Traveling Music: Songs That Make You Want to Ride Your Motorsickle

By Motorcyclist Staff, Photography by Shasta Willson

I walked through Bedford Stuy alone, Even rode my motorcycle in the rain.

Sitting astride his 1980 Harley-Davidson Sportster on the cover of his single "You May Be Right," Billy Joel announced his love of motorcycles to the world. The song scored a hit, but the cycle shout-out was a rare mention in the prolific career of a well-known rider. He's not alone. Other songwriters say working one's affinity for two-wheeled transport into lyrics often falls flatter than a two-stroke with fouled plugs.

Love sells music, but not necessarily love for one's GSX-R. Even Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild"-considered by many to be the all-time best biker anthem-makes no actual mention of motorcycles in its lyrics. Here, the Motorcyclist staff picks their own favorite songs. While not all of them are about motorcycles, each offers a particular association that's deeply tied to the joy of riding.

Mike Seate, Editor at Large
"Mouthful of Exhaust," Man or Astro-Man, from Destroy All Astro-Men! (1994)
The oddball space-punk outfit peppers their manic, hyper-speed neo-surf tunes with hilarious samples from old hot-rod and sci-fi flicks. This wacky, 3-minute rave-up stops and starts more often than an AMF-era Harley and contains a line borrowed from an old roadracing documentary: No speed limits signs on this highway, Nobody telling you to slow it down, Just the lure of $50,000 in prize money, Or disappointment, Or death! Like, crazy, man.

Tim Carrithers, Executive Editor
"Neal's Fandango," The Doobie Brothers, from Stampede (1975)
Neal's Fandango is a paean to two old friends I've never met and one of my favorite places: Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac and Santa Cruz, California. Well it was Neal Cassady that started me to travelin', All the stories that were told, I believed them every one, And it's a windin' road I'm on, you understand, And no time to worry 'bout tomorrow when you're followin' the sun. I was following some maniac on a Honda CB400 Four down Ice Cream Grade, grinding another hole in one of my Yamaha RD350's ratty Bassani expansion chambers at the time. Cassady and Kerouac would understand.

Ari Henning, Associate Editor
"Motorcycle Song," Arlo Guthrie, from Alice's Restaurant (1967)
Up until I Googled it, I'd never actually heard Arlo Guthrie's "Motorcycle Song." But I know the lyrics well because my dad used to sing it as we made the long drive to various racetracks around the country. I remember the chant getting louder and livelier during those last few miles before the entry gate. His enthusiasm was infectious, and the tune is indelibly paired with the expectancy of a good ride. Sometimes when I'm gearing up for a particularly appealing route, I find myself humming those legendary first lines: I don't want a pickle, I just want to ride my motorsickle.

Aaron Frank, Editor at Large
"Thunder on the Mountain," Bob Dylan, from Modern Times (2006)
My iPod has an uncanny ability to cue just the right tune at the right time, forever linking certain songs with unforgettable motorcycle memories. Last summer on my way home from the Isle of Man TT, I rolled off the Heysham ferry at 12:30 a.m. with just three hours to ride a borrowed Triumph Daytona 675 150 miles to catch my flight home. "Thunder on the Mountain" has a walking bass line and propulsive drumming that perfectly matched the long, dark ride. Like most Dylan, the lyrics are both nonsensical and achingly true: Raise an army of orphans, Then chase Alicia Keys to Tennessee. What the...? But when America's Shakespeare croaks out the couplet I feel like my soul is beginning to expand, Look into my heart and you will understand, I know exactly what he's saying. That's what I feel every time I twist a throttle.

Brian Catterson, Editor in Chief
"Red Barchetta," Rush, from Moving Pictures (1981)
My favorite motorcycle song isn't about a motorcycle. It's about a car, although the lyrics describe motorcycling equally well: I fire up the willing engine, responding with a roar, tires spitting gravel, I commit my weekly crime ... Wind in my hair, shifting and drifting, mechanical music, adrenalin surge ... Well-weathered leather, hot metal and oil, the scented country air, sunlight on chrome, the blur of the landscape, every nerve aware. Rush drummer/lyricist Neil Peart penned those words long before he took up motor-cycling, and before the untimely deaths of his wife and daughter that led to his motorcycle journey chronicled in his book Ghost Rider. I did a story with Neil on the heels of that effort, and am happy to report that not only is he happily re-married, his wife Carrie gave birth to a daughter, Olivia, last August.

By Motorcyclist Staff
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