by Thomas Day
For the hundredth time in our acquaintanceship, the dude called me a “bigot” because of my general dislike of the cruiser class of motorcycles. I get this charge from a couple of folks and a fair number of readers. They think the accusation is a major blow to my credibility as a motorcyclist and a writer and a person. I think they are somewhere between goofy and overstuffed with themselves.
For starters, bigotry is no small thing. It’s a word with meaning, history, and authority. Webster’s defines a bigot as “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.”
In respect to motorcycles, my first thought is, “Get over yourselves.” Nothing about disliking a particular type of machine is anywhere near as despicable as racial hatred or intolerance. An overweight, barely mobile, noisy, awkward and gaudy motorcycle design is still merely a silly toy. I’m not even disliking a means of transportation, just a style. In general, I don’t like bagpipes, banjos, women’s basketball, hillbilly music, hip hop, uncomfortable shoes, liver and onions, cancer and heart disease or the sociopathic institution of “incorporation.” In specific, there are some instances of each of those (except cancer, heart disease, and corporations) that I can tolerate in small doses. Except for three exceptions, I don’t hate any of that list.
However, taking the accusation half-seriously I thought about comparing the typical cruiser to the description of a person, using the word’s definition. What I came up with is someone who is grossly overweight, stubby-legged, physically incapacitated to the point of presenting a hazard to him and anyone near him, wealthy (or expensive, if a dependent) and high maintenance, noisy and constantly trying to draw attention to himself, and who dresses like one of those characters at the Renaissance Festival. Shakespeare’s Falstaff is exactly my mental image of a cruiser-as-a-person. Falstaff may be the kind of guy you want to hang out with in a bar, but he’d be a lousy choice of partner in a bar fight. If you don’t need intellectual challenge, Falstaff might be an entertaining conversationalist, but not in a library or hospital corridor where his noise, bluster, and stupidity would piss off anyone with an IQ over moronic. As a whole, Falstaff is exactly the kind of person I try to avoid under all circumstances. You’ll notice there is no color or ethnic component to my description. I don’t buy that avoiding this character qualifies as bigotry. I’d call it “discretion.”
However, cruisers are not animate objects and are unworthy of hatred; any more than banjos are truly despicable or heart disease and JPMorgan-Chase deserve to survive into the next decade. I can’t generate anything near hatred toward any kind of motorcycle. What I do dislike the most about the run-of-the-mill cruiser is that they violate my aesthetic sense. Like Falstaff, they are not pretty. Since I’m stuck with a personality that requires form to follow function, the lack of function in cruiser-form is just ugly.
If you’re honest, you’ll have to admit that I’m not obstinate in my objection to the cruiser style. I’ve ridden a couple dozen of the genre over the last two decades and I’m always open to the hope that “this one is different.” So far, I’ve been disappointed. The least disappointing of the bunch was the H-D Sportster Sport, but grinding the right-side pipe exiting the Denver dealer’s parking lot as I merged into Colfax Avenue traffic didn’t raise that bar very high.
Not being a road racer, there have been a few sportbikes that disinterest me as much as cruisers. Since my mid-fifties, I can’t twist myself into that riding position for more than a few minutes without permanent injury. The only cycle style I haven’t tried out has been trikes and I gave them up when I graduated to bicycles in 1954. My Hoveround® days will arrive soon enough; I don’t need to accelerate the decline.
I have always felt the only real defense I have in traffic on a motorcycle is maneuverability. That’s it. If I am not able to change or split lanes quickly, stop or swerve, see over and around other vehicles, or abandon the lanes of traffic and head for a ditch or someone’s lawn, I feel naked and exposed on a motorcycle. The only part of motorcycling on the street that approaches a “sport” is the part the motorcycle plays. Cruisers don’t have the ground clearance necessary to pretend to be athletic. Their weight and weight-distribution, width and length, silly handlebar shapes and irrational foot-peg placement, and parts placement are the antithesis of “athletic.” That blubbering potato-potato noise sounds practically asthmatic. The louder it is, the more injured it sounds. My term for that design, “hippobike,” comes from watching the things wallow through corners. It’s almost painful to watch those crippled machines attempt to escape from a stop light before they are run over by the distracted or irritated SUV drivers behind them.
So, while you may call wanting to avoid a noisy, dangerous, cowardly, clumsy, fat man a prejudice, I don’t buy it. You can tell yourself that my dislike for overweight, lumbering, badly designed, noisy motorcycles is bigoted, but the reaction you’re going to get from me is a chuckle and a little more social distance. If you can’t pick your friends any better than that, you are already used to disappointment. If those are the characteristics you look for in a motorcycle, you’re “crusin’ for a bruisin’.”