What is it about scientists and motorcycles? Is the idea of caning it helmet-free down the highway an antidote to the close analysis and hunched precision of the lab? Does the love of Harley-Davidsons on an open road somehow spring out of the exploratory dynamism of the scientific enterprise? Or is the boffin-bike nexus just down to the deep groove Easy Rider cut in our collective psyche?
Tim Radford’s review of neuroscientist oliver Sack’s On the Move that kickstarted my thinking about the connection. Let’s be honest, a bit of the pleasure at Chris Froome’s victory in the Tour de France is down to this being our second victory in a row and to the thought that the French haven’t won it since 1985. What must be worse for them, though, is that when it comes to the science of team cycling, even the Belgians are in front.
It’s fun, apparently. The idea is to unleash it as a beach-resort bike, the kind of thing that stag and hen parties will use to terrorise seaside towns across the world. But it is also scientifically interesting. Why? Because we still don’t really know how bicycles work. Sacks were already a veteran of the road, and multiple biking accidents. He worked for several models as a London teenager-— a BSA Bantam, a 250cc Norton, and finally a 600cc Norton Dominator. On this he managed both to ‘do the ton’ (hit 100 mph) and zip to Stratford-on-Avon to see the latest Shakespeare play.
Seems like every year there is a new, ‘must have’ firearm lubricant. Off the top of my head going through the years I recall hubbabalo (hullabaloo?) about Militec-1, FP-10, Slip2000, Weapon Shield, Slipstream, Gun Butter, Tetra, Liberal Tears, Frog Lube and sundry others. Now it’s Fireclean, Breakthough, and Italian Gun Grease. Facebook and forums are frequently inundated with praise and reviews and the manufacturers all spout the same claims of superiority and invulnerability. Whether for escape or discovery — or both — the nexus of road and motorcycle seems to inhabit a key niche in scientists’ mental ecology. In a world where many opt for a desk toy or a run to spur original thinking, straddling a bike might look a little extreme. But as Sacks has wonderfully shown, it suits the supercharged mind.