Robert M. Pirsig, Author Of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, Dies At 88

(original article by Chris Kallfelz on

Author Robert M. Pirsig died at his home today in South Berwick, Maine, he was 88 years old. Pirsig, best known for his philosophical work of non-fiction, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, An Inquiry Into Values, first published in 1974, spoke to a post-Vietnam/Watergate generation searching for truth and meaning during a tumultuous decade.

The book follows Pirsig and his son, Chris, on a motorcycle journey into a metaphysical landscape as the author pursues the meaning of, “Quality,” an elusive qualitative measure in an increasingly quantifiable world. Along the way he examines Plato, sophists, the pre-Socratics, and eastern philosophy, as well as the nature of condensers, mechanical points, and shims fabricated from discarded cans in his search for the good.

He humbly summarized his philosophical treatise-cum-motorcycle road trip in his author’s note, “What follows is based on actual occurrences. Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact. However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.” He begins his tale by telling you what his book isn’t thus inviting the reader to take the journey with him and answer the question for themselves, “What is good?”

Pirsig endeavored to show us.

Elite or Elect… Evolution or Demolition? (AU)

Learning and improving is a personal responsibility and duty that cannot be delegate to other entity outside the “self”.

As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves” (Mahatma Gandhi). Still the myth of blaming others (the leaders, the society, the circumstances, the family) is the most normal reaction when we are confronted with our limitations or with “what is wrong” around us.

My friend-in-thinking Aydin sent a letter reacting to what he calls the “good piece in the latest Bulletin, titled “Elite or Elect?”

A strange letter that whose content seams for the major part addressed to the “iniquities” on the world around us. As good detective stories, the letter has an unexpected turn and change of direction at the end. If you are wondering, keep reading. (edited by PV)

“I have been thinking about “Elite or Elect?” from a different perspective coming back to biking as well.

In many countries today we can see the rise of right-wing, nationalist, populist leaders appealing to the racist, bigoted and xenophobic feelings so present in what we call well-developed countries. I don’t think this is a ‘history repeating itself’ kind of phenomenon; it seems to me rather the World is turning up-side down: populist leaders appeal to the dark side of that part of the population that feel excluded by the extreme inequality. They cry in defense of the little they own: presumed identity, false race the blood thirsty tribalism… my village, my city, my nation, my borders. Nationalism becomes the norm, closing, building walls and considering the “others” enemies turns into mass attitude.

In this way the word elitist is used almost as a curse, something to be ashamed of. In their eyes, elitist is a person who thinks unjustifiably that he knows something better, whereas actually everybody knows everything.

The need for changing, developing and embrace diversities is forgotten since everything is already invented and readily available in social media.

And all the information is at the internet anyway.

Individualism is rejected and elitism is for minorities only. Masses where everybody is similar to one another and get more similar as the time passes are in control: the different values of the individual and the discipline to learn of elitism are replaced by conformism. But elitists, or individualists, are actually the ones who would take the society further – they are the elements of evolution.

If knowledge and service are evolution the opposite is demolition.

Maybe, just maybe, human race is not only demolishing itself and the earth we all live in but it’s demolish as well the species we love.

Bikers have a built in anti-elite instincts thinking “who the hell is that guy trying to teach us how to enjoy our hobby?” only occasionally balanced by a desire to improve-to-feel-better. Here ignorance may appear as a bliss: some un-trained riders may have more joy than a competent one rider till fate strikes but he/she will not have the deep happiness and satisfaction that comes from continuous self-development” and so on….

Yes, I was feeling great, enjoying putting some thoughts on (electronic) paper, thinking I’ve written clever things and concepts that Bulletin readers might like. But upon reading Elite or Elect once again, I got shocked to see how blind I’ve been. How I missed the point.

You, Paolo, were not complaining about the populism, anti-elitism or ignorance of some riders, you were not into that at all – you were just into your own.

