Saturday, January 25, 2014

If J.D. Salinger Rode a Motorcycle

motorcycle reflection
Dumbfounded, I simply answered, "Well how did you know I ride a motorcycle?" The guy answered back, "I don't know, I just thought you did." I came to the conclusion that it must have been my clothing gave me away because I certainly didn't announce it when I came into the bar.

And that has always ate at me.

Somehow, I don't like advertising myself as a motorcycle rider.

It's really about categorization. I hate that people can put me into a box where they can predict my beliefs and behaviors. And just to piss them off, I'll say something that I don't actually believe in just to throw them off.

It's why I don't go to biker bars anymore. There, people have you figured out. You're a biker. But when I go somewhere else, I'm completely anonymous. They don't know if I'm a commie-pinko bastard, or a capitalist pig, or an illegal alien. No one knows where I am on the political spectrum, the social scale, or the evolutionary timeline. At best they know I drink the dark stuff, and therefore I must be some kind of ass wipe, but that's about it.

What I appreciate, however, is recognition from my peers. I like getting comments from other motorcycle bloggers. I like talking to other riders who've ridden to Alaska and back. I like to compare notes on such infamous roads as the Moki Dugway, the Beartooth Pass, the Coronado Trail, or Going to the Sun Road. But I don't like wearing that stuff.

OK, there was a time when I used to wear a leather vest adorned with pins of all the places I had been to. Somehow, that made me feel as if I had earned my place within the biker community. But when I first started riding in 1985, I had been a solitary rider. I was riding to commute to college and work. I never went to rallies, or rode with groups. Back then, I would wear my normal clothes. I didn't even wear a "motorcycle jacket", I had just a plain old jacket.

So over the years, after I bought a pickup truck, motorcycling became relegated to a hobby. When it came time to upgrade that old Kawasaki KZ400 to a new bike, I bought a Yamaha Road Star. From there, I ventured into some local riding clubs and groups and found myself amid other leather-clad riders. I wanted to fit in, so I wore the same shit. The only things I simply refused to wear were chaps and a doo-rag. I mean, I had to draw the line somewhere.

But as the years went by, I found so much fake with all that. The collection of leather vests, the pendleton shirts, the bandanas, the rally pins, the long-sleeves with the flames up the arms. To me, all that stuff is more visual than it is practical.  And when you become all about the visual, then what?

I also found that as the years went by, other riders respected me for the years that I had been riding. My riding buddies, along with other local riders who knew of me, didn't care about how big of geek or dork I was. They already knew about my experiences. So I woke up one day and decided to sell the Harley and buy a Honda ST. That meant getting rid of all my Harley t-shirts and all my "biker" gear.  I remember a few Harley enthusiasts telling me it was an act of regression to go from Harley to Honda. I would disagree. But overall, the people who appreciate me as a rider didn't really care about any of that external stuff.

It's like the more time you spend riding, and the more miles you put on, the more humble you become. Maybe it's just the people who are new to motorcycling that get caught up in the "look at me" thing.

My therapist once told me, "you have to swing all the way to one side to know that you don't belong there."

I feel as if I started out at one extreme, swung all the way to the other, and then swung back to the other extreme again.

There's an element of Catcher in the Rye in just about all walks of life, not just motorcycling. Anything can be either a total rat race of chameleons trying to fit in, or total anonymity and mystery as to what makes you tick. But like with anything, it's all about balancing the extremes than to be one or the other. Sometime's its good to wear a little flair, sometimes it's good to be invisible. I'd rather have the freedom to choose than to be forced to choose sides.

Still, I don't like giving myself away as a motorcycle rider. It almost feels like bragging. For that matter, I don't like giving myself away as a computer geek, or a business owner, or a craft-beer snob. I'd rather be a mystery to some and totally invisible to others than to advertise myself and have people put me into a category.


  1. That. Was. AWESOME.

    Great post sir. I don't blog much about my Vulcan over on my own site, but I enjoy reading you and Rude Biker Chick. Keep it up, y'all.

  2. I imagine if Mr. Salinger rode a motorcycle, he would enjoy riding alone mostly. And if he rode with friends, it would be friends who didn't read his work, or know who he was. Perhaps he would have a biker nickname like Jaws or Dumbo (Oh those EARS!).

    I marvel at people who think they "know" me. People from a speck of my past who feel they have me all summed up, who run into me now and say, "You haven't changed a bit." Yeah, sure, fuck you. If you ever knew me, you couldn't possibly say that. I've changed so much over my lifetime I have to stop and take inventory from time to time just to feel myself.

    That's what I love about my quiet helmet time. Inventory.

    Your modesty is a wonderful touchstone for me, my Love, to keep me grounded. You remind me, with you gentle, inquisitive nature, to be genuine. When we first started dating I corrected you on where to place your napkin during a meal in a restaurant. I told you that placing it in your lap was "polite". You asked me gently, "Who says?"

    I love how you made me stop and think then, and now, about why I believe the things I do.

    Sash The Rude Biker Chick :)

  3. Steve, a very thoughtful post that lives up to the Motorcycle Philosophy theme. I especially liked,"Sometime's its good to wear a little flair, sometimes it's good to be invisible. I'd rather have the freedom to choose than to be forced to choose sides." I can really relate to that. I'm a clean-cut guy that doesn't fit the Harley rider mold. It's both funny and disheartening to hear folks I ride with say, they would have never figured me for someone who likes to ride.

    Your post reminded me that I should always ride for me and be true to myself. Thank you.

    ~Curt (Live Free and Ride Hard)


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)