As any rider who’s ever ventured out onto the open road can attest, motorcyclists pretty often feel they are looked down upon as second class motor-citizens. I have experienced, and heard many tales recounting car drivers erratic and dangerous behavior towards two-wheelers. Stories of ‘cagers’ swerving to impede or obstruct us, sudden lane changes into our path, car doors opened in front of us. We have to deal with a lot of crap out there.
And then there is the ‘special’ treatment we get from the police department. Allegations of sportbikers being targeted for scrutiny and motorcycle-only checkpoints in the canyons are common at bike nites around OC. Mention Huntington Beach to a local motorcyclist and he’ll likely tell you dont ride there. You can get a ticket for your bike being painted the wrong color apparently.
Considering all that, its easy to feel maligned for pursuing our passion. But are we not responsible for bringing these treatment upon ourselves, even a little bit? Every one of us who rides on the street is an ambassador for our sport. How we behave in public completely affects the public perception of every other motorcycle rider.
I was at a Starbucks not too long ago, early on a Sunday morning, with a riding buddy before we were heading out on a nice Autumn blast through Santiago Canyon. As we were donning our gear in the parking lot, we got chatting to a family in an SUV, likely just off to or back from church. Now we’ve all been there strutting our stuff, showing off our rides, feeling good in our gear. We get looks and comments, questions asking about what bike we have, where we are going. And that was the general tone of the conversation with Church Family outside Starbucks.
Now, a conversation like that can either convince the outsider that all motorcyclists are leather clad hooligans, or it can be an opportunity to promote our sport. My friend on this day decided that bravado and exaggeration would benefit his ego better than humility and honesty. Telling the family, which included 2 young children, we were off to the canyon and would probably hit 120mph today.
Now this was not only inaccurate as there is no way we were going to be hitting those speeds on that road. It was also a foolish and detrimental statement that could only paint us as dangerous and irresponsible road users. How could that family look at us and think anything positive about that exchange. And I took offense to my friend painting me in that same light.
For motorcyclists to win the hearts and minds of outsiders, we all need to put on our best behavior on the public streets. Sure its fun and impressive to pull wheelies, or tear away from a stop light at 17,000rpms, but those antics hurt all of us. I was passed by a ‘squid’ on his GSXR splitting lanes, knee down, in his jeans and t-shirt on a freeway on-ramp. For a second I thought how cool he looked dragging his knee past my side window. Until i noticed the other motorists waiting in line to enter the freeway. The looks of horror, disgust and startled bewilderment told me that motorcycling had just made 4-5 new enemies.
We are all ambassadors. We all need to project motorcycling and motorcycle riders as safe and responsible highway citizens. We all need to promote our sport, our pastime, our passion for the positive aspects of freedom, brotherhood, excitement, not hooliganism and anarchy. If we can project a more positive image to the public, we can change the perception of bikers everywhere. And the goal to shed that second-class stigma can be reached.