Separated From Hands 

posted by Paolo Volpara

Recently  I was gracefully provided for a long weekend with a “top of the range-latest model” motorcycle,  beautiful, efficient, fast and gifted with all electronic gizmo’s.

Brand is not important for our conversation,  it was a leading one and a very desirable vehicle;  I put on it few hundred kilometres enjoying every single one, especially because this was the first new bike I used in many years. An experience of controlled force, of brutal power at your disposal, of invincibility on the road. The kind of vehicle bringing the worst out of a disciplined rider.

After returning the jewel to the legitimate owner and after a painful goodbye I had time of considering the experience and the perception slowly changed. “Whit money no objection, would you buy thus bike?” was the question that prompted the change.

I love it but I would not buy it and now I know why.

The whole experience was aesthetically valid in many ways: with the bike on the side stand I was really enjoying the lines, the graphics,  the overall design exuding stylised power. Just cruising, one cannot avoid a sense of pride and showing-off reflected in the eyes of riders and , occasionally, non rider. To be able to answer to the usual question “how fast it goes” with an impossible number gives a certain sense of elitism and reaching illegal speed on first gear makes you feel as king of the road.

On top of the beast the feeling changes: I enjoyed all the above from the cockpit,  I found the riding fluid and rapid,  I felt comfortable and scared by the potential of so many horsepower,  cocooned by the long list of program designed to limit (if not control) the consequences of riding mistakes.

Riding modes, ABS, traction control,  anti-wheeling-launch control, electronic clutch (up and down), memory dongle, infinite possibilities of regulating engine, brakes, suspension. You name it and, with the exception of espresso this machine makes it.

You still have to ride it and you have to be quite good in doing it, in using at the best all the tools that electronic places at your call. Still for rider of average ability like myself is difficult not the experience a certain detachment from the machine. Most if the time the bike invades your private sphere deciding to do what, in bike mind, is best for you.

As the irritating voice that in the car remind you to fast the seat belt.

I felt, at the same time, part of a larger controlling machine  and separated from the machine I was riding. As in modern times we are often separated from our hands.

Manual work is considered inferior to intellectual work: this because we created manual work that does not require the skills of the artisan. The mass production techniques separate hands from brain and humiliate working with hands.

The electronic age promises to eliminate the senseless manual work and this is good: nobody should spend time serving hamburgers that can be safely and efficiently distributed by a machine. The limit is the annihilation of manual skills and manual work.

I always spend part of my day working with my hands: I found it not only relaxing but enriching as well with plenty opportunities to experience humility and accomplishment.

In this elegant motorcycle I felt separated from my hands: plenty to do in order to complete the ride but many of the “hands interventions” cut short by the perfect program.

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