Zen Motorcycle Joins the Smithsonian

Super Hawk Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Robert M. Pirsig’s book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” has achieved near-legendary status among riders and non-riders alike. Now the 1966 Honda Super Hawk featured in the book, along with other memorabilia, will take its place in U.S. history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will be the new home of American author Robert M. Pirsig’s 1966 Honda Super Hawk featured in his book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values.” Pirsig’s book, originally published by William Morrow in 1974, has sold more than 5 million copies and has been translated into 27 languages. The inspiration for Zen stemmed from a month-long road trip Pirsig (1928–2017) took with his 11-year-old son Chris in 1968. As they rode the 5,700 miles from the Twin Cities of Minnesota to San Francisco and back, Pirsig became better acquainted with his son and himself.

Stored for decades in the family’s New England garage and recently mechanically restored, the motorcycle is a gift from Pirsig’s widow, Wendy K. Pirsig. The gift includes Pirsig’s leather jacket, maps, shop manual and other gear from the 1968 ride, together with his toolboxes, a manuscript copy and signed first edition of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The book kickstarted an international cultural movement to rethink how people interact with technology and find balance in life, as it tells a story about the relationship between people and machines that made Pirsig a pioneer in the human-technology interface and do-it-yourself maintenance and repair.

“Bob’s philosophy explored human values, and he aimed to show how quality is actually at the center of all existence,” Wendy Pirsig said. “It seems consistent with this focus on quality that his motorcycle collection joins the nation’s exemplary history museum at the Smithsonian.” The museum is located on Constitution Avenue N.W. between 12th and 14th streets in Washington, D.C., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit americanhistory.si.edu.

original manuscript for "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"
A copy of the original manuscript for “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” will be included in the Smithsonian’s exhibit.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I bought and read the first edition while living and working in Minneapolis as a motorcycle mechanic. Since it isn’t exactly a page turner, it took me all summer to read it. I remember the “Quality” theme and the effect it had on me as I developed my skills and philosophy on fixing things. I am now retired, still riding and wrenching some 45 years later, on my stuff. I lost the book somewhere along the way, but the thoughts and quotes and stories from it are still rattling around in my head.

    • Thank you Dave for the comment of “isn’t …page turner”. I thought I was the anomaly. When strangers see you with a helmet or getting off a bike I’d hear about Zen.. alas I intentionally forgot this book behind on an airplane, after start stopping so many times. I promised I’d get through it for the five hour flight. ( pre TVs) half way through I just couldn’t do it anymore.
      I remember the relationship with the boy being Something important to me as my father and I rode double all over foreign countries and the US until I was too old to not buy my own. Fond memories of bonding with pops.

  2. Ok be honest, who always thought he was riding a BWM….I remember pictures of a BMW in Time Magazine and others in the Day! Now I find out he rode all those places on a 305 Super Hawk!

  3. I don’t recall him identifying a specific bike in the book. For reasons forgotten I thought he rode a Brit bike. Honda though, does represent quality 😀👍

  4. This photo brought a wave of sad memories as I remembered the 1965 (?) Super Hawk, with flat bars, I bought through Honda while in Japan with the Navy. Paid around $600 and it was delivered to a dealer in a small Pennsylvania town near my parents home. Previous motorized, 2 wheel experience consisted of riding a Whizzer, which brother Tom and I persuaded Dad to buy for us before I entered the service. An excellent pre-interweb experience during which we learned epoxy will not hold a broken oil slinger to the big end of the connecting rod and a piece of tuna can is a poor substitute for a main bearing.

    It was when I saw Steve McQueen pat the tank of his bike in the Great Escape that I knew I wanted a motorcycle.

    At age 19, Tom died in a crash with the Super Hawk on a foggy morning in 1966 and our family never recovered.

    I’m 76 now and own a 1993 Nighthawk 750 which I ride regularly in season.

    Looking back, I shake my head at the complete ignorance of safe riding skills Tom and I had and now, with advanced training, track time and YouTube guidance, I ride with confidence I didn’t have decades ago…

    Be safe all, get formal rider training and practice, practice, practice!

  5. I owned a Super Hawk, same year and color. It was a good, dependable bike. brings back lots of great memories. The scooters available now would run off and leave it!

  6. I read _Zen_ back in 1975 to impress a girlfriend. Imagine my delight when I guessed that Persig was riding a CB77, That was my big take-away from the man’s book. My then girlfriend was not impressed — though she did enjoy riding on the back of my Z-1.

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