Volume 8, Issue 2: Fall 2012


Roundtable on Teaching Motorcycle Studies

Motorcycle Literature

Galen Farrington

Eastern New Mexico University, Ruidoso




As I prepared to return to a postsecondary teaching position after a thirty-five-year hiatus in the public school system as a high school English and psychology teacher, I considered a motorcycle literature course for the local community college.  The impetus for this literary deviance came about first when my wife acknowledged that I needed to share the literary experiences gleaned from my personal motorcycle library.  The second came after reading Riding With Rilke by Ted Bishop and after contacting Professor Bishop, who encouraged my plan. 


The community of Ruidoso, New Mexico has a storied history of motorcycle festivals and rallies.  Already the premier fall American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) rally, Aspencade became famous in the motorcycling world when Honda gave that name to its top-of-the-line touring motorcycle and presented the first one manufactured to the event’s creator Till Thompson.  It seemed that the confluence of environment and popularity was in favor of a community course offering.  I scheduled an interview with the Vice President of Student Learning and offered my motorcycle literature course idea as I sought employment for a non-existent position.  I was offered two options: to design a non-credit community offering or present the idea to the head of the English department to establish a special topics course.  I chose the latter because I had ascertained that motorcycle literature was worthy of collegiate study and review.


The department chair was very open to the course and provided me with my first assignment of developing the syllabus, one year after my formal retirement from high school teaching.  I spent inspirational time in the mountains of Colorado completing author research and finalizing the syllabus, which was approved just before fall semester commencement.   The class was offered but didn’t make.  In retrospect, I believe there wasn’t enough time to "sell" the class.  I was subsequently offered the ubiquitous English 102 writing class for the spring term, which I accepted gladly.  Two years later I was asked to offer Motorcycle Literature for the spring 2012 term and I had the required students for the class to make.


Motorcycle Literature: Course Development


The multi-faceted mission statement of Eastern New Mexico University 

Ruidoso begins:  


The overarching mission of ENMU Ruidoso is to enhance the lives of our students and the communities we serve, now and into the future.

A key element for the educational endeavor has always been to create better citizens by perpetuating the idea of lifelong learning opportunities for all residents . . .


Goal number one for the Motorcycle Literature class was to appeal to the motorcycle subset that thrived in our community where participants ranged from the ostracized one-percenters to the socially embraced Wing Dingers.  The most suitable anthology (indeed, the only one at the time) was Geno Zanetti’s She’s A Bad Motorcycle: Writers On Riding. As an aside, I thought the title should have been taken from the title of the first work in the book, Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s The Perfect Vehicle, or simply Writers on Riding.  Now the genre includes The Devil Can Ride: The World’s Best Motorcycle Writing (who creates these titles?) edited by Lee Klancher.  To offset the general high cost of texts, I had our bookstore order the used copies of the Zanetti text, and at $5.00 per book they were sold out the first night.


The second goal was to select an appropriately diverse cross-section of readings that represented historical, geographical, and social identities.  I knew I wouldn’t have the luxury of a multi-day per week class for in-depth analysis.  Instead, I needed to create unique weekly presentations that conveyed an underlying appreciation for the writing and the vicarious experience it provides. 


The third goal was to create an appropriately scheduled class period with the elements variably timed so that one two-and-a-half-hour class would be appealing.  I found the easiest method to accomplish this was to provide different audio-visual materials ranging from full-length movies to short documentary segments.  The materials were selected from my book/DVD library and correlated (as closely as possible) to the evening’s reading/discussion. This proved so successful that students refused the mandatory "break" and often insisted on staying longer than the scheduled time.


The fourth goal was to briefly explore the British and Japanese motorcycle cultures and compare them to the American motorcycle culture as revealed by the text and students’ international experiences.  Due to my background in psychology, the class oftentimes was led to explore psychosocial issues of the motorcycling culture as a result of their writing/presentation assignments.


A fifth goal was to provide biographies of the various authors and, if possible, provide the background that would correlate the author’s experience with the work studied.  This discussion usually led to a formal evaluation of life’s experiences and affirmed every students’ ability to write to convey their own ideas using specific essay structures.  


The final, major goal was to have fun. At the end of the course, one student commented that he felt like we were a community family that helped each other in times of need.  This was evidenced when one of the student’s bikes needed to be repaired because it was running intermittently and wouldn’t start after class.  That would have left its female owner stranded late at night.  Nobody left until the problem was solved.  Everyone in the class rode a bike.  They ranged in experience from a teenaged college student with his first bike (his mother, a nurse, thanked me with a curt smile for my influence) to a retired English teacher who had been riding for over fifty years.  Each student was interestingly unique in what he or she contributed to the class and no one wanted the class to end.  One student became the information dispenser in that she collected all of our emails and keeps everyone posted about reasons to ride.




