Author Robert M. Pirsig died at his home today in South Berwick, Maine, he was 88 years old. Pirsig, best known for his philosophical work of non-fiction, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, An Inquiry Into Values, first published in 1974, spoke to a post-Vietnam/Watergate generation searching for truth and meaning during a tumultuous decade.

The book follows Pirsig and his son, Chris, on a motorcycle journey into a metaphysical landscape as the author pursues the meaning of, “Quality,” an elusive qualitative measure in an increasingly quantifiable world. Along the way he examines Plato, sophists, the pre-Socratics, and eastern philosophy, as well as the nature of condensers, mechanical points, and shims fabricated from discarded cans in his search for the good.

He humbly summarized his philosophical treatise-cum-motorcycle road trip in his author’s note, “What follows is based on actual occurrences. Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact. However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.” He begins his tale by telling you what his book isn’t thus inviting the reader to take the journey with him and answer the question for themselves, “What is good?”

Pirsig endeavored to show us.

Head Shake – The Wisdom Of Robert M. Pirsig

  • Tavi Ruth

    did they mod the ECU?
    that’s where most of the power is being held back.
    part of Kawasaki USA “Noise and Emission Package” to cater to EPA.

  • Chocodog

    RIP Mr. Pirsing. I enjoyed the book very much, especially how he transitions from deep philosophical ponderings to a rapturous and colorful description of the scenery scrolling by and back again to human foibles and concepts of value.

    His insistence on doing his own wrenching on his bike gives his and his sons adventure depth and QUALITY.

    • dbw

      I still have a copy on my book shelf at home. First read it in the 70s. Great read. RIP.

      • Henry Balfour

        Me too …. a time and a place. Vale.


    Vaya Con Dios.

  • Howard Grüffüdd

    I still have this book too…and now that I’m a born again motorcyclist (after about 25 years abstinence), maybe it’s time to revisit…
    RIP Robert

  • Chris Noftz

    I’ve read Zen several times, beginning in the mid-70s, and I enjoy it more with each reading. One of my favorites. A good man has been lost. As I cruise to Tampa on my bike later this summer, I’ll definitely salute Professor Pirsig.

  • Goose

    I’ve read Zen several times and still use the lessons Pirsig taught me both in life and in my garage. Working in the bike last weekend, having a problem. Relax, think, RTFM, don’t force it. As alway, it worked and the parts went together like they should. Thank you Mr. Pirsig, R.I.P.

  • SRMark

    I remember working on a bike in my garage, getting pissed and flinging a 10mm wrench, only to have said wrench bounce off a concrete block and hit me between the eyes. It is moments like that I think back to this book and try to adjust my attitude. I also read Zen and the Art of Archery. Not the same thing. And, no, you can’t learn how to shoot a bow by reading a book.

  • Jon Jones

    I read—or attempted to read—this book several times in the psycho-babble-filled seventies. With all due respect to the late Mr. Pirsig, the message was mostly lost on me as I was and will always remain somewhat dull of thought in regards to philosophical musings. I tried my best but failed to grasp the book’s ethereal message.

    That said, I did appreciate the nuts-and-bolts aspect of this work. But to my untutored mind, the mixing of something that “…resembles Nietzsche’s Dionysian/Apollonian dichotomy…” with motorbike maintenance is akin to a tome blending esoteric cosmic meanderings with meatloaf recipes.

    But that’s just me…

    • Michael Turner

      It is not just you. You summed up my experience with the book, more articulately as well. : )

    • fzrider


      • Jon Jones

        I fixated on my Ford yesterday for several hours because it said “Focus”.

        • fzrider

          Thanks for that. I’ve been a little “out of sorts” all day, but now I’m just fine.

  • azicat

    Robert’s seminal book is one of my all-time favourite reads. If anything he was a shining example of how being a motorcyclist did not always equate to being a bonehead. I think his writings have greater relevance now than ever before with regards to critically thinking about a lot of the assumptions we make of the world, ourselves, and each other.

    Specifically in terms of motorcycling, his idea of the ‘a priori motorcycle’ is what stuck with me. The only thing that distinguishes the motorcycle-shaped object in my garage from a random pile of metal shards is how close it reifies my own subjective notion of a motorcycle. My acceptance of the object, and my satisfaction from my relationship with it, depends either upon the nature of the object or the construct within my own head. More often than not it has to do with the latter when things just don’t seem to be working out.

  • Mahatma

    RIP.Never got through his book though…

  • DickRuble

    Several publications did brief obituaries of Mr Pirsig on the occasion of his passing. The New York Times provided some insight about his circumstances around the time he wrote the book, as well as about his life. In essence, it took him more than four years to complete the book, motorcycling being just a pretense for his philosophical musings on “quality”. The trip took place after Mr Pirsig had battled schizophrenia and had suffered through treatments, including electro shock therapy. Chris, pictured and 11 at the time of the trip, would also suffer of mental disorders in his early adulthood and would end up institutionalized. He was stabbed in a mugging and died in 1979 age 22. Mr. Pirsig wrote only one other book, a follow up of sorts; Lila, an inquiry into morals.

  • ssdajoker