Lee Klancher makes a bold statement when he claims he’s compiled “The World’s Best Motorcycle Writing.” Writers have been penning tomes about the world of two-wheels for over a century and narrowing it down to a select few is a daunting task. Simply deciding on an era to source as a starting point is challenging. The pieces that Klancher chose are mostly contemporary, gleaned from the pages of respected publications like the New Yorker, McSweeney’s and even the metaphysical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that was released in 1974. The most dated piece is a story called the The Road written by T. E. Lawrence, better known as the Lawrence of Lawrence of Arabia fame, who ironically died in a motorcycle accident.
Digging into its pages, it doesn’t take long for The Devil Can Ride – The World’s Best Motorcycle Writing to prove that all motorcyclists aren’t leather vest and chap wearing boobs with a Jethro Bodine education. The first story sets the tone with its blend of descriptive prose and humorous storyline. When Mark Singer writes “…none of them come as close to the core of Johnny Red’s being as his motorcycle” when talking about the collection of vehicles the larger-than-life protagonist Johnny Red owns in King of all Kings, a universality is established. The passage strikes a chord with readers because most riders’ personalities are portrayed in their bikes. We are all like Johnny Red in our own way. Choosing this poignant piece with a light tone to kick of the book is an intelligent move by Klancher. It entices readers, making them want more.
There are many universal themes in the book. That first ride, the sense of rebellion motorcycle’s instill, the wanderlust bikes create are touched on. There are stories of outsiders looking in to the culture as well as stories from true insider’s looking out. There is history and heroes, Hollister and Evel Knievel , nuts and bolts and the passion of vintage collectors. There are stories of adventure, from riding in exotic lands to riding on the road no one else dares to travel. If variety is a spice, then The Devil Can Ride is spicy good.
One of the book’s primary appeals is its variety of works, like Hunter S. Thompson’s humorous recollection Song of the Sausage Creature where he test rides a Ducati 900 Campione del Mundo Desmodue Supersport for Cycle World magazine and almost kills himself. Then there’s Brian Catterson’s Rockin’ and Rollin’… Rollin’… Rollin’, where Catterson shares his story of riding with Rush’s legendary drummer Neil Peart from concert to concert during the band’s Vapor Trails tour and where Catterson’s appreciation of Rush’s body of work as an ardent fan is obvious. Grease Under the Angel’s Wings by Adele Kubin is short but powerful. It is a coming of age story from a girl who was taken in by the Hells Angels at only 11. In her piece, Kubin also challenges Hunter’s depiction of women associated with the Hells Angels and refutes the story about his fallout with the Angels and the ensuing beat down he received. Ghost Town by Elena Filatova is a particularly haunting piece about riding through the Chernobyl Dead Zone, describing her ventures into the region “like stepping into that Salvador Dali painting with the dripping clocks.” In the chapter of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Klancher chose titled The Empty Road, Pirsig describes how his three dollar gloves have taken on a life of their own and ponders his strange affection for them. Doesn’t most motorcycle gear get better as it seasons? He also touches on how motorcycles take on personalities with time, writing “Each machine has its own, unique personality which probably could be defined as the intuitive sum of everything you know and feel about it.”
The Devil Can Ride – The World’s Best Motorcycle Writing contains 28 stories from a Who’s Who of moto journalists and authors. Within its pages is a diverse cross section of literary works depicting all aspects of the motorcycle lifestyle. The passages vary from a light read to thought provoking tales and its ability to strike upon universal chords among motorcyclists is its strength. Is it the world’s best motorcycle writing? Tastes in literature are like tastes in motorcycles, more subjective than objective, but open up its pages, rev up your mind and it will take you on a memorable ride.
The Devil Can Ride – The World’s Best Motorcycle Writing