In education, the terms "start" and "end" are used entirely too frequently and as a result I’d like to think that this first-time offering of Motorcycle Literature will lead to requests for the class; I will not have to "sell" it.  I'd also like to think that I addressed that portion of Ruidoso’s mission statement that enables lifelong learning opportunities; everyone in the class not only learned from their instructor.  More importantly, they learned from each other and created a community of learning every week that expanded beyond the classroom.  The surprising element was when students would ask how long I’d been riding a motorcycle because most knew me as a bicyclist who rode a bicycle every day as a commuter, had traveled by bike, and still competes (albeit, slowly now).


The students were further surprised when I tell of the trips and motorcycle events in which my wife and I have participated.  Students and families I had known for years were learning about one of my passions.   I was given total developmental control of this special topics course and I was encouraged by the administration every step of the way.  The college has indicated that I will be given the chance to offer the class again sometime in the future and I look forward to that second opportunity to share the varied culture of motorcycling to hopefully  "enhance the lives of our students."


ENMU Ruidoso Branch Community College

Master Syllabus Course Information

Semester: Spring, 2012

Course Title: Motorcycle Literature

Class Meeting: Monday, 6:00 pm

Instructor Information: Galen Farrington

Eastern New Mexico University:  Ruidoso Mechem


Course Rationale

Course is offered for the student interested in thinking outside the established literary box with a focus on the culture of motorcycling.


Course Description

Motorcycle Literature is a brief survey course exploring selections from a diverse author pool exemplifying a range of work from fiction to philosophy.  The course is designed to create interest, understanding, and enjoyment with riders and non-riders alike.


Required Text

Zanetti, Gena.  She’s a Bad Motorcycle: Writers on Riding.  Da Capo Press, 2002. 


Student Outcomes (Objectives)

·    The student will be able to critically evaluate selected literature.

·    The student will demonstrate the appropriate computer skills to generate the required essays.

·    The student will be able to identify and create examples of descriptive, argumentative, expository, and narrative writing.

·    The student will prepare and produce oral presentations before the class.

·    The students will work collectively to produce oral and written presentations.

·    The student will appreciate American’s rich, cultural motorcycling heritage.


Student Evaluation

Student evaluation will be based on the required journal writes, essays, and attendance.


Course Schedule


Week 1:


Video: excerpt from On Any Sunday

Author bio: McGuane

Reading:  McGuane,  “Me and My Bike and Why” (157-62)

Writing assignment:  first motorcycle


Week 2:

Discussion of writing assignment; reading

Author bio: Robert Fulton

Video: Twice Upon A Caravan

Reading: Fulton, from One Man Caravan (7-21)

Writing assignment: Why travel?


Week 3:

Discussion of writing assignment; reading

Author bio: Ernesto Guevara

Video: The Making of the Motorcycle Diaries

Reading: Guevara, from The Motorcycle Diaries (46-55)

Writing assignment: How can travel lead to personal transformation? 


Week 4:

Discussion of writing assignment; reading

Video: "Offerings to the God of Speed"

Author bio:  Ted Simon

Reading:  Simon, from Jupiter's Travels (172 - 80)

Writing assignment:  Why dream? 


Week 5:

Discussion of writing assignment; reading

Movie:  Then Came Bronson

Author bio: Allen Noren

Reading: Noren, from Storm (190-203)

Writing assignment: Explain how travel and tourism may be different


Week 6:

Discussion of writing assignment; reading

Video: Newfoundland to Florida Highway

Discussion: travel and why ride

Author bio: Gary Paulsen

Reading:  Paulsen, from Pilgrimage on a Steel Ride (181-89)

Writing assignment: personal travel story (and oral) discussion of reading


Week 7:

Discussion of reading

Oral presentations

Video: "Shaking the Cage"

Background discussion of the movie, Easy Rider

Writing assignment: What is a one-percenter?


Week 8:

Discussion of writing assignment

Movie: Easy Rider

Author bio: Ralph Barger

Reading: Barger,  “Stolen Wheels” (32-45)

Writing assignment: Why is the Harley-Davidson America’s iconic motorcycle?


Week 9:

Discussion of writing assignment; reading

Movie: Hells Angels on Wheels

Author bio: Tom Wolfe

Reading Wolfe, “The Hells Angels” (97-106)

Writing assignment: describe the cultural percenter

Video: Society


Week 10:

Discussion of writing assignment; reading

Video: "Cafe Society"

Author bio: Karl Greenfeld

Reading: Greenfeld, from Speed Tribes (204-266)

Writing assignment: What is the attraction of gang life?


Week 11:

Discussion of writing assignment; reading

Video: "Why We Ride" and "The Old Motorcycle Fiasco" 

Author bio: Eric Burdon

Reading: Burdon, “The Great Escape” (56-62)

Writing assignment: Why ride?

Video: Knievel


Week 12:

Discussion of writing assignment; reading

Video:  The Evel Knievel Story

Author bio: Rachel Kushner

Reading: Kushner, “Girl on a Motorcycle” (237-255)

Writing assignment: Why compete?


Week 13:

Discussion of writing assignment; reading

Video:  Road Heroes, episode one

Author bio: Robert Pirsig

Reading: Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (163-171)

Writing assignment: What is zen?


Week 14:

Discussion of writing assignment; reading

Video: Ducati: A Story of Passion

Final essay




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