The tone of media coverage of motorcycling is, all too often, not reflective of the vast majority of the riding community. Shows like Sons of Anarchy bring the one-percent lifestyle to living rooms across the nation and plenty of local media outlets produce daily stories about riders who are hurt in crashes or groups of motorcyclists riding irresponsibly. This kind of persistent, negative coverage perpetuates motorcycling pejorative stereotype and exacerbates other problems like the profiling of motorcyclists and frustrates advocacy efforts on other issues.
While one of riders’ biggest safety concerns is the drivers who don’t see us, another problem is the few motorcyclists who drivers often remember seeing. From the sportbike riders popping wheelies while riding on a freeway to those who choose excessively loud exhaust systems, the motorcyclists who do everything they can to call attention to themselves on public roads drive the negative stereotype home with non-riders. A driver is more likely to remember the one rider who cut them off or the one whose exhaust sound had their dog barking his head off in the backseat instead of the half-dozen or so motorcyclists that rode by them without incident.
The negative stereotype issue isn’t the fault of most motorcyclists, but it is, unfortunately, all our problem to deal with. Our factual innocence of the behaviors described above does nothing to help our community’s need for a more positive image with the non-motorcycling public.
In the end, it’s up to all of us to do what we can to turn the tide against this anti-social image to help the motorcycling lifestyle thrive for generations to come. Some within our community take on some of the larger, more formal tasks like advocating within the public policy arena or creating public relations campaigns that show what our community is really all about.
However, the most powerful, positive image a non-rider can see is the one standing right in front of them. We all can do a little each time we get in the saddle to help combat the negative stereotype with our actions and our riding. If each one of us can change how just one other person views our community, we’re a lot better off.
Here are five simple, almost effortless things you can do while your out riding to put forward a positive image of motorcycling:
Most of us are doing this anyway every moment we’ve got the throttle open. But making sure to smile, even if you must force it, changes the way someone looks at you. And when they see you–to them–they see the rest of us, too.
There are times we’re not smiling, like if we’re making a roadside repair in the pouring rain. But when you stop at a rest area, restaurant, gas station or anywhere else on a ride, take off your helmet and make sure everyone can see how much fun you’re having.
As an introvert, this idea scares the crap out of me. But more important than my discomfort with other people is the need for those people to realize there’s a person, just like them, inside the riding gear.
When someone walks by you as your standing next to your bike in a parking lot or a gas station, take a second to say hello to them. Breaking the ice between rider and non-rider may not seem significant. But, if it gets them to pay more attention to the motorcyclists on the open road or chips away a little at that negative stereotype, a simple “hello” can go a long way.
All of us, especially those who wear all the gear all the time have gotten out fair share of questions while out riding.
“Doesn’t it get hot in that gear?”
“What do you do if it rains?” (Answer: I get wet)
“How do you change gears on that thing?”
The questions may seem trivial to us, but the fact that someone’s asked them means our lifestyle has caught someone’s eye. At that point, it’s our job to help them learn more about who we are and what they’re missing out on. You may be rushing to make it back to the rally grounds for the dinner buffet but do take a few minutes to answer people’s questions. There will be plenty of fried chicken left if you get there a couple minutes late, I promise.
Ride defensively and courteously
Like I mentioned earlier in this article, the rider a person is most likely to remember is the one who wronged them. Do your best to ride defensively and show courtesy to other road users. Motorcycles’ short wheelbases and maneuverability allow us to dart between traffic on expressways and ride twisty country roads and high speed. While a little “spirited” riding on country roads may be in order now and again, excessive speed or weaving through traffic isn’t going to win us any support from non-riders.
Show patience and practice tact when riding in traffic and be courteous to other road users and those living along your favorite country roads by riding at reasonable speeds.
Talk about your two-wheeled adventures
My friends and family are probably sick of me talking about riding and touring on motorcycles. But I keep talking about it anyway to keep the positive aspects of motorcycling in front of them.
If you’re a rider, it’s likely most everyone knows about it (one way or another). I’ve learned to stop boring people with all my nerd-esque outtakes on the finer points of motorcycling, but talking about the places you’ve been or the cool things you’ve seen or experienced while riding is important. It brings out the aspects of riding that non-riders can relate to and feeds their memory banks with examples of fun, positive riding experiences.
Talk to other riders
Even though I’m an introvert, my desire for learning as much about motorcycling as I can overrides my lack of desire for human interaction when I see someone else out riding. I’m one of those riders who walks up to nearly every motorcyclist I see at a rest area or gas station to find out where they’re heading or ask about some farkle they have on their machine.
While my actions are driven by my curiosity, what’s more important is all the non-riders who witness the friendly interactions. There are many examples, both fiction and non-fiction, in popular culture about hostile motorcycling groups, and making friendly conversation with other riders is a powerful way to put forward a positive image of our sport. Motorcycling is a way of life for its most ardent enthusiasts, just like skydiving, skiing, fishing, mountain biking or model train building is for others. We need the public to see that our lifestyle doesn’t match the stereotypes.