Monday, June 2, 2014

Becoming An Ambassador For Motorcycling

Like it or not, people judge the entire sport of motorcycling by how they observe you when you are out riding. Whenever you throw a leg over your bike, you become a representative for the entire two-wheel community. Are you a good ambassador for the sport, or, not so good?

There are two activities that, in my opinion, have done more to harm the image of motorcycling than any other. The first is the fascination with loud pipes, primarily fostered by some (not all, of course) Harley enthusiasts. I know, they sound really cool and "bad-ass". When I bought my Harley Sportster in 2005 I purposely requested the stock exhaust instead of the Screaming Eagle option. Why? I knew I would be riding early in the morning for coffee and I did not want to piss off my neighbors by starting up a loud bike at 5:30am. I almost bought into the whole "Loud Pipes Save Lives" philosophy, but since most car/bike accidents happen by an oncoming driver making a left turn in front of a motorcyclist, it is pretty obvious that the ability "see" you outweighs the ability to "hear" you.

The second activity that gives "bikers' a bad reputation is reckless driving. This primarily rests with the sport bike crowd. Hauling ass and weaving in and out of traffic is not only dangerous, it is rude and annoying as Hell, regardless of what type of bike you are riding. I had a guy on a Ducati pass me on a Dallas freeway a couple of years ago and I never saw him until he was just behind me and about to pass, very closely I might add. I am guessing he was doing at least 120mph. It scared the crap out of me and the sudden sound alone almost made me jerk my handlebars to avoid a collision.

We have to always be mindful that the public's perception of our sport will shape our future ability to ride. Some communities have already banned motorcycles from their roadways. Is that fair, or even legal? Probably not, but it has already started happening.  I have been riding my motorcycles through my neighborhood since 2006 and my neighbors see me observing the speed limit (30 mph), waving at them when I see them out walking, and riding a quiet bike that does not offend anyone. If my neighborhood ever decided to try and ban motorcycles, it won't be because of me.

Movies have shaped perceptions too
Even the way we dress when we ride has an impression on the general public. A black leather vest with patches and a bandana carries with it a perception that we all grew up with. Hell's Angels, motorcycle gangs and outlaws all wore black leather vests. The majority of people over 40 will react negatively to someone walking into a convenience store or restaurant dressed in a black leather vest. Is it fair? Of course not. Remember, we are part of the community, so we know that when we see a rider wearing black leather he or she is more likely to be a doctor or an entrepreneur than a gang member. I wore all the leather stuff with patches when I was a member of my HOG chapter back in 2005. But, I did so with the knowledge that people saw me differently just because of the way I was dressed. I am not suggesting that all Harley riders stop wearing leather vests and bandanas, I know they won't. But, for the rest of us, we can help to offset any potential negative by dressing in a more socially acceptable manner.

When I ride, I always wear a hi-viz riding jacket with armor, boots, gloves, a white helmet and riding pants or jeans. I have had a lot of drivers tell me how they can see me from 1/2 a mile away with the hi-viz jacket. Even my white helmet makes me more visible than say a black or silver helmet. Cagers appreciate being able to see a biker on the road. Nothing would ruin their day like killing or injuring someone on a motorcycle because they could not see them. I also recognize that drivers are distracted today with cell phones, texting and whatever other gadgetry they are immersed in while driving, so the more visible I can be, the better my chances.

How we act when we are out riding can also shape public perception of the sport. If someone cuts you off in traffic and you flip them the bird, that's not necessarily a good thing. Other drivers around you may only see you flipping someone the bird and not know why. Recently, there was a video on the news of a group of sport bike riders who basically attacked an SUV with one rider smashing out the driver's side window with his helmet. It is possible that the SUV driver did something irresponsible, causing the rider to react violently. But, the video did not show that. All we saw was a biker attacking an SUV driver. That video, which got national attention, certainly did not help the perception of motorcycling.

When you are out for a ride and stop for gas, or for something to eat at a restaurant, or for an overnight stay at a hotel, people take notice of your actions.  And, those actions form lasting impressions. You naturally stand out in a crowd because you are dressed differently, and you rode up on a motorcycle. Something as simple as holding the door open for someone at a restaurant, or leaving a nice tip for the waitress, can leave a lasting positive impression. You never know when a biker (maybe you) may be broken down on the side of a road somewhere and that person will be willing to stop and offer assistance because of a polite gesture made by you, or some other rider.

In my experience, motorcyclists are some of the nicest people I have ever been around in my life. When you stop for gas, or pull off the highway at a scenic overlook, you can always strike up a conversation with a fellow biker and make a new friend. We are all ambassadors for the sport of motorcycling, whether we like it or not. And as such, have a responsibility to the community of riders to conduct ourselves in a way that brings positive energy to the entire community. We already know that motorcycle enthusiasts are the friendliest people around. All we have to do now is spread that message through our actions to the rest of the world.



  1. I heartily agree with everything you said, but, then again, I am a member of the choir you are preaching to. I wish there were a way to make this point to the people who need to get it: the riders you describe and cagers who can't see the difference between you on your Wing and squids doing wheelies and stoppies.

  2. Motorcycles are recognized as entertainment in this country rather than transportation. I would assume that I would be far in saying that 98% motorcycle owners also have automobiles as their main source of transportation. The significance of this is that a motorcycle suffers an image issue with the general public right out of the gate. When riders have loud pipes they become "muscle car...look at me" items. when sports bikers race they are sports car speed freaks looking for thrills. All of this occurs at the expense of the ears and patience of the "joe general public" who is sitting in his prius with his wife trying to go the mall or work. When motorcycles become a recognized means of transportation by everyone...including their owners then and only then will perceptions change.