Having known Bob Higdon for some 35 years, I understand why he has the reputation of being a curmudgeon, which is loosely defined as a cranky fellow full of opinions. He is also a scribbler of minor note, hence these two volumes of opinions concerning motorcyclists, and travels on a motorcycle.
By profession he is/was a lawyer, and obviously a well-paid one since he retired at age 53 and started doing all those motorcycle things he should have been doing in his twenties and thirties. He and I agree on some things, like the Cross-Bronx Expressway in New York being one of the worst roads in the country, and disagree on others. He writes that the 1979 R65 was “the singularly worst motorcycle that BMW ever produced.” He never says why, but BMW sold many of those models from 1978 through 1983, and then many more in the single shock version from 1984 to 1993. We should take note that Higdon does not give a damn about what other people might like.
Most of these chronicles have seen the light of day in various magazines, be they national mags like Rider or club mags like On the Level or Iron Butt. That last brings to mind that probably a third of the stories focus on long-distance riding, be it trying to break the time record riding from Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay to Key West, Florida, or the more benign 1,000 miles in 24 hours. I admire those hardy souls with strong butts who do this kind of thing, but it is certainly not the way I like to ride. But both funny stories and some tragedies come out of such shenanigans, and Higdon certainly does not think that motorcycling is a very safe pastime.
Higdon has been to a lot of places, mostly in North America, but also on the other five continents…we’re leaving Antarctica out of this. He must have a bit of masochism, as he travels roads that I have no desire to go on, like the Road of Bones in Siberia, and the Haul Road going north in Alaska to Prudhoe Bay. I rode around the world in the 1970s, and if I had a choice between a bad road, and a not-so-bad road, I always chose the latter. Higdon seems to focus on the baddest of all.
He obviously enjoys a rather literate background, as he is constantly mentioning noted writers of the past, from 8th-century BC Homer and his “Odyssey” to Hemingway and Kerouac. He makes humorous (I hope) reference to James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake,” about the wake for a fellow, poor old Finnegan, who fell off a ladder and died. Having heard it is an extremely difficult book to understand, I’ve never tried to read it, but Higdon compares it to an annual Iron Butt Rally. Last year’s IBR winner, a woman, rode 13,000 miles in 11 days, so I’ll leave you all to contemplate the book you probably will never read and the event most of us will never ride, which I find difficult to understand.
Higdon and I almost met in Munich in 1972, as I picked up my BMW R75 in April, and he got his in June. Who knows how we would have gotten along? Or not. He claims to be “morbidly shy,” which just may be a product of his peculiar sense of humor, but the companionship he enjoys in his travels indicate it is not quite so morbid. I do recommend these two books since he writes well, the reading is easy, and the subject matter—riding motorcycles—is great.
“The Higdon Chronicles,” Volumes 1 and 2 are available from Aerostich.com and Amazon.
When Bob announced “The Higdon Chronicles” to a group of his friends via email – he stated it was really written as a claim on immortality. He felt if he could get his book (at the time there was only one – we had to wait for two) in the book listings of Amazon he would achieve immortality, since certainly even when the world ended up as a charred cinder in a cosmic joke – the Amazon catalog would still be on-line somewhere with his name and his books listed in it.
He achieved that – and perhaps more. I’d heard many of the stories in the book, either firsthand from Bob at various BMW rallies we both attended, or as writing in some of the BMW/IronButt centric literature that floats around the web. The stories that happened when I was by chance there – are entirely accurate, just told with an ironic humorous viewpoint.
I highly recommend the books – buy them for yourself, as gifts for other motorcyclists or awards at events – Bob might have retired a bit early to be able to afford two domiciles – so he might really appreciate the $1 or so he gets for each one sold.
What I’d love to see is a book made from the chronicles he did when he was part of the chase team for an IronButt rally – his descriptions of the event and the participants are simply wonderful. It was done over 11 days as the judging team raced around the country to 10 locations (11-day event – start and finish were the same location IIRC) to see how many riders made it to the next day’s challenge. It can be found on the web if you know where to look, but it would be amazing in book form, perhaps with a few photos illustrating the event and participants. It belongs in my motorcycle books bookshelves.
Too bad that immortality will be as lost as a bit of plastic detritus in the sea, as support for the book was limited mostly to an expansive circle of admirers and friends who truly respected the man. But he has chosen the role of an angry man who values political extremism and short-sighted reactionary cultism over decades-long friendships. Bob has visciously cut ties with a searing anger that won’t soon be forgotten. And this, he has himself reduced the circle of folks who give a whit about what he has to say. What was once a great tribe of vibrant admirers has become barely a handful of bitter and angry folk content to grouch about the world over a cup of Denny’s coffee. While the legacy is his, it really is a loss for many who once valued him.
I just finished reading Volume II for maybe the 10th time. Higdon just plain knows how to write, and if you’re a member of the long distance riding community, a general motorcycle enthusiast, or just a reader who appreciates the self-deprecating tales of a reluctant master, this set is a great bet.
I had a tangential acquaintance with Mr. Higdon through the Iron Butt Association several years ago. Like me, he is also an attorney. Maybe my perspective is overly-specialized, but I’ve always appreciated his writing style… Lighthearted yet dark, full of references indicative of far too much education yet accessable to the every-man. There are reasons he’s been the daily reporter for many Iron Butt Rallies. First, he’s able to reliably deliver humor, suspense, and human interest. Second, he was.willing to do it.
As my namesake above has commented, I too am at odds with Bob’s politics, but no matter. With regard to these books, I think they’re an exceptional addition to a small core of literature that every inspired rider should read at least once. And as the first commenter suggested, they would make a great gift for anyone who makes motorcycling a part of who they are.