Motorcycles are one of the best things to ever happen to me. They’ve brought more fun, passion, people, interest, experiences, and growth into my life than a lot of things, and I bet many of you would say the same. But they’re worth different amounts to different people—and it’s time to stop letting that divide us.
The motorcycle community can be one of the most welcoming, encouraging, and helpful I’ve ever been a part of. But I also see, especially now that Lanesplitter has so many diverse commenters, a couple of big ways we allow motorcycles to segregate us. Too often, riders have the attitude that their version of motorcycling is the best and most right version, and anyone who chooses a different version or choses a different type or level of gear is wrong or bad.
Obviously, I don’t mean that EVERY version is right. If you’re egregiously breaking the law or endangering people, you’re doing it wrong. You’re not a motorcyclist then, you’re just an asshole on a bike. We’re talking about the different styles of riding people do that stay relatively close to inside the bounds of okay.
I see two big problems with current bike culture: the first is people bashing each other over not wearing enough gear, or getting into arguments about what type or quality of gear should be used. The $1000 helmet dudes talking down to the $150 helmet dudes, or the $150 helmet dudes making fun of guys who want to spend money on the latest and greatest—or worse, complaining that we cover all of them.
The second problem is this ethos: “My version of motorcycling is the right version, and everything else is dumb and invalid and prob shouldn’t even be covered.” It’s a far more divided world than the world of cars, if you can believe it.
I think people married to those ideas are thinking of things the wrong way. And I’m living proof of why they’re wrong.
I bought my first motorcycle roughly 10 years ago. It was a beautiful 1976 Yamaha XS650 in cherry red, complete with clubmans. To this day, it still may be one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen. It also never ran. Ever.
My second bike was a 1975 Honda CB750. I too was a looker, and for $2,000 it actually ran sometimes. I spent another $100 on a Biltwell open face, $150 on a jacket on Craigslist, and $60 on some Doc Martens at the flea market. At the time I was still teaching and new I loved riding around Orange County, but I didn’t have much money and I loved lots of other things too. Unfortunately, its unreliable nature kept me from any long rides or road trips.
After that, I moved in with a guy who worked in the industry and, after several months of seeing him pull away every morning on different bikes while mine sat in the garage, I decided to pull the trigger on a brand new Triumph Bonneville. Out the door, it was like $7,500 but my payments were cheap and I still had the gear I’d bought from the Honda.
Over the next few years, I spent more money on customizing the bike and started spending way more time on it. I commuted to and from work (because what middle school student isn’t going to worship the young teacher who pulls up on his motorcycle?), participated in weekend rides with the local Triumph crew, and went on several long trips. Turned out, this whole motorcycle thing fit well.
I met Wes Siler a year or two later, and started helping out with Hell For Leather after I learned how nice is was to wear gear that could actually save my hide. As my role in the early HFL days increased, so did my exposure to more bikes. Wes put me on my first sportbike (BMW S1000RR), first adventure bike (Triumph Tiger 800), and first dirtbike (Yamaha WR250.)
Before I met Wes, I thought the sportbike scene was about being a squid or or tryhard, thought all dirtbike guys were bros who survived off Monster tall cans, and thought all ADV guys just hung out at Starbucks.
Everyone else had the wrong version of motorcycling except me, because I felt cool and people hired me for photoshoots and girls thought it made me cute. I was enjoying riding motorcycles the right way and had no desire to talk to other riders about their wrong versions, let alone think about trying it myself.
The thing is, the more I experienced those other versions of motorcycling, the more I fell in love with them. All of them. There’s nothing like dragging a knee around a race track on a sportbike. Except maybe hitting a jump on a dirtbike. Or riding a single track ridge line on a dual sport. Or spending a week on the road with buddies exploring new places. Or riding 300 horsepower jet skis or blasting a side by side through the dunes.
And, as my appreciation for different kinds of motorcycles grew, so did my appreciation for all the stuff that makes the experience of motorcycles better. I was saving my money for better helmets or camping gear that would fit on a bike or the perfect summer gloves. I lusted after things like an Aerostich and tailored race leathers in addition to my cool new denim vest and hipster-ass Simpson helmet.
Now I work in motorcycling full time, and I joke that I can’t wait to leave and get a real job some day so I can afford all of the motorcycles I want to own. But motorcycles were originally only worth about $2,500 of my resources, that grew quickly to $10,000 or so. Now, that number is much higher, because I’ve learned not only that I love them, but that it’s also a huge part of my life (whether for work or not).
But I think I only got here because the guys around me didn’t spend all of their time telling me I was doing it wrong, and helped teach me that learning about and trying new things was cool. I wasn’t ATGATT-shamed, I was given opportunities to try better gear. I wasn’t chastised (too much) for being a silly hipster, I was invited to ride some random old dual sport or sportbike.
Here’s something I try to keep something in mind: no matter how much motorcycling is worth to you or what kind of motorcycling you love, I’m certainly happy you’re in the club—and the moto community at large should be too. Because that’s how you go from being a middle school teacher/model/hipster to a motorcycle journalist/lover of all things with engines/hipster.
If your buddy wants to get into motorcycling, but refuses to be ATGATT or wants a ‘70s Honda CB or Sportster 883 or something you think is silly or stupid, try and guide them but don’t shame them (excessively). I don’t love wearing open faces much anymore unless it’s for a photoshoot, but if you do I’d love to tell you about how Scorpion has a new open face coming out that looks and wears better than any other I’ve worn.
Want a $150 helmet or a cheap ADV jacket? I have recommendations. Want to spend ten times that? I have something for you too.
I don’t really love cruisers completely either, but I think it’s cool if you do and would love to talk about how the Kawasaki Vulcan S is actually an awesome option for newer riders. I even think the new Harley-Davidson Low Rider S looks rocking.
And, if you really do want to start on an old Honda Cafe Racer, I’d love to tell you about my experiences with them and then give you the number for a guy I know who does decent rebuilds.
The fact is, every level of motorcycling should be appreciated. We might not have the same version of motorcycling or think it’s worth the same amount, but we should all be glad you’re here and want to help you improve your version of riding.