The New Counterculture?
By Fred Rau
Practically since the invention of the internal combustion engine, motorcycling has been divided up into fairly specific groups, including, but certainly not limited to, things like racers, street riders, tourers and the like. And even within those groups, there have always been subgroups like motorcycle touring campers, offroad racers, hill-climbers, endurance riders, or even just plain old two-wheeled commuters.
Yet despite our differences, for the past century or so we have also, for the most part, clung to the belief that we share a common bond, and that no matter what you ride, or how you choose to ride it, the very fact that you ride makes you a part of the "brotherhood." Just take a look at the widely eclectic makeup of the membership of the AMA. And if you think about it for a moment, would you hesitate to stop and help another rider by the side of the road just because he was on a dualsport, and you were riding a fulldresser? And don't touring riders fill the stands at GP and motocross races?
Sure, there have always been some "outlaw" groups within motorcycling, and a few other odd fringe elements, but they've always been a tiny minority within the sport. Heck, most people probably wouldn't even know they existed if not for Hollywood's propensity for the lurid and extreme. I credit TV and movies with creating what is almost a mythical counterculture around motorcycling. Those of us who actually ride know it's about 99% hype and only 1% reality.
But somewhere along the way, within the past 10 years or so, a new counterculture began to arise within our ranks. A splinter group slowly evolved, made up of riders who mimicked the Hollywood "bad boy biker" image, seemingly as an outlet for their otherwise pedestrian and uninteresting lives. In reality, for them at least, a motorcycle was more of a fashion accessory than a means of transport, or sport. It was a ticket into the fraternity and a public announcement that, "I'm not who you think I am. I am different. I have a wild side. I could be dangerous."
The motorcycle of choice for these people is the highlychromed, custom cruiser class. The majority are Harleys, but the culture certainly isn't limited to Milwaukee iron, and features many a Vulcan, V-Star and Intruder. For those who can afford them, even more popular are the Indians, Titans, Big Dogs and such.
This nouveau culture is reminiscent of the "urban cowboy" craze of several decades ago, when all the young executives, lawyers and accountants sported snakeskin cowboy boots, ten-gallon hats, and hung out at the local Gilley's-clone mega-saloon. I can't help but wonder how many of those I see today in black leather jackets and fingerless gloves have a pair of Tony Llamas, a Stetson and a couple of bolo ties gathering mold in the backs of their closets.
Within a hundred-mile radius of where I live, there are three relatively new Harley-Davidson "boutiques." None of these stores have any motorcycles for sale, or any kind of a service shop. In fact, they don't even sell what most of us would consider normal motorcycle fundamentals, like sparkplugs or oil. They exist-and quite well, I might add-on the sale of "lifestyle accessories." In other words, things to help you look like a biker. They are staffed primarily by attractive young women, many of whom sport customized bodywork themselves, prominently displayed by tight, midriff-revealing black halter tops, with strategically-aligned, sequined H-D logos. These store owners definitely know who their market is.
What we're talking about here is, simply, role-playing. And it is, truthfully, a fairly harmless activity. I have to admit to having gone through several periods of it in my own life, as have most of you, I'm sure. When I was eight or nine years old, I tried to emulate Roy Rogers, and in my teenage years, I was practically a walking clone of Ringo Starr. Both times, I was fairly certain that I pulled off the charade pretty well-at the time. Of course, looking back now at old photos of myself with my chromed six-shooters, or discovering a pair of madras bell-bottoms and a paisley Nehru shirt in the back of my closet, causes me to cringe in embarrassment.
I suppose I was in search of an identity, and, having not yet developed one that was truly my own, I latched onto one that television and magazines told me was "cool."
In a sense, I guess we all build our own identities from bits and pieces of various degrees of role-playing throughout our lives. Today, I'm lucky in that "who I am" and "what I do" are basically the same thing. But what if they weren't?
Suppose I had stayed the course with an earlier choice, and become a lawyer, specializing in contract law? Certainly a lucrative and honorable profession, but let's face it-not one with a whole lot of pizzazz. You aren't going to hear 10-year-old boys telling you they want to grow up to be contract lawyers. And when you sidle up alongside that good-looking blonde at the cocktail party, do you really want to blurt out, "I'm a corporate contracts attorney," or would you rather wait until she asks what you do, so you can casually toss off, "Oh, I'm a motorcycle test rider."
See what I mean?
If I were stuck in a job that wasn't particularly stimulating, and had to play the daily role of a mainstream good citizen, good husband, good father, nice guy, etc., I'm sure I would find a need to blow off a little steam now and then myself. And I suppose pretending to be a bad-ass biker is a pretty harmless way to accomplish that.
Still, I have to admit that I sometimes laugh up my sleeve at the RUB s and wannabes with their $30,000 customized toys. I watch them trailer their bikes to Sturgis and Daytona, park them on Main Street and then pose beside them, wearing the latest in "Motorclothes" fashion. I snicker when I see the odometers on three-year-old bikes registering less than a thousand miles, or jackets with eight-inch leather fringe that would beat the living crap out of you if you tried to ride over 30 mph. Fingerless gloves, "costume use only" beanie helmets and gigantic wallets with chrome chains make me laugh out loud. And don't even get me started on straight pipes that rob a bike's horsepower just to satisfy some weak-egoed Mama's boy's need to be noticed.
But, despite all that, I understand. All I ask is that they, and particularly the media, recognize that I am not one of them, any more than they are "motorcyclists." For perhaps the first time in motorcycling history, there really is a divisive factor that separates us from all being part of one big brotherhood: Those who ride-and those who pretend they ride.
-This article was submitted by John Hoffert
Recently, someone informed me that an editorial of mine had been copied on your web site.
Usually, when that happens, I contact the person responsible and try to inform them, in a
nice way, that the property is copyrighted, and ask them to please remove it.
However, after accessing your site, and browsing through it for about 20 minutes (punctuated
by pauses to wipe the tears out of my eyes from laughing so hard), I came to the conclusion
that I am, in fact, honored that you would see fit to add some of my ramblings to your
potpourri of put-downs.
Thanks for a fun and refreshing read - and for making me a small part of it.
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