The Hippocratic Poser

Sometimes we just want people to look at us, recognize our presence, validate our actions, and make us think we count. Oh, it is everywhere in handlebar mustaches, mudder tires on pavement, and push-up bras. It is the nature of humanity once our basic needs are met to go a step beyond and see what kind of shit we can wrangle and get away with maybe.

Motorcyclists might be the worst. We wax up our $18,000 off-road tourer and gently cruise to the coffee shop; replace the pipes on normal motorcycles to make them echo through the city canyons; pop wheelies, and add menacing skulls and crossbones stickers. Kind of brash for a landscaper or card shop owner, eh?

These are stereotypical scenarios but haven’t we all seen some of them? Have you wondered just what in the world is going through the riders’ minds? Well at least the minds of all of them except for those who resemble our own riding style. Those we kind of know about. I am guessing that we are all posers to some degree.

Have you ever had the cinematic joy of rolling up to an open air café, the hot bike engine is popping as it cools down; pulling off your helmet- helmet hair be damned- and the patrons look up at you admiringly so you give them that look that says “Hey, toss me a beer would ya?” Then you swagger in to get some grub. Maybe a fit and well-tanned member of the opposite sex will wait on you and coyly ask how far you are going. You want to say “All the way!” but think better of it. It is a choice moment, akin to easing into a hot tub on a cold night. Unfortunately, this fantasy exists only in our minds; we all play act a little.

The stereotypical uniforms we wear (leathers, rally jackets, chaps, dirt bike boots, colors, etc.) and the matching bikes we ride, tend to set some public expectations — not quite rules of engagement — but our accoutrements declare the image we want to project. We are erasing the doubt or uncertainty about what others will say and how we will respond. The script is just clearer that way.

Are we acting more Game of Thrones or Everybody loves Raymond. We don’t have to think or create an identity if our equipment and comportment speak it for us. Funny contradiction that; using a common and often repeated riding uniform to make a statement about our individuality. Furthermore, there is a beautiful moment of role confusion — what psychologists call cognitive dissonance- when a gnarly rider removes their helmet to reveal an attractive raven-haired mother of four, an 80-year old distance rider, or a one-armed biker. Does. . . not. . . compute . . . reset!

There is absolutely no harm in any of these impressions or in playing with some images. Sure, it is play-acting, but what we ride and what we wear hurts no one, may provide some protection, brings some fun to our lives, and may telegraph our values to strangers. Our ACTIONS, however, are sometimes not so harmless.

There are plenty of offensive actions for which we need to be on guard. Where posing crosses the line into public rudeness, noise pollution, danger or damage, the riders are projecting a little too much image. Certainly not all riders stoop to those depths, but too many do. These offensive and destructive actions carry our recreational posing across a line.

Hippocrates was an ancient Greek who might have had something to say about motorcyclist behavior. We often paraphrase his famous Hippocratic Oath of “First, do no harm”. This pithy warning should be one of our litmus tests for riding decorum. As we offend a single non-motorcyclist, we taint all other riders. We do harm.

Broad rider guidelines such as “Be safe” and “ATGATT” are there too. Then there are the mostly harmless lies we use to justify our riding choices. I have these mistruths well-practiced. “Honey, I am saving a LOT of money at 55 MPG.” Wrong. My price per mile of riding is substantially higher than my commuter car because of tire wear, farkles, riding gear, premium gas, insurance, and winter storage necessitating a car too. How about this one “Officer, it is simply safer for me to ride slightly above the average traffic speed so I can better control my interactions with cars.” A grain of truth there, however, when the average traffic speed is already 10 mph over the limit it makes for a fast-moving bike. One more — “The $250 ZeigoTech valve guards are a safety issue to protect my cylinders.” Well, given that you could replace either valve cover for about the same price . . .

Why can’t we be honest with ourselves and just say something like “I ride because I love the sensations” or “I take a similar pleasure in dressing up my bike as I did building model airplanes as a kid”; maybe this “My motorcycle type, attire, and riding is a little fantasy escape from my boring job”. Some might say “I enjoy the sense of belonging and shared discussion topics I find with my Yondabemazuki riding club”. True that and not so different from a wine-tasting club, the remote control airplane society, or a knitting circle really.

Sigh. . . I wonder if straight honest depiction of practical motorcycling would diminish our motorcycling joy? What do we share with a utilitarian 100 cc cargo bike in central India relegated to ferrying water jugs, bok choy and the occasional well-balanced pig? Well, both have two wheels. Or does our fantasy, posing, daydreaming, and endless planning of hypothetical trips indicate a life of delusion? A Fifty Shades of Adventure? Maybe, but really now, where is the harm? Just so long as we don’t carry our actions too far beyond our image management. It is easy to harm ourselves and others and when we offend the public.

“Waitress — another Frappuccino please — make it a DOUBLE this time, I am feeling kind of wild! Anyone who rides a machine like THAT can handle their caffeine ya’ know!”

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Lee Foote

Lee Foote

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Southerner by birth, Northerner by choice, Casual person by nature.