You know you’re in for a special academic conference when the keynote speaker rides by the lecture hall doing an arabesque on her Harley-Davidson!  So began the 10th International Journal of Motorcycle Studies (IJMS) conference at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, held July 20-22.  Following a pandemic hiatus, the conference came back strong, bringing together twenty presenters and numerous attendees from the UK, Canada, and across the US, all gathered to share research on motorcyclists and their machines. Managing editor of the IJMS, Dr. Sheila Malone, oversaw the two-day proceedings and presented their short film Origin Stories: Dykes on Bikes.

Starting things off right: Scarlet does a ride-by before giving the keynote speech at the IJMS conference. [Barbie Stanford]
The role of the motorcycle in literature and film took center stage in presentations by Suzanne Ferriss, Madhi Tourage and Tom Goodmann. Dr. Ferriss discussed the 2022 Prix Goncourt winning autobiographical book Vivre Vite (Live Fast) by French author Brigitte Giraud. Ferriss notes that the author cites Honda engineer Tadao Baba’s Fireblade and Lou Reed’s call to “live fast, die young” as the main causes of her husband’s crash and death in 1999. Dr. Tourage noted a similar representation of the motorcycle as a source of danger in his analysis of the 1970 Iranian film Reza, the Motorcyclist that ends with the dead protagonist and his mangled bike loaded up on a garbage truck. Dr. Goodmann connected the riders to medieval imagery, via Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s account in The Perfect Vehicle of Iron Butt riders who collect patches on their protective gear. much as armored knights earned pilgrimage badges. Goodmann referred to motorcycle jousters in the 1981 film Knight Riders and the design of Vincent Black Knight and Prince motorcycles to further his case for links between medieval times and modern motorcycling.

Jason Wragg is working on this doctorarate in Outdoor Adventure Leadership…and don’t you wish you’d studied that in school? [IJMS]
Autoethnography and memoir served as the inspiration for presentations by Jason Wragg, Barbie Stanford and Lisa Garber. Wragg is completing a comic book series called Myths, Maps and Motorcycles for his doctorate in Outdoor Adventure Leadership, based on his adventure riding through Iceland on a Yamaha Tenere 700.  Dr. Stanford discussed how her desire to be taken seriously as a motorcyclist for her ethnographic study of MotoGP racers led her to a week-long dirt biking camp, where she bartered strong lap times for interviews with her riding coaches. Clinical psychologist Lisa Garber read a moving, personal account of the sale of her deceased husband’s Harley-Davidson from her “Voice Inside My Helmet” series, in which she reflects on a life centered on eros, loss, and the sounds of loud pipes.  Questions of phenomenology emerged also in papers by philosopher Steven Alford and political scientist Mathew Humphrey who grappled with meanings of authenticity, and being in the world as motorcyclists.  Or are we bikers?

Dr. Wendy Pojman delivering her talk on how the Motogiro d’Italia shaped Italian motorcycle culture and industry. [IJMS]
My paper, as well as those by archivist / curators Amy Muckerman and Jane Cameron, focussed on  historical studies of riders. My research argues that the golden years of the Motogiro d’Italia (1953-7) road race directly account for the explosion of the Italian motorcycle industry before the postwar economic boom. Ms. Muckerman shared images from an archive she is assembling of the early development of “proper” gear for women who rode bicycles and motorcycles in the early twentieth century, and notes a particular obsession with keeping women in long skirts.  Ms. Cameron is gathering artifacts, such as parcel bags and motorcycle jackets, for an eventual exhibition of the UK motorcycle courier industry from the 1970s to the early 2000s. Also using archival sources, such as rider interviews, Dr. Eddy White explained his pedagogical approach to a course on motorcycle culture he teaches at the University of Arizona.

Dr. Suzanne Ferris discussed the mix of Lou Reed and Tadao Baba in French author Brigitte Giraud’s book Vivre Vite (Live Fast), and autobiographical story of her husband’s death by motorcycle. [IJMS]
Outside humanities disciplines, presenters Alex Parsons-Hulse, Bruce Gillies, and Joseph Leondike shared their work from the fields of urban environmental planning, organizational psychology, and psychiatric therapy.  Parsons-Hulse shared data about the potential benefits of having more motorcycles circulating in the UK to reduce traffic congestion and pollution. He then recommended policies to make riding accessible to more commuters. Dr. Gillies examined factors that motivate people to ride and, to our delight, placed riding a motorcycle as the most basic need in a revised version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. But conference participants were especially delighted to learn that throttle therapy is real!  Dr. Leondike, a combat veteran and nurse practitioner, explained that riding a motorcycle in many ways mimics Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy used to treat such conditions as PTSD. Riders with higher levels of riding competency see a reduction in heart rate and cortisol levels, typically associated with stress. We have scientific evidence to justify riding more!

Academics love swag too! Show your lits! Get it from the IJMS direst. [IJMS]
The conference ended with a closing keynote by Caius Tenche, founder of the Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival, which has moved into the international independent film spotlight in a relatively short time. Motivated by his own desire to see great long and short films about motorcycles in his city of residence, Mr. Tenche launched the festival in 2017. He pointed out that the main criteria for the selected films is great storytelling to appeal to motorcyclists and non-motorcyclists alike. After all, he noted, motorcycles are vehicles; it is people who transport them into their lives. The conference attendees were then treated to several short films from the TMFF that took us to the icy roads of Canada and the congested realities of boda boda riders (motorcycle taxis) in Uganda.

The presenters of the 10th IJMS conference at UC Colorado Springs. [IJMS]
Most of the presenters attended all the sessions and were only occasionally distracted when sport bikes, enduros, cruisers and other motorbikes zoomed past the lovely UCCS downtown conference space. During lunch breaks, many of us visited the nearby Rocky Mountain Motorcycle Museum that houses an impressive collection of predominantly American classic and vintage motorcycles.  We enjoyed nice dinners together as well and could have easily stayed and talked motorcycles for many more days.

It’s like motorcycle camp for adults who write about motorcycles. [IJMS]
For more information about the IJMS conference, to view archives of past issues of the journal, or for submission guidelines, visit the website


Dr. Wendy Pojmann is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Siena College in Albany, New York. Her most recent book Espresso: The Art & Soul of Italy will be published by the Bordighera Press in 2021. Pojmann’s current project explores the social and cultural history of motorcycle coffee culture. She splits her time between Rome and upstate New York. Follow her on Instagram @wendysespressolife.
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