Archives For Motorcycles

I just read something funny about automobile commercials. This anonymous comment resonated with me, and may with you as well: “car advertisers grossly overestimate how much time I spend driving across the desert.”

It’s a versatile joke, since the final location is interchangeable. Despite the fact I live off a gravel road in the woods, they also grossly overestimate the time I spend summiting snowy mountains. Despite the “all wheel drive” in our two RAV4s,* I have no desire to race through dangerous or hostile environments.

Well, with one possible exception. I really enjoyed this entertaining advertisement from years ago. Trust me, watching this witty Jeep ad will be a worthwhile use of 31 seconds.

Cars are a ubiquitous presence in our world. In the States, getting a personal driver’s license is a traditional rite of passage for sixteen-year-olds. Even in many developing nations, automobile ownership is commonplace. While some urbanites consider the expenses associated with vehicles a foolish investment, most people find the alternative inconceivable. And, whether one owns, leases, rents, or borrows cars, having a driver’s license is a necessity.

That wasn’t always true. When my mother was learning to drive, the brakes went out on the car. She was so traumatized, she never drove again.

C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, had no interest in learning to drive. In fact, the brilliant Oxbridge professor was generally dismissive of automobiles. Presumably this did not carry over to his view of motorcycles, as his conversion while riding in brother Warnie’s sidecar attests.

On the Disadvantage of Traveling by Car

In his autobiography, C.S. Lewis declares “I number it among my blessings that my father had no car, while yet most of my friends had, and sometimes took me for a drive.”

The second half of the sentence makes ready sense. If our family lacks a car, it is fortuitous that generous friends compensated for its absence. But what could Lewis have meant by considering growing up without an automobile to be a “blessing?”

Fortunately, Lewis doesn’t leave us guessing—and his rationale provides a thought-provoking question. What might we sacrifice for the convenience of instantly accessible access to transportation that can carry us hundreds of miles in a handful of hours?

This meant that all these distant objects could be visited just enough to clothe them with memories and not impossible desires, while yet they remained ordinarily as inaccessible as the Moon.

The deadly power of rushing about wherever I pleased had not been given me [emphasis added].

I measure distances by the standard of man, man walking on his two feet, not by the standard of the internal combustion engine. I had not been allowed to deflower the very idea of distance . . .

The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it “annihilates space.” It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten (Surprised by Joy).

This final idea of feeling adventure with modest travel opened my eyes to one of the “oddities” I experienced as a child. One year while I was young, my father was stationed overseas with the USMC, and my mother relocated us so we would be near her parents.

My grandparents had a practice that struck me, already a fairly well-traveled lad, as very strange. Each Sunday, after church, we would all pile into the family sedan and go for “a drive.” The cause for this special event was not to get from point A to point B. No, the purpose was simply to enjoy the simple experience of traveling. I don’t recall ever driving more than thirty miles from home, but setting out in random directions to savor the beauty of God’s creation did produce a unique type of satisfaction.

Human Perceptions of Distance

Distance can be considered in a variety of ways. We commonly think of distance in visual terms. Depth perception is made possible by binocular vision. Monocular (single eye) vision is poor at recognizing depths, although it can still be useful for comprehending distances and sizes. However, we are not reliant solely on our eyes.

An obvious alternative is found in the phenomenon of auditory distance perception. Not as efficient as its visual cousin, this medical article notes it does possess one significant advantage.

A normal-hearing person has an immediate appreciation of auditory space in the sense that orientation toward acoustic events is natural, rapid, and in general, accurate. Although spatial acuity is poorer by up to two orders of magnitude in the auditory than in the visual domain, the auditory world has the advantage of extending in all directions around the observer, while the visual world is restricted to frontal regions.

In “The Various Perceptions of Distance: An Alternative View of How Effort Affects Distance Judgments,” scientists discuss the even broader complexity of the subject.