From the very thought that “biking is a way of thinking”, comes the conclusion that it’s of no use nor benefit to think about who is right and who is wrong once you make a crash or fall; you would be the one who’d get hurt.

One should blame only the self for not having anticipated the situation and the hazards in timely fashion.

And you can only develop yourself, not the others. And the more you develop yourself, the more you can be of help for people seeking to change.

Elite or Elect is a piece demonstrating the truth of self improvement again, at a much higher level yet with great modesty.

So I felt ashamed. I had just complained – thinking that I (and some few friends of mine) was right, but the rest of the World was plain wrong. Was I really that lost? That hopeless, that tired? I really have to find a way to be better than that. I will.

First Trans-Anatolia Long Distance Ride July 2003 (PV)

Edited again for Long Distance Riders wanting to do new rides in old land: a report written 14 years ago of a west-to-east crossing of Turkey. The good friend Selim (who died in February this year) is with me under the Ararat Mountain approaching the end of the ride.

“It is the right Hotel … for the last three hundred kilometers I have been thinking about shower, air conditioning, cold water. To get to the starting point of OMM Trans-Anatolia LDR I woke up at four o’clock in the morning to be in Cesme (Izmir) in time for a further six hours of rest. 16:00… two hours to departure. Riders eating around a small pool, good spirit but the tension is quite visible. In front of us miles and miles of the worst of Turkish traffic. The owners of the Hotel Arinnanda are all around us supporting with a newly discovered friendship the determination of the riders.

Again the question: why?

Long Distance Riding is a passion without reason and in the eyes of the non riders (and of some riders) a folly with no justification. Water, water again, the last cigarette… pictures… check the bikes once more… have the departure document signed… and we are on the Road.

