Michael Czysz is following his dream.
He’s building a transcendently cool motorcycle with the intention of competing and winning at the highest levels.
He’s not solving global warming.
He’s not curing cancer.
He is not bringing peace to the mid-east.
In the big calculus of life on this planet, what he’s doing matters not one jot.
But he’s still a hero.
For reasons most people can’t and won’t fathom, what he’s doing matters. Why? Because he’s following his dream. He’s taking the journey. He’s plumbing the depths. And when that happens, when a soul stirs, the universe responds.
Good Grief Man, It’s Just a Bike!
True. It’s just a bike. Even sillier, it’s a racing bike. It has no purpose other than to go round a circuit as fast as possible for less than an hour. Still, even if the whole notion of men and their toys baffles you, you have to admire the sheer grittiness of the entire enterprise.
The best part of the story is the guy leading the parade. I’ve yet to meet the man, but the book on Michael is that he was born in 1964 with motorcycles already in his blood. If you have a look at the Motoczysz web site, you’ll see what I mean. His dad, grandfather, and great grandfather were all smitten with bikes so it seems natural that Michael would be too. The part about taking on the industry giants seems less obvious at this point.
Michael studied at Parson’s in New York and Portland State, got married, and had two sons with seriously excellent names: Max and Enzo. The baton will pass.
In 1990 he started an architectural firm called Architropolis. That would make him, what, 26 at the time? The firm thrived and thrives and has done award-winning work for famous people and famous companies. It’s okay to feel jealous and the story is barely underway.
Note two things at this point:
- Most people would be thrilled to be doodling houses for the likes of Cindy Crawford and could easily be excused for settling in for a rewarding career with lots of time and money left over for mad hobbies and great vacations.
- There isn’t even a whiff of a credential at this point to suggest that starting a company to build a world-class racing motorcycle based on revolutionary new technology would be a good idea. Naysayers, and we’ll get to them in a minute, are still looking for that heavenly sign.
Apropos of point 2, “But that’s what happened.” A muse visited, strange notions about the proper way to configure an engine, gearbox, and suspension sprang forth, and the boy-architect genius decided that the logical next step was to not only tilt with giants, but do it on an impossibly compressed time frame, displaying levels of under-funded bravado that cause most people, including and especially captains of industry, to roll eyes. Those of us who have started businesses (and I’m one of those people) smile and applaud wildly, even if just to ourselves. Either you get it or your don’t.
It’s the hard that makes it great
There is a wonderful interchange between character’s played by Tom Hanks and Geena Davis in a movie called “League of Their Own.” The Davis character, Dottie Hinson, has decided to quit and go home with her newly returned and wounded war-hero husband. It goes like this . . .
Jimmy Dugan: Shit, Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I’m in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up, you can’t deny that.
Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard.
Jimmy Dugan: It’s supposed to be hard! If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.
I can’t remember exactly when it is that I first heard about what Michael was up to, probably it was in a motorcycle magazine, but I do remember two things: 1) How cool it all sounded. How utterly, heroically, magically cool. 2) How pissed off I felt reading the nay saying from this expert and that poobah. I shouldn’t have been, but I was. Nay saying goes with the territory. It’s how you know you’re on to something big.
Just so I can get this out of the way, the naysayers were and are wrong. Not just about what Motoczysz is doing. About everything.
First and foremost, they’re wrong at a metaphysical level. The only people who say no to someone else at the beginning of a great journey are people who are too timid to leave on their own . . . people who have already said no once too often to their own journey, to their own dreams, and now they’re bent on passing their lack of courage to someone else.
“I was and am too frightened to leave the village, so you can’t possibly be justified in doing it either.”
And if that accusation by way of observation causes you to bridle, take your anger out on someone else. You either get it or you don’t.
Which brings me to the second fault with nay saying and naysayers. Let’s ignore the obvious, that every invention, every discovery, every great adventure has always been sent off and beset by the worries and nays of others. What’s less obvious is that the naysayers and doubters lack vision. They see what they see in a single slice of time. They miss the whole concept of the journey: That by virtue of setting out, you open yourself to both the likelihood of failure and the opportunity to learn from it and go beyond.
“It won’t work, so why do it?”
“Of course it won’t work, but something else will. That’s why.” Or in the words of Jimmy Dugan, “It’s the hard that makes it great.”
To Journey is to Seek Your Own Soul
This is the part where those hoping to read about counter-rotating engines, interchangeable gearboxes, single-shock front suspensions, or any of the other 20+ patents Motoczysz has amassed may want to check out. It’s all shockingly cool. If the company never fields a competitive bike it has assured some kind of future for itself just on the strength of its inventions. But if you focus on the gear, and maybe for the second to last time I’ll go on record as saying it’s great gear, you’re missing the bigger picture. You’re missing the importance of what’s going on here.
Even given the little I’ve related about what Michael and team have been through, to go from table-napkin dream to a bike that is currently lapping at test tracks at a class-leading pace, you have to know that it’s been a tough road.
Besides the naysayers, there have been bad castings (both the people and the metal kind), flakey vendors, broken bits galore, blown engines, crashes, team members quitting, money problems . . . the list just goes on and on. Plenty of opportunities to give up. But the true believers have not. They are now officially beyond themselves. They are now Jason and the Argonauts. Without knowing it, Michael and crew are now following a script written in the very soul of mankind. It’s now no longer about a motorcycle. It’s about the “big why?”
