Monday, October 20, 2008


I've read a few interesting blog entries lately about how the press and mainstream media seem to always paint motorcyclists in a negative light. Doug, over at 40on2, made a list of what appears to be mandatory terms to be used when writing a story about motorcyclists; while Belt Drive Betty commented on the negative connotation that seems to be associated with terms like "biker".

Of course, I agree wholeheartedly with everything they said. It is factual and I don't think anybody can deny that, in most cases, when motorcyclists are portrayed in fiction or mentioned on the evening news its rarely a good thing. But that's human nature. After all, as any newscaster will tell you: "If it bleeds, it leads". Nobody in their right mind would think of leading the evening news with a story about a motorcycle club that raised $50K for a children's hospital... but if one guy from that same club crashed his bike in the back of an SUV on the way home from the event, you can bet that'll be the first thing to be aired.

Although I'm certain that the majority of motorcyclists cringe when they read yet another story about how motorcycles are dangerous and all bikers are bad, there's also that side of us who wouldn't want it any other way. Most of my riding buddies didn't get into motorcycling because of the price of gas or the lack of parking spaces downtown. They liked the image and the instant membership into this mystical brotherhood.

The outlaw biker image has been cultivated not only by the mainstream press and a slew of B-movies in the sixties and seventies, its also being touted by the very people who are making the motorcycles. Think about it: when was the last time you saw someone smiling in a Harley magazine ad? How about Kawasaki's catchphrase from the mid-eighties: "If you don't look bad, we don't look good." Cruisers are meant to look mean, not friendly!

Not since the early sixties, with the "You Meet The Nicest People On A Honda" ad campaign, has there been such a positive spin put on motorcycles. But no manufacturer in their right mind would try that kind of advertising for a cruiser! Seriously, if the folks in the ad below were riding a VTX1800 instead of a Cub 50, would you buy it?

Truth is, many are looking for an escape from their boring everyday lives. Motorcycles, and the image associated with them, provide a release. For that half-hour when you're riding around town on your chrome steed, you're no longer Jerry the Accountant... you're badass. Reginald A. Bruce wrote an excellent Case Study of Harley Davidson's Business Practices. Amongst the American manufacturer's obvious strengths is Marketing. Bruce says that "It is difficult to define an average Harley-Davidson buyer. The demographics range from a blue-collar worker to a high-power executive located all over the world. The common thread is a desire to escape the routine and become anyone you like. [...] With Harley, you can live out your fantasies, as well as experience camaraderie with fellow bikers." Obviously, its worked quite well for HD - so why should they change?

Deep down, we all know its little more than role playing. We're all still regular Joes and Janes both on-and-off the bikes, with our jobs and mortgages and bills to pay. But that's all a bit too boring, isn't it?


irondad said...

We've broken free. We're different. People fear us or want to take us down a level. It's their loss, not ours.

Lucky said...

Beg to differ, but when "people fear us or want to take us down a level", it can often become our loss. This is especially true when those "people" are part of a larger majority.


Giest said...

Secretly, I hate the fact that so many people are "discovering" motorcycling. I've always been very self centered about it and the more mainstream I see it get, the more it bothers me. Especially with gas prices driving more people to two wheels.

I really do love that biker image. It suits my "don't bother me" outlook and keeps most people away from me. It's not that I consider myself a badass or anything, I'm just not a social person by nature and the biker image helps me stay that way.

bdbetty said...

As a female rider I have a different reason for getting on a motorcycle than the "Bad Ass Biker" image portrays. For me it's about empowerment.

I feel strong, free...
And I really hate it when the "Bad Ass Biker" Image causes me as a motorcycle event coordinator to have to pay $10K for policing.
I really hate it when the "Bad Ass Biker" image causes a lady in a motel to not want to rent me a room...

I have experienced both situations.

Neither was a lot of fun.