  1. 18:00 Forgot anything? Too late for regrets. Selim is romantic: he wants to start from City Center so, down to the beach and the summer’s pleasures (fumes, traffic, noises with suntan cream perfumes). The popular resort of Cesme is in bathing suits and shorts; we cross the holiday people with Aerostich, Rukka and Dainese protective armors. A laugh and a sweat. The clock reads 9274 kilometers. Time to talk with your Angel pretending you are not so stupid.
  2. Pass Sardes the ancient capital of the Lydian Empire home of the sadly rich King Croesus, the long evening seems to last forever with the sun setting in a dramatically orange show in my mirrors: it would have been a good picture but no time to stop, no time to take the camera out. Selim, leading, pushes at the limit trying to make good progress in the fading light: Kula is just a petrol stop on route 300 from Izmir to Ankara, it’s eight o’clock and no time for chatting: clean the visor, gulp some liquid, Ankara we come. So far… so good I feel relaxed in front scouting for the last of speed traps before dark. It is night in Afyon and no light or time to spot the high castle of the market of opium: just petrol station with busses downloading passenger in restaurants and toilets.
  1. Next will be a boring section and in Gomu (second petrol refill) is time for Alp to take the lead: Sivrihisar, Polatli the route 200 to Ankara is full of trucks serving the need of the capital… vegetable, fruits and more busses. Ankara is a yellow glow on the east horizon: Selim is just back home where he started this early morning. Ankara citizen he takes the lead to skirt the city in the fastest way. Good-by ancient citadel with the Caracalla baths, the Ulu Mosque and the Temple of Augustus: Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans stranded in the high plateau of Anatolia. No time to appreciate the short portion of circular motorway: the roller-coaster of Elmadag road is now in front of Selim strong (and special) xenon light.
  1. Petrol again (the odometer reads 10.020). If my Aprilia instrument is accurate we are almost at mid-point with more than 750 K done. The station is deserted and the temperature drops unexpectedly, time for an extra layer under the suit. Time to wake up the brain while fatigue settle in. it is one o’ clock in the morning and we have another tank to burn before the sun rise. Companions are silent, Selim walks, Alp dreams and I eat ice cream. After Elmadag, the road turns twisty and bad, corners come out from nowhere in an endless black strip.
  1. Time to think: is Long Distance riding fun? Why passing broken castles without investigating? While riding when good people rest? What is that dark shadow? A trick of the mind or… a truck without light? Steering knowledge pays well when heavy vehicles save on electricity. The sense of solitude is enhanced by the (almost) constant absence of lines on Turkish road. At night only your instinct and the lights of other users tell you where your lane begins and where it ends. Sign? Few or too many…but always at the wrong place, at the wrong time. You are the only one to comment the road: no aids, no suggestions. Look at that light turning left with a sharp sweep, prepare for the corner, feel the gravel under your tires, you moved to far in your lane… radio is back and it beats television.
  1. Worth the risk? Of course my answer is biased. I have been riding against time and space since my old and now dead friend Mike was organizing 1000/24 rides in UK. A Magni Moto Guzzi let me down one night near Oxford and I had to ride and additional 200 miles to get a new bike. I did the first Iron Butt in Turkey with blessings from Michel Kneebone himself year ago and the friend that volunteered to ride with me went home after 150 kilometers. Of course I am biased; I love it. A form of meditation, disciplinary exercise, sacrifice rolled in adrenalin and skills. No lies, no bar-talks: you and the road in a very long embrace. Self-evaluation, self-education, self-motivation: the brain is focused, the spirit is free and the road sings.
  1. Signs of the sun turning to our direction. It cannot be too long for the night to pass. They have to write the name of the place in my note book: Akdagmadeni midway between Yozgat and Sivas, a good petrol station: no tea, no coffee and no unleaded. Turn back few kilometers: still no coffee, no tea but a very unfriendly unleaded. Selim has a thermos with coffee filled nine hours ago. Great taste with a sniff of warmth left in. It is cold, summer and less than ten degrees’ temperature, summer gloves and cold hands. The body refuses to move not to disturb the bubble of air inside the suit: I slam hands on legs to restore circulation and I envy Selim with heated grips and feet comforted by two hot cylinders. Aprilia reacts with jealousy: a never ending engine with power to annihilate any long distance: 1000 Kilometers gone.
  1. It is back: when a kid I never felt very sure that the sun would have come back after the last rays of a sunset. But is back, announced by a cold, whitish dawn and then exploding low on the horizon on the top of the visor. You need a hand in front to protect your eyes and to gain marginal vision. Reduced vision coincide with unpaved roads: predictable. A long stretch of “road in construction” is a good alternative to breakfast. Dust and Eggs… sorry no eggs. Where are the dogs of Sivas, the brave Kangals of Karabas (black head) lineage? Just waking up and gathering the flocks. Where are the Cift Minarets of the Mehmet Pasa Mosque and the Islamic school built by the Mongols? Just on your left, pal… but do not look… keep going.
