Feb 26, 2014

Universally Despised

2014-02-22 CoR (15)

We’ve spent the week in one of the most isolated official campsites ever, City of Rocks State Park in southern New Mexico. For five out of seven days, we’ve been dry camping (no power, water, or sewer) for a week and most days and nights it is as close to dead silent here as it gets. For a couple of the days we had an electric/water site and the folks across the road from us were a pair of retired Canadians (Ontario), also in a Rialta (a 2005HD). She is a retired teacher. He is a long-time motorcyclist. We had a thing or two in common and spent a lot of hours talking about bikes, riding, New Mexico, and being retired.

One evening, we were standing behind his RV yakking about motorcycles (while our wives hid from all aspects of our conversation as far from us as they could get). About dusk, a half-dozen of the usual suspects came crawling through the park on the usual pile-of-crap Harley refuse, dragging their feet for stability on the perfectly manicured gravel road, blubbering like an old-time tractor parade. As they passed, you could see the hostility aimed toward them from every campground they passed. You could hear their misfiring, minimally powered, noise makers the whole route around the several mile campground loop and for miles as they blubbered away from the park. Their little demonstration of social ineptness was received as well as it is everywhere; they were as despised as the most despicable criminals on earth. If lightening had struck the whole group, frying them into charred bandana refuse and smoking cheap leather, no one would have pissed on their remains to put out the flames unless it would have prevented a grass fire.

The interesting thing, to me, was that the guy I was talking to, the two ladies two campers away who had a pair of scooters on a trailer, the camp host who was a long-time dirt bike racer, and every other resident of the campground were as disgusted as me. I even heard someone shout “fags” as the bikers past the campground. Considering the deluded self-image pirates have of themselves, it’s pretty amazing how universally disliked they are. Nobody thinks they’re tough guys, except themselves. Nobody looks at them admiringly, except low brows who lost their Harley when the repo-man took it away in 2008. The blubbering butt pirates are about as lonely a group as society has ever produced. Without the martial arts skills, their resemblance to wandering, dispossessed soldiers after a coup or when democracy overtakes a previously-militarized country is depressing. The fact that the Angels were created by a pack of unemployable ex-WWII soldiers who missed the “companionship” of men and the edge created by violence and the anarchy of war.

After the noise was gone, the Canadian guy and I talked about the political consequences for motorcycling these characters create. Their scare tactics to fight helmet laws, noise restrictions, and other rational attempts to make motorcycling safe and more of a transportation issue than recreational wear away the general population’s patience for all motorcyclists; in the US and Canada. On an individual basis, when one or more pirate clowns gets passed on the highway their painful noise creates a hostile road environment for the rest of us; quiet or not. Pirate parades produce a “them vs. us” atmosphere in cities and rural towns that turn us all into “bikers,” even if we are politically and socially as far from that bunch as possible. The fact that the majority of cops seem to be oblivious to noise laws and motorcycle safety because they are part of the pirate crowd generates disrespect for the police, traffic laws, and motorcyclists. I didn’t bring any of this up in the conversation, either. The Canadian guy spilled all of this out as if he were reading my mind.

The former enduro racer/current camp host was even less optimistic, “Motorcycling has gone to hell in a handbasket. Even Goldwingers are stuck in the same bucket as the Hell’s Angels and in a lot of places drivers are out to kill us. I quit riding. It’s too dangerous.” Danger is a relative term, though. Early every day this seventy-five-year-old quy saddled up his mountain bike and climbed to the top of Table Top Mountain and back before breakfast and work. When he rolled back into the campsite he would have blown by any of the bikers who had cruised the park. He wasn’t afraid of two-wheeled speed or a lot of road hazards that clearly terrified the bikers who’d rattled the windows of the park’s campers. He was afraid of being identified as a “biker” by some pissed-off driver and being intentionally knocked down as a consequence.

