Volume 8, Issue 2: Fall 2012
Roundtable on Teaching Motorcycle Studies
The Motorcycle's First Century: Materials, Mechanics and Culture
Leland Giovannelli, PhD
College of Engineering and Applied Science
University of Colorado at Boulder
Some years ago, I wrote for IJMS an article about teaching a brief history of motorcycle design—a history so brief that I covered it in 50 minutes. Clearly this topic deserves much more than a single class; it deserves at least semester. So . . . I present here the syllabus that grew out of that single class. I have not yet taught it, but I hope that it might be of interest to IJMS readers.
Format: Interactive, team-taught1 lecture; three 50-minute meetings per week; 15 weeks of class.
Audience: My students are all engineering majors. They appreciate technical information—to a point: though they are all good at math, they have not reached the same levels in it. They grew up with computers; they did not grow up fixing cars. I would not expect more than 8 genuine gearheads in a lecture class of 45 or 50 students.
Goals: This course will explore motorcycles both as engineered objects and also as shaped by and expressive of cultural, economic, and historical forces. Ten different motorcycles, presented in chronological order, will serve as focal points. The course will provide lasting insight into the complexity of this artifact and the web of meaning that surrounds it.
Assignments and assessment:
1. Testing: This material lends itself to objective quizzes, tests, and a comprehensive final exam, consisting of true/false questions, multiple choice questions, fill-ins, and image identification. Tests will include qualitative application of mechanical formulas. That is, tests will not require quantitative mathematical calculations of air-flow or engine efficiency, but rather ask questions such as Which of the following options would be most effective in minimizing air turbulence on this motorcycle? How could you increase the stability of this motorcycle design?
2. Student presentations: In groups of three or four, students will give PowerPoint presentations (of roughly 20 minutes per group) on the featured motorcycles of the course. Groups will choose their topics/dates by the third week of the semester. Presentations will follow a standard format based on a list of stock questions. Of these questions, some will address historical, social, or economic facts (narrative of invention, back-story of inventors, competition with other marques, import/export tariffs, target audience, etc.); others will address engineering details and their consequences (power output, braking ability, engine design, lubrication style, etc.).2 Accompanying photographs and diagrams will be organized as systematically as possible. At least 24 hours before presenting, student groups will meet with instructors to ensure accuracy of information, as well as economy of presentation.3
3. Essays: Philosophical or disputatious texts offer the opportunity for two short analytical papers. The course promises a sufficiently dramatic change in student attitudes to warrant one reflective paper at the end of the semester; students will meet with one instructor to hammer out their final paper topic. One unfortunate drawback: the impossibility of safe-guarding against plagiarism makes assigning research papers impractical in this course.4
Topics and Sample Reading Assignments:
Alford, Steven E. and Suzanne Ferriss. Motorcycle. London: Reaktion Books, 2007.
Primary texts to be made available on-line:
Irving, Philip E. Motorcycle Engineering. Los Angeles, CA: Floyd Clymer Publications, no date given. While parts of this book have been superseded by more technical works such as Vittore Cosalter’s Motorcycle Dynamics (http://www.lulu.com/2006), I prefer its non-technical approach and its literary charm.
Kent, Thurston E. Kent’s Mechanical Engineering Handbook. New York: Wiley & Sons, 11th ed., 1938. Here, too, although there are more modern books of this type, I prefer to use this edition.
Alford, Steven E. and Suzanne Ferriss. Motorcycle. London: Reaktion Books, 2007.
Chanute, Octave. Progress in Flying Machines. Orig. pub. New York: The American Engineer and Railroad Journal Publications, 1894; Dover reprint, 1997.
Crowther, Geoff. “Sustainable Motorcycling: Rethinking Mobility, Consumption and Market Relationships.” IJMS 7.2 (Fall 2011): http://ijms.nova.edu/Fall2011/IJMS_Rndtble.Crowther.html
de Toqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America. Orig. pub. 1835-1840. On-line edition at http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/DETOC/toc_indx.html
Dewey, John. Intelligence in the Modern World. New York: Modern Library, 1939.
Léger, Fernand. The Machine Aesthetic: The Manufactured Object, the Artisan, and the Artist. Orig. pub. 1924, reprint in Robert L. Herbert, ed., Modern Artists on Art. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1964.