Direct judgments of spatial relations are key to a variety of research domains, both inside and outside the discipline of psychology (e.g., spatial cognition, neuropsychology, exercise science, medical diagnosis, human factors). Thus, the lessons learned from this work have implications extending well beyond visual space perception.

Having noted there are psychological aspects of perceiving distances, I recommend QGIS. QGIS is a free, open source, cross-platform application which supports viewing and editing of geospatial data. It’s actually less complicated than it may sound, and a quick look at their “lesson” on “Spatial Thinking” is extremely informative.

“There are three fundamental concepts of spatial analysis: space, location, and distance.” Each of these perspectives includes absolute, relative and cognitive dimensions. It is the cognitive aspect that most fascinates me and, I sincerely believe, intrigued C.S. Lewis.

Absolute distance is a physical unit of measure, for instance, the number of miles between downtown Houston and downtown Toronto. Relative distance is calculated measuring distance, using metrics such as time, effort, or cost. For instance, the distance of two cities may be 2000 miles apart, which is an absolute description of distance, becomes the distance of two cities measured in tanks of gas, or mileage charge.

Last, let’s discuss the cognitive perception of distance. This refers to an individual’s perception of how far things are apart. For instance, to some, driving 200 miles between Houston and San Antonio Texas is a reasonable drive. However, for others, a 200 mile drive may seem like a very, very far distance to travel if they are not used to traveling such a distance regularly.

This final example, of the varying perceptions of distance by people with different experiences is precisely what Lewis identified in Surprised by Joy.

The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it “annihilates space.” It . . . is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten.

Perhaps the Most Significant Matter of Distance

An article entitled “Closest Proximity And Infinite Distance” discusses Lewis’ insight into matters of distance. The author includes the following passage from Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm.

I fully agree that the relationship between God and a man is more private and intimate than any possible relation between two fellow creatures. Yes, but at the same time there is, in another way, a greater distance between the participants.

We are approaching—well I won’t say “the Wholly Other,” for I suspect that is meaningless, but the Unimaginably and Insupportably Other. We ought to be—sometimes I hope one is—simultaneously aware of closest proximity and infinite distance.

Once again, we witness C.S. Lewis’ brilliance. An awareness of both our Lord’s proximity to us and the vast distance between Creator and humankind, is a fundamental truth of Christian faith. And, here I will be bold in love, if either element is lacking in your personal relationship with God, I strongly encourage you to pursue such a balance.


* Lest anyone think we are extravagant, the “new” car is a 2013, and its older garage-mate is a 2004, complete with a manual transmission.

A New Motorcycle Memory

February 27, 2014 — 14 Comments

sidecarI witnessed the ending of a life last night. It wasn’t stolen by disease. Nor did it gently surrender to the passage of many decades.

A healthy man, in the prime of his life, died tragically in a traffic accident. The vehicles involved did not appear to have been traveling particularly fast . . . but one was a truck, and the other a motorcycle.

I have many friends who absolutely love their bikes. That includes the fine deputy who I was riding with last night as we responded to the crash. My friends are all smart enough to wear helmets, just as the victim in this case was doing.

I have never personally longed to experience the freedom of riding a motorcycle on the open road. That doesn’t mean I think less of those who do. On the contrary, many of the people whose company I most enjoy consider riding bikes a blast.

I only hope that my grandchildren don’t.

I have no desire to rob my grandkids of any of the joy that life can offer—I’m just cautious and protective by nature.

Several of my friends have been in serous motorcycle accidents. Fortunately, all survived. And they have one more thing in common—none of the incidents was their fault.

As I looked at the bike, crushed beneath the front of the truck, I said a prayer for the rider whose family will never see him again. And as I gazed toward the driver of the truck, I prayed for him too, knowing that his own life would never be the same.

Like money, which is not the root of all evil (the love of money is) . . . so too, it is not motorcycles themselves that are intrinsically dangerous. They just happen to leave their riders so terribly vulnerable when the drivers of more massive vehicles fail to see them.

