Here’s Why A Watch Is More Like A Motorcycle Than A Car
This is the first installment in a new series of articles focusing on a single concept.
You may recognize some of my sentiments. Or you may disagree completely.
But either way, debate is good and hopefully we will all learn something.
Imagine it as the realization of the random thought your friend mentioned while chatting over coffee the other day. This is my take on an imaginary conversation that could have taken place. Now you can take the idea and pose it to your watch friends to discuss.
I call it “Here’s Why.”
Here’s why a watch is more like a motorcycle than a car
This discussion should really begin with the intended use for objects, and what they ultimately end up being used for. Take, for instance, the iPod. You may initially consider it as a portable music device, but an iPod is not really comparable to a portable radio or old-school boom box.
Yes, they all play music, you can take them around with you, and they all need batteries. But radios and boom boxes play music for everyone within earshot, while your iPod plays music just for you via headphones.
Plus, this personal device is small and truly portable. If you happen to have a headphone splitter, then another person could listen with you, but then that person must be very close to you.
Close, and in your personal space.
A motorcycle is similar. As a natural evolution of the bicycle, the motorcycle was invented specifically as a means of solo transportation. It was and is a personal machine, which the rider usually uses for his or her own purposes.
A motorcycle can carry two people if need be, or if you live in southeast Asia it can carry five people, two dozen chickens, and enough building materials for a small house.
Or even a small house.
But barring that, with two people riding the passenger is very close to you and is again part of your personal space.
A motorcycle becomes intimate and highly personal, just like your watch.
A watch is a machine that you buy for yourself (or maybe for a specific person); the intention is not that the watch will be used by others to tell time. The clock on the wall is for everyone else and exists in the public space.
But your watch is for you, it lives in your personal space.
I asked Watch Journal international editor and motorcycle enthusiast Keith Strandberg for his thoughts, and he posited, “Watches are probably the most personal thing we can have because they lay against your skin; you don’t usually let someone borrow your watch.”
I would have to agree. You generally don’t let someone borrow your watch, and that extends to your motorcycle. But people usually feel okay about lending someone a car if needed as it is less personal or perhaps intimate.
It all comes back to how we view the objects that are close to us, and how they fill our lives with a sense of passion, purpose, and value.
There is a personal connection
Watches and motorcycles are intimate machines that many use on a day-to-day basis. People also use cars and phones daily as well, but if you check the time on your phone in a moving car you may experience a disconnect.
This is not true on a motorcycle: riding down the freeway at 60 miles an hour (100 kmh) with cars flying by you can be terrifying. Especially as many of those car drivers could be looking at their phones instead of the road and traffic!
But this is because that box or “cage” (as motorcyclists term a car) keeps you disconnected from the world. Strandberg added that, “A car keeps you removed from the experience of the world. It isolates you from life. You almost experience it vicariously in a car, but on a motorcycle you are right there, you are in the midst of it. That is why there is a more personal connection on a motorcycle than in the car.”
That personal connection also comes about when you wind, set, and later check the watch on your wrist. Like a motorcycle it’s something you truly interact, creating a bond between man and machine.
That bond is missing for me in an ordinary automatic gearbox car, where I just sit, steer, and push the pedals to go or stop.
It can be a life-saving connection, too
This intimate bond between man and machine can also save lives and push people to explore the world. Throughout modern history, many important exploration firsts were accompanied by a wristwatch.
The first man to reach the top of Mount Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, wore a Smiths Deluxe. Tenzing Norgay wore a Rolex and a Smiths Deluxe as well – all of which seems to have led to a hot debate among enthusiasts as to who wore which watch. That debate doesn’t change the fact that the wristwatches were essential parts of both ascents.
Neil Armstrong, the first man to step foot on the moon, wore an Omega Speedmaster, while the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, wore a Russian-made Sturmanksie pilot’s watch. These fearless men put their faith in these timepieces while out in the great unknown, often using them to help complete their adventures safely.
Motorcycles have also been used as adventure tools in modern history, with the last fifty years seeing a boom in adventure touring.
I asked Bremont ambassador and motorcycle adventure rider Charley Boorman, who rode 20,000 miles across the world with Ewan McGregor in 2004 in a challenge trip called Long Way Round, about the watch’s role in motorcycle adventures. He offered that, “When you’re riding a motorcycle hundreds of miles a day on rough or non-existent road surfaces, there’s obviously a great deal of vibration, dust, and often water and extremes of temperature to contend with. You clearly need something that’s going to stand up to a battering. We take knowing the time for granted in our daily lives, but when you’re away from civilization it can be rather important, as well as strangely comforting.”
Strandberg commented on this point as well, saying, “When you are out by yourself on an adventure, one of the things you have to be aware of when you are going from place to place is what time it is. Anybody on a solo adventure really relies on their watch and knowing what time it is, so it’s important having a reliable watch that can take the slings and arrows of riding a motorcycle.”
Critical components of adventure
In fact the watch, especially a mechanical watch, still plays an active role in present-day expeditions to parts rarely seen. Boorman and Strandberg took a trip to South Africa with Nick English of Bremont to do some real-world adventure testing on a few Bremont watches. You can read about their adventures in the March 2015 issue of Watch Journal.
Strandberg shared some insight into why watches still play an active role after speaking with many extreme travelers himself. “Many adventurers I’ve interviewed will say that a mechanical watch is one of the most vital pieces of equipment because it doesn’t rely on a battery so you don’t have to worry about the battery failing, and that’s true especially if you are in a cold place or somewhere that digital equipment would be affected by magnetism. It is definitely still a needed piece of equipment.”
They can provide comfort
Sometimes, the emotional connection can be just as important. Your motorcycle, while on a long trip into an area you have never been, is a connection to the place you came from and your ticket back.
It can be both a link to the past and a vessel to your future, and this thought can be extremely comforting.
“It’s a piece of comfort, too,” says Strandberg. “When you look at the watch that you have been wearing for years and you are in the middle of nowhere with nothing that is recognizable, you can look at your watch and it’s a piece of home. It’s reassuring to look at the watch that you love.”
Boorman underscored those sentiments when he said it’s “strangely comforting” to have your watch and be able to know the time.
Or be a pleasure
And yet neither a watch nor a motorcycle has to be a tool. The intimate and personal connection we feel to the motorcycle and the watch is also a great source of enjoyment.
“A motorcycle, at least in the U.S., is not so much a tool as it is a source of pleasure for people. Plus, we don’t really rely on watches for the time anymore as much as we do for pleasure and for saying something about ourselves,” Strandberg offers.
I would have to agree. I know many people who wear watches not for the practicality of having the time easily accessible on the wrist, but because they simply enjoy them as objects. I know one collector who doesn’t even bother to set or wind his watches when wearing them.
If that isn’t enjoyment for pure pleasure then I don’t know what is.
This follows for motorcycles as well; many will ride only in the best of weather or on the weekend with friends. I ride my motorcycle daily as a main mode of transportation and also as a great way to feel connected to the world I am riding through. It is a most personal machine.
“I’ve been riding motorcycles since I was seven years old, so they’ve always been part of my life, and I continue to use my bike from A to B,” Boorman adds. “I love the feeling of being out on the open road. You can really appreciate the scenery around you and become part of it. It’s definitely still my favorite mode of transport and the best way to view the world!”
There are many passionate car buffs, many of which would make some of the same arguments presented here about their beloved autos. But in the end it comes down to this: cars are for people, and a motorcycle is for a person. The same goes for your watch.
Nothing like a motorcycle exists for such a deep, personal connection to a machine. Nothing, that is, beside your watch.