Aug 2, 2012

Vanishing Point

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

We're banned from using the wasted lane-splitting space on roads and freeways. When we are stuck in congested traffic, we aren't allowed to reduce that congestion by filtering to the front of the line. Some states single out motorcycles for DUI and inspection stops. Fuel wasting stop lights are designed to ignore us. Our license fees are way out of line in regard to the damage our vehicles do to roadways and our need for road maintenance. Urban public parking often bans motorcycles. Drivers are encouraged to risk our lives by distracting themselves to lethal incompetence with communication and entertainment centers, food and beverages, and soundproof sleeping accommodations. Someday soon, the highway of the future will be a robot-controlled, wired-in, GPS managed, glorified passenger train with no room for any sort of two-wheeled vehicles.
And what are we up in arms about? The right to be stupid.
Motorcycles are being shoved from the road and all bikers care about is the right to hear the wind whistling between their ears and to irritate as many people as possible with illegal exhaust systems.
The Philip Contos thing still irritates me. A guy kills himself fighting for the freedom to kill himself. If he were trying to damage motorcyclists' already pitiful public image, he couldn't have been more effective. Between the YouTube parade of hairy gangbangers on noisy two-wheeled tractors and Contos' demonstration of suicidal lack-of-skills, he made international news. Seriously. Enter "Philip Contos" into a search engine (put it in quotes, so you're only getting hits for this guy) and watch 17,000 or more articles appear with titles such as "Embrace Your Right to be Stupid' or "Biker Protesting Helmet Laws Dies of Head Injuries from Crash" or "Darwin Award Nominee - Philip Contos" or "Philip Contos Goes Head Over Heels At Anti-Helmet Rally" or any number of sarcastic headlines describing Contos' 15 minutes of infamy that reflect the public's low opinion of motorcyclists. Thanks, Phil. We needed that.
This is a freedom we're willing to fight for? When real freedom is vanishing in all directions, when access to public roads, practical use of the roads we pay for (at least with property and fuel taxes, if not with licensing taxes) is in jeopardy, we want to pretend that baring our heads to the tender mercies of asphalt and concrete is a "basic right?" Not me. If I'm only going to live so long, get into so many battles, and have limited energy for all of it, I'm going to pick my fights. I disagree with the helmet protest and I'm on the other side of the loud exhaust battle, so fighting for these silly issues is one of the many ways "motorcycle organizations" (almost as oxymoronic as "military intelligence") alienate me.
Most likely, the AMA, ABATE, the Motorcycle Industry Council, and the rest of the characters representing every point of motorcycling view but that of the daily commuter and the safety-oriented, law-abiding rider could care less about my nickels and dimes. I not only don't own $30,000 garage candy, I haven 't bought a new motorcycle since 1974. I am more likely to put my time and money into Occupy Wall Street than motorcycle political action for anything less than a movement to legalize lane-splitting or off-street downtown parking. If cagers have to wear seatbelts, motorcyclists should reasonably be expected to wear helmets. If I can't stage a 120dBSPL rock concert in my backyard, the pointless noise made by gangbangers and cager-squids in Honda Accords and rednecks in RAM pickups should be restricted to legal limits.
I am aware of the fact that my opinion doesn't matter. The money is behind the other arguments. Aftermarket companies sell loud pipes, bike manufacturers hustle the gangbanger or the squids-in-wife-beaters image, and even the politically-correct-and-connected AMA is only half-heartedly promoting safety and neighborhood-friendly exhaust systems. Even the MSF is afraid of offending the noisemaker crowd, because you can show up for an "Experienced Rider Course" on a bike that will deafen your instructors who have no way to send away a motorcycle that was, apparently, legal on the public streets.
All that probably makes the proponents of motorcycling's two big issues feel in control. They are fooling themselves. All around the country, local, state, and national politicians, traffic safety engineers, and planners are hearing complaints from communities, medical professionals, urban traffic planners, and insurance companies about the real issues motorcycles present. Very little of what they hear is positive. In fact, the story motorcyclists present is so overwhelmingly negative that we have about as much social clout as a climate scientist at a Tea Party convention. With many (or most) motorcycle "clubs" on the Justice Department's Gang and Terrorist Threat Lists, getting grouped in with "bikers" may be a fast route to Guantanamo for all of us.
So, how do we fix the mess we're in? While it might be too late for motorcycles and motorcyclists to fix a public image that is so wrong we're practically in the gangster category, we've got nothing to lose but energy we're going to burn sooner or later. 


Andy Mckenzie said...

I've been thinking a lot about this. I think those of us who are in favor of responsible riding -- wearing helmets, good quiet exhaust systems, training, things like that -- need to organize. The fact is, we're invisible. We're NOT out there attracting attention, so people don't notice us.

When my town switched from those obnoxious "display the ticket on your dashboard" systems to one where you type in your space number and deposit some money in a vending machine, I called up to thank them. I don't think they quite knew what to do with that.

But I think it points up a need; we need to be visible. We need to get people -- riders! -- to sign petitions asking for noise enforcement. If towns or cities try to enforce ordinances like that, we need to support them. We need to be out there campaigning for mandatory training. I think if people start seeing us pushing back, and realizing that the obnoxious idiots annoy us just as much as anyone else, we might get a little more respect. When some moron splatters his brain across the pavement doing 150 in a 55 zone, we need to have representatives talking to reporters, saying "Well, unfortunately, every group has a few outliers who just can't follow the rules. If we had mandatory training, and training that actually forced you to learn something if you want to pass, he might be alive now." (The MSF course is an excellent start. I learned a lot in my MSF course. But there was at least one idiot in my class who I expect has crashed at least once by now, and probably more than that if he survived the first one.)

Sadly, I don't have the time or, in all honesty, the skills to put such an organization together. But it's certainly one I'd pay dues to, if they weren't too unreasonable.

T.W. Day said...


I've been thinking the same thing. The AMA more represents industry interests and does that poorly. ABATE is an organization for beer drinkin' and hell raisin'. The closest thing to this kind of organization motorcyclists have is the Ride to Work folks ( The more I think about it, the closer they are to exactly what we're talking about. I'm going on-line there to contribute some cash right now.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that HD is some 60% of the entire market in the USA, and throw in the other cruiser clones and they must be at least 75% of all the bikes and riders. Plus, a significant portion of the sportbike crowd is just as bad or worse. That's a lot of people, industry money, and clout you will be up against.

T.W. Day said...

Keeping in mind that 1% of the 1776 population was solely responsible for the American Revolution, I think our odds against the garage candy crowd are pretty good. They're loud, slow, and not very smart. Since motorcyclists make up less than 1% of the highway traffic, our total "clout" is pretty insignificant. There are a fair number of old fat guys in Congress who pretend to represent motorcycle interests, but they're wimps, too.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's different where you are, but around here I just don't see many riders other than cruisers in pirate garb with a few squids sprinkled in the mix, so it seems like a rather hopeless quest to change biker culture.

T.W. Day said...

It is different here and a few other places. However, I don't think the approach should be to "change biker culture." The real problem is that the "biker culture" is more about appearances, not transportation. So, the idea would be that we need an organization that supports transportation by motorcycle issues and ignores or repels the gangster and squid characters and their problems. They have more than enough representation.

Anonymous said...

Probably not the forum to ask, but what exactly does Ride to Work do other than promote riding to work one day a year and then selling t-shirts, mugs, and decals the rest of the year?

T.W. Day said...

I'm no expert on RtW's activities, but Andy Goldfine did respond to an inquiry about RtW's political intentions. They have wanted to have a full-time lobbyist for years, but there is, currently, no money for that position.