C.S. Lewis rode in motorcycles. I say “in,” because he was accustomed to riding in the sidecar of his brother Warnie’s cycle. The familiar account of his final conversion from theism to Christianity involves one such ride, to the Whipsnade Zoo. As Lewis wrote, “When we set out I did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.”

The following diary entries from April 1924 relate to enjoying rides while on holiday. The shorthand “W” stands for his brother, Warnie. The “D” for Mrs. Jane King Moore, the mother of a close friend who died in WWI. The passage illustrates how at home Lewis was when traversing the countryside with his brother.

In the afternoon W generally read: I often went out to get something, or else read and wrote. After tea all three of us went for a most excellent ride in divine weather. We rode through Yatton and Wrington into the Mendips, passing within sight of D’s well beloved Winscombe—a steeple on a hillside seen for a moment in the heart of a beautiful long ridged wooded crooked country. After that we ran through a small gorge out on to the barer southern slope of the Mendips and down into the narrow little streets and beetling houses of Axbridge—glory! what a town and how placed!

Thence on to Cheddar by a road that skirts the hills. Here I saw many fields and trees quite white with blossom and daisies. At Cheddar we caught sight of the gorge up to our left quite unexpectedly: and then while I was still in a confused impression—the speed of a motor cycle is sometimes a great aesthetic advantage—W suddenly turned and ran up it. I lay back in the side car and watched the huge coloured cliffs pushing up further round us and closer till it seemed like going into a tunnel. I was quite unprepared for anything of the sort. It was a great moment.

We turned on our tracks and went on to Wells. Just before reaching it we turned off left at a signpost “To Wookey Hole” to find some quiet pub where we cd. eat our lunch. The lane wound on so long that we began to fear that Wookey Hole was a natural feature, a devil’s punch bowl or the like, and not a village. A village however it turned out to be, with a pub where we sat on a curiously comfortless bench and ate our sandwiches and drank cider.

We then went back and into Wells where W was charged 6d. for leaving the bike in Wells Square by the town authorities, who however “took no responsibility of any sort” for it. W was delighted with the outside of the Cathedral but less pleased with the interior. I think I agreed with him. I also agreed with his view that King’s Chapel, Cambridge, is the perfect building. We then strolled all round the Palace talking of all things that arose therefrom—Barchester, abbots, mediaeval siege tactics. Our ease and freedom and pleasant chat made this visit to Wells far better than my first when I came here on the motor tour with my father and the Hamiltons. In many ways W is the ideal person to go for a jaunt with . . .

On Saturday 26th we all came back to Oxford. It had been arranged that I shd. travel in the sidecar. It was obvious that one of us shd. do so to save fares and D, of course, refused to be that one. I therefore trained with her to Yatton and saw her into a through train to Bristol with the luggage, and W, Pat and I got aboard the bike. As we were making all snug outside Yatton station, a hamper, wh. had just been taken out of the train, was suddenly opened just beside us to release a cloud of pigeons that filled the air with an amazing noise before we knew what was forward. It was a curious experience for I had not suspected the hamper of containing anything live.

It was raining when we started but soon cleared up. We got into the main road shortly before Wrington and entered Bristol by Bedminster… From Faringdon we came along at a very good speed thro’ Bickland, Kingston Bagpuize, Fyfield, Bessels, Leigh, Cumnor and Botley to Oxford. It is a tame, well combed, cheerful country of tidy well growing woods, white gates, dark tarred roads, comfortable cottages, sometimes exceedingly beautiful, green hedges and flat blue distances. The speed, the sunlight, and the sense of coming home put me into an unusually prolonged fit of “joy.”

As Lewis says, “the speed [and] the sunlight” of a motorcycle trip can surely be exhilarating. Likewise, “the speed of a motor cycle is sometimes a great aesthetic advantage.” Clearly, C.S. Lewis enjoyed motorcycles greatly.

But I still hope my grandchildren are not seduced by motorcycles’ allures.