The “Zen Motorcycle” joins the Smithsonian’s Collections

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is to be the new home of American author Robert M. Pirsig’s 1966 Honda Super Hawk motorcycle 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 that Pirsig made with his 11-year-old son Chris in 1968.

As they rode along the 5,700 miles from the Twin Cities of Minnesota to San Francisco and back, Pirsig became better acquainted with his son and himself. The book kick-started an international cultural movement to rethink how people interact with technology and find balance in life.

Pirsig died in 2017. His Honda Super Hawk had been stored for decades in the family’s New England garage and was recently mechanically restored. It has now been gifted by his widow, Wendy. In addition to the motorcycle, the gift includes Pirsig’s leather jacket, maps, shop manual and other gear from the 1968 ride, together with a manuscript copy and signed first edition of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Pirsig’s favorite toolboxes, with tools for maintaining his bike and other vehicles as well as tools he made himself, are also part of the donation.

“This is the most famous forgotten motorcycle in American history and literature,” said Paul Johnston, curator of transportation at the National Museum of American History. “Pirsig was a trailblazer in motorcycle touring and documenting its celebration of freedom and the open road.”

‘Zen’ tells a story about the relationship between people and machines making Pirsig a pioneer in the human–technology interface and do-it-yourself maintenance and repair. The book was also a testament to Pirsig’s patience and perseverance. It was rejected by 121 publishers before being picked up by Morrow! Since then, the text has formed the core of college courses, and dedicated fans have retraced the novel’s cross-country trip.

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