Ilyasova, Alex. “Dykes, Bikes & the Tenancy of Masculinity (a ‘microLECTURE’).” IJMS 8.1 (Fall 2012): http://radiocoloradocollege.org/2012/06/microlecture-dykes-bikes-the-tenancy-of-masculinity/
Irving, Philip E. Motorcycle Engineering. Los Angeles, CA: Floyd Clymer Publications, no date given.
Kent, Thurston E. Kent’s Mechanical Engineering Handbook. New York: Wiley & Sons, 11th ed., 1938.
Koerner, Steve. “Whatever Happened to the Girl on a Motorbike? British Women and Motorcycling from 1919 to 1939.” IJMS 3 (March 2007): http://ijms.nova.edu/March2007/IJMS_Artcl.Koerner.html
Mill, J. S. On Liberty. Orig. pub. London: Longman, Roberts, & Green, 1869. On-line edition at http://www.bartleby.com/130/
Moon, Wendy. “Riding Half-Naked (or the Conversion of a Safety Nazi).” IJMS 7.1 (Fall 2010): http://ijms.nova.edu/Spring2011/IJMS_Artcl.Moon.html
Morris, William. Signs of Change, Orig. pub. London: Longman, Roberts, & Green, 1896. On-line edition at http://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1888/signs/chapters/chapter5.htm
Mumford, Lewis. Technics and Civilization. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1934.
Petroski, Henry. The Evolution of Useful Things. New York: Knopf, 1992.
Pierce, Christian. “The State of Alternatives.” IJMS 7.2 (Fall 2011): http://ijms.nova.edu/Fall2011/IJMS_Rndtble.Pierce.html
Pierson, Melissa Holbrook. The Perfect Vehicle. New York: W. W. Norton, 1998.
Rollin, Bernard. “‘It’s My Own Damn Head…’: Ethics, Freedom, and Helmet Laws.” In Harley-Davidson and Philosophy. Peru, IL: Carus Publishing, 2006.
Sullivan, Louis H. “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered.” Lippincott’s Magazine, 1896. On-line edition: http://academics.triton.edu/faculty/fheitzman/tallofficebuilding.html
Tenner, Edward. Our Own Devices: How Technology Remakes Humanity. New York, Vintage Books, 2004.
Varela, Diego. “Motorcycle Consumption: A First Look at Peer-to-Peer Motorcycle Renting.” IJMS 7.2 (Fall 2011): http://ijms.nova.edu/Fall2011/IJMS_Rndtble.Varela.html
Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. Orig. pub., New York: McMillan & Co., 1899. On-line edition: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/veblen/veb_toc.html
Vertov, Dziga. Man with a Movie Camera. Russian, 1929: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iey9YIbra2U
Weiss, Andrew A. “The Effects of Helmet Use on the Severity of Head Injuries in Motorcycle Accidents.” Journal of the American Statistical Association 87.417 (Mar., 1992): 48-56.
Weller, Ralph B. and E. Wayne Chandler. “Motorcycle Safety and Motorcycle Education: Past Research and Survey Results,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, Vol. 8, Health and Safety Issues (1989): 93-108.
Wells, H. G. Anticipations. Orig. pub. Leipzig: Bernard Tauchnitz, 1901; Dover reprint, 1999.
1 The most hypothetical element of my syllabus is the engineering colleague who could join me in teaching it.
2 In some cases, of course, answers would overlap, as when a politically forced change in suppliers results in a change in quality of some component. Questions will be stock, but the manner of answering them will vary.
3 These rehearsal meetings will take time, but I gladly pay that price to forestall disastrous presentations. Moreover, the opportunity to get feedback before a presentation is of special value to engineering students: they will give regular PowerPoint presentations during their senior design courses, in order to report their progress to their clients from industry.
4 My students have been told since grammar school to put paraphrased text into their own words—which they take to mean make a word-for-word translation into easy vocabulary. Inevitably, and quite innocently, they plagiarize concepts and sentence structure alike. I cannot vet their work for plagiarism unless I control the source material they use. Thus I have developed a different kind of assignment for history courses: in a lengthy prompt I contrast word-for-word-translation and original synthesis; then I provide extensive passages from conflicting secondary sources (actual text, not citations) from which students must create their own original argument. In this course, however, secondary sources do not offer a sufficiently broad range of interpretations to make even this exercise worthwhile.
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