by Victor Wanchena
Stereotypes are a funny thing. Motorcyclists have worked hard to eliminate the old stereotypes. You know the tired Hollywood image of the greasy, rebel-rouser. Hell bent for leather and looking for a fight. Lock your doors and hide your daughters; no one is safe when the bikers come to town. This mythic stereotype was largely created and perpetuated by Hollywood for the be nefit of moviegoers. And it largely worked. It sold tickets, and lately has fueled motorcycle sales as youthful moviegoers have aged and now look for a way to capture some of that rebellious counter culture.
The funny part is that no sooner did we get the mantle of troublemaker hung around our necks, then we started trying to improve our image. For the most part, we’ve ditched the social burden perception, only to have it replaced by a whole host of new stereotypes. The problem is, you never know what stereotype you’re facing.
A recent trip to the doctor illustrated this. The nurse, while making small talk, notices my helmet and jacket. She asks if I’m a biker. I, of course, reply yes. With a disapproving look, she launches into her Emergency Room story mode about death and carnage. A cholesterol test was a waste of money for me; I’d be dead in a week. Hope you’re an organ donor. We could sure use your liver and kidneys. I made a small rebuttal that included the obvious reference to the safety gear present, but it was a lost cause. In her eyes, I was the guy in shorts and flip-flops doing triple-digit wheelies through traffic. I was going to be in her emergency room or morgue sooner or later. To her, I was the reckless idiot stereotype.
Next enters a medical technician to draw some blood. He notices the t-shirt I’m wearing is from an endurance motorcycle event. Questions abound. He listened intently as I recalled recent adventures on a rally. Good roads, odd places; the sheer fun of bombing around the country. He wasn’t a rider, but said it sounded fascinating and he was envious of those adventurous enough to set out into the unknown. He thought all the charity work motorcyclists do is great. He said he had considered getting a bike of his own, but didn’t think he could learn how to ride. Motorcycling was high adventure in his mind, and we were rugged explorers, ready for anything. I tried to explain that any one could learn to ride, but to him I was the lion-tamer stereotype.
How odd. In the space of ten minute I had to defend motorcycling from two very opposite viewpoints. I didn’t know if I was really up to the challenge. In the old days, if you at least combed your hair and cleaned under your fingernails, the disapproving would warm up to you. But these two had me not knowing whether to comb my hair or mess it up. I guess I just wanted to show up without having to worry which crowd I was playing to. We are caught in the middle by our own good and bad press. And maybe therein lies the truth. We aren’t angels or devils; just people who like to ride. Sometimes with messy hair, sometimes with it combed.