Dr. Oliver Sacks

Bikes People Culture

Thinker, biker and brilliant human being

In August last year the world lost one of its great thinkers in the neurologist Oliver Sacks.

He was well known for his insightful and best-selling books, for being the real-life version of the character played by De Niro in the film ‘Awakenings’ and for his general humility and outstanding humanity. In a recently aired BBC ‘Imagine’, Yentob visits the terminally ill Sacks as he sits with his assistant going through his correspondence. Of the thousands of desperate people who wrote to him every year, no one was turned away without a reply and his attention.

What has been perhaps less well known is that this groundbreaking scientist was also a lifelong motorbike fanatic. The photo above is from his memoir ‘On The Move’ and shows him as a young man in the early sixties in Greenwich Village on his BMW R60.

Before his famous American life he was a Londoner, and in the book he recounts how he fell in love with the motorbike as a boy from his bedroom window. Seeing those machines on his London street, he felt they had the power to transform their riders into another being – into a romantic archetype.

He joined their otherworldly ranks at eighteen when he purchased a banged up BSA Bantam; this was soon followed by a couple of Nortons and then the R60. By now he was in the biker’s paradise of California with its thousands of miles of open highway. And he made the most of it by adding 100,000 miles to the clock of that machine alone.

As the memoir’s title suggests, Sacks saw the motorcycle as instrumental to, and symbolic of, the progression of his life. Always willing to take risks, always wanting to go further, to get somewhere new.

Which he of course did, in no small amount of style, helping a myriad of people along the way. Bon voyage Dr. Sacks.