“There is a definitive difference between a “biker” and a motorcycle rider or enthusiast: and how that is determined depends on many factors and standards—and just who is doing the defining”- Those Who Ride, Rogue; American Biker
I’m going to be a bit unorthodox with this week’s blog. I started writing this discussion with modest hopes of not defining what a biker is because in truth, that’s completely subjective to the person claiming the definition. In other words what or who a biker is, is different to everyone you ask. There is no one list of criteria for people to check off “yes” or “no” in terms of whether or not this person is a biker.
When I put together a blog piece I don’t just go off of my opinion. I research the topic and discuss it with people in the community. After some entertaining and exhaustive debates I’ve come to the black and white conclusion that when defining what a biker is, everybody and nobody knows. We all know generalizations of what a biker should look like but then when you start to break down the cruiser crowd from the crotch rocket crowd there are distinct differences and for some reason animosity. Some old timers will say if you’re not on a Harley you’re not a biker at all and other people will say if you’re riding a Harley then you’re “hardly riding”.
It’s ridiculous in other words.
Honestly, I don’t know what a biker is and there’s no way I can clearly define a biker without alienating or even offending quite a few people. So, I sat back and asked myself, “So, what are you gonna do?” Well, ultimately it comes down to this; it’s my blog, my opinion and you ain’t gotta like it or read it. But if you do (and thank you for doing that) I hope if you disagree or agree with me on defining a biker that you leave a comment and make your case ‘cause honestly, I’m more interested in what my readers think a biker is then what I think a biker is.
Having said that…
I’ve been riding for nearly ten years and I’ve logged close to 100,000 miles among the six motorcycles I’ve owned in one decade. I ride to work everyday leaving from the South Shore of Long Island to downtown Manhattan. Between Monday and Friday if I just stick to the routine I log approximately 400 miles a week. Some days I’m wearing a suit, other days I have jeans and a tee shirt and other days I may be completely armored up. Do any of those outfits make me more or less of a biker? On my three piece suit days I’m betting some people say, “There goes some rich guy riding his bike a few miles” when that couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only am I poor by Republican standards but I ride a whole lot more then just a few miles. I wonder what those people would say if they ever saw me riding in a kilt. Yes, I have ridden my motorcycle with a kilt on and for the record let me repeat I am not a male striper at The Blue Oyster.
A year and a half ago I flew to L.A. to ride with my brother Joel. We logged nearly two thousand miles in five days having gone through Death’s Valley, Big Sur, US1 and The Hoover Dam to name a few. To this day I’d say that was the most genuine biker experience I’ve ever had. We made it a point to use maps and not a GPS (and we never got lost but I guess that’s easy when you have no destination). We rolled into hotels and bars as dusty and dirty as our bikes. We rode through some pretty strange places and met parts of America we thought only existed in Rob Zombie movies. We got pulled over by police and got a compliment for how well we ride (“Slow down though, fellas. I ‘d hate to have to pick up your nice bikes off the road”) We carried concealed weapons, a bottle of Wild Turkey, a Bible and a bond that’s been forged from riding together for nearly ten years.
While not as fabulous as my West Coast excursion, one of my East Coast riding partners and I have an annual tradition of coffee in Manhattan, brunch in Delaware, lunch in Philadelphia, dinner in Washington D.C. and drinks in Manhattan. We haven’t named our annual tradition yet but I’m leaning towards, “My Wife’s Not Home, Let’s Haul Ass” Run. It’s literally stop, eat, drink, laugh and ride and laugh some more.
Those are two examples in my personal life of what I’d call real bikers doing real things and actually living a life centered around and about their respective motorcycles. Cars are not options.
But do those experiences qualify me as a biker?
The other day I looked in my garage or as my wife calls it, my room. I counted two armored heavy duty jackets, one armored textile jacket, four leather vests (one brown, one suede) and another one whose material I can’t even name. I turned slightly to see one pair of leather pants and one textile pant with armor neatly folded by a box of assorted leather gloves for summer and winter riding, some with cut off fingers. I even have a leather bandana I know I will never wear. Newsflash though, none of that makes me a biker either. In fact if the police were to raid my home and come into my garage I could see why they’d think I was a male stripper at the Blue Oyster. But again, using my own criteria all the leather in my garage doesn’t make me a biker either.
