The Hippocratic Poser

Can you say “rolling cliché”? Choose your image – here are a few from which to pick:

Scene 1. A glistening four-year-old BMW R 1200 GS with 1,600 miles on the odometer, a rally screen and full knobbies is parked in front of a Starbucks coffee bar. The rider takes his Frappuccino iced because his yellow Roadcrafter suit is warmish on this barista stool. He spends a lot of time peering over the cover of his off-road motorcycle magazine to see who has noticed him. Finally, a scooter rider comments, and he bores them to tears by extolling his bike’s published capabilities while deriding lesser models in the lot.

Scene 2. Straight pipe staccato pummels your eardrums as a goateed Harley rider gasses his Fatbob 1200 past your car. The colors on his ratty jean vest gleam as he races back to his real estate office to change for a sales meeting. He writes letters to repeal helmet laws each Independence Day as his act of freedom.

Scene 3. Three street bikes, a Ducati 991, BMW S 1000 R and a Yamaha R1 take turns lifting wheelies and screaming between stoplights. Each rider wears full race leathers that match their bikes, full face helmets and synthetic riding boots. Full marks for gear. None of their tire wear lines are closer than one inch from their semi-slick tire edges. They dart between and flip off slower drivers between stoplights.

Scene 4. The six-cylinder Goldwing GL1800 with paint-matched trailer gets 2-3 hours of washing, waxing and polishing per week and at least half that much riding time. Wife, husband and gear top 700 pounds. The bike is another 900. Together, they outweigh a Miata. He plays his 100-watt sound system in town, blaring Abba and Carpenters tunes and sometimes parks in the handicapped stall, justifying this to keep his beloved bike from car door nicks.

Scene 5. The competition pipe on the KTM 510 convert this potent dirt bike to a torque monster. A quick dig through the natural area and across the stream is the early morning shortcut to the gravel pit riding area. She can’t help roosting gravel and mud in the streambed and the neighborhood coffee hour is shattered by the thumper’s ratting.

Sure, these are stereotyped scenarios, but you recognize some of them – don’t you? Have you wondered just what in the world is going through the riders’ minds? Well at least the minds of all except the ones like us. Those we kind of know about.

Fess up; we are all posers to some degree, right? Do you recall that wonderful feeling of rolling up to an open-air café, the hot bike engine popping and clunking as it cools down; pulling off your helmet to see the patrons looking at you admiringly (?!) and you give them that look that says “Hey, toss me a beer would ya?” before you swagger in to get some grub.

In your imagination, a fit and well-tanned member of the opposite sex will coyly invite you to the bar stool next to them and fawn over you. There they will sit, enraptured by your tales of riding the miles of deep gravel and river crossings to civilization, then racing up twisty tarmac up to this very eating establishment for a bite. It is a choice moment, akin to easing into a hot tub on a cold night. Unfortunately, this fantasy exists only in our minds. We all play act a little.

The stereotypical uniforms we wear (leathers, rally jackets, chaps, dirt bike boots, colors, etc.) and the bikes we ride tend to set some public expectations, if not rules of engagement. Our accoutrements declare the image we want to project. We are erasing the doubt or uncertainty about what others will say and how we will respond. The script is just clearer that way. Less Game of Thrones and more Everybody Loves Raymond. We don’t have to think or create an identity while striking our individualistic poses. Funny contradiction that: Using a common and often repeated riding uniform to make a statement about our individuality. Occasionally there is a beautiful moment of role confusion – what psychologists call cognitive dissonance – when a gnarly rider removes their helmet to reveal a beautiful raven-haired woman, an 80-year-old distance rider, or a one-armed biker. Does. . . not. . . compute . . . reset!

The author with an SR500 in 1979.

There is absolutely no harm in any of these impressions and playing with some images. Sure, it is play-acting, but what we ride or the trappings of what we wear hurts no one, brings some fun to our lives, and may demystify our stance to strangers. Our ACTIONS, however, are sometimes not so harmless.

Each of the opening five scenarios had at least one offensive action embedded, meaning the clichés cross the line into public rudeness, maybe because the imagined riders were projecting a little too much image. Most riders don’t stoop to those depths, but too many do. These offensive and destructive actions carry our recreational posing to a new level.

Hippocrates was an ancient Greek who might have had something to say about motorcyclist behavior. We often paraphrase his famous Hippocratic Oath to four words: First, do no harm. This pithy warning should be one of our litmus tests for the decorum we adopt in riding. As we offend a single non-motorcyclist we taint all other riders. We do harm.

There are some other broad rider guidelines such as “Be safe” and “ATGATT.” Then there are the mostly harmless lies we use to justify our riding choices. I have these mistruths well-practiced. “Honey, I am saving a LOT of money at 50 MPG.” In truth, my price per mile of riding is higher than my commuter car because of tire wear, farkles, riding gear, premium gas and winter storage.

The author with an F 650 GS in 2008.

How about this one “Officer, it is simply safer for me to ride slightly above the average traffic speed so I can better control my interactions with cars.” A grain of truth there, however, when the average traffic speed is already 15 mph over the limit it makes for a fast-moving bike.

One more – “The $250 ZeigoTech cylinder guards are a safety issue to protect my valve covers.” Well, given that you could replace either valve cover for about the same price.

Why can’t we be honest with ourselves and just say something like, “I ride because I love the sensations,” or “I take a similar pleasure in farkling my bike as I did building model airplanes as a kid.” Maybe “My motorcycle type, attire and riding is a little fantasy escape from my boring job.”

Some might say, “I enjoy the sense of belonging and shared discussion topics I find with my Yondabeemazuki riding club.” Truth is there, and it’s really not so different from a wine-tasting club, the remote-control airplane society or a knitting circle.

I wonder if a straight, honest depiction of practical motorcycling would diminish our motorcycling joy. What status is there in the utilitarian 125 cc Asian cargo bike relegated to ferrying water jugs, bok choy and the occasional well-balanced pig? Does our fantasy, posing, daydreaming, motorcycle website surfing and endless planning of hypothetical trips indicate a life of delusion? Fifty Shades of Adventure?

Maybe, but really now, where is the harm? Just so long as we don’t carry our actions too far beyond our image management. It is easy to harm ourselves and others when we offend the public.

“Waitress – another Frappuccino please – make it a DOUBLE this time, I am feeling kind of wild! Anyone who rides a machine like THAT can handle their caffeine, ya know!”

The author with an R 1200 GS in 2016.