Monday, April 17, 2017

When Am I Going to Get a Real Motorcycle?

Daimler Reitwagen (1885)
generally accepted as the "real motorcycle"
You know, I've been thinking about that myself too, because many people have asked me the same question over the years. I mean, if it had been only one person asking me, I would have brushed it aside and not given it much thought. But, five, ten, fifteen, twenty people? I don't know, I've lost count since I first started riding in 1985.

The last I checked, my Honda ST1300, for lack of calling it a motorcycle, has two wheels, an engine, a seat that I straddle, handle bars that I steer, and a twist grip that I throttle. I had thought that counts as a "motorcycle".

In fact, the last I checked it seemed to be "real" too. That is, I could touch it and know that my brain responded to stimulus.

Do I have a real motorcycle or not?

The fact is that I hear a lot of people talking about "real this" and "real that", "authentic this" and "authentic that", and am left wondering what actual value is there in being "real"?

I suppose you can see this discussion leading into a tired, well-beaten, mule.

But to digress from lifeless philosophical discourse, I often see the words "Real Mayonnaise" printed on several different brands of white condiment-filled containers, and have been able compare them with other brands that don't use the word "Real". They both seem to taste similar, have similar properties, and have comparable ingredients. In that case, what is the value of Real?

I could imagine someone telling me "Oh, don't use that shit, get some real mayonnaise."

"Real mayonnaise is made from eggs". Actually, the original recipe didn't use eggs.

Though technically, the US Food & Drug Administration actually does have a regulation on what can be legally marketed as "mayonnaise" (Title 21, Chapter I, Subchapter B, Part §169.140), "Real", of course, is a subjective matter.

I remember in 1990 when Toyota advertised itself as the "official car of Southern California". Brilliant, because Southern California is not an administrative division, and there is no governing body to counter such claims. And even though "Southern California" is often described in American culture, Californians themselves can't even agree on where to draw border.

In addition, I often tell Sash what a joke "proper English" is because there is no such thing as proper English, or "standard English" for that matter. There is no law in the US Code defining how one should communicate, pontificate, or confabulate using the world's most spoken language, and there is no body of government-appointed custodians determining how it's letters and punctuation marks should be properly strung together.

Instead, all we have is a group of middle-managers at Merriam-Webster going around the table raising their hands on accepting a particular word into their Dictionary, and how it should be defined, classified, modified, and pronounced. Somewhere, somehow, this company was granted authority on what is a "real" English word.

A few years ago, Rachel Dolezal, a woman born to white parents, and who has zero African ancestry, claimed to be black. It caused black people to become angry, arguing that Dolezal is not a "real" African-American, and doesn't know what it's like to be discriminated against. Is being discriminated against a prerequisite for being African-American?

Then, there are kids who say that "Monopoly money is not real money". But what if you had an antique Monopoly game board with all the original pieces, cards, and money, except that it was missing its original $500 bills? Would you be willing purchase some antique $500 Monopoly money just to make your set complete? Could that be construed as having "real" value?

So then, what makes Harley-Davidson a "real motorcycle"?

Well technically, Indian was building motorcycles before Harley, as was Royal Enfield. Are Indians and Royal Enfields more real than Harley?

My Honda ST1300, Glacier National Park, MT
If chronology is a causal element of "real", then you'd have to go back to 1867 when Ernest Michaux, of Paris, France, fitted a steam engine to a bicycle that his father built, creating the first ever motorized bicycle. But if you want to get technical about the word "motorcycle", you'd have to go Phoenix, Arizona in 1881 when Lucius Copeland built a steam-powered three-wheeler that he named, "Phaeton Moto Cycle".

But the motorcycling world tends to rest only as far back as 1885 with the "Daimler Reitwagen", a two-wheeled, gasoline-powered vehicle that you sat on top of, steered with handlebars, and throttled with a twist-grip. It was invented by Gottlieb Daimler, whose company Daimler Motoren Gesellchaft eventually became Mercedes Benz.

So is a "real motorcycle" that patterned after the 1885 prototype developed by today's Mercedes Benz?

Where exactly, does that leave my Honda ST1300?

Well, people often tell me that it doesn't really matter if Santa Claus is real or not. What matters is that the one thing you really hoped for actually did find its way to you on Christmas morning, regardless of the who, what, where, when, and how. And if that's all that's needed to make Santa Claus real, then perhaps that says a lot about a brand of motorcycle.


  1. While I happen to own a Harley at the moment (and a Kawasaki and 2 Hondas) I agree there is an attitude among (some) Harley owners that everything else on 2 wheels is somehow inferior. And even though I do own and ride the requisite machine, some would still consider me to not be a "real" motorcyclist as I am lacking in tattoos, or insist on wearing a helmet, or... So what it seems to boil down to is this, "I am a 'real' motorcyclist and if you don't match my personal image then you are not." Silly, but that's the way it is.
    And, by the way, I had a hardcore BMW owning friend years ago who insisted I should buy a "real" motorcycle back then and get off the Honda/Norton/Yamaha/Kawasaki or whatever I was riding at the time to get a BMW. So it's not only HD owners, but they do seem to be the worst.

  2. Great post Steve, it made me laugh as I've heard the same comments as well(Yamaha rider here). I just shrug it off. If they are going to add the word real then maybe I can add the word Shitbox in there somewhere too.


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...)