Rubber Side Down, by Ron Davis
Well, he’s gone and done it again. Our very own Ron Davis has published another collection of his clever works, kindly saving us from having to page through shelves of BMW Owners News back-issues to reread them. Unlike evaluations of products rendered obsolete with the passage of time or descriptions of events that have come and gone, Ron’s accounts of motorcycling life are delightfully evergreen, just as entertaining years later as they were upon their original release. This follow-up volume to his prior anthology, Shiny Side Up, includes four articles not previously published in ON, but instead prepared for the general public; two were featured in Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Wisconsin Life” and two appear here for the first time. It turns out Ron’s elegantly casual style makes for pleasurable reading, regardless of subject matter. In addition to 26 of his ON columns, readers will find portraits of four fascinating motorcyclists, reviews of several motorcycling books and a little gear, along with some amusing April Fool spoofs. The guy has range. (There’s also an entry by an easily recognized guest writer.)
Now, before you dismiss the following praise as merely one MOA writer scratching the back of another, consider Mr. Davis’s credentials. As Associate Editor and columnist for ON since 2014, he’s authored a multitude of essays, product reviews, humor pieces, and feature articles, earning enough popularity to warrant publication of two curated assortments of these in book form. With a master’s degree in English/Language Arts Teacher Education and a bachelor’s degree in English/Journalism, he knows a thing or two about writing good—er, well. He’s taught high school and university classes in composition, photography, and publishing, and has been a frequent contributor to the aforementioned WPR segment and “Volume One,” a Wisconsin arts and entertainment magazine, among other media outlets. These aren’t accomplishments just anyone could claim. They reflect an enduring passion for the field of communication, along with a skill set supporting widespread success in same. Like our beloved motorcycle marque, Ron possesses the pedigree to make complimentary remarks readily believable. He’s a proven wordsmith, independent of my opinion. Anyway, back to my opinion…
As a fellow writer, I admire Ron’s lucidly flowing efficiency. His training and professional history allow him to tell a tale or convey an idea clearly and succinctly—and with charming warmth—in half the words I’d need, giving his audiences much more value for their time and attention. Rubber Side Down delivers more of this high quality prose. Similar to the first, this new book carries the subtitle, The Improbable Inclination to Travel on Two Wheels. Whereas the main titles are meant to provoke smiles within the motorcycling fold, the subtitles seem designed to conjure curiosity among folks who view our avocation with some skepticism. It’s usually prudent to acknowledge a skeptic’s stance as understandable before launching any persuasive efforts. Outsiders who give Ron a chance to explain “the improbable” will find stories that appeal to the humanity in us all—our fumbling attempts to cope with unexpected challenges, the necessity of humor in dealing with the inevitable absurdities involved, and the hard-won wisdom accumulated along the way. The topic of riding and maintaining motorcycles is merely the medium with which Ron works. His underlying theme is a more universally compelling aspect of life’s endless lesson: the often painful acquisition of humility.
While Rubber Side Down certainly offers insights for perplexed non-riders, it’s the avid motorcyclist who will best appreciate Ron’s anecdotes, relishing the kinship of another journeyman. Despite his breadth of knowledge and experience as a rider for five decades, Ron always speaks from a place of wonder and continual learning. In other words, he relates to the vast majority of us commoners who aren’t professional racers, Iron Butt champions, or factory-trained mechanics. He can find adventure in something as mundane as an oil change, yet has also undertaken derring-do most of us would studiously (nay, vehemently!) avoid, such as trekking through Wisconsin snowstorms and relentlessly torrential rains on two wheels. Long-time riders will shake their heads knowingly about the trials and tribulations that eventually befall us all if we continue exploring the realms opened up to us by our bikes. We don’t have to go to great lengths to have great—and disastrous—experiences. We need only step into the fray and stay there. Ron reports on the wildness and ironies that ensue, replete with dread, exhilaration, regret, relief, and gratitude, all threads in life’s rich tapestry. A smattering of hardware-focused pieces will likely interest only motorcycling enthusiasts, but the rest of these compositions immerse any reader in the thoroughly organic drama of contending with risk, frustration, discomfort, and unwelcome surprises, as well as excitement, awe, reflective solitude, and the invigorating joys of belonging to a like-minded community.
I fully realize this appraisal would be more credible if I could find something to criticize about Ron’s latest public offering, but I can’t. Maybe my enjoyment of this book would have been enhanced if the black-and-white photos had been in color, or if Ron had sat down and read it to me in person over a series of adult beverages, allowing for spontaneous discussion of each element I found familiar or startling. As it stands, the friendly conversational manner of Rubber Side Down is as close to such communion as I could hope for in print. Available from Road Dog Publications for $19.95, it’s out just in time for those enduring a winter riding hiatus.