Ernesto begins his narrative with an image of his friend Alberto’s motorcycle, which is the vehicle that makes possible Ernesto and Alberto’s road trip across South America. The motorcycle’s nickname, “La Poderosa” or “The Powerful,” is obviously a joke to the two men, since La Poderosa is far from a powerful machine—it’s difficult to ride, it breaks frequently, and it dies forever halfway through the trip. In this sense, the motorcycle symbolizes the youthful scrappiness of their adventure and their reckless desire to embrace risk and improvisation. However, just as Ernesto transforms from a naïve and unfocused youth to a serious political revolutionary over the course of the book, the symbolism of the motorcycle shifts, as well. When Ernesto and Alberto finally lose the motorcycle and become “bums without wheels,” Ernesto realizes that owning a motorcycle had identified him as a member of the middle class, which had led people to respect him and Alberto in the poor towns he visited. Without the motorcycle, the two men begin to live and to be treated like members of the proletariat. Thus, La Poderosa does signify real power—the power of class advantage—which the men had been previously unaware that they possessed. The transition in the motorcycle’s symbolism foreshadows Ernesto’s eventual disavowal of his bourgeois roots and his embrace of the proletarian cause.
La Poderosa Quotes in The Motorcycle Diaries
The enormity of our endeavor escaped us in those moments; all we could see was the dust on the road ahead and ourselves on the bike, devouring kilometers in our flight northward.
To a certain extent we had been knights of the road; we belonged to that long-standing "wandering aristocracy" and had calling cards with our impeccable and impressive titles. No longer. Now we were just two hitchhikers with backpacks, and with all the grime of the road stuck to our overalls, shadows of our former selves.