On a simple Honda motorcycle on a West Virginia gravel road, an obsession was born.
Lance Oliver watched as his father rode the bike to and from graduate school. His mother used it to go to the store and run other errands.
When Oliver grew older, he puttered around on it as well. Slowly, he began to relish the feeling of freedom he had riding it.
“It’s gone from being something simple like that to being part of my identity,” he said. “It’s something I love to do.”
Years later, Oliver has built a career out of his passion for motorcycles. He has written about industry trends, interesting roads to ride and new models. His experiences have been captured in his first book, “The Ride So Far.”
He will share his life on the back of a motorcycle during an appearance Aug. 16 at the White River branch of the Johnson County Public Library.
“It’s a physical experience that some people love and some don’t. I happen to love it,” he said.
A trained newspaper reporter, Oliver was living in Puerto Rico and working as a freelance writer when he found a chance to meld his two passions. A job at the American Motorcyclist Association came open that would have him edit its monthly magazine.
He had the chance to write about important issues and interesting stories about motorcycling. He ended up working for the magazine for seven years.
“From then on, my focus has really been combining the writing and the riding into one thing,” he said.
Part of the appeal is the contrarian nature of his personality. Riding a motorcycle sets him apart from the hundreds of cars and trucks driving around him, Oliver said.
“Sometimes I’ll be out there and look around, and there’s 500 cars and no motorcycles,” he said. “I feel like I’m the barracuda among the minnows. I have that agility and freedom to get where I need to go.”
Thoughts like that have peppered his writing.
“The Road So Far,” published in 2010, is a memoir of life on a motorcycle. Oliver adds in tales of his time in far-off locales such as ruins of ancient Mexico to Pacific Coast Highway to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire.
Weaving in the history and connection he’s had with motorcycling, Oliver tries to capture the camaraderie that cyclists share.
One of Oliver’s subjects is his 1997 Triumph Speed Triple. He purchased the bike lightly used in 1998; and over the course of the past 15 years, has racked up 93,000 miles on it.
“It’s pretty much in semi-retirement in the garage. It has all sorts of quirks and doesn’t run as good as it used to. Kind of like its owner, it’s in middle age and loose around the joints, maybe not quite as athletic as it used to be,” he said. “But I can’t picture getting rid of it at this point. We’re just stuck with each other.”
In public appearances, Oliver likes to share some of the stories in his book and add background about his life on the road. But he also stresses how audience members can write about something they’re passionate about.
Maybe it’s sports or sewing or photography. The subject matter isn’t important, he said.
What’s vital is putting your feelings and love for whatever it is down on the page.
“I really enjoy hearing what people are interested in, and what they want to know about. You can turn around and turn whatever it is into your expertise,” he said. “I really enjoy that.”