The Last Biker
Where did you all go? What has happened to the world of bikers I knew? Why are any of you riding? Are you living an image 'cause of the scooter you ride? What's up with you jokers trying to look like Hells Angels? I have more respect for the young lady I see everyday riding her 150cc scooter in the rain and cold than I do for 99% of the motorcyclists that I pass. Haughty riders, tough guy riders, wanna-be road racers, factory built cruiser riders trying to be Harley riders, guys my age that don't know and never knew the code of the rode 'cause they weren't riding in “the day.” I wish all of you would go home and park them two wheelers so when you're old and got grand kids you can tell them how cool you were for riding a motorcycle. Maybe one of them kids will pull your rusting heap of a memory out of the shed and actually work on it and become a Biker.
So who am I to come off with all this, huh? Well for the moment call me D.T. Born in '52 and started riding in 1960 if you count roto-tiller engines on bicycles. Graduated to chain saw engines on mini bikes and finally Jap dirt bikes. First rode a Harley (not mine) at 16. My first street bikes were English: BSA, Triumph and Norton. All bought as basket cases and fixed (not restored) well enough to ride. That's how it was done and that's how you became a Biker. You knew your machine intimately, because you worked on it and if you didn't know how you had a Bro who did. Today new riders walk into a showroom, order up accessories and pay somebody to put them on. How can you get to know your wife if you never sleep with her?
In the 1960's, I bought and rode various dirt bikes. Some of these were street machines that we stripped and converted. My first big bike was an early 650cc BSA that was somebody else's throw away. I was still riding dirt, so she became a flat tracker. Flat trackers were totally stripped, including the brakes, and run full out on an oval dirt track. Later she became my first street chopper. In the early '70's I bought my first Moto Guzzi. By the late 1980's, I had sold all my bikes. You do what you have to do; I had financial commitments and that's enough said.
Now it's 2010 and I'm ready to get back in the saddle and can afford my first new scooter. (Yes, in the day we referred to 'em as scooters) I start looking, but I'm finding out two things I don't like. First, we now have “dealerships” and “sales personnel.” Look, I'm in business and have been most of my life. For motorcycles to have become the business that they are today, things had to change. No longer would the small, poorly lit, beer drinkin' shops of the 50's, 60's and 70's cut it. However, did we have to lose the soul? I went into a Guzzi dealership and the young dudes didn't even ride! At the XXXX dealership, I got treated like a potential sale and couldn't get anyone to talk about bikes, unless it was sales related. They knew all the right sales pitch stuff, but there wasn't a biker in the crowd and I got the same feeling at the XXXX dealer, but at least they put on a better show. The customers wandering around the sales floor acted like what they thought bikers acted like while looking at the cool outlaw biker gear. I got to thinking about a friend of mine who is Comanche-Apache. One time he said to me “You know D.T., I really like talking with you, but you're white and sometimes I really miss talkin' Indian stuff.” I can't talk Indian stuff with Bill 'cause I'm not Indian and the same goes for people who ride or sell two wheelers and can't talk bikes: you ain't bikers.
Kick starting the grumbles
I really don't care what you ride, so if you're riding a Jap bike quit apologizing for it! The dude who apologized for riding a Goldwing cause he just couldn't take vibration then went on with the old: “it's so smooth I can balance a nickel on it's edge on the engine while it's running” bull story just made me laugh. I got no respect for that. The other day I pulled up along side of a young guy on a small (175cc maybe?) Honda street bike. Said he had owned it since he was 15 and he looked to be in his mid twenties. He said he had rebuilt it once already and the bike looked well ridden, but cared for. I hope we meet up some day when he has a “big” bike; I'd be proud to ride with him.
My "new" bike is a 1976 Guzzi 850T3, 34 years old at the time of this writing. I didn't buy new 'cause I just couldn't bring myself to put cash in the hands of non-bikers and the new stuff just ain't the old stuff; it's ahhhhh too new. This brings us to the second reason for not buying new. I'm glad it worked that way at the dealerships, because I bought a project bike. One that I could ride away on, but which would require love and attention. I'll get to know her a lot more intimately than you'll ever know yours.
A couple of Sundays ago I saddled up and went about 15 miles to breakfast. I guess I missed the road home and kinda got lost, because it took me three hundred miles to get back. What a ride! All back roads with a good mix of curves and straights, woods and fields. Very little four wheel traffic and a beautiful sunny day. Found a little coffee shop and that's what it's all about.
In “the day,” if strangers on two wheelers stopped at the same light or stop sign, they actually talked and some times ended up in that little coffee shop. We swapped riding stories about how to fix stuff, how to make parts, hey do you know so and so, have you ever ridden there, etc.
On another Sunday ride I stopped three times to talk with bikers but what I found was motorcyclists. I could tell they were motorcyclists by the way they were dressed and the newness of their bikes, but decided to chance it anyway. The first was a couple close to my age on a XXXX (we ain't gonna brand bash here) with saddlebags. The woman was talkative; the guy was trying to be cool. No smile, no greeting, no nothing. Maybe my feelings were hurt because I love it when I'm asked about my bike and he didn't. They had no destination, no time limit and were heading down a road that I knew was a dead end and very bumpy. I started to say something, but he took off, maybe he thought I was chatting up his wife? Anyway, I followed for the fun of it, because the road is only a few miles long and ends in a cul d'sac turn around. I thought maybe we could stop and pick up the conversation at the cul d'sac. I was planning to tell him how much smoother that XXXX took the bumps as a way of breaking the ice, but he didn't stop, just turned around and bounced on out of there.
