Jun 18, 2008

Why I Hate Cruisers

What a totally bogus title. I don’t hate cruisers. They are inanimate objects. You should reserve a powerful emotion like “hate” for vicious characters like Nixon, Reagan, Georgie Bush and his sidekick Little Dick Cheney, Sideshow Bob, and the Anti-Truth (Fox News and their cast of clowns and freaks). I don’t hate cruiser owners, either. Some of them are among the lowest of the low, but they advertise that fact with their patches, tattoos, and crimes. Most folks who put on Village People costumes and ride a hard 50 miles-a-day from bar-to-bar on their big iron are mid-life-crisis walking wounded and are no more dangerous or despicable than the guys who dress up in gray flannel in Civil War enactments. So, really what this rant is about is why I dislike cruisers and the culture from which they are spawned.

First and most obviously, I can’t find a purpose or a function for the basic cruiser design.

It’s just a dumb-looking design without a single practical consideration. I once suffered through a Discovery Channel program on the history of motorcycles and that program tried to explain away the dopey riding position as being reminiscent of western cowboy saddles. I grew up riding western style saddles and I always had my feet under me anytime I was horseback. I’m completely unconvinced that sticking your feet in a pair of gynecologist stirrups is western, macho, or functional in any way. The “style” is derived from the piles of crap that the gangbangers chopper crowd rode during the days when only degenerates and Europeans rode motorcycles.

The riding position is primitive and uncomfortable. The chassis design negates all of the advantages of a motorcycle. The long, low, heavy, low ground clearance means the bike can't be maneuvered quickly in any kind of emergency. Cruisers can't turn, they can't get over obstacles, they can’t stop quickly, they can only accelerate in a straight line, and they are too heavy to get out of their own way. From a motor vehicle perspective, a cruiser is the equivalent of a Cadillac or, even more accurately, a single-passenger limousine. In other words, useless.

Most cruisers start with a single positive mechanical attribute; they are tuned so mildly that they can get pretty decent mileage when driven conservatively. Cruiser owners “fix” that almost immediately. Put on a noisy pipe, drill random holes in the intake system or put on a geeky chrome airbox and fuel efficiency will be sacrificed for the god of peak power at some random, probably unusable, rpm.

As far as the low CG advantage, that’s only useful when the bike is stationary, which (I guess) is a cruiser’s normal posture. Almost any inseam-challenged, overweight invalid can waddle a leg over a typical cruiser’s seat. A “tall” cruiser will have a 31” seat height while most customs will be modified so that small children can perch comfortably on the seat while planting both feet firmly on the ground. The other advantage to this “design” is that the bike practically stands itself in a parking lot. Like a sand-bottomed Bozo the Clown punching toy, with a pair of flat profile tires, a cruiser is a free-standing structure.

That, of course, is only an advantage when the bike is in a parking lot or barely moving. If form isn’t following some kind of function, I find no useful purpose for the form. A friend once said the cruiser “form is the function” and that lost me even further. If cruisers are art, I’m outta here. I don’t like non-representational art unless it’s on wallpaper and blends in with the furniture. I may not know art, but I know what I like; especially in motorcycles. A cruiser’s primary purpose appears to be to look impressively sedentary parked in front of a bar. I get that function from a rocking chair on my porch.

Tnere are folks who put the lie to my analysis, I'll admit. There are people who put long touring miles on their Harleys, Victories, and such and they amaze me. They are the exception to my "rule" and, as such, are exceptional. Sometimes I suspect they pick these ungainly, unsuited motorcycles just to prove that they can be ridden (tamed?) like a real motorcycle. I have the same kind of attitude toward really small motorcycles out of a similar motivation.

Humans are an irrational animal.

The social and historical aspects of cruisers turn me off even further. The riders who gravitate toward cruisers display a collection of traits that oppose most of what I believe in. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of very nice people riding completely silly motorcycles. Even some of them appear to be ignorant of what their ride-statement represents.

For example, the Nazi paraphernalia. A rider who also teaches MSF classes thought it was funny when I mentioned how insulted my WWII vet father would be seeing him displaying an airbrushed Nazi helmet. The guy is an ex-Marine, ex-policeman for cripes sake! How can it be that hard to figure out? Is there something about Nazis that I don’t know?

It gets a whole lot worse. I know bikers who sport Nazi swastikas and Harley tattoos, side-by-side. Biker rallies co-exist and cohabit with Klan’ers, skinheads, coke and meth dealers, gangsters, and all kinds of vicious, evil creeps. The posers who imitate the biker “style” don’t seem to realize that they are linking themselves with the worst of the worst.