What Michael and crew are onto now is nothing less than what Joseph Campbell describes as the “heroic journey.” Every culture down through history treasures at least one of these stories. Although there is a wonderful richness and variety to the various myths and legends, heroic tales all ultimately adhere to the designs of what Campbell calls the “monomyth.” Here it is in a sentence.
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”[amtap book:isbn=0691017840]
Here’s the longer version.
The Call to Adventure: Every journey begins with a call. Often the person ignores or ducks the call, but eventually it can be disregarded no longer. At this point, there is no hero. That comes later. It’s just a somebody doing whatever it is they do one minute, and feeling like they really have to go do something else the next. It’s an architect waking up one day and saying to himself, “I have to build a motorcycle that will revolutionize everything. Oh, and I have no business doing it. Whatever.”
Supernatural Aid. In Campbell’s words: “For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure . . . who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.”
Later, in retrospect, these sources of help and comfort are completely obvious. In the early going, you have no idea that the person you just met, or the thing you just found, or the whatever just happened is going to be so important later. Men are particularly bad at the act of noticing the little things. It’s so contrary to the energy required to drive a great enterprise forward. Great journeys require both.
Crossing the First Threshold. There will be challenges on this journey, and therefore there will be a first challenge. Many journeys founder at this point. But it is successfully meeting the first challenge and getting the first win that provides the propellant the journey needs. Again, at the time, it just hurts. It’s a bother. It’s an unwelcome intrusion on your carefully laid plans. If for some reason you don’t know this by now, dealing with and learning from adversity is the whole point of the journey.
The Road of Trials. The first trial is there to ready us for what follows. Says Campbell, “The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region. Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage.”
Little by little the hero, and his crew if he has one, gather experience, strength and courage as they commit further and further to the final objective. They have no idea how they will slay the dragon or steal the fleece or field a competitive race bike. Who can even think about such a thing while the storm is raging, or a big rock is trying to crush us, or some #@*&^$@# vendor has just shipped a critical part that is complete crap?
The Ultimate Boon. Having reached the final destination, the hero faces his or her ultimate test. In some cases, the journey was the hard part and the boon or blessing is easily won. In other cases, the final challenge is a fierce one, calling on all the faith, cunning, courage, self-confidence, amulets, chants, potions, and the occasional trick that the hero has at his or her disposal. But to win the challenge is to win the boon—the blessing that the hero brings back to the benefit of the tribe.
Crossing the Return Threshold. Grabbing the fleece, killing the dragon, capturing the castle, or lapping the track at a record pace isn’t enough. You have to make this win, this boon, part of something bigger. You have to tell the stories and raise the bar on your collective expectations. You have to come back and integrate what you’ve learned into what you are. Traditional heroes often returned to pomp and glory. Some snuck home. Many must wrest their rightful home or throne from an interloping pretender. Sometimes coming back is harder than going out. But the story isn’t complete until the hero is back home.
In the case of Motoczysz, I have no idea what the boon will be. I haven’t a clue when the big battle will occur. Coming home means nothing at this point because they’re still going out. For all I know Michael has never heard about the Heroic Journey and could care less. Right now he’s got at least two companies to run, giants to slay, and bikes to build. But the story can’t and won’t end with a race bike in a paddock somewhere. There’s more here than that.
Again, It’s Just a Bike!
I’ve often been accused of making a lot of a little, and especially writing a lot where less would do. I offer no apologies now or in the future. A proper heroic tale can’t be told directly. You have to work up to it, particularly the BIG POINT. Well here it comes.
You can take my word for it or do your own research. But accept for now the assertion that every culture, eastern western, northern, southern, old and young, has and recounts heroic tales. So you have to ask yourself, why? Why do we have these myths and tales? Why do we tell the stories of Jonah, Parsifal, Beowulf, Don Quixote, Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, and Rocky Balboa, just to sample a few? Given the sheer number of essentially identical stories stretching back thousands of years, there’s more than coincidence at work here.
Or, specific to the story at hand, why should we care if Michael and team sell a single bike or turn a single wheel in competition? Because in the end, the stories are about ourselves. The Motoczysz story can be your story too. Only the details are different.
At one level, these heroic tales are all stories about great deeds. And at that level, they are meant to pass along the glory and stories of the group as a whole. In telling these stories, we’re reminding ourselves of who we are and who we need to be.
At a second level, these heroic stories are meant to guide us on the journey from childhood to adulthood. They tell us what it means to be a man. Or what it means to be a woman. They remind us, sometimes for the first time, sometimes for the hundredth time, that there will be trials and tribulations. A life doesn’t pass by without some bumps and twists. It’s how we learn.
At a third and more profound level, the level at which the Motoczysz story carries it’s deepest weight, the stories are meant to inspire us to learn about who we really are and what we’re here to do. That’s why they’re important. That’s why it’s important that Michael followed his dream. That’s why it’s important that the naysayers spoke and he didn’t listen. That’s why it’s important that he and his team have persevered.
By taking up the call to do this thing, to build this dream, Michael has activated a force that runs deeper and more powerfully than mere passion or interest. He activates it for himself. He inspires people who feel it and pay attention to activate it in themselves. And maybe one of those people will go cure cancer. Or invent a better crochet hook. Or get on a bike and ride further than he or she has ever ridden before.
That’s why he’s a hero. That’s why what he’s doing is important. So that we can be reminded to go follow our dreams.
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