Travel on Two Wheels
Eau Claire author chronicles life as a motorcycle lover
There was a time I hitched rides on my friend Marv’s motorcycles, which have been and forever will be Harley-Davidsons. Sometime along the way, I read Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, a fictionalized autobiographical account of a 17-day trip Pirsig made with his son Chris from Minnesota to Northern California. Lately, I connect indirectly via the Facebook posts of my friend Bonnie, a Harley-Davidson owner who belongs to the Wisconsin chapter of a female riders group, Stilettos on Steel.
So when I picked up Shiny Side Up: Musings on the Improbable Inclination to Travel on Two Wheels by local author Ron Davis, a book of collected columns and essays on motorcycling, I found myself intrigued once more by the freedom of the motorcycle-riding lifestyle, even though Ron rides BMWs, not Harleys.
Ron’s first motorcycle ride was as a tween on the back of a Triumph motorcycle owned by his sister’s boyfriend in the early ’60s. He reminisced in an interview, “He had the slicked-back hair and was wearing a white T-shirt with a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes in one rolled-up sleeve, and I knew at that moment that that was what I wanted – to be that guy on a motorcycle.”
“He had the slicked-back hair and was wearing a white T-shirt with a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes in one rolled-up sleeve, and I knew at that moment that that was what I wanted to be that guy on a motorcycle.” – Ron Davis, on the roots of his lifelong love of motorcycles
A few years later, when he was old enough to drive, his father fronted him the money to buy his first bike – a purple 1965 Honda S90 ridiculously tricked out to look like a Chopper – from a doctor’s son who was being forced to get rid of it. Except for an 18-year hiatus while he and his wife were raising their two children, Ron has ridden motorcycles for the past 50 years. He knew his break from riding was over when his wife and kids gifted him a package for Christmas that looked like a bowling ball, but was in fact, a helmet. He has owned five BMW motorcycles since then, the most recent a small one he uses to scoot around Eau Claire. He adds ruefully, “At the age I am now, I think my days of making long-term, cross-country trips, catching bugs and driving in whatever kind of weather, may be over.”
Being that he and his family lived on a high school teacher’s salary, Ron got into the writing gig by penning reviews of motorcycle products and accessories for niche motorcycle magazines, which allowed him to acquire high-end gear. An editor at BMW Owners News, a magazine published by the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America, liked the way he wrote and asked if he would write for them on a regular basis, and Ron landed an official side gig as associate editor.
Ron became known for writing which appeals to readers of all kinds, not just motorcycle enthusiasts. He uses a conversational style and self-deprecating humor to describe the situations he winds up in and the people he meets as a two-wheeled traveler. One chapter, for instance, focuses on Val Immel, a Holocaust survivor known as “The Mad Russian,” another on his love for the roller coaster roads of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area.
After publishing more than five years of columns and features, Road Dog Publications, which exclusively publishes motorcycle books, reached out to Ron to create a compilation, including his own photography. Thus, Shiny Side Up was born. After its recent release, Peter Egan, another Wisconsin motorcycle writer and a columnist for Cycle World, called the book “a great collection of columns; they make it hard to turn your reading light off and go to bed. It’s a fun mixture of humor and insight that’ll resonate with anyone who rides.”
Shiny Side Up is available in print at The Local Store as well as print, Kindle, and Nook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Road Dog Publications (roaddogpub.com).