Zen and the Art of Bicycle Touring

Jet McDonald is a guy with a pretty cool name. He has a pretty cool lifestyle too - he's a psychiatrist who also writes for Boneshaker Magazine. He's done a bike ride to southern India and back. And now he's writing a book about cycling and philosophy - or is it the philosophy of cycling? Either way, he admits it's all a bit 'Pseuds Corner'. Jet's been doing the rounds, fundraising for his latest project, 'Mind is the Ride'. Ride Velo caught up with him at Bespoked UK in his hometown of Bristol. 

  Writer, psychiatrist and philosopher Jet McDonald

Writer, psychiatrist and philosopher Jet McDonald

We weren't sure what to make of Jet when he first stepped up to the podium. It takes a certain amount of balls to wear an ochre yellow man cardigan in front of an audience, but Jet's the sort of guy who can carry it off. He looks like the sort of bloke you'd like to find yourself sitting next to in the pub - his salt and pepper hair telling of experience, while his incredibly cute three year old son revealing him to be a domesticated travelling soul. 

But when he started speaking about his book venture, coming out with quotes like: "My bike is my ideas,"  and telling us that he spent months mulling over the thought that Rene Descartes lives in the bottom bracket... well ... I could tell that half the audience thought he was a missing a wing nut somehwere! Jet McDonald is clearly highly intelligent, so it's understandable that he left us lagging behind him at times, but he won us over with his self-deprecating humour. He clearly knows that he thinks too much and too deeply about things - but actually all geniuses have those traits, don't they?

  Jet's touring bike was his 'map'

Jet's touring bike was his 'map'

As a massive fan of the book 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' by Robert M. Pirsig, I didn't baulk when Jet described his journey to India by saying his bike was his map, or that Buddha was in the freewheel, or Bristol was represented by the drop-outs because that's where the drop outs live. He divided his bike into two zones, the rear was western philosophy so the front end became eastern philosophy. The tyres "connect the cyclist with the crust of the land." Obviously!

  Jet promoting his book at the Boneshaker Magazine stand at Bespoked

Jet promoting his book at the Boneshaker Magazine stand at Bespoked

On his crowdfunding web page, Jet explains: "I cycled four thousand miles from Bristol to India but I didn’t want to write another travel book. I didn't just want to write about the experience of cycling, but about the experience that went on in my head. How I travelled imaginatively, not just on two wheels... Mind is the Ride takes the reader on a physical and intellectual adventure by bicycle, interweaving philosophy into the cyclist’s experience, using the components of a bike as a metaphor for that experience. "

Jet loves a soundbite - at Bespoked he came out with loads of priceless bon mots: "cycling calls attention to being alive," "it's us who give tools meaning," "cycling rebuilds us into complete human beings," and our favourite, "cycling is a practical, humble, global philosophy. Philosophy is out there in the ride itself." Of course, he is right. Couldn't have put it better myself. 

  Jet reunited with his three year old son after the talk

Jet reunited with his three year old son after the talk

At the end of the talk, Jet was keen to get his audience to donate £20 towards his impending publication, giving us the chance to appear in print in the hardback version if we did so, offering us 'immortality'. So before we parted with our hard-earned cash, we wanted a sample of what might be in store if the book actually does get written. For that, we had to check out his page at 'unbound.co.uk'. Here's some of the rather more accessible text we found in a section entitled The Seat Tube: 

Lying around in a French campsite is a decision. A decision to do nothing. And the argument that I am worn out and duff and not fit for riding would not hold true for Sartre. “I cannot be crippled without choosing myself as crippled,” he says. This is not an appropriation of disability but rather “This means I chose the way in which I constitute my disability.” I could sit around thinking “blimey I’m knackered and we’ve only done a few hundred miles. How are we going to get to Bombay?” Or I can get on my bike and ride. To be is to do.
— Mind is the Ride

Before seeing Jet McDonald speak, we wondered why, if his book was as good as he thought it was, had no publisher picked it up? Why the need for crowdfunding? But Pirsig's book was rejected by 121 publishers before going on to become a bestseller, eventually selling more than 5 million copies worldwide. We don't know if 'Mind is the Ride' is the eco-friendly successor to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance because we haven't read it yet - but we'd like the chance to. Donate £20 now at www.unbound.co.uk we did - and not just for the opportunity to become immortalised in print...!