I’ll go so far to say that being a biker has very little in fact to do with owning a motorcycle because I know plenty of people who own motorcycles and they’re no closer to being a biker then I am to being a male stripper at the Blue Oyster. When I’m not writing blogs about motorcycle culture I’m at the gym either training myself or someone and one of the conversations I have everyday is, “Getting in shape is 70% diet and 30% working out.” Being a biker isn’t quite as lop sided but its damn near close. I’d surmise that being a biker is about 10% owning a bike, 40% riding that bike and 50% state of mind.
Owning a motorcycle for most of us is the gateway drug to motorcycle culture and possibly one day becoming a biker. I say most of us because I know women who enjoy being Property and hanging out in the circles but have no interest in actually riding and I know men who own motorcycles but act like they should be Property. For the rest of us though, the motorcycle is what gets you through the toll but it’s by no means entry onto the E-Z pass lane into bikerdom. Once you learn how to ride a bike and more importantly, continue to ride after you go down (because you will go down) you’d be a lot closer to being an actual biker. Motorcycle ownership means you voluntarily enlisted into a sense of freedom and social rebellion even if you are nothing more then a rubber (rich urban biker) and you primarily ride on weekends or to the local watering hole. I’m willing to bet that local watering hole allows the Rub to rub elbows with real bikers. Owning a motorcycle means the degrees between yourself and legit bikers is that much closer. But if ever the adage birds of a feather flock togetherdidn’t apply, it’s here.
A few months ago I went to a biker rally with a mixed club of rubs and bikers. This rally was the real deal. Outlaw bikers with gun bulges in their vests and waist bands, Lynard Skynard blasting out the jukebox and secret patches and codes that only people in the culture would know. A rub in the club (say that out loud quickly a few times and when you do make sure you’re NOT at The Blue Oyster) came up to me and said, “Do we belong here? It’s a real rough crowd.” I didn’t know whether to throw up on him or to start sucking on his lactating titty but there was no way to disguise my disgust. My point is he rode to the biker bar, he paid for beer at the biker bar but this particular lactating man was no biker. He was just at a biker bar.
In an episode of the 70’s sitcom The Odd Couple the character played by Tony Randall famously said to his roommate, “When you assume you make an ass out of you and me”. Assuming because someone has a motorcycle that they ride is definitely amplifying the ass quotient exponentially when it comes to graduating someone to biker status. A rider is someone who prefers the inefficiency of two wheels over the comfort and convenience of a cage in most situations. A rider is someone who might be intimidated at the idea of riding a few hundred miles in a day but does it anyway. A rider is someone who doesn’t put his bike away because of rain; instead he takes out his rain gear and gets on with it. A rider is someone who looks and notices that it’s snowing but waits until a loved one talks him or her out of killing himself out there on icy roads. I do know a lot of riders and I respect them a great deal but is a rider a biker?
I know people I’d definitely consider bikers and they don’t even ride bikes and one or two of them don’t even own a motorcycle. While that may sound oddly conflicting, by my own set of criteria it’s really not. Like I mentioned above, I think owning a bike has little to do with actually being a biker. A biker is an attitude that has become your mindset and thus defines your lifestyle. (please re-read that. That was very important) You don’t need a motorcycle to do that but the motorcycle does amplify the lifestyle and everything that comes with it. In other words, not only are you a biker but you crush a lot.
Keep this in mind however; because you’re a rider doesn’t necessarily make you a biker.
I will make a confession. Because a great number of African Americans tend to gravitate towards the crotch rockets as opposed to the more comfortable cruiser, these riders tend to shy away or be considerably intimidated by long rides. I quit my first MC for a number of reasons but one of the major reasons was because they didn’t ride…or rather they didn’t do the style of riding I preferred. All of them had crotch rockets and I had nakeds (street fighters), a cruiser and a speed bike. I don’t believe in segregating myself from a riding experience so I made it a point to understand the logistics of riding and owning different types of bikes. Because I’ve been blessed to own multiple types of bikes, I do multiple types of riding but personally, distance for me is the most orgasmic. I don’t consider blasting up and down the Southern State Pkwy riding. Riding to me is the “My Wife’s Not Home, Let’s Haul Ass” Run. That’s riding. I’ve done that ride on my Triumph Triple and one of my cruisers and both rides were comfortable and in each of those rides, not one sport bike rider came with us. Let me be clear in that I respect the performance of sport bikes and I respect the skill it takes to handle those machines but my criteria for riding consists of not just being able to haul ass but knowing when and how to haul ass. Having the mental and physical discipline to take a bike long distance at all speeds, different corners and terrains are attributes of a rider. Hauling ass in between cars is a skill but then again so is painting and I’ve got as much use for a paint brush as I do hauling ass in between cars.
