To Fringe or Not to Fringe
by Thomas Day
Believe it or not, spring is on the way. When it finally comes, some of us will be more ready to ride than others. We’ll have fresh oil, a lubed chain, new tires, a tuned engine, and…more fake leather fringe? I guess stringy leather is an important issue to a certain crowd of “motorcyclists.” Okay, one of the two big questions, the other is “how much chrome horsepower can I finance this week?”
I suppose this is the last burst of nostalgia from the bunch of Boomers who were teenagers at the end of the 50’s. People who saw “The Wild One” and actually thought Brando looked cool and tough . . . or something else I’d rather they kept to themselves. Today, Brando’s loser-without-a-cause comes off like another over-dramatic Shakespearean stage wannabe. (If Brando trips your trigger, you ought to rent some old Richard Burton junk. Now there’s a real wimp with attitude.) Lee Marvin, however, still looks cool and tough. Of course, Marvin was cool and tough so he wasn’t really acting.
Last year, my first year as an MSF instructor, I got a lot of laughs out of all the folks who’d never ridden a bike but already had a full outfit picked out. Usually, an outfit that cost as much as my bike. The uniform appeared to be a black Harley jacket with fringe on the sleeves and back, black chaps with fringe, black leather fingerless typing gloves (which had to be replaced with real gloves to take the class), high heeled black combat boots (for office warfare?), and one of those Jello-bowl half-helmets that might be useful if you could manage to crash balanced on the top of your head. There are some subtle variations on the uniform, but I’m not a subtle guy and I can’t tell one uniformed biker from the next.
When I’ve stumbled into cruiser territory, I find it hard to tell if I’m in a bike shop or, to put it politically correctly, an alternative lifestyle-clothing store. Boys and girls, here’s a tip; things change. The stuff that used to be macho is now just kinky. Black leather chaps and just about anything leather with fringe belong to the “boys in high-heeled sneakers,” to cop a lyric. The Black Bart look has a whole new meaning today. Is any of this getting through?
Having been stuck behind a mile-long line of dottering two-wheeled vehicles on a few of the Midwest’s great backroads, I can see only one purpose for the bicycle handlebar streamer look. If it weren’t for the fringe, you wouldn’t be able to tell if the good ole’ boys and girls were moving. Momentum-wise, when you’re jamming up the progress of farm wives returning from Sunday school, you’re not burning up the pavement.
And what’s with the biker herd mentality, anyway? Aren’t the Shriners taking on new members these days? Aren’t there enough parades to keep the plodders satisfied? Those sixty-bike traffic-stopper parades are worse than getting stuck behind a gangster’s funeral.
They’re even sadder, too. Than the gangster funeral, I mean. A mile-long train of overweight, balding desk jockeys and scrawny meat packers, trying to make up for the time they lost chasing the easy big buck, lined up in military formation, plodding along at 45 mph so their protective-bandana-covered heads won’t be whipped and chewed completely blind by the wind, gravel, and bugs. All dressed up for an outing at the local S&M bar. Saddled up on an unbalanced, unsilenced, unsuspended two-wheeled tractor. Sixty desperate riders, hoping to make it 30 miles down the road where they’ll all stop and suck down a couple of designer beers before the girdle lets go and the torqued-down vest buttons blow out like a Fourth of July finale.
It almost makes me cry to think that my generation has fallen so low. Almost. What does make me cry is getting stuck behind one of these circus trains with miles of clear sailing ahead of me, if I can just find a passing lane. I’d rather put up with a stretch of “men leaning on shovels.” At least state employees have a poor excuse for stopping traffic.
A few years back, a friend was “restoring” a 1970s Yamaha XS650 Triumph clone. Having recently ridden his bike, I gave him a lot of crap about going retro. I’d planned to dig out my J.C. Whitney catalog and buy him a set of leather handlebar streamers in an attempt at embarrassing him into admitting that his XS650 fetish was truly idiotic. He beat me to it, on his own, and they’ve been glued to the bike for the last ten years. This guy has nearly twenty bikes, half of which are modern, comfortable, quick, and reliable motorcycles. Every ride we’ve taken together in the past decade, he’s been on something historic, slow, unreliable . . . and silly looking.
I, clearly, don’t get it. I don’t get country-western music, either. There is probably a connection.