Book Review – Riding Man

Riding Man by Mark Gardiner


A couple months back someone tipped me off that there’d be a ‘literary event’ at Portland’s Ducati / Aprilia store, Moto Corsa. Apparently some guy had sold all his possessions to fulfill a lifetime ambition to ride in the Isle of Man TT and he was going to read from his new book about the adventure. 

That guy was Mark Gardiner, known to many in the motorcycling community as a regular contributor to motorcycling publications, but not to me, so I came to the event with few preconceptions. As intense as the TT must be, his reading could be nothing if not a personal account and after all, who doesn’t enjoy the narration of a good old fashioned hare-brained scheme ? 

Gardiner is Canadian and shows a natural affinity for that curious British amalgam: eccentricity, shoestring projects, support of the underdog and the unshakable belief that it will eventually stop raining. It’s no surprise, then, that his ‘bookish’ childhood draws him to a kid’s encyclopaedia where he homes in on a map of Britain with a motorcycle emblem indicating the Isle of Man. 

Fast forward forty years to the year 2000 and the author is in England to scope out the Isle. There’s drama in London with a sister diagnosed with cancer. She lives near Upper Street, coincidentally the scene of one my own two wheeled dramas when I worked in the area. If there’s any central theme to ‘Riding Man’, it’s the exhortation to realize your dreams now or risk the regret of missed opportunity. One suspects his sibling’s misfortune spurred as well as saddened him. 

By profession Gardiner is an advertising creative director and copy writer. His way with words is what makes his book so readable and appealing. True to ‘ad man’ form, he sets out his storyboard early on, explaining that the sequence of the chapters is thematic rather than chronological. I am routinely confused by things which are described out of order, but in this book, it was never a problem. Recall, for example, the images and thoughts that course through one’s mind even during a one hour solo ride – any order ? any logic ? – probably not. So it is here: motorcycle history mixed in with corvine superstition, Zen reflection, beer nights with strangers and friends in old Manx pubs, lonely, critical and self-critical moments out on a road that giants of short circuit racing once rejected as too dangerous an imposition on their season’s agenda. 

Followers of the sport will not be disappointed. There are familiar names that even a motorcycle racing dunce like me would know: Geoff Duke, Giacomo Agostini, Mike Hailwood and Soichiro Honda who made the machines Hailwood rode to success. There are dozens more;  many no longer with us as their legend and legacy begin with a fatal crash on a bridge or corner somewhere with an exotic name: Cronk-Y-Voddy, Creg-ny-Baa, Ballacraine and so on. 

A lifelong interest in the TT has made Gardiner somewhat of an authority on the subject which certainly ups his street cred when on the Island and soliciting the support of local motorcycle businesses and craftsmen. His amateur racing credentials help here too, along with the readiness of the course authorities to welcome international competitors and encourage their participation. Near to the end of his qualification to race in the final event, Gardiner agonizes over the possibility that he is being cut more slack than others because of his newcomer / foreigner status and journalistic connections. He need not have worried, he made the grade regardless. 

In 2002 Gardiner goes to the Island with a plan to film the proceedings and to write a book about the experience – nothing ignoble about that. It’s a credit to him that he did it with so little money in racing terms and he readily expresses his gratitude to the friends and businesses that made it possible. The DVD is professionally produced, but not too slick to lose the personal touch and is definitely worth watching. 

Arguably ‘Riding Man’ has it all: a dreamlike quality, good anecdotal (and factual) information about the history and players in the TT, an excellent grasp of the magical nature of the venue whether he’s talking about fairies under bridges or the sights, sounds and smells of the pits or the open road. I’ve never set foot on the Isle of Man but I’ve ridden closer than I’d like to many a dry stone wall in the very similar terrain and weather of northern England. Failing that, Gardiner’s book will take you there in your armchair and perhaps encourage you to re-examine your inner journey or, just for once, get out of that chair and do something… 

More information about ‘Riding Man’ and its author: / Gardiner’s book website website with excerpts from the DVD Leno interviews Gardiner about Riding Man Gardiner’s professional website offering his creative ad services

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