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Architect Stephen Teeple on his Aprilia sport bike. He has five motorcycles.Dave LeBlanc/The Globe and Mail

Ghost Rider, penned by Rush drummer Neil Peart in 2002, could never capture the zeitgeist like Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild, written in 1968. Peart’s tale of a “wandering hermit” on a “nameless [motorcycle] quest” to find inspiration and meaning after the tragic loss of his daughter and wife is too raw, too personal, as compared to the anthemic singalong about a “true nature’s child” that is “lookin’ for adventure.”

Yet, in the 21st century, motorcycles might very well be more about tranquility, problem solving — both personal and professional — and lookin’ for the exact opposite of adventure. In his e-book, Meditation by Motorcycle: Ride Your Carbon Footprint to the Apex of Enlightenment, author John P. Metzger posits that with “our busy lives, we need to meditate through physical movement” and compares the modern motorcyclist to mountain-dwelling monks who “become impervious to cold and hunger” through concentration, or “American Sun Dancers” who overcome “extreme, extended pain in their vision quest.”

Heady stuff. But, as a stuck-in-one’s-own-head writer, I agree. Rediscovering motorcycle riding in 2018 at the age of 50, I realized a fundamental change had occurred from when I rode in my 20s: The external concerns of who was watching had vanished, replaced by how the motorcycle and I combined to send my mind into a state of Zen. Worries would bubble away as the exhaust burbled, and, more often than not, an awkward paragraph I’d been chewing on would smooth itself out.

As I met moto-obsessed architects, more and more of them every year through my Globe Real Estate column, I realized that together we made up a small army of cerebral hermits who take to two wheels to find peace or meaning.

“I think of architecture as a summation of episodic moments that lead you through a larger experiential realm, and that describes a motorcycle ride exactly,” American architect and avid motorcyclist Antoine Predock said when I reached him at his New Mexico home in 2018. “In a building … you’re a pedestrian and you’re moving slowly, but you’re still getting this kind of kinesthetic, choreographic exposure to space.”

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Architect Antoine Predock on a 1951 Vincent motorcycle.Supplied

Predock, who designed Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights and died March 2, 2024, at 87, took his motorcycle riding very seriously. He honed his skills at the racetrack and called it “a sport … an art … a technical enterprise,” and added that he often came up with architectural solutions while he was “part of the landscape.”

“Once it’s at speed, it’s a 400-pound gyroscope plummeting through space,” he said, “and it feels good; it feels like you’re dancing.”

Award-winning Ian MacDonald, 70, got his motorcycle licence at the age of 50. (He’d wanted a motorcycle at 16, but his father, a transportation safety official, vetoed the idea.) Like Predock, MacDonald says he learned the technical aspects on a track, so he could let his brain drift into “neutral” while riding his BMW R1100S sport bike.

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Architect Ian MacDonald's BMW on a job siteSupplied

“Your mind gets to wander to some wonderful places,” the Toronto architect says. “There’s no cellphone. I’ve rejected offers of earphones and speaker kits and GPS. … You’re in a kind of abstract space, and problems that you weren’t even conscious of thinking about particularly, they drop in and then suddenly there’s a solution.”

Stephen Teeple, 69, who grew up in Woodstock, Ont., and purchased his first motorbike at 15 from a member of the Para-Dice Riders, a now-defunct biker gang, says his state of mind depends upon which motorcycle he’s riding (he has five): “The sport bike is capable of 315 kilometres an hour. It weighs very little, it’s hyper-nimble, so you’re only thinking about it,” he says with a chuckle. “Whereas the Beezer [his BSA Thunderbolt 650cc], you’re just cruising around, focused on scenery … on the dynamic flow through the landscape.” Some of his best thinking, he adds, occurs when his dog, Levi, joins him in the sidecar of his Kazakhstan-built Ural.

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Stephen Teeple's BSA motorcycle.Supplied

Sustainable design specialist Terrell Wong, who switched to an electric Zero DS after her BMW F650CS was crushed by a firetruck (the truck was turning slowly and didn’t see her, so she was able to “tip over like a cow” and watch as her front wheel was crushed), says that since “architects are constantly thinking about the past to create the future,” riding is the time she’s able to “turn the brain off,” focus on the present, and concentrate on “staying upright.”

A motorcycle also helped the self-described “very blond and very female” architect early in her career. When she’d arrive at construction sites, she says the bike gave macho workmen “at least one question to ask me” after their initial shock wore off, and, from that, a conversation about the “technical aspects of what I do for a living” would follow. “I obviously have more knowledge about building sites than somebody who doesn’t have a motorcycle,” she jokes.

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Terrell Wong and her electric Zero DS motorcycle.Supplied

Interestingly, it seems gender doesn’t matter. When asked whether Teeple’s new clients are surprised when the helmet comes off, he says, simply, “always.” Asked if he knows why, he pauses, thinks, and draws a blank.

“People look at you with alarm as you approach them,” MacDonald says with a laugh. “You flip your visor up and they say ‘Oh, it’s you,’ with relief. It’s hilarious.”

The reason? Like it or not, the cloak of rebellion still hangs from all motorcyclists’ shoulders, even though an educated, thoughtful, creative person who designs and builds things is not “born to be wild.” Yet a motorcycle is a complex and wonderful piece of art and engineering — just like great architecture.

MacDonald, who decided to buy his first motorbike while stuck in traffic in front of Toronto’s McBride Cycle store (now closed), says when he first laid eyes on that BMW, he thought: “Man, if I don’t ride it, I can just park it in my living room, it’s so beautiful.”

“They can have their own uniqueness, their own qualities, but with very minimal parts and pieces,” adds Teeple. “In a way they’re very simple, but they can still be so radically different from one another.”

Minimal parts, yes, but add them up and the sum is not only greater, the motorcycle becomes the ultimate meditation machine for the creative thinker.

Favourite roads

Terrell Wong, Stone’s Throw Design

Falkenburg Road is really nice. … It’s near my cottage. We go on a lot of roads from our cottage to Port Carling, [Ont.], so from Lake of Bays to all the fancier parts of Muskoka. You can’t go wrong; even if you took [Highway] 118, which is just a simple road, it starts to go up and down and there’s trees everywhere. The 35 is fantastic because it’s fast … you get these open views of lakes and trees. And the nice thing about my bike is it’s a dual-sport, so I can go off-roading.”

Ian MacDonald, IMA

“I only ride when I have to go somewhere,” he says with a laugh. But, once, when MacDonald was in a BMW showroom with about seven other guys, he overheard one ask another: “What’s your favourite road?”

“And suddenly, there’s a huddle; everybody has their favourite road … and to my amazement, the favourite road consensus of these guys was a road called South Bay Road, which goes off Highway 400 into a marina just north of Honey Harbour. And I know the road and it’s just like a snake, it’s windy as hell.”

Stephen Teeple, Teeple Architects

“I like Front Road between Port Dover and Port Rowan, [Ont.] or Lakeshore [Road] all the way from Port Dover down to Port Burwell, or even beyond … pretty much until the land gets flat. I think there’s a name for the ride, ‘Ontario’s Garden Ride’ or something like that?” [It’s actually “Ontario’s Garden Route” and can be found using Google.]

“Obviously, everybody likes Forks of the Credit [Road in Caledon, Ont.], but it’s just a pain to get there and you’ve got to deal with suburban traffic.”

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