I mean, don’t get me wrong: I tried the other stuff. I read more fiction—hell, I read more poetry, lots more; I lost 30 pounds; I convinced myself, for perhaps the 11th time, that I would take up drawing again; I took apart one of my guitars, redesigned it a bit, and put it back together again. (All of which got me through, what—May?) But when all those moments passed, I was left staring in the face of one of the biggest dreams I’ve always deferred: I wanted to buy a motorcycle and ride it fast, and often.
It started off this time, oddly enough, as a safety consideration. When we all thought we’d still be going back to work in our offices, oh, soonish, it seemed wise to make a plan to do so without relying on the subway. The fact that I can (and often did) fairly easily ride to work on a bicycle barely entered my mind. (What if I, you know, had to get to work, well, very fast?!) I’m hardly alone in this instinct: Motorcycle sales in the age of COVID are up by double digits—and over the last decade, the number of women buying them has doubled. (Chris Lesser, who runs Union Garage, a motorcycle-gear mecca in Red Hook, Brooklyn, told me of a more direct COVID connection: Two of his newest customers, having contracted the virus and survived, bought themselves motorcycles as a kind of gift of life.)
Project Motorcycle started, in my house, much like any of my other myriad obsessions: Once the seed was planted, there was a body of film and literature to work my way through. I re-watched Brando in his iconic role in The Wild One and Marianne Faithful in La Motocyclette (or, as it was titled in the US, Naked Under Leather—despite the hall of fame title, I beg you not to watch this); I started developing complicated theories and emotions about the way the then-nascent season of European motorcycle racing was shaping up, waking up early on weekends to watch MotoGP races before my kids commandeered the TV for SpongeBob marathons. Back issues of Cycle World started piling up. I secured an early copy of Phaidon’s new coffee-table tome The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire, which soon became my bible. (For the full-spectrum read-through experience of riding, obsessing over, worrying about, and changing-your-life-through-bikes, though, the reference standard remains Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s The Perfect Vehicle: What It Is About Motorcycles.)
There’s also, of course, a rich fashion history associated with motorcycling—one mined extensively by designers from Christophe Decarnin and, later, Olivier Rousteing (at Balmain) to Hedi Slimane (at Dior Homme, Saint Laurent and, currently, Celine). But none of these—or, for that matter, the leather biker jacket you can buy now at The Gap—have the functional appeal of built-for-speed clothing designed specifically for wearing while riding motorcycles, something that a label like Belstaff has been making for almost a century, outfitting everyone from Lawrence of Arabia to Kate Moss to the motorcycle-mad Steve McQueen along the way. (While Belstaff has in recent years focused more on the fashion side of the business, their Pure Motorcycle line—jackets and riding pants, some of them armored for protection, along with boots, gloves, and more technical gear—reflects the brand’s deep immersion in riding culture.)