I want to be clear that I do respect the sport bike riders out there. In fact I know and have met a few who do the long distances on their bikes. I’ve come to the realization that if you’re ultimately determined enough and riding is something you’re intent on doing, it doesn’t matter what you’re on. You’re going to ride. My experience however allows me to say that most sport bike riders will not go on a long haul and in my opinion, that makes you a certain kind of rider. (you can read into thatcertain all you want) I know sport bike riders who do things on the track that after 100,000 miles I still can’t do. By their criteria they may very well consider me less of a rider and that’s fine. I don’t care what they think of me at all which leads me to the criteria that I feel truly does qualify a person for being a true biker.
Owning a motorcycle does not make you a biker; it makes you a motorcyclist. Because you ride a motorcycle doesn’t mean you’re a biker; it means you ride a motorcycle and wearing a leather vest doesn’t make you a biker either; it either means you’re going to be walking in this years gay pride parade or that you wish you were a biker…or that you work at The Blue Oyster.
Being a biker is an attitude, a way of life, a lifestyle and the motorcycle is nothing but the mechanical manifestation of that attitude and way of life. A biker is someone who challenges society with his appearance, his mode of transportation and has an unapologetic apathy towards society’s opinion of him. When I mount my bike I get asked so many times “Aren’t you scared you’re going to die?” and my response is always, “Aren’t you afraid of never living?” That is an attitude about life and my willingness to challenge death to a race that I know Death will eventually win one day. I don’t care about the end of the race, what I care about is how I’m getting to the end of that race and for a biker, that means getting there on a motorcycle. That’s a biker attitude.
I’m gonna have to repeat that for some of y’all (now I feel as if I’m preaching)…
“I’m willing to challenge Death to a race knowing damn well that one day Death will win. I don’t care though about the outcome of the race; what I care about is that I did that race on a motorcycle.” Imir “The Preacher” Leveque
I’ve heard the cliché that bikers aren’t made, they’re born. As corny as that cliche sounds and is, by my own criteria that is true. Because I believe being a biker is more of an attitude and the core of rebellion is part of a person’s DNA but owning an actual motorcycle can only happen when one can afford it. For me that didn’t happen until my late twenties.
When I started riding people thought I was on a mission to kill myself but in actuality I had made the decision to finally start living. It was an extension of the biker attitude that I was already born with. It was a form of freedom but not freedom like writers like to romanticize motorcycling to because truth be told, there’s nothing free about riding a bike. When I have to deal with speed restrictions, helmet laws, noise pollution laws, exhaust emission tests and so on and so on so freedom for me isn’t really riding a motorcycle. It’s more a form of unlimited expression that manifested from the biker inside of me.
When you find the person you love, the person you want to have children with, the person whom you can fight with and still love even after losing that fight, it’s a beautiful thing. When you find that motorcycle that allows you to forget about the boss, the bills, or the wrong person you married (see above) you start to truly understand what it is to be a biker. When all your problems are solved by simply riding a motorcycle it goes from being a machine or status symbol to your therapist, lover or friend you’ve truly become a biker.
When you get into a horrible accident and the first thing you scream about when the paramedics are cutting open your armor is, “where’s my bike?”, when you get into fights with your wife trying to convince her to show up as a couple to formal events on a motorcycle or when you get on your bike in one state to have coffee a few states away or when every solution to every single problem in your life is to ride your motorcycle, I believe you’re meeting my criteria for being a biker. Everything may not start with the bike, but everything ends with it.
It doesn’t matter what brand motorcycle you have, what type of bike you have, who you ride with, how fast or slow you ride, but what does matter is that your motorcycle is an extension of your lifestyle and it doesn’t define you, but rather you define each other.
When you reach that level of motorcycle existence, then you’re a biker.
Well, that’s what I believe anyway.
What do you think?