Motorcycles. What do they mean to those that ride them?
A very warm welcome to anthromoto, a research project of British motorcycle culture which attempts to record 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 document 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 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 visual anthropology/sociology, material culture and photography. I've previously provided an academic perspective on motorcycle culture for both Motorcycle Rider magazine and the Dutch motorcycle publication Grip 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.
This book (which I later bought) isn’t simply a practical manual on how to operate a two-wheeled machine, but it considers the more metaphysical aspects of riding a motorcycle. 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.
Up until the turn of this century, researchers in anthropology, sociology and cultural studies had only carried out a relatively small number of studies looking at motorcycle culture. 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 and my own 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 and motorcycles connect. However, my other interests include topics such as death and memorialisation in bike culture, the history and contribution of motorcycle clubs to national life and from September 2020 I will be undertaking a doctoral project researching several aspects of British motorcycle racing.
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