Transports Of Delight

Way back in 1899 Thorstein Veblen observed that people used dogs as status symbols to promote their social rank. Veblen put forward that the owning and promotion of what were then considered rare dogs by the monied classes was an example of what he termed “conspicuous consumption” – consumption that was done primarily to signal wealth and social status. The more useless or unnecessary an item, (How much for that painting?!!), the more it demonstrated the owner’s wealth. Sticking to canines for a moment longer, the current  craze for miniature dogs that can be carried in handbags a la Paris Hilton doesn’t actually do much for the world of dogdom other than promote eugenisized misshapen animals that are not allowed to, or cannot, function as canines by hunting, herding or guarding – they merely have to look distinctive.

Selective breeding has been going great guns in motorcycling over the past 50 years or so too. Come on, how many further sub types of bikes are there if you just do a split between Road and Dirt – and then add a third class for Adventure bikes?  Sub-divide further by looking at what models offer via the acronymns, ABS, TFT, BLABLA etc… It’s not just the bikes that get divided up, it’s the riders too. You are seen by what you ride and prejudices can be attached to each group by the others in their continued belief that they hold the one true faith. ‘Judge not lest ye be judged’ goes out the window, judging it.  Lord, it get’s tiring trying to keep up, especially when you have to define what a Cafe-Racer is without starting WW3.

There have been so many makes and models of motorcycles over the years, some lauded, some forgettable, some more successful and some not so. Every bike is important, how we as individuals choose to rank them for quality, beauty or anything else says far more about the beer-holder than the machine.  Nothing annoys me off more than when someone apologizes for what they ride; “It’s only a 250” and looking down their own nose at their own bike in a form of self-diminishment to gain some weird kind of cultural kudos.   Hell, I have had some of the most memorable times of my life on, “Only a 250” and less capacity motorcycles. Quality shed time has been spent admiring the form of every bike I have ever owned, when the light is at the right angle even a knackered Puch Maxi moped has a certain allure. Delete where applicable, Latest/Fastest/Most Advanced/Most Expensive/Most Exclusive appeals because that’s how our society is set up to work. Fortunately the vagaries of personal taste allow for choice, inevitable or otherwise. As Mick Jagger and Keith Richards pointed out in 1968, “You can’t always get what you want,  But if you try sometimes, well,  you might find You get what you need”.  Although the experience will obviously be different it is possible to enjoy any motorcycle from the vast  the spectrum without feeling hideously embarrassed because, when it comes to it, any motorcycle is better than no motorcycle.  Today riding the equivalent of a supermarket house brand  motorcycle isn’t as risky as it was just a few decades ago whilst the chances of immobility in the wilds of Buggery-do due to technical malfunction on a top of the range ADV bike have increased.

Motorcycling is more than a matter of matching bits of metal and plastic into a conveyance. DCT, ABS, Cruise Control, Gear Shift Assist, Slipper clutches, Radar, Sound Systems and  Intercom don’t exactly whisper romance and the lure of open road adventures. To quote L.J.K Setright  from his  1976 book, ‘Motorcycles’,  “It, (Motorcycling), demands emotional involvement as well as physical; it puts more premium on spirit than on substance; it is a means  to heighten one’s awareness of environment while yet escaping from its pressures. Because it is something undertaken from choice rather than necessity, it must be a sport even to the least competitive rider; and it is therefore entitled to its traditions, its assumptions, its perversities, however ill-founded, irrational or indefensible they may be. One cannot compound religion with a slide rule.  Neither can one capture the essence of adventure in a table of specifications.  Detailed technical analyses would be out of place in a story where the subliminal theme is romance…”

Back in the world of 19th century philosophers, Karl Marx, in  Capital (1867), defines a good or commodity as “first of all, an external object, a thing which through its qualities satisfies human needs of whatever kind”.  I’d say Karl would would probably ride an early  Honda Cub or CT110 rather than a Ducati Diavel, the latter  probably entered under “fetishism of the commodity” as expressing wealth through consumption and likely to gain more public attention.  Through the accident of being born a few years too early poor old Karl and Thorstein just missed out  on motorcycling, it might have changed their views, although I can’t see the latter being inclined to judge a custom bike show.  Never mind the philosophy, it ain’t what you ride that matters, the fact that you are riding is everything.

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