The Philosophy of Adventure Motorcycling


Published in ‘Horizons’ by the IOL, an interesting document here. It’s a synopsis of a masters’ dissertation by Matt Healey whose in the ‘outward bound’ business and went to Morocco on his DRZ where he considered AM as an alternative educational tool. He’ll be talking more about it at the International Journal of Motorcycle Studies conference in London in a couple of weeks time. Some selected and unordered quotes below.


Since the publication of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – An Inquiry into Values” there has been a link between the motorcycle experience and its relationship to values, philosophy and spirituality. 

I wanted to reflect on the idea that Adventure Motorcycling is an authentic activity, congruent with the values of ‘traditional’ outdoor adventure activities

… the recent commoditisation of the “Adventure Motorcyclist” has given rise to an emerging sporting subculture. That being said, the rich culture and history of the motorcycle mirror that which informs our construction of the mountaineer, sailor and explorer. 


For the philosopher Sartre this feeling could be interpreted as the realisation of the concept of ‘existential freedom’… This awareness of freedom and choice is an uncomfortable situation and generates the feeling of ‘angst’ … How we choose, what we choose and therefore logically how we live in an ‘authentic’ way suddenly becomes apparent. 

This relationship between authenticity and adventure is where I found myself as I considered why I was doing what I do on a motorcycle. This ‘angst’ exemplifies the sense of uneasiness that first awoke in my mind when I started to consider motorcycles and adventure. It generated palpable feelings of disquiet in my psyche, and still does when I pass non motorcyclists in a rural or off road setting. I become aware of myself as an interloper…  

The physical risk, psychological challenge and cultural alienation of the trip were often experienced giving rise to the adventure sensation. The experiences we had during our expedition to the Sahara reflect those that most of those with adventurous persuasion would identify with, but also the symbolism of consumption, whilst showing an appreciation of the wilderness aspect of adventure; again helping to portray a double edged sword through invasion of the wilderness by modern means. This reliance on technology is by far the most problematic area within the adventure biking construct. The motorcycle is part of an extension of ‘the self’, but also ‘other’ in the values of the appreciator of wild nature. 


The rationale for pursuing this study into reflecting on the motorcycle adventurer was motivated by the opportunity to find a new viewpoint from which to explore adventure and what it means to a post modern society… I wanted to challenge a particular school of thought, and draw into the light an acceptance that adventure can be provided in ways that are not necessarily bounded by neo-traditional methods or a denial of technology through romantic nostalgia. 

The ‘Adventure motorcyclist’ is nevertheless a problematic area, balancing as it does the opportunity for the rider to experience adventure in a way that epitomises all that can be distasteful about modern overconsumption.

4 thoughts on “The Philosophy of Adventure Motorcycling

  1. Harry

    As a realist thinker I agree with your concerns and have had the same thought process myself: how can this sport be authentic? Using unsustainable fuels, natural resources and riding on the very tarmac which covers the natural world; are we on the right road? But ‘adventure’ motorcycling includes elements of cultural awareness, shared knowledge and humanity that act as a counter balance.


    1. Sheharyar Naseem

      I as a adventure rider believe , most of the adventure riders are in a state of mind which makes them feel more comfortable when they feel a sense of uncertainty with no available rescue. This is a type of personality that believes in ONE MAN ARMY. The word adventure completely justify this statement. Finding track in the middle of nowhere is what brings a smile on a person face. I call them trailblazers. These type of people always have a very strong personality as a individual. On the other hand , today our society is moving towards modernization and that has made our adventure even more fun. We can go anywhere without worrying about the way back.


  2. Denis

    There’s contradictions everywhere you look, even without using academia language. The problem with academia is that it puts a screen between the experience and you, not to mention that it very often makes a mountain out of a mouse. Enjoy man, don’t let the Cartesian spirit get in your way. PS: I have a PhD, I KNOW!


    1. gianfrancesco costantini

      Hi, just think about sailing and particularly off-shore sailing. The fact that sailors depend from technology (as humans have been doing at least in last 30.000 years) does not reduce adventure, nor the linkage and dependency from nature. In “adventure literature” and in “travel literature” very often technology has a role. On the other side, what should be analysed deeply is the “customerisation” of adventure: the fact that organised adventures are sold, and that people living all their life in an office buy big “adventure BMW” using them in town. There is an “adventure language” that can be analysed.



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