The rumble is felt before it is heard and it is usually heard before the source of the sound is seen. The rumble becomes a roar as the machine passes by on the road. The image evokes a response in most people that varies from disgust to envy. One reason is that a motorcycle is not just a motorcycle, it’s a symbol. There is a lifestyle associated with a two-wheeled rumbler and that lifestyle says something about not only the riders, but also anyone who regards them.
I spent little time considering motorcycles for most of my life. I know people who like the “biker” persona and all that goes with it. The lifestyle, the fashion, the accessories and the community are as much a part of their lives as their family or career. I never found the fashion all that appealing—a Harley-Davidson logo emblazoned on the back of a leather or denim jacket just doesn’t do it for me, nor does studded leather or fringe or chrome skulls. I recently bought a motorcycle; which is not to say that my tastes have changed. Fortunately, I have found that many motorcycle riders do not live the “lifestyle,” and yet still enjoy their bikes just as much as those who embody the cliché.
I guess most of us call to mind the stereotypical biker: big guy wearing faded, worn and torn jeans, boots, leather jacket or vest with studs and fringe, gloss black half-helmet with a chrome spike worn over a red-white and blue bandana, tattoos covering both arms, sun-weathered skin that looks like aged leather and sporting a beard or goatee. This person rides a big Harley with exhaust pipes that make the bike sound like a 50 caliber machine gun firing downrange when he accelerates, only louder. He drinks more beer in a day than most people do in a year. He is standing next to a woman who is similarly worn looking, but wearing remarkably less clothes and preferring to go unfettered.
After spending 3 weeks in Leesburg, Florida, a town that has more motorcycles per capita than any other town I have experienced, and preparing to play host to a major bikefest, I have made some observations about this 2-wheeled crowd. First, they’re not all two-wheeled. There are some motorized vehicles with three wheels and some two-wheeled with an extra two wheels added like outriggers. Kind of like training wheels. Chrome highlighted, full-sized, customized training wheels. Of course, we can’t call them training wheels…it is “the Voyager kit,” a very expensive addition. Tell a biker with a Voyager that he has training wheels and the cliché may rain down on your head.
Secondly, not all bikers wear leather; studded or otherwise. Some ride in slacks and a tie. Their bikes may have hard shell saddle bags and or a trunk and typically a less flashy paint job, but still with plenty of chrome. Not all bikers have tattoos. Most do, but not all. Many bikers don’t even look like bikers at all—even when they are on their bikes. Some bikers always have a passenger (usually a wife/girlfriend) and never ride alone. Some only ride alone; their bikes have no rear seat. Some see the motorcycle as an art form and have covered their bikes with some simply stunning paintjobs that would do well on a gallery wall.
I met some people during my time in Leesburg, Florida who call themselves bikers. One fellow was a physician who rode his Honda Goldwing from Fort Myers Florida to Leesburg for the fest. He was in his fifties (most of the bikers—stereotypical or not—are over 40) and grimacing from a backache. He wore banana republic style cargo shorts and an OP t-shirt and docksiders. His graying hair was windshwept, but not disheveled. He told me he has ridden for more than 30 years. His backache was not because of the ride—the Goldwing is one of the more smooth rides one can experience on a motorcycle—but rather from an old injury that flares up when sitting too long.
I also saw several people checking into the hotel as I checked out who were also arriving for the Bikefest. Motorcycles filled the parking lot that had, for the past three weeks, been filled primarily with cars. More people were in the lobby and around the pool than I had seen during my stay up to that point. Sun-weathered skin, tattoos, windswept hair (disheveled) wearing a sleeveless shirt and cutoff shorts; looking every bit the cliché biker dude. After I checked out, I walked the festival grounds and stuck my head in the vendor booths to see what bikers buy. Most of the booths were “biker chic” apparel consisting of tight t-shirts, sleeveless denim shirts, slotted spandex pants, super short shorts, and loads of patches. There were plenty of iron crosses, chains and skulls. Also, as one might imagine, enough leather to cover all the cows in Texas.
They also sell accessories for the bikes. Chrome trim, LED light kits, custom painting, saddle bags and leather tassels are aplenty in these booths. Bikes rumbled up and down the streets—which had been closed off to automobile traffic—stopping at whichever booth the rider fancied. They even did the paint jobs while the owners waited. Other booths added trim or modified something. I understand from talking to a couple of the vendors that Harley riders tend to always work on their bikes, upgrading this or modifying that. I would have to say that 80 percent of the bikes in town were Harleys.
As I left the fest, it occurred to me that while the vendors do sell the cliché, the lifestyle, no one has to buy into it to be included. Everyone who rides is a “brother,” and anyone on a bike gets acknowledged by other riders on the road. So, while there were plenty of people in town that live up to the cliché, fully ensconced in the lifestyle, many bike enthusiasts opt to enjoy the thrill of riding without the need to embrace skulls, chains, studded leather or fringes. It is this crowd with whom I more readily identify, although I did buy a leather vest…sans studs.