Volume 6, Issue 1: Spring 2010
The First International Journal of Motorcycle Studies Conference
University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
June 3-6, 2010
An international group of scholars and motorcyclists—not to mention scholar-motorcyclists—descended on the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs for the first International Journal of Motorcycle Studies conference, June 3-6, 2010. Participants from the U.S., Canada, England, Ireland, Italy, Romania, New Zealand and India met to offer fresh perspectives on motorcycles, motorcyclists and motorcycling.
Motorcycle photographer Michael Lichter twisted the throttle on the conference with an opening night exhibition on Thursday. He showed examples of his work from his early career in the 1970s to the present and discussed the changes in photography and motorcycling he has witnessed in his 30-year career.
In their presentations on Friday and Saturday, conference participants discussed the future of motorcycling and motorcycle design. David Braun and Eryl Price-Davies highlighted the rise of adventure motorcycling as a manufacturing niche and, as Davies added, a lucrative enterprise for travel companies, as well as the writers who publish accounts of their adventures. Jeff Morrison investigated the humor particular to British motorcycle travelogues, in particular. Sushil Chandra linked the meanings Indian riders attach to motorcycles to visual and technical design attributes, while Amitoj Singh explored the significance of emotions in the styling of motorbikes within the social culture of biking in India. Geoff Crowther discussed the challenges of creating sustainable motorcycles and motorcycling practices for the future and Christian Pierce assessed the history and current state of alternative fuel motorcycles.
Several presenters touched on the often fraught intersection of motorcycling and the law. Charles Lamb offered fresh research to challenge the New Zealand government’s policy regarding motorcyclist culpability in mulit-vehicle accidents, research that has implications for policy makers—and riders—worldwide. The difficulties in registering the Dykes on Bikes® trademark were the focus of presentations by Alex Ilyasova, as well as members of the group itself, including past president Vick Germany and filmmaker Sheila Malone, who screened a short documentary feature about the group.
The place of women in motorcycle culture was the subject of several other presentations. Elissa Auther and Gillian Silvermann presented information about their innovative Feminism&Co project at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, highlighting one program that used motorcycling to raise issues related to women and gender. Steven Alford surveyed responses to women and technology, while Suzanne Ferriss considered historical and contemporary reactions to the enhanced mobility that both the bicycle and then motorcycle offered to women. Physical liberation on two-wheels, they contended, provokes sexual associations for both men and women.
A number of presentations on motorcycles in cinema highlighted such sexual associations, as well. Marina Cianferoni offered rich examples from early European cinema to challenge the dominant perception of biker films as a specifically American creation. Tom Goodmann offered an innovative reading of one contemporary film, Wild Hogs, focusing on its anxieties about homosexuality.
Philosophers considered the human-machine interface: Kermit Harrison explained how learning to ride a motorcycle (including falling off at speed) can be used as a metaphor for what Kierkegaard would call a leap of Faith. Chioke I'Anson argued that mind, body and motorcycle merge into a seamless unity at the peak of motorcycle performance. Gabriel Jderu encouraged us to consider motorcycling as a social career, while Lisa Garber presented her daily commute as a profoundly individual meditation on life.
Historians traced a number of motorcycle-related developments. Steve Koerner reflected on the British motorcycle industry and Costantino Frontalini surveyed the development of the sidecar. Christopher Thrasher discussed the impact of cultural influences on the formation of “outlaw” motorcycle culture, while Gary Kieffner outlined a project for studying the relationship between “outlaw” culture and the FX television series Sons of Anarchy. Caryn Simonson explored a different order of visual production associated with motorcycling. She displayed images of motorcycles she had “chintzed”: bikes that she had decorated with fabric coverings and then posed as props for portraits with real—and fake—riders.
As even this brief summary indicates, the range of approaches to motorcycling was impressive and the arguments provocative. Participants attending the conference—presenters and audience members from the local community—discussed their shared passion with great intensity during conference sessions and, less formally, over drinks and dinner in the evening. They even rode together through the Colorado mountains—to visit Bishop’s Castle and Cripple Creek. In the words of one participant, it was “motorcycle heaven.”
If you’d like to experience your own slice of heaven, consider attending the next conference in Colorado Springs in summer 2012. Watch the IJMS website for announcements.
Click HERE to download a copy of the complete conference program.
The journal thanks Conference Coordinators
Alex Ilyasova and Lisa Garber for their hard work!
Images and text copyright © International Journal of Motorcycle Studies