BOOK REVIEW: Motorcycles I’ve Loved; A Memoir by Lily Brooks-Dalton

A memoir for us wanderers, those who fly the nest to find ourselves. Brooks-Dalton has a lovely writing style, and in the moments when the story stalls, her unique device of weaving physics theories in with the narrative keeps you engaged (no, really!)screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-2-01-30-pm

“Here lies the crux of motorcycles. The point where reason ends and courage begins. Get it right and it’s the purest, most exhilarating balance that ever was. Get it wrong and the consequences are dire…” – Lily Brooks-Dalton, Motorcycles I’ve Loved

I envy Brooks-Dalton for several reasons, first for her exciting globe-trotting that mainly precedes this book’s time span and is discussed only for context and in past tense. There were times when I wished those were the tales I was reading. Her journeys in this book are limited in scope and familiar to motorcyclists; I think perhaps they would be more compelling for a non-rider.

The second source of envy is for the way in which she threw herself into learning about motorcycles. A rider for 16+ years, I still struggle to identify the anatomy of bikes, and have always wished I had more interest in the mechanics and tooling. The book did inspire me to pick up my Clymer manuals and familiarize myself again but her level of knowledge can only be achieved with study.

I do love bikes and riding, and was also once a young woman in search of herself via travel. So the nostalgia and empathy were strong while reading. Perhaps for some like me, her trip from Massachusetts to Florida was painful to read, as her lack of preparation and knowledge/access to gear was both embarrassing to witness as well as familiar because I can remember those days when I was either too naive or broke to be outfitted properly.

“I felt lost while I was there, scared, but also alive, and then afterward, I felt more alive for having gone.” – Lily Brooks-Dalton, Motorcycles I’ve Loved

Her treatment and descriptions of the people in her life is mostly shallow and generous, acquaintances reduced to convenient helpers when bikes act up. The exceptions are her father and ex-boyfriend; the latter whose side of the story I’d love to hear. I wonder at his reaction to the portrayal. Her father she describes well as a complex man, a Vietnam vet with a temper but also a yogi in search of serenity. Her tender remembrances seem both heartfelt and honest.

The tales of riding with him evoked yet another pang of envy, as my own father and I had planned a moto trip together before he fell ill; unlike Brooks-Dalton, my dad had only caught the biking bug after seeing my happiness. It makes me terribly sad I never got to share that with him.

“I’m just the navigator, riding through unfamiliar territory, in uncertain weather and unknowable traffic. There is only the thin shell of my helmet, the warmth of my own breath, and the road in front of me. The wind crashes against the sides of my head in waves, and the purr of the engine is like a mechanical om, shivering through me. The road rushes past and instead of struggling to possess it, I remember to exhale and feel the buzz of the pavement against my tires, the thrum of the open throttle beneath my palm. I remember that I don’t own this road; I’m just using it.”– Lily Brooks-Dalton, Motorcycles I’ve Loved

In all, Motorcycles I’ve Loved is an enjoyable read, one to inspire or make one reminisce about the self-discovery of our 20s and the role that motorcycles played for many of us. Final thought: I remain baffled as to why anyone who loves riding lives in the northern states. Not that I want a mass migration, but y’all are crazy! Don’t you know we ride year-round down here?


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Also by the author: “Good Morning, Midnight,” NY Times article

2 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: Motorcycles I’ve Loved; A Memoir by Lily Brooks-Dalton

  1. The chapter on riding in the rain in Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s book, “The Perfect Vehicle,” remains the best thing I’ve ever read about motorcycles.

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