Motorcycling

Analysis of “An Experience” using Dewey’s Framework

If I remember correctly, it was around 13 years ago, sometime in 2003 when I first hopped on to a motorcycle. I had no idea how to ride it, but always wanted to. As a child, I loved sitting in the space between the motorcycle handle and my dad. It felt like I was the one riding the motorcycle. I also remember our frequent stops at the gas station; me refusing to get off the motorcycle, leaning on the fuel tank while the fuel attendant filled it to the brim. I loved the smell of gasoline and that stands true to date! For some (or many) the smell of gasoline is a source of a headache but for me it reminds me of the good old days and the absolutely amazing experiences I have had with family, friends and motorcycling and road trips in general. I have never dug deep to investigate what makes motorcycling (or motorcycles) an experience for me. My response to that has always been, “Motorcycling to me defines freedom!”. People who know me will not be surprised that I chose to analyze the subject of motorcycling using Dewey’s “an experience” framework.

Let me take you back a few years. For the total six years I spent in New Zealand, I owned a motorcycle for the last couple of years. In those two years I motorcycled to explore many places in and around Auckland. A weekday saw an average commute of 15 miles (to and back from work) and weekends ranged from 30 to 70 miles with an occasional 200-mile sprint. Whether it was the weekday or the weekend, each and every ride for me was an experience!

Getting ready for the ride

Preparing to go to work was an exciting ritual. The experience always began with putting on the protective biking gear; a leather jacket, gloves, motorcycling boots and the helmet added to felt experience. As silly as this may sound, but I always compared this whole ritual of dressing up to that of what one might see in a Batman movie, when Bruce Wayne gets ready to save Gotham City! Even before I put the key in the ignition, I felt special.

On the road

Once on the motorcycle, the next highlight for me was the exhilarating exhaust note, which was a result of an after market Yoshimura exhaust. All of the 1300 cc’s came to life with a slight twist of the wrist. My neighbors probably hated that sounds but to my ears it was a pure symphony! The motorcycle itself looked like a beast and garnered a lot of attention.

Every weekday I would take the same route to work, however I would come across different cars and people, I would drive in a different lane depending on traffic conditions. I believe it is fair to compare this with Dewey’s theory on distinction between reception and recognition and how with the latter, one does not have “an experience”. Hence, even though I recognized the route, due to change in the above-mentioned factors I would say that my experience was not one that I recognized to be similar. My weekends were planned but only to the extent that I knew I would go on a ride but the destination was not always known. An unknown destination and/or route added to a richer “an experience”. Sometimes the destination was to return back home after a full day of riding and exploration.

Most of the weekends I would ride with a group of friends. This gave me a sense of belonging. This I consider to be a long-term undergoing that contributes in making motorcycle riding “an experience” for me. An example of short-term undergoing would be prolonged (15–20 minutes) accelerated heartbeat due to adrenaline rush from occasional speeding.

Dewey also mentions how in order to have “an experience” the flow must not be devoid of pauses (places of rest). In the case of motorcycling, issues such as peak traffic hours and occasional refueling stops at the gas station provided these necessary pauses to enrich the quality of experience. For instance, during one of my weekend rides I stopped over at a old gas station (with very old equipment and gas pumps), which added to my experience as it took me to another time and made me wonder of how certain things might have been during those old times. At that instant I was not riding the motorcycle but the ride led me to that gas station that acted as the required place of rest. Many a times I have stopped over at random restaurants for lunch, which also provide the pause that aid in making the ride “an experience”. Also motorcycling is not monotonous activity either in regards to its mechanism/operation or in terms of motorcycles and motorcyclist having to adapt to the environment they live in, which is constantly changing and evolving.

Riding back home from work or a leisure ride marked the end (consummation) of every “an experience” I have had on a motorcycle, only to start a new one the following day. Motorcycles for me are a piece of art and they also have a very high aesthetic value. Riding motorcycles gives a sense of fulfillment. It is “an experience” because one is engaged at an emotional, practical and intellectual level. Avid motorcyclist James McLeroy, Sundeep Bhat and Parthiban Muthukrishnan describe motorcycling at a very emotional level as “… the closest thing to flying while still being on the ground”, “… poetry in motion” and “… it’s like meditation”. Stefan Von Imhof has a more practical and intellectual take on motorcycling and I quote him, “You learn to constantly analyze other people’s agendas & learn to predict their behavior. You need to be okay with the adrenaline-fueled, hyper-aware emotional state it puts you in.” [1]

Conclusion

In this article I have taken my view and experience with motorcycling and tried to analyze it with Dewey’s framework. An individual that shares the same interest in motorcycling but with a track-based focus rather than a commute-based focus might have a different experience than mine, but I assure that it will be “an experience”. Motorcycles are improving constantly with advancement in technology. Motorcycling gear is also catching up to pace. Skully’s augmented reality helmet AR-1 gives us a glimpse of what the future might entail. The ways in which one experiences a ride might change, but motorcycles as a product and motorcycling as an activity will always leave the user with “an experience”.



Disclaimer: This article was written as part of an assignment for Prof. J. Bardzell’s Experience Design class (M.S. in HCI/d) at Indiana University Bloomington. This article intends neither to promote a product, individual or organization nor force an opinion; rather it is a genuine reflection of the author’s experience with motorcycling structured around Dewey’s “An Experience” Framework.

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