Later that evening, a lone motorcycle, another Harley or something like one, blubbered through the park. As usual, it was the loudest noise we’d heard all day, including diesel pickups pulling fifty-foot campers. The rider was paddling along on the gravel road, unsure of his skills and his motorcycle’s capability, making noise to warn the world that he was coming and wouldn’t be able to maneuver his vehicle if it were necessary to do so. I just finished a college teaching career and in a dozen years and more than 4,000 students, no more than a half-dozen expressed any interest in motorcycles when I arrived at school wearing my riding gear. The average age of motorcyclists is climbing every year and dealerships are vanishing and consolidating at an alarming rate. Watching this guy wobble by reminded me that the future of motorcycling is far from clear. A few Toys for Tots parades aren’t going to fix an image that appears to be pretty awful world-wide.


  1. Around here (Massachusetts, at least the places I've lived) the Harley crowd aren't even the most hated. Yeah, people don't like them, and would only feel bad about their being flattened by a Mack truck because of what it would do to the trucker's schedule, but the ones people REALLY hate are the race bikes. You know the ones... Full face helmet, t-shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes. The ones doing 110 in a 55 zone while everyone else is doing 70, and they're usually not in a lane long enough to turn the blinker off, if they ever turned it on.

    Almost everyone I talk to about the fact that I ride brings up these idiots, generally as a reason I shouldn't ride. Just about every major motorcycle accident around here involves one or more of these morons. That's the image people around here have of motorcyclists; brain dead morons with no sense of self-preservation. I'd almost rather have the noise-makers. At least when I call the cops, those guys will still be trying to get around the corner to leave my neighborhood when the cops show up.

  2. Andy,

    I've seen some of the video (YouTube) of that growing (but unlikely to survive into adulthood) crowd from the east. I wonder if MA collects enough information to verify your "just about every major motorcycle accident around here involves one or more of these morons" claim? I'm not doubting you, but that would be contrary to general US statistics. Most places I know of that collect that data still show that the majority of deaths are old assholes on cruisers. Here in New Mexico (I don't know about Albuquerque, though), all of the the standard, sportbike, and touring folks seem to be geared up, but the assholes are still wearing pirate outfits, including those idiot masks.

  3. Ther eis definitely a lot of us vs them when it comes to Harley clubs and other riders in these parts. I really wish they'd tone the noise down a bit, but it is part of their image - or so they'd like to think.

    What does the bumper sticker say - "If loud pipes save lives imagine what learning to ride that thing could do"

  4. Thomas,

    Sorry I didn't see this earlier... blogger.com seems to have stopped notifying me when people respond to threads I'm watching.

    It's true, I don't have official numbers, only anecdotal evidence. But I can tell you that in the last four or five years (since I started riding, and paying attention) I've only seen the remnants or reports of a couple significant accidents involving a bike that wasn't a sportbike, and a couple of Harleys that went over in the parking lot while the rider was trying to figure out how to back out of their parking space.

    On the other hand, during the summer out near Amherst (where I used to live) there was an accident involving a sport bike about every two to three weeks. I think a lot of it may be circumstantial, though: there are five colleges near Amherst, and I've just moved to a similarly college-dense area near Boston. Students buy sport bikes and, by and large, don't get the training they need to ride a big bike safely. There's exactly one repair shop within 15 miles of me that caters to cruisers, and half a dozen that basically won't work on them because their schedule is full of sport bikes. Dealerships are about the same spread, although most of them carry SOME kind of cruiser. I had a heck of a time finding someone to work on my CM450, because most places have a ton of poorly maintained sport bikes that need repairs. At least one told me outright that during the summer they only do crash repair on sport bikes, because that's all they have time for.

