum for thought and understanding.

In his story he asserted that unless we addressed our future, civilization was bound to continue in a downward spiral into more technological ugliness and increasingly brutal warfare. Objectivity gone wild, especially as represented by value-free perspectives, could continue to move the world to ugliness and discord. Naive rejections of technology would not be viable, either. Blind action and reaction resultant from a lack of receptivity to the guiding urgings of Quality need to be replaced by right living cultivated through caring attentiveness.

For me the motorcycle trip is a “road trip”; and just think then of the huge number of metaphor opportunities here! so let’s have everyone inclined add their experiences in the comments!  Pirsig seems to see the motorcycle as a better road trip vehicle, but don’t be caught up with that.  While the vehicle can be part of the message; the power of the trip is in the preparation, attention to detail, balancing process, and caring self-awareness.

  Honda CB77 Super Hawk 305cc

Pisig’s choice was a Honda Super Hawk; considered the first modern Japanese motorcycle. It was actually faster that many contemporary machines with larger displacements.  He reported kept the bike until his death at 88 in 2017!  Your “road trip” vehicle is a choice; practical, ethereal, artistic, or perhaps just a chance opportunity. Yet it is part of the story, the narrative.  Clearly your vehicle is not the whole story; yet it is there. There; in the preparation, in the art and in the maintenance.

Georgia Mountains with my brother Dan in Little Red


Pirsig’s book is not a "Bible" for sure, but anyone willing to spend time considering what is true in life, what defines "Quality" in life and benefits from introspection will enjoy this book.  


In the comments below, share your "road trip" narrative, photos of your vehicle and life learnings.  I hope you participate. M.

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