Not too long ago, Harley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich sat down for an extensive interview with Cycle World and one of the asides I picked up from it was the business technique of the “Five Whys.”
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“The Japanese have this technique of the ‘five whys,'” Levatich explained. “You don’t really get to the root cause of anything until you ask why five times.”
If great wisdom and truth are achieved simply by asking “why” over and over, toddlers are the most zen of us all. But it is sort of an interesting exercise to undertake, and a good way to get to the truth of things that are important to you. Cognitive behavior therapy uses something similar in helping a person to identify his or her values and assess whether certain aspects of life are adhering to those values.
So, in the spirit of self discovery, I thought I’d apply the Five Whys technique to something that’s particularly important to me: motorcycling.
When did you start riding?
Originally I earned my US motorcycle endorsement in 1994, when I was 18 years old. I didn’t do much with it, however, and kind of let things sit until 2012; I earned my UK motorcycle license in early May 2013 and got my first bike – a 2005 Honda CBF600 – about three weeks later.
Why did you start riding?
Back when I was 18, I decided to get my motorcycle endorsement because it was an accomplishment I felt I could manage – a qualification I was pretty certain I could attain – and I was feeling pretty low about myself. I had flunked out of high school, having spent four years doing no work.
If it had been possible to earn credit for chasing girls and crashing cars I would have graduated at the top of my class, but as it stood I found myself in the summer of ’94 facing months and months of night classes to be able to earn my diploma. I made $4.25 an hour at a nearby warehouse and would frequently get into fist fights with a few of the dudes on the floor. It was a fantastic working environment…
Meanwhile, all my friends were gearing up to go to college in cool and exotic places, with plans to become doctors, engineers, diplomats and so on. My high school had a particularly intense high-achieving atmosphere. Former Oakland Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin and I were in the same class (as was former NHL player Mike Crowley) and he was pretty much middle ground in terms of ambition. In flunking out, I felt so stupid it would sometimes make me physically sick. Getting my motorcycle endorsement was a quick win – a way for me to prove to myself that I did have the capacity to set a goal and achieve it.
Maybe it helped. Ultimately I did get my high school diploma and went to college. After kicking around for a while, I taught myself to speak Welsh, moved to Wales, and earned a bachelor’s degree and masters degree in the language. However, afterward I found it nigh impossible to gain employment in the ultra insular Welsh-speaking world. I’m not Welsh, so no one wanted to give me a job. I ended up working as a bicycle courier.
Doing that, being able to zip through traffic and be out in the open, helped me realize that individual freedom of movement is deeply important to me. In my 20s, I had loved being in my pickup truck (I remember a girlfriend once accusing me of loving my ’91 GMC Sonoma more than her and my finding it difficult to tell her she was wrong), and I realized now it was because of the feelings of freedom, independence, and control over my life the truck had given me. Pickups are expensive and impractical in the UK, so my mind turned to motorcycles.
What bike do you own?
I’m lucky enough that I often have more than one bike sitting in the garage, but the one that actually belongs to me is a 2017 Triumph Tiger Explorer XRX.
Why did you choose that bike?
I wanted a two-wheeled pickup truck. I don’t own a car, so I rely on my bike to take me everywhere and do everything. Initially I was leaning toward a BMW R 1200 GS but I was pretty disappointed with the customer experience at my local BMW dealership. Inspired by the enthusiasm I had seen first hand from Triumph’s team on press events I decided the British company was more deserving of my money.
I wanted a Trophy SE or a Tiger Sport. The Tiger Explorer offered a good middle ground and the dealership was offering a good deal. By and large I like the bike, but I keep meaning to buy some bar risers to make it more comfortable. I’m also disappointed in the lack of aftermarket screen options (where’s my AirFlow, Givi?)
What bike do you dream of owning?
Why do want that bike?
Some of it, admittedly, is a status thing. The Chieftain is a pricey machine and I find I have something of the attitude my father has always had toward owning a Jaguar: “I want to own a Jaguar because I want to be the sort of person who can afford to own a Jaguar.”
In setting up TMO and watching it slowly grow I have decided my ultimate goal for the site is to be successful enough to have a Chieftain of my own sitting in the garage. The day I accomplish that, I’ll feel I’ve really made it.
Beyond that, and unlike the XK-E that Dad’s always dreamed of, a Chieftain is a really solid, reliable vehicle. It has the chops to be the two-wheeled pickup truck that I need a bike to be, but a very, very sexy one. It’s heavy, but I can learn to live with that. It’s a little underpowered, but that can be tweaked.
What’s the best motorcycling adventure you’ve had so far?
I’ve been lucky to have several adventures. In terms of the best, I’d say it’s a tie between riding from Cardiff to Tuscany on a V-Strom 1000 in 2015, and riding the Blue Ridge Parkway on a BMW K 1600 B last summer. No disrespect, though, to my riding buddy, Cam, with whom I’ve had some awesome trips in Scotland and Wales.
Why was it so special to you?
The Tuscany trip was my first really big journey on a bike and felt, in the planning stages, like a massive undertaking. It also came relatively close after the death of my grandmother, to whom I was very close (She died three years ago this week; I still can’t actually talk about her without getting teary-eyed).
Being on a bike is a meditative experience for me, and riding 3,000+ miles on my own offered a lot of time to think. I was free to stop and weep uncontrollably if I wanted to. Interestingly, though, I didn’t. Instead, I just really, really enjoyed the simple act of being alive, which is something my grandmother was always trying to teach me to do.
That spirit of simple appreciation ran through my trip on the K 1600 B, too. Sun, nice breezes, friendly people, good food, and cicadas to serenade me – I felt so very fortunate to be there, to live this ridiculous life. It’s a long way from lunch-break punch-ups in a warehouse parking lot.
Where do you dream of riding?
I often fantasize about riding to Vladivostok, Russia, simply because it’s 7,500 miles away and I like riding long distances. I figure if I make it that far, I might as well just carry on in the same direction and make it a ’round the world trip.
But where I really get dreamy about riding is the Big Bend region of Texas.
It’s hot and good chicken-fried steak is pretty easy to find.
One of my dad’s friends, and a journalist I’ve always looked up to, is Jim Moore. He lives in the Austin area and rides his big BMW K 1200 LT out to Big Bend every other year or so. Jim is an excellent story teller, and – having been a political reporter for many decades – has many excellent stories to tell. So, I would very much like to join him on one of his adventures.
Additionally, I’ve never been to the region but every picture I’ve seen gives me that strange Texan hiraeth of pride and longing. I reckon I’d have trouble keeping up with Jim both on and off the bike, but I’d still like to try. We’ll make it happen one of these days…
Now it’s your turn. I’m hoping some of you will be willing to share your own Five Whys tale on TMO. If you’re up for it, drop me a line – I’d love to hear from you.
As incentive for you to take part, here’s a picture of me dancing with a spatula. I’m not sure why that would be incentive, but, hey, some people have weird motivations.