  1. Refahiye: a dot on route 100. Even now few days after the event I cannot remember: a petrol station, another tank. The faces of my partners in this adventure are tired but satisfied: the night is gone, the sun is shining and the temperature rises. Anatolia smells of grain, cut or to be cut. The smell is of good bread and the air is yellow with dust. Busses with Iranian registration crawl under the weight of excessive luggage. Arsin Transport has offices in Istanbul, Frankfurt and Teheran.
  1. They cut threes, to enlarge roads and these great giants lie dead at the side of a hot line: in the good times they were creating shadow for the travelers: modern brains can resist heat. I am making mental calculation to the next point on my log book: how many kilometers to Dogubayazit? Can we maintain the average speed (quite good) kept so far? Traffic is light and we should be able to… Selim and his GS are just a flash passing, speeding, overtaking a Castrol Oil car, swerving and signaling, stopping the car. What happens? As an old (good) man I do not rely on GPS, prefer to stop and ask questions, loving the sense of progressively getting lost. But Selim and Alp are GPS masters and the infernally precise (thanks to USA power) machine just clocks 1610 kilometers. One thousand miles is one objective within the objective of the OMM TransAnatolia LDR: you see, Master Kneebone of Iron Butt does not care where you ride and how difficult is the road: Saddle Sore registered long ride is 1.000 miles to be covered in 24 hours. If you do this on Canadian motorway, on German autobahn or on Turkish mountain roads 1000 miles has to be and 24 better be. We made it: champagne at the end. Now we only have time to thank Mr. Sadettin of Castrol, have him signing time and mileage …time to go.
  1. We know it: Pasinler is the last of the tanks: it is hot and a little confuse. The castle, built by Armenian and restored by Ottoman is high on the horizon; on the lower slope. a stupid replica of little Turkey with mini Cappadocia in offer. We drink in silence staring into the yellow plains ahead. The great Canyon introducing Horasan arrives by surprise: rocks in shape of human faces and bodies, outlined on the sky way above the small bikes; funny corners too. At Horasan the road turns south. I have been here several times before coming down from Kars and the Armenia city of Ani. Now we ride toward Krakose: the landscape turns almost desert with stones and stones and stones. On the left elevations and mountains: and then in front the pyramidal shape of Mount Ararat. I have been waiting for this vision for many hours: snow on the top balanced forms of a perfect Mountain… the sacred Mountain where the tradition lands the Noah, the Ark and all his pets.
  1. Cobandere Kopru: it is an appointment for the return route. Now is just a glimpse of elegant bridge with Selcuk bas-reliefs, red in the red plateau. Dogubayazit: (from the local brochure) is a gate opening from the past to today with its single-“storeyed”, mud brick houses that reflect the traditional Eastern architecture. Dogubeyazit: (in reality) straight out from MadMax setting, the forgotten spot of the entire world with miserable dwelling, dirty street, chaotic traffic, dubious traders. Misery made city and an insult as welcome to Turkey for the traveler crossing border from Iran. Dust, garbage, unfinished cement buildings, animal and people, all served hot and smelly. We will have time to enjoy the cocktail later. Now we have to rush to the border.
  1. When misery meets misery. A small barrack a line of trucks cooking under the sun, no shelter, no protection: just a gate, some flags, away on the hill “Once Vatan…The Nation First” written in white stones and fading back to nature. People around, kids touching hot bikes: “do you want to go to Iran?” “No, thanks, we arrived” Arrived where? Is this transit point a destination? Not for anybody but serious long distance riders. Picture: do not take picture… we are in military zone… but we left Cesme yesterday! The sound of the Mediterranean seems to refresh the place and the spirits. Really from Cesme? How many hours? We look at the clock and we close it in …. Let say within the 24 hours. You know, we always respect the very reasonable speed limit of 70 Km per hours.
  1. The story is well received: an officer not only certifies time and mileage but also allows us to take pictures. Shake hands, how much you Aprilia cost? How fast it goes? I do not have answers, time or will. Protected by my ignorance of Turkish and Farsi I leave the PR to my friends: I look from far at the three bikes: they took us for 1873 K (1.163 miles) without problems. Hot, dusty and covered with a thick layer of insects, bikes are the real protagonists of this ride. As usual, at the end of a hard ride I have a sentimental “élan” toward the machine as they were humans. Must be the sun”

Details: From the Hotel Arinnanda in the center of Cesme (Latitude 38°19 58’North Longitude 26°18.24’ East) three riders Alp Berker on Aprilia Caponord, Selim Demirel Ankara on BMW R1150 GSA and Paolo Volpara on Aprilia Caponord, all members of One More Mile Group started the “Trans-Anatolia Ride” crossing Turkey in west/east line. The riders reached Gurbulak (Latitude 39°23 91’ North Longitude 44°23 67’ East) in the afternoon of Saturday 12th of July. This continuous ride covered 18 degrees of Longitude for a total of 1.891 K (GPS registration).