Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Passion, or Practicality?

Why do we ride the bikes we do? I mean, what pushes an individual to choose a certain brand, style or type of motorcycle? Although I haven’t been able to find any hard numbers on the subject, I think I’d be willing to make an educated guess. It all boils down to either practicality or passion, and more often than not it’s a combination of both. But which one tips the scales?

If we were to look at it on a global scale, the differences between riders from Europe, Asia, Africa and North America would be great. It’s rather safe to say that for most North American riders, motorcycling is more about passion than practicality. We’re weekend riders for the most part, with very few of us commuting on two wheels. In über-congested cities in Europe and Asia, it’s a whole different story. People from all walks of life, from students to bankers and whatever in between, ride scooters and small-displacement bikes as a practical and economical means of transportation. Check out the European websites for some of the major motorcycle manufacturers and count how many 125cc street bikes they’re offering. On this side of the pond, the only one that comes to mind would be Kawi’s cruiser-like Eliminator.

In most cases, I think North Americans follow their hearts rather than their heads and go with the passion. Call it sentimentality or melancholy, but we all want something that moves us not just physically, but emotionally too. For many riders out there, a cruiser or chopper is what does it: primal, powerful (looking & sounding, at least) and plenty of flash (chrome, leather, and oh-so-many accessories). Put on your doo-rag, chaps and leather-fringe jacket and voilà: instant badass! OK, I’ll admit to a bit of sarcasm in the last remark, but essentially it all comes down to escaping the everyday. We all know a Hell’s Accountant or a member of the Orthodontist Outlaw Biker club; people who work from 9 to 5 in a repetitive job that might not light their fires the way it used to. For these riders, putting on the leathers and going out for a ride provides a much needed escape. More power to ‘em, I say. If riding makes you feel good, then by all means embrace your inner outlaw.

What about the squids? Same escapism. Downshifting to fifth gear and feeling the unchained power of a screaming inline-4 putting down insane amounts of horsepower to the rear wheel while you launch into orbit is one surefire way to remind yourself what it means to be alive. Sure, some guys ride crotch rockets much more for show than go; and although they can do wheelies and stoppies ‘til they’re blue in the face, many really lose it when faced with a decreasing radius turn and end up on the wrong side of the double yellow. Still, for that split second when the engine is spinning at over 10,000 rpm and your pegs are shooting sparks off the pavement while you’re holding on for dear life in a sphincter pucker moment, you completely forget what was troubling you at the office that day. I’ve got to admit, it’s about as close to nirvana as you can get without heavy meditation or illegal substances!

Maybe leaving scratches in the dirt in some forestscape or sand dune is more your liking? Again, you’d have to be the world’s most advent yuppie to be thinking about your latest stock transaction while you’re getting some really nice air between two dirt mounds at high velocity.

When it comes to dirtbikes, I think the accent tends to be more on the practicality then pure passion. Sure, there’s a certain amount of passion involved when riding any bike; but only a true afficionado will get that warm fuzzy feeling when simply looking at a mud encrusted trail whacker. Dirtbikes are built to a specific purpose, and to meet the requirements they must be light, tall and cary enough oomph to get you over that next hill. Don’t look for fancy fairings or chrome doodads on something with knobbies - it just doesn’t belong there because it serves no useful purpose. Just the right tool for the job.

So what kind of emotional escape does a touring bike offer you? Sure it won’t impress the girls at the local bar, and you’ll rarely try to pull a stoppie on a full dresser - although, I’ve known a few who were just crazy enough... Nope, a touring bike lets you really escape. To the next town, down the road less travelled, or heck you might even want to try out a whole other country.

Touring bikes are some kind of a compromise. Many have all the comfort, power and electronics of a small corporate jet. You’ll even find things like ABS, GPS and even airbags and traction control to make sure the journey is a safe one. But they’ve also got the drool factor built-in. Luxo-tourers like the K1200LT and Goldwing are huge and impressive. Sport tourers like the venerable FJR, the ST1300 or the R1200RT combine all-day comfort with agressive lean angle while still turning a few heads when fuelling-up. After all, it’s one thing to bragg about your latest Iron Butt ride; but if no one actually takes the time to walk over and check out your bike what’s the use?

The bottom line, and to quote rockin’ songstress Sheryl Crow: “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad”.