The other social appeal for cruisers seems to be a freaky desire to turn back time to when men were boss and non-white men need not apply. The basic design of the “modern” cruiser recalls the crap that Hardly and Indian were making in the early 50s. Heavy, plodding, underpowered two-wheeled tractors that were more about sound than fury. All the 50s nostalgia recalls for me is fruitcakes like Joe McCarthy and lazy, do-nothing politicians like Eisenhower. The 50s were a time when superstition ruled our education system until the godless Russians gave us a demonstration of the axiom that “the only constant is change.” Of course, once science and engineering became popular areas of study, superstition took a lot of hits and off we went into the godless 60s and 70s.

From a public nuisance standpoint, it is, apparently, practically impossible to simply ride a cruiser. The kinds of people who pick this style of bike also want to announce their presence. Loudly. Their disrespect for my privacy and neighborhood goes right back at them every time they rattle my windows as they roar out of the corner in front of my house. You’d expect that kind of antisocial behavior from teenagers. Geezers blasting rapid fire farting noises are a different kind of retard. That kind of low tech cobbling passes for “customizing” and engineering in this breed of quasi-vehicle and I have to say I find it insanely boring and incredibly irritating.

The damage cruiser doofuses are doing to motorcycling is high on my list, too. They often pick these rolling wheelchairs because they are too fat, too incapacitated, and too scared to swing a leg over a real motorcycle. The prime quality of a typical cruiser is the low seat height. Some of these disabled machines are practically miniatures, with the associated useless suspensions, micro-powered motors, auto-pilot straight-ahead steering, and underpowered brakes. The obvious result is that near-cripples are riding these things into traffic and dying in large numbers. If they keep it up, they are going to give motorcycling such a bad name that no amount of whining by the rest of us will save our vehicle of choice from being banished to go-cart and snowmobile status.

Finally, I have to admit that I think the majority of cruisers are simply eyesores. All that shiny chrome placed in random patterns on badly welded low-grade steel chassis decorated with girlyman fringe and creepy, low-tech paint jobs grates on my nerves like a late night frat party that I can't shut enough windows to allow escape. To my eye, they are incredibly ugly and I can't get past that. It's no more rational than a "no fat chicks" tee-shirt, but ugly is as ugly does and cruiser owners do a lot of ugly.

There is a reason for this longwinded explanation. Stay tuned and all will be revealed.


  1. I think the utility of Harleys in self-medication is primary. Most of the movies made today at least tip their hats to the notion that modern US men are lost, weak, without a function, and seeking "themselves" in such things as chainsaws and Harleys. So many on these bikes are not wearing any visible clothing item that is not brand new.

    Saddle seat is the closest, with the hands held up in front of the chest and the feet kicked forwards some.

    So much is said these days about some certain experience (combat, mountain climbing, Raku pottery) being the "real" reality suggests some doubt about the regular general-issue reality in which most of us live. Could this be the point?


  2. It is impossible for me to imagine what it is like to live in your world of bigotry.

  3. I'm a terrible person, aren't I? I can't help but think of that class of bikes as "girls' and gangsters bikes" and that's probably the most fixed image I get from the "style." However, I do my best to treat all the goofy newbies in my MSF classes with tolerance and hope to tilt their options toward real motorcycles. It's not possible to even dislike those misled folks, but I'm not real fond of the companies who pawn off those deathtraps as "lifestyle" definitions.

    Merriam - Webster's Online Dictionary definition:
    Main Entry: big·ot
    Function: noun
    Etymology: French, hypocrite, bigot
    : a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance

  4. I loved this. Interesting how we have become who we are as the result of so many different life experiences, and wind up feeling the same way about stuff like this, including Bush and Fox News. Maybe especially Bush and Fox News.

    One thing I think about that you didn’t write about specifically, although you did a little around the edges, is mentorship. I think it is a powerful force and influence in leading people to purchase certain things (fringed chaps) and believe certain things (loud pipes save lives) and do certain things (stop at bars). It is a powerful force for those who take their mid-life dives into motorcycling, especially for the “social” benefits of riding. They are mentored by idiots and wind up, as you put it, displaying a collection of traits that oppose most of what you (and I) believe in. (I admit that part of what I’ve loved about motorcycling, although less lately, is that I used it to get away from people, not meet people).