    The other thing that may me skewing my anecdotal statistics is that, in the places I've lived, there was a scarcity of incompetent cruiser riders. They're around, certainly, but the Mass Pike and I-95 tend to keep them limited to small areas. Out near Amherst, there are a lot of overly-loud bikes, but the majority of their riders do more or less know what they're doing, and ride within the limits of their bike and skill. Full face helmets are still rare, but for most of the season they tend towards heavy leather jackets, leather gloves, jeans (a strike against them, granted), and heavy boots. Not perfect, but not terrible either. The other thing to remember is that a lot of the riding season here is pretty chilly: if you're going to ride April through October, you'll likely only want to avoid warm clothes in July and August. Maybe part of June in a hot year.

    So there is some self-selecting in my data: I've done most of my riding in places where Harley riders are friendly and rare, and sport-bike riders are stupid and plentiful. But it still matches what I see on the regional news, so I'm comfortable taking it as a good a guess, if not absolute truth.

    As a side note, please, doubt away! I don't mind having my assumptions questioned, and if they are, I'll either back them up or admit they're assumptions.

  5. Andy,

    Interesting observations. When we get home and I have an internet connection that moves data faster than I can type, I'll see if MA records that sort of data in their crash stats. From MN, it's hard to imagine life on two wheels being anything but 90% Hardly stuff.

    Hell, I doubt myself probably more than anyone else could manage. I'm good with getting straightened out as often as possible.

  6. Thomas,
    Your post struck a nerve. In a quiet campsite environment, how can a bunch of similarly outfitted men riding intentionally modified noise-makers be considered anything but an arrogant, anti-social display? What is it that this stereotypical cruiser group that engages them in riding that I cannot relate to?

    I have enjoyed motorcycling for over forty five years. I am a recently retired northern Wisconsin technical college educator. I’ve enjoyed a couple of decades teaching MSF Rider Courses dating back from the mid-eighties.

    I have gone through personal riding periods of youthful exuberance, freedom and exploration, self-doubt, and concern over rider vulnerability. I am forever thankful for my MSF Rider Course teaching experiences. As a result and to this day, I seek out data and research to evolve my knowledge of the skill and art of motorcycling. I attempt to ride with steady focus upon my riding environment and the strategies I am using to continuously improve my riding skills. The unexamined journey is not worth riding…And not very satisfying. Perhaps, this is why I often ride alone these days.

    Through the years, I too have watched the evolution of the Harley/Cruiser phenomenon. The past two-plus decades have brought many new riders into the market. Working classers and professionals flocked to the wild side to express their pirate credentials. As I look around me, 90-95% of the working adults I know who do ride, ride Harleys. Too often, these otherwise intelligent members of my community cite looney talking points about loud pipes as safety equipment, ‘advanced’ cruiser technology, the dangerous nature of helmets, ‘silly-looking geek safety gear’, etc. I have been regaled with brave(?) stories of “having to put ‘er down”.

    I ride what is often derided as a ‘plastic Asian bike’. I liked to believe that the flood of new well-heeled cruiser riders into the market would bring good will and an appreciation for diverse riding experiences. Instead, it seems to have further factionalized the riding community.

    Hooligans are another matter. Whether it is the cruiser with straight pipes next door, the youthful need for the custom exhaust on the sport bike, or the off-roader who tears up private lanes, these riders share something. They are all barking loudly for the attention of others.

    I admire the well-honed skills of a serious off-road rider. I am aghast at the wobbly cruiser pilot and the abrupt, throttle-junky sport bikers who have little idea how utterly incompetent they appear even to non-riders. One thing that seems to be common between these two examples is the need to share their incompetence within groups. Sadly, the web video evidence of obnoxious anti-social behaviors and awkward riding appears to be driven by group-think.

    Upon occasion I find that I can share the joys of motorcycling with an old friend who rides a Harley. Yet as I walk away, I wonder if I may have already been prejudged as another America-hating plastic hooligan.

    I enjoy your Geezer with a Grudge.
    Rick F

  7. "One thing that seems to be common between these two examples is the need to share their incompetence within groups." Rick, I wish I had written that one. Thanks.

  8. "One thing that seems to be common between these two examples is the need to share their incompetence within groups." Rick, I wish I had written that one. Thanks.


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