We were traveling out west a few weeks before the big motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D. You’ve heard of it. Like 60,000 bike enthusiasts descend on a little town and drink a lot of beer and probably walk around saying things like, “Hey, cool bike.”
My image of the bike rider in the U.S. is still rooted in the 60s, when they were the last true rebels, the guys who thumbed their noses as sterile, safe living and hit the road, man, to find the Real America. (Okay, just forget about the ending of Easy Rider, and it’s still a potent romantic image.)
If that’s the case, or supposed to be, then tell me why every single cyclist that we saw out on the Plains was riding the same make of bike. Further, tell me why those rugged individualists have the name and logo of that make of bike plastered all over their jackets, hats and, for all I know, thong underwear. It’s easy to make fun of suburban socialites who pay strict attention to labels and claim to “only wear Prada, darling.” Why do we let bikers off the hook for turning themselves into walking billboards for Harley-Davidson? Where’s your individuality, tough guy?
Now, I don’t know motorcycles. But I have acquaintances that do, and they’ve told me, predictably, that each make of bike has different pluses and minuses. Harleys are cool for power, but Hondas and Yamahas are good for other things too. (Obviously, I didn’t pay close enough attention, b/c I ain’t in the market.) But it’s not like Harleys are the everyman’s Lamborghini and the other bikes are two-wheeled Hyundais.
I got to thinking about this from the sheer volume of Harley merchandising crap that we saw at every stop out west. A Harley head bandanna with an embroidered insignia, like Hulk Hogan would wear? $18. Harley watch caps? $15. And maybe I need to get out more, but I had no idea that commemorative shot glasses with something glued on the inside, like a motorhead or a cycle slut or a guy in comically striped prison gear, was such a popular decorative item.
(The same thoughts hit me when I look at NASCAR drivers in their piebald uniforms. Am I really more likely to buy and use SoftScrub because they invested on a patch for this guy’s jumpsuit? But in the drivers’ defense, they do get money for it, which is more than the bikers can say.)
So to all the rugged individualist bikers out there, I say, stand up for yourself. Get a leather jacket stitched with a “Juicy Juice” logo. Wear a t-shirt with Lucille Ball’s face on it. Carry a hat stitched with the logo of a current Broadway show. And next year at Sturgis, just when everyone is good and liquored up, announce to your pals, “Ah, Harley-Davidsons. They’re so, y’know, last year.” You’ll earn my respect, and I’ll even send you a get-well card.