Well, are you? What do you call yourself? Do you call yourself a “biker,” or do you avoid that term? Do you call yourself a “motorcyclist”? Do you just say you “ride a motorcycle”? That’s a convenient way to distance yourself – to take the identity out of the activity. You just happen to ride a motorcycle, but it has nothing to do with who you are. Well, if it has nothing to do with who you are, why do you do it?
Most people who ride don’t call themselves “bikers,” but we should. We should use it, embrace it, own it, be it, and we should give exactly fuck-all what anybody else thinks. Take this epithet, this malediction, and make it our black honor banner, our sacred blasphemy.
There are two main reasons people avoid calling themselves “biker,” and they’re both wrong: because they think they’re too good for it, or because they think they’re not good enough.
Let me explain. The first group doesn’t want to be associated with the criminal dirtbag connotations they think “biker” carries with it. They ride a sophisticated piece of liquid-cooled metric engineering, not some loud, greasy, low-slung lead sled. Well, just how high is the saddle on that sport-tour-venturer that you can’t step off for a cold one? The moniker doesn’t come with a criminal record attached, and nobody is going to make you put fringe on your jacket. We might have our share of sketchy santas, but I don’t see investment bankers avoiding calling themselves “investment bankers” after 2008, and they have a lot more to answer for than the bikers of the world do. Likewise sales managers, priests, mayors of Detroit, PR flacks, doctors, news anchors, or any other damn group you care to mention. No small deviant minority defines you, unless you can’t define yourself.
The second group thinks they’re just not enough of a biker to call themselves that. Like you have to be fully dedicated to the biker “lifestyle,” whatever that is, in order to be worthy of the term. Like somebody is going to call you out for not being a “real” biker because you also own a car, or because you have a full-time job. This is understandable but wrong. All subculture groups are keenly aware of authenticity – who really belongs and who is a poseur. Bikers are probably more hung-up on authenticity and validating that you’re one of us than any group since Cold War spooks. But it’s not a club, and you can’t be kicked out if you don’t have a long beard or leather vest. Authenticity does not equal stereotype.
Let me say that again: Authenticity does not equal stereotype. Being a real biker has nothing to do with your patches, belly, or dental hygiene. It has everything to do with a love of riding. It has to do with motorcycles. It’s a thrill that you know and love – that you are bewitched by – if you are a biker, and you don’t if you’re not. If there is a litmus test for who is a “biker,” that’s it. And that’s all.
Whether you’re metric, standard, or Whitworth; whether your heart beats like a potato or fibrillates in four beats; whether you belong to a Laborer’s Local or a yacht club; whether you’re an iron-butt or a weekend-warrior; whether you carve canyons or drag downtown; whether you’re whiskey or cognac, we at least share that one thing. We don’t have to all be brothers, but we are all bikers.
We need to hang together and respect each other. I am seeing a general decline in biker courtesies – things like stopping when you see another bike stopped on the freeway to see if they need help, leaving space for another bike in parking spaces, falling into a stagger formation when you happen to be riding along the road together, even something as simple and silly as the “biker wave.” Bikers should at least show each other a little class, and it starts with embracing that identity.
It needs to be said here that some bicyclists have started calling themselves “bikers.” This must stop. As I have written elsewhere, there’s nothing wrong with riding bicycles, which is a fun, healthy activity for kids and adults, as long as you’re not an arrogant ponce about it. We should be cool with the cyclists, but we can’t let leave our name for them to pick up. We are the bikers.
We are the bikers. Do not be ashamed or shy. We are strong, not evil. We take risks others don’t and are rewarded with benefits they cannot imagine. Chasers after the ineffable, the inexpressible. Handlebar philosophers and bug-spitters. There is no one type. We may not have anything in common but this: we are the bikers.