Motorcycles. What do they mean to those that ride them?
A very warm welcome to anthromoto, an ongoing research project of British motorcycle culture which seeks to capture and document the various 'existences' of rider and machine. Please take a look through the site and learn more about my research which combines academic investigation with photography to showcase the human-motorcycle relationship.
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Motorbikes first appeared in my life in the late 1980’s where as a kid keeping vertical on a bike was a bit of a challenge, and I bear the scars to prove that motorcycles don't keep themselves upright!
Fast-forward almost three decades and I now ride a Suzuki GSX-R 750 (and I’ve also learnt that motorcycles are far too expensive to drop). Motorbikes are my passion and I combine my love for this incredible machine with a desire to contribute to our motorcycle cultural knowledge and heritage.
I live in North Yorkshire, England, and my other academic interests are in the anthropology of religion, material culture and photography. I've previously provided an academic perspective on motorcycle culture for both Motorcycle Rider and Grip magazines and I write occasional articles for the popular motorcycle press. I’m a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute in London.
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I really do believe that some books can change you. My own life took a turn in direction after reading Bernt Spiegel’s (1999) comprehensive and almost mystical text The Upper Half of the Motorcycle. I first came across the book in 2012 whilst researching background literature on Indian religions. At the time, I was immersed in post-graduate fieldwork with Hindu and Jain religious communities and whilst browsing the ‘spirituality’ section of a local second-hand bookstore I noticed a tattered copy of Spiegel’s book. It piqued my interest and although I didn’t buy it there and then, I noted the title and then, perhaps naively, replaced it back in the ‘transport’ section of the shop.
Naïve is probably the correct word to use here. Spiegel’s book isn’t simply a practical manual on how to operate a two-wheeled machine, but it considers the more metaphysical aspects of riding. As luck would have it, it was a book in the right place at the right time because its contents have influenced my way of thinking about motorcycles ever since. An initial glance at the academic studies that have been carried out within ‘Western’ bike cultures have largely portrayed motorcycle and other PTW (powered two-wheelers) users in terms of a peculiar subcultural group (such as the Mods and Rockers), or as criminally deviant, especially in America (If academic literature is your thing then please drop me a line for further reading references). There are some notable exceptions – one example is Suzanne McDonald-Walker’s (2000) ethnography of the politics of British motorcycling advocacy (Bikers: Culture, Politics and Power) – but on the whole the lives and culture of ‘everyday’ motorcyclists and their relationships with their machines remains relatively unarticulated. It is this gap in our knowledge that this project hopes to address.
Anthropology is the study of human cultures and up until the turn of this century there had only been a handful of anthropology studies looking at bikers. However since that time, the consideration of motorcycling as a valid object of research has increased and dedicated journals such as the International Journal of Motorcycle Studies have formed. Motorbikes are technical machines through which human beings negotiate time, speed, place and metaphor. My particular passion is understanding how the traditional boundary between what we consider an object (the machine) and the subject (the rider) becomes blurred when humans connect with motorcycles, and its expression in material culture. However, my research interests cover many other areas which include, but are not limited to, machine animism, death and memorialisation in biker culture, the history and contribution of motorcycle clubs to national life and competitive motorcycle sports.
In mid 2019 I will begin shooting for my first photographic project entitled 'Gixxers' which will be a celebration of a bike close to my heart - the iconic Suzuki GSX-R motorcycle. I'm also currently working on two academic articles - one concerning machine animism and the other an exploration of roadside motorcycle memorials in Yorkshire. Please bookmark the site and check back in regularly for updates and further news or follow me on Facebook by clicking on the link at the top of the page.
If you would like to contribute to the research, or would like to know more about it, feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org