Book Review: Discovering the Motorcycle

| 12/12/2016 2:27:00 PM

Discovering the MotorcycleFull disclosure: I have some personal involvement in Armand Ensanian’s impressive new book, Discovering the Motorcycle: The History. The Culture. The Machines. Since 1887. I first spoke with Armand sometime in mid-2015, when he called asking if I’d be willing to spend some time talking with him about a book he was writing about motorcycles and the history of motorcycling.

His proposal was ambitious. He didn’t want to just explore a corner of motorcycling; he wanted to explore the entire universe of motorcycling, from its history to its culture to the machines themselves. I have to admit that I listened with a bit of skepticism as he laid out his planned book, because while he had experience in the publishing world, he’d certainly never done anything like this. The almost encyclopedic tome he proposed was no small project. Acquiring and parsing the necessary information was in itself a formidable task; pulling it together in a compelling and coherent way that will draw new and long-time riders — and perhaps more importantly, non-riders — to its pages quite another. I’ve fielded more than a few calls from would-be book authors, but Armand was different, his enthusiasm and love for motorcycles and motorcycling approachable and clear. Before I knew it, I had agreed to review his manuscript for publication and write its foreword.

When Armand sent me an early version of the manuscript to review, it became clear just how serious he was about making this book a reality and just how capable he was of seeing that reality through. What follows is my foreword for Armand’s book. While not a typical review, it expresses, I hope, my appreciation for what Armand has done, self-funded, working basically alone and without the benefit of a supportive publisher. — Richard Backus

Foreword to Discovering the Motorcycle

In developed nations like the United States, very few of us ride motorcycles because we have to. We ride because we want to. We ride for the fun, for the freedom, for the opportunity to separate ourselves from the hordes of cars jostling for position on the highway, their anonymous occupants insulated and indifferent to the world around them. Motorcycling requires exposure, and exposure requires assessing and engaging the world around you. In a car, you view the world from a distance, through a television screen. On a motorcycle, there is no screen.

Starting with the first machines at the turn of the last century, riders discovered the singular experience that is motorcycling. While early automobiles were mostly open to the elements, they aspired to cosset and pamper their occupants. The motorcycle was different. It thrust its pilot out into the open, and if there was luxury, it was the luxury of speed and individual control. The appeal of the motorcycle to independent-minded men and women was immediate, and the freedom of two wheels intoxicating. They became enthusiasts, and their enthusiasm was infectious, driving a sport and an industry that has shaped how we live and look at the world.

Armand Ensanian is the consummate motorcycle enthusiast, and perhaps the perfect person to tell the tale of motorcycles and motorcycling. His love affair with motorcycles started as a teenager with a ride up and down the East Coast on a Honda CB160. He was, to put it lightly, smitten, and since then he’s been drawn by every aspect of motorcycling, from its history to the bikes and the people who ride them. A former columnist for Popular Mechanics and photo journalist, Armand is both rider and writer. Motorcycles have been his vocation and his avocation, and he appreciates deeply, enthusiastically, that motorcycles are much more than simply two-wheeled transportation. They are a window to the world, a world Armand has spent his life embracing and exploring.

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