Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Study Guide

Robert Pirsig

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Course Hero. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Study Guide." Course Hero. 20 Sep. 2017. Web. 11 Dec. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Zen-and-the-Art-of-Motorcycle-Maintenance/>.

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Course Hero. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Study Guide." September 20, 2017. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Zen-and-the-Art-of-Motorcycle-Maintenance/.


Course Hero, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Study Guide," September 20, 2017, accessed December 11, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Zen-and-the-Art-of-Motorcycle-Maintenance/.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Part 1, Chapter 4 | Summary



The narrator is the only traveler awake when the chapter begins. While he waits for the others to wake up, he mentally runs through the equipment and supply lists he uses whenever he prepares for a motorcycle trip. They are Clothing, Personal Stuff, Cooking and Camping Gear, and Motorcycle Stuff. The narrator notes that he, and not John, brings along books, including the motorcycle manual. He's clearly a meticulous planner who thinks about his trips in detail.

Not wanting to waste time, the narrator wakes up Chris, John, and Sylvia, and the group gets on the road by 6:30 a.m. To everyone's surprise, the temperature is already down in the 40s. As he drives, the narrator meditates on his beat-up old driving gloves that are "so old and so tired and so rotten there is something kind of humorous about them." It's getting hard to repair them, but the narrator can't imagine replacing them.

The narrator has similar feelings for his motorcycle. It's an old-timer, but over the years "you pick up certain feelings about an individual machine that are unique for that one individual machine ... I suppose you could call that a personality." The cycle's personality "is the real object of motorcycle maintenance."

The other travelers are too cold to think about anything but the temperature. The narrator's decision to wake them so early in this weather annoys them, and he realizes this is the first time they've gotten up this early in the morning. He's irritated with the Sutherlands as well. How can they reconcile their hatred of physical discomfort with their distrust of technology? When the travelers stop for breakfast, the narrator appears surprised at the Sutherlands' bad mood: "I guess they're kind of mad at me." Somewhat defensively, he focuses on their inconsistency: they shouldn't hate discomfort while also despising the technology that keeps them comfortable: "This condemnation of technology is ingratitude, that's what it is."


This chapter offers a look at the way the narrator reacts to things out of his control. Writing about the checklists he uses for his trip is an unusual way to open a chapter. The lists reveal an admirable attention to detail. It appears the narrator has thought of everything he and Chris could possibly need on a motorcycle trip and has anticipated every potential emergency. But why is he sharing these lists? From a reader's point of view, it's not terribly interesting to read that unlined leather gloves are best or that the narrator always packs insect repellent and toilet paper. It turns out the narrator is going over his lists to calm his fretful mind. He's exasperated because he's been awake since dawn, while "the others are still snoring away wasting this beautiful morning sunlight ... We are on vacation and there is no point in sleeping." He adds that John's snoring sounds like a "damned chain saw." Going over his lists is a way to fill the time while he waits for his friends and Chris to spring into action.

The narrator's exasperation might make sense if it were noon, but readers learn that the four travelers get on the road by 6:30 a.m. Later in this chapter, the narrator will chide Chris for asking when they're going to start riding again. On this morning, his own impatience to get the day started seems both fussy and bossy—not a very Zen attitude.

At this point the narrator realizes his way of thinking is not productive. Being nonjudgmental and positive are important Zen tenets, but in this chapter the reader sees that the narrator—like most human beings—is still working on cultivating tolerance and compassion.

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