->What follows is based on actual occurrences. Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact. However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles, either.
-->''Author's Note''

It's a book about a lot of things, but the narrative that gives it structure follows a father and son's cross-country motorcycle trip in 1968. The story is semi-autobiographical and presented strictly from the father's point of view as they travel. It is the nature of traveling by motorcycle for there to be long periods of time in which conversation is impossible and so the reader is privy to the musings, observations, and memories of the father between stops in conveniently chapter-length essays he calls "Chautauquas."

It was later followed by a [[ToughActToFollow lesser]] [[FirstInstallmentWins known]] novel called ''Literature/{{Lila}}'', in which Pirsig systematizes his musing into a coherent metaphysical framework - the Metaphysics of Quality.
* AllBikersAreHellsAngels: Completely averted. The Narrator is a writer for industrial manuals who's traveling with his young son and family friends the Sutherlands, who are Minneapolis artists.
* DramaticIrony: The narrator uses a professor's own words against them to win an argument. Feels very smugly superior. Is kicked out of school the next day.
* HoistByHisOwnPetard: The massive intelligence that the narrator assures us he possesses often seems to be the thing that makes him insufferable and rejected by others.
* HorribleCampingTrip: The Narrator's son Chris declares.
* IntelligenceEqualsIsolation: [[spoiler:The Narrator is very intelligent, but has difficulty relating to people including his wife.]]
* TheJoyOfX: The book's title is a play on ''Zen in the Art of Archery'' by Eugen Herrigel (much like Creator/RayBradbury's ''Zen in the Art of Writing''), but its popularity has led to ''Zen and the Art of X'' being [[TropeCodifier an even more common formula]].
%% I say this, but I feel like [citation needed]. -- @/RobinZimm
* MeaningfulName: [[spoiler:The Narrator refers to the person he used to be as]] "Phaedrus" -- that is to say, Socrates' opponent in Creator/{{Plato}}'s dialogue of the same name.
* OldFriend: The Narrator staying with old friends in Bozeman, Montana.
* NonindicativeName: The author's note claims that the title is such.
* PaintingTheMedium: The twenty-fifth anniversary edition switches from a serif to a sans-serif font to indicate [[spoiler:the revival of Phaedrus at the end of the story]].
* PreInsanityReveal: Inverted. In the first half of the book, oblique references are made to a character named "Phaedrus"; we're told little about him except that "he was insane." This turns out to be [[spoiler:the narrator himself, before he was hospitalised and given electroshock therapy.]]
* RantInducingSlight: The Narrator was kicked out of a philosophy program, possibly for mocking the professors. Many parts of the book are him ranting about their inability to appreciate his genius.
* RoadTripPlot: Lost in DevelopmentHell, so we'll probably never see it filmed, but the spirit is there.
* RomanticismVersusEnlightenment
* ScienceIsBad: The Sutherlands' worldview.
* SplitPersonalityTakeover: [[spoiler:The Narrator vs Phaedrus and vice-versa]]
* ThePhilosopher: The Narrator
* UnreliableNarrator
* VeryLooselyBasedOnATrueStory: Pirsig claims in his Author's Note that it is based on true events, and many of the details (e.g. [[spoiler:Pirsig having been submitted to electro-convulsive therapy]]) are genuine.
* WhamLine: From the afterword added to the 10th anniversary edition: [[spoiler: "Chris is dead." Pirsig explains the real Chris was murdered at age 22 in a mugging while living in San Francisco.]]