I split off, went another way and found a little county park. Pulling in I spotted two XXXX's and their riders, guys my age, and parked the Guzzi. The bikes and the riders were dressed almost identically. My bike has a short side stand that likes to sink in soft dirt or hot pavement, so I bumped it up on the center stand. One guy asked the other guy if it was a BMW and the other guy was smart enough to read “Moto Guzzi” on the tank. Then the first guy starts talking about how he could never get his XXXX up on the “Double Kickstand” but a 100-pound girl he knew could do hers with no problem. These guys were dressed in the typical biker gear, with red bandanas, fingerless gloves, black leather vests, etc. I offered to show him the trick, but he wasn't interested. He didn't care that my bike was 34 years old, either (hurt my feelings again!), or that Harley in the 1900's was one of the first to run a drive chain instead of a belt, giving them an advantage in rainy weather over the Indians. My grandfather rode a Harley and was known to the local cops (who rode Indians) as the Flying Dutchman. One dude was interested in being cool as he left and a little extra throttle in the dirt almost dumped him.
Next stop was a couple on a shaft drive XXXX with full touring gear, including a tank bag. Matching everything and helmet mikes to boot. They were very cordial. I really can't say anymore than that. I commented on the fact that their bike was probably a very smooth ride on the highway but was told they never did interstates. I tried humor, I tried history, I tried trivia and I almost tried inviting them for coffee. Mamma raised ugly kids, but not fools. I wished them a safe ride and left.
I gave up talking and I gave up saluting other bikers on the road. Use to be a raised fist was the salute, now it's this wimpy little two or three finger wave from the hip. Look, I'm not a tough guy, never was, and I never liked being told to “park the motorcycle in the back if you want to eat here and leave the leathers with the bike,” I'm glad those days are over and I'll bet that you never knew they existed.
For a long time Biker = Outlaw. There are many of you who like to portray this image. You've watched too many movies. In real life, those guys go down hard and dirty. You put me in mind of the “Vietnam Vets” who were protesters until it became popular to be a vet; you're living somebody else's life. In the day, most bikers were a dirty, smelly lot, because our machines leaked oil and threw grease off the chain. Many bikers hung out in bars, got drunk and did stupid things that added to the bad reputation.
Leathers were worn for protection. Until you have scraped sand and debris out of a road raspberry, had bugs the size of Godzilla splat you or felt the sting of rain on bare arms you can't fully appreciate leathers. The movies made leathers “bad”. “Bad” ain't what you wear, it's your attitude and all the bad guys I knew have been dead a long time. Knifed, shot, beaten or run over by a truck, bad is bad and dead is dead. So why do you need to act that way?
The changing biker
The image of motorcycles and their riders began to improve when the Japanese bikes became popular. Quieter, smoother, more dependable, no oil leaks and electric start instead of kick appealed to the public. Even so, it was not until the 1980's that motorcycles became commonplace and widely accepted. Imported motorcycles advanced the state of the art and made riding acceptable, but it separated us as brothers. As bikes became more dependable and dealerships more professional, we no longer had to depend on each other.
Today riders really don't care about the things that made being a biker special to me. They can't care about those things because they never experienced them. They don't care about the connection between themselves and a machine. It's just another toy to show off. They don't own one or ride one long enough to become intimate. They are more concerned with image than the ride. In the day, the ride created the image.
Instead of being rugged individualists, they have become conformists and everybody wants to look like everybody else. I want to know who defined what you should look like, who defined how you should act? You see, in the day we took pride that our motorcycles were as unique as ourselves. Each bike was a reflection of its owner.
There were good riders who didn't know a nut from a bolt, but they were there when the bros' worked on their machines. They washed parts and wire brushed them, sanded the frame and tank and spoke of their vision so others could make it happen. We cut, welded and machined our own parts. There was no picking out cool stuff from a catalog and paying somebody to bolt it on. You knew your bike and when you rode you knew your limitations, because you had gone there (sometimes crashed there) and came back. My pony threw me, but I still love my pony.
Apologies for my disappointments
If you're still reading, maybe there's hope; anyway, the end is near. This is a love/hate thing going on with me. I appreciate that I can now ride without worrying about cops profiling me because I'm on a two-wheeler, but I'm also getting lonely out there. For the most part, I've been a solo rider. Clubs never attracted me; they have rules and regulations, leaders and followers and somebody is always unhappy with the way things are being run. It's difficult to find a riding partner, one who is intuitive and moves in harmony. One who can let you roll it on and disappear down the road or drop back and chill. Somebody you trust so much that when riding side by side through a tight curve you're only thought is “Damn, can she ride.” One who knows about being a biker and is there for the ride, not the destination. How can there be so many and yet so few who feel it and live it?
Maybe I've just been riding the wrong roads, maybe the old bikers are still out there, or maybe I'm the last. Or maybe it's all a false memory and there never was an unwritten code of brotherhood among a small portion of the populace. I'd sew on my 1% patch, but it would probably become a fad and everyone would be flying the “Jolly Roger” to be cool and the meaning would be lost. Maybe we should all sit back and reflect on why we really ride, or better yet, let's go for a ride. I know this little coffee shop . . ..
Copyright 2010 by D.T. All rights reserved.