    Having said that, there are good people out there who have fallen under the spell of crappy mentorship, and God bless them, they have the character to evolve. One good example is Donna, Critter’s wife, who first showed up at Minnesota 1000 rallies on a loud stupid Harley with ape-hangers. She is now a joy to ride with, if you can keep up with her, on her beautifully set-up Beemer. And Critter too, who hauled his butt back to the U of M for a geography degree and has reinvented himself. They are two of my favorite people.

    I have been thinking about this mentorship thing more lately because I’m just starting to get to know a woman who I think was a victim of crappy motorcycle mentorship, and she is like a sponge for information and advice about bikes and gear and riding well. She grew up on a farm and learned to ride dirt bikes as a kid, but she really got into horse training for awhile. Later she got degrees, etc. She’s smaller than me and has a 27-inch inseam, so “touching the ground” was important to her and she wound up with a Yamaha Star somethingorother and I think she even had that lowered. She’s always buying footpegs for it because they drag in the corners. We did a 400-mile ride Saturday and she hauled that thing around the Wisconsin alphabet roads nicely. Now and then I’d check and ask if she was dragging parts. If she was, I’d back off the pace a bit. If not, we’d wick it up a bit. She loves to ride and was blown away by the twisties. I have no idea about who her previous mentors might have been, but they never took her to the twisties.

    She has been looking for a different road bike, and she’s really looking at new Stich stuff, or something similar, to replace her chaps and leather jacket (unfortunately, she looked pretty cute in the chaps). And better ear plugs. And a better helmet (she does wear one all the time). She also has another bike, a Sherpa, which I thought you’d find interesting. Not afraid of dirt roads.

    The main thing, though, is that she KNOWS there’s a better way, and is looking for it with an open mind. It takes some strength of character to make changes and be open not just to new things, but to new ways of thinking. Actually, I think this is what “critical thinking skills” is all about. This are skills I admire in many of the people I’ve come to know through LD riding. They are always looking for something better, and not afraid to leave something behind that is not working well (you’d be surprised at how many IBR riders are trading in their BMWs right now for almost anything else, due to the rear-end failure rates of newer Beemers).

    Anyway, not sure how things are going to go with this new person. Way too soon to tell after just 400 miles for the crying out loud


  5. Sheldon thinks I'm a "bigot" because of my reaction to my experiences. Could be. If I'd had as many bad experiences with a particular race as I've had with Hardly characters I'd probably be close to racist. I like the "mentorship" concept. It is, of course, what we're trying to accomplish (along with improving skills) in the MSF program.

    25 years ago, a friend (drummer in my band, too) decided to take up motorcycling. I'd planned on helping him learn how to ride, but he hooked up with friends who thought I was too dump for the job. They convinced him to take the front brakes off of his Honda CX500, add ape hangers to the bike, and remove the pegs and replace them with paddles. After less than a month on the bike, he missed a curve out in the Nebraska countryside and sailed over a fence into a plowed field.

    He was in a coma for a month and has remained impaired ever since. He could have used a mentor, he was also looking for social affirmation. Being antisocial, I am pretty useless at the affirmation bit, but I'm not bad at coaching. Two of the kids I taught basic off road techniques to became Nebraska expert state champs in their class.

  6. Ok, they are ugly. I'll give you that. And they are unreasonably large, unmaneuverable, ungainly, slow, inefficient, and primative. You get that, too. But why bring poltics into motorcycles?

  7. Cruisers and choppers are simple to build, high profit, and (like SUVs) cater to the lowest mental denominator. Like that SUV market, styling has to be remedial or the target customer will be overwhelmed by modern concepts.

  8. I'm glad you included the link to your blog in MMM. I've enjoyed the entries I've read thus far & this one gave me insight as to why I like reading your articles more than any other column in MMM (which happens to be my favorite motorcycle e-zine).

    Thanks & keep up the good work!

    Tucson Two-wheeler

  9. Politics are in everything. Have you noticed how political motorcyclists get when the public gets tired of our outrageous fatality rates and starts considering helmet laws, compulsary training, and special licensing? I don't even get religious about religion, but motorcycles are a vehicle--first and foremost--and vehicles are subject to politics. I am a human, an American, and a motorcyclist; not necessarily in that order. The reason for doing a blog, this blog in particular, is because I'm sick of political correctness and if I want to rant about something it's gonna happen here.

  10. Great delivery. Great arguments. Keep up the good work.


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