Jan 11, 2010

Why They Hate Us

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

A while back, I taught an MSF Experienced Rider Class (ERC) with a guy who, apparently, doesn’t get out a lot. During a discussion about scanning for hazards, he intro’d the subject by saying, “Maybe you haven’t noticed, but a lot of people don’t like motorcycles. I don’t know why, but it’s true.”

At first, I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t. He was truly clueless as to why much of the public has a grudge against motorcycles. He’s not alone. Several of the experienced riders in that class were equally stumped, even though a good number of them were obviously part of the problem. I often hear sportbikers complain that people cut them off, intentionally, in traffic. I’ve heard half-ton, black leather incrusted, biker gangsters wearing satanic and Nazi patches and decorated by more scars and tattoos than a retired pirate ask why other citizens shy away from them. Apparently, in our eyes we’re all a bunch of harmless innocents who are being unfairly singled out for discrimination. An informative Cycle Attorney article in Motorcycle Consumer News recently discussed the likely anti-motorcyclist bias of the typical jury in liability claims. Apparently, it's hard to find 12 of our "peers" who would decide in our favor in almost any circumstances. A nation of victims and we’re the most abused of the lot.

Actually, my family could provide a bit of insight regarding how the rest of the world regards motorcycles. My oldest daughter, who grew up amidst a small forest of moderately silenced 2-stroke dirt bikes, lived in Daytona for a year and came away solidly disgusted with motorcycles and motorcyclists; mostly thanks to “Bike Week.” My youngest daughter lived in Vegas and developed the same allergy to noisy and ill-mannered 2-wheel transportation. My son-in-law considers motorcycles to be pointless, dangerous, environmentally and socially irresponsible and suspects all motorcyclists are hooligans. He knows me pretty well. The rest of his family barely bothers to separate me from their generally low opinion of motorcyclists. My own father hasn’t removed Marlon Brando’s disrespectful biker from his mind and I’m solidly linked to that goofy bunch and have been for more than forty years. Of his four sons, I'm still a "dumb kid" and I'm the oldest. I can carry this list on for miles or days. About one-eighth of my immediate family rides motorcycles, the other seven-eighths dislike bikes and fear bikers. Practically every Minnesotan I know, who isn’t a motorcyclist or a wannabe, dislikes motorcycles somewhere between a little and infinitely. In this regard, there is nothing unusual about Minnesotans or my family.

Here are some of the reasons people dislike motorcycles, for those of you who have limited peripheral vision and no personal awareness:

The top of the list is noise. Mad TV’s Michael McDonald does a great imitation of the loud pipe mentality with his “look what I can do” spoiled brat. Loud pipes don’t save lives, but they do attract attention and piss people off enough to make them consider taking a motorcyclist's life or two. A while back, my editor, Victor, received a fair number of hate letters when he made critical comments about loud pipes. At least one of the writers made the claim that no one had ever complained about her loud pipes. Anyone who really cared to learn what people think of loud pipes should spend a few hours in downtown pedestrian traffic. Every time a loud bike potato-potatoes its way past the peds, the comments directed toward the rider always include “f****n’ a**hole” and “there ought to be a law. . .” and “where are the cops when you really need them?”

When an unmuffled twin-cylinder farm implement blasts through my neighborhood, I’m not much less negatively inclined toward motorcycles than my neighbors. Loud pipes are, obviously, a legal violation and the assumption is that either the criminal making the noise is well connected or the local cops are lazy, corrupt, and doing everything but “protecting and serving” the public. People have the same reaction when they see a pollution-spewing rat-truck fogging up the neighborhood. Pollution is pollution; air, water, noise, or otherwise.

That strongly negative response comes from low rpm, low frequency noise exposure. At road speeds, the response is more dynamic. When a bone-rattling, window-shaking, ear-damaging exhaust rolls up next to your cage at 70mph, the natural response is either to get the hell away from the noise pollution or squash it. Another way to quiet the noise is to ban it. Due to the limited technical capabilities of most police departments, many communities will find it easier to ban motorcycles than to limit their noise output. In the meantime, we’re going to be disliked by millions of folks for this reason alone.

That’s not good enough for some bikers. They want to be universally hated and feared and won’t stand for anything less.

On the road, we are the poster boys and girls for bad behavior. The sportbiker model for uncivil road manners is to play the wannabe-road-racer, constant-lane-swapping, tailgating game, which practically makes the motorcycle appear to be an irritating vanishing mirage to the typical cager. To be as irritating as possible, this crowd buzzes from lane-to-lane, running up on to the bumper of every vehicle “in the way,” making a whole new collection of enemies for the rest of us.

The cruiser parade really goes a long way toward making sure that nobody can recall motorcycling’s positive qualities. This isn’t completely limited to cruisers, because touring groups, sportbike groups, and even dual-purpose groups like to create their own special variation on traffic congestion. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, however, cruisers are the predominant parade masters.

A friend who lives in Hudson, WI, considered running for city council solely on the platform of ridding the city of loud motorcycles and motorcycle parades. He has contested the city’s practice of allowing parade “sergeants” to direct local traffic for the benefit of parade participants. He’s devised some clever experiments to force the city to admit that they don’t have an enforceable noise ordinance, which might eventually result in some changes being made. In the meantime, you are within your rights to invite a rock ‘n roll band to perform in your backyard, because even Iron Maiden makes less noise than a herd of big twins.

If you hang out with a group of motorcyclists, you can document your own list of reasons the rest of the population, including other motorcyclists, hate bikers. Here are a few that I’ve heard or read recently:

  • “Some dumbass tailgates me, I toss a handful of marbles (ball bearings, paintball pellets, etc.) back at ‘em.”
  • “What I like to do is, I see one of them yuppies with a brand new Harley hanging out in one of ‘our’ bars, I show him my colors and I let him know we don’t appreciate boys like him in our places. One of those Jap rice-burners parks next to our bikes, I kick it over. That let’s them know what’s what.”
  • “Every time I see another biker on the road, I salute him with a straight-up wheelie. I really like doing that in heavy rush hour traffic. It scares the crap out of all the cagers.”
    “When I get through tuning, I test my bike by blasting up and down my neighborhood. Nobody ever says anything, even when it’s two in the morning.”
  • “I can’t ever seem to hit a light change before I get off of the phone. People are so rude, they honk at me until I have to hang up and ride through the light. Do they think I can ride my motorcycle and talk on the phone at the same time? Usually, it’s yellow before I get through it, so those ill-tempered people are stuck waiting for the next green light.”
  • “I say ‘screw the damn tree-huggers.’ I pay taxes, too, and if I want to shred a state park, I ought to be able to ride anywhere I want to ride.”
  • “I put on my leathers, the do-rag, and my wraparounds and go out ridin’ and give ever’body I see a hard look; kids, ole’ ladies, yuppies, the crotch rocket boys, everybody. I make ‘em all afraid of me. Makes me feel good about bein’ a biker.”
And on we go, making enemies, restricting our own access to public roads and parks. We're on our way toward segmenting ourselves so much that even motorcyclists don’t like other motorcyclists. Sooner or later, we’re either going to grow up and treat riding as transportation or keep regressing until only rich guys can play biker on private property.