‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ anniversary has fans replicating the ride

A group paid homage to Twin Cities native and best-selling author Robert Pirsig and his book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values.”

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — Fifty years ago, the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values” became an instant hit. 

The late Robert Pirsig — a Minnesota native — was behind the best-selling philosophy book of all time. 

The story is based on a 5,700-mile trip Pirsig took with his 11-year-old son and two friends from Minneapolis to San Francisco. 

Now, about 20 people from around the world are replicating the ride. The group left from Minneapolis on Monday morning. 

“It’s really become a little community,” said Mark Privratsky, a volunteer for The Robert Pirsig Association (RPA) who is leading the ride. 

Privratsky said about 11 motorcycles and five cars left on July 8 — the same day Pirsig started his trip in 1968. 

The journey explores Pirsig’s notion of Quality. 

“I think it’s best surmised by when you look at a rose, you instantly know (and so does everyone else), what the quality of that rose is. Most of us think the quality is high in the rose. If you look at a… garbage can, you may think instantaneously that the quality is low, but it could be a shiny garbage can and maybe it has high quality or it has a great purpose. It’s that instant realization of what that object, or person, or thing, or day, or time of whatever has before you sort of take all you know and all of your experiences and pile it on top of what that interaction with that object is,” Privratsky explained. “It’s living your life by seeing the Quality around us and then hoping some of it rubs up off on us so we also have Quality.” 

Prior to heading out on their trip, the RPA gathered at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center in south Minneapolis. 

Pirsig played a key role in getting the center up and running. 

“There’s a lot of life in this book. It’s about paying attention to little things.. what may seem like little things. Like how your motorcycle runs, and how to tune it, and all of that. And Quality. Just taking very good care of what’s in front of you,” said Ted O’Toole, the guiding teacher at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center. 

O’Toole first read the book nearly 50 years ago when he was in his twenties. 

“I guess I was lacking in patience back then because what I remember is really kind of hurrying through the difficult parts and not giving them their due,” O’Toole said. 

With the 50th anniversary, O’Toole is revisiting the book and is currently halfway through it. 

“It’s also about the really big questions. He asked the deepest questions about life and what the book says is those things really matter. The big questions matter. The little things matter. You keep all of this in mind and you live your life deliberately because life really matters. All of this stuff really matters. So it’s an inspirational book,” O’Toole said. 

Privratsky, who lives in Blaine, said people from all across the world are making the trip with him, including a person from the United Kingdom and a couple from the Netherlands. 

The last stop is scheduled for July 20. Privratsky said people will be leaving and joining the trip throughout the ride. They are making stops at the same places mentioned in the book. 

Privratsky said, “Seeing Quality in things and being able just to take things in as they come is really special to us. So we thought it would be a nice tribute to the book and to the author by replicating the ride.”

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