Schooling the Public

This what people see that prompts them to ask "Aren't you hot?"

This is what people see that prompts them to ask “Aren’t you hot?”

I thought it might be fun to share a sampling of statements I hear often from Mr. and Mrs. Non-riding Public, along with my usual response. Perhaps these statements are familiar to you, too. And maybe your responses are similar to mine. Whatever.

#1: “Aren’t You Hot?”

This is directed toward the fact that I’m wearing a jacket, riding pants, gloves, etc. This question often makes me scratch my head, because I assume that people understand the concept of wind chill factor and can imagine that the gear I have on is perfect, not only for comfort, but also for protection.

Yeah, they don’t seem to understand that riding gear is a compromise. Even the best vented gear can be hot even at speed, but I won’t ride without protection. Grasping that concept seems a bit too difficult for Mr. and Ms. Public without some patient education.

My response: “Not once I’m rolling over 30mph.” “Besides, I need the protection, just in case”.

Loud pipes are the result of riders who want to be loud.

Loud pipes are the result of riders who want to be loud.

#2: “I Don’t Like Motorcycles…They’re too Loud”

This usually comes up in conversation at parties when I disclose that I am a motorcycle rider. I can fully understand the non-motorcyclists’ reaction to obnoxiously loud pipes. Even as a career rider, I am annoyed and barely tolerant of loud motorcycles. Imagine the lack of tolerance Mr. and Ms. Public has for riders who invade their peace and quiet.

My response: “I don’t like loud motorcycles either.” “Do you know that motorcycles aren’t loud when they are ridden out of the showroom?”

Stunned silence usually follows as they try to comprehend that someone would take a perfectly good (quiet) motorcycle and make it obnoxious…on purpose.

I get it. A motorcycle that makes no sound seems to lack a visceral depth that most riders value. But, personally, I’ve come to value not invading others’ auditory space with my exhaust, so I keep my street bike exhausts stock.

I recently rode an electric “Zero” motorcycle and I can tell you that the total lack of engine sound did not take away from the awesome performance and  unique experience of this torquey, fun machine. I contend that excessive noise detracts from riding enjoyment, rather than enhances it.

And then there is the “Loud Pipes Save Lives” theory. While I understand that loud pipes can get attention, making a bunch of racket is NOT a reliable way to get people to avoid you. Lane position and other strategies that allow you to be SEEN are much more effective ways to avoid a mishap.

Besides, sound is directional, so exhausts pointed rearward are of little benefit when the most likely collision scenario involves an approaching vehicle turning left across your lane at an intersection.

Yes, motorcycling exposes us to risk, which is why we wear protection.

Yes, motorcycling exposes us to risk, which is why we wear protection.

#3: “Aren’t Motorcycles Dangerous?”

This question needs no explanation, except that people who ask are implying that because it is risky to ride a motorcycle, that I must be a person who exercises poor judgment. These are often people who value safety and therefore distance themselves from risk…at least things they deem risky, which is most likely things they don’t understand.

Not everyone who asks this question is afraid of risk. Sometimes they are just responding to a preconceived notion of how dangerous motorcycles are. This deduction comes from horror stories heard from acquaintances and from sensational news reports. We all have prejudices based on indirect knowledge and assumptions. These people are simply reacting to what they think is the truth.

Unfortunately, it is true that riding a motorcycle is dangerous. So, how do I respond?

My response: “Yes, riding a motorcycle isn’t for everybody. If you’re not a person who is committed to being as skillful and conscientious as possible, then you probably don’t belong on a bike.”

I guess I'm not a real biker...I have no tattoos.

I guess I’m not a real biker…I have no tattoos.

#4: “Where are Your Tattoos?”

Really? Yep. This silly question usually comes from the mouths of people who make assumptions about what motorcycle riders “look like” and probably don’t personally know a motorcycle rider, or don’t know a motorcycle rider who does not have tattoos.

The “biker types” get the attention of the general public because they make a lot of noise and go out of their way to look tough with their ink and leather “costumes”. These bikers get Mr and Ms. Public’s attention so that their perception is that motorcycle riders dress the way the loud riders dress.

I challenge the ignorance of stereotypes by looking “normal”. Sure, I have my own costume, but it is that of a rider who embraces a motorcycling lifestyle as a sport, daily transportation, and a way to see faraway places.

My response: “Shut the Hell Up.” Just Kidding. I might joke about having ink in places I can’t show in public and say it in a way that makes them question their assumptions of what some riders look like. And then I walk away.

Three people, three motorcycles.

Yes, women ride their own motorcycles.

#5: “How Do You Get Three People on one Motorcycle or do you have a sidecar?”

This question was directed toward my wife when she, our then 10 year old daughter, and I walked into a restaurant on a family motorcycle trip several years ago with all of our riding gear in hand. Caroline hesitated for a moment in disbelief as she finally realized that the person assumed that women do not ride their own motorcycles, therefore the only explanation must be that we all somehow fit on one motorcycle or that a sidecar was the answer. A woman on her own bike never crossed their mind.

Her response: “I ride my own motorcycle, and have been for over ten years.”


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Ken is author of "Motorcycling the Right Way” and "Riding in the Zone" (book and blog). He is also the "Street Savvy" columnist for Motorcyclist Magazine, and former longtime author of the Proficient Motorcycling and Street Strategies columns for Motorcycle Consumer News. Ken is Lead Instructor for Tony's Track Days, a 20 year Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor, and owner of Riding in the Zone Motorcyclist Training.

Posted in All Things Motorcycle, Family of Riders, Motorcycle Musings, Women and Motorcycling Tagged with: , , , ,
11 comments on “Schooling the Public
  1. Don A. Riedel says:

    I almost always carry my helmet into a restaurant and place it in a visable place. Why? It usually sparks a conversation either with other motorcyclists who aren’t riding at the moment or from people sitting nearby. I love communicating my enjoyment of riding and usually end up talking wirh very interesting people. Some find out that we are generally pretty nice people. Lots of people are fascinated woth my lifestyle and sharong it is part of the fun.

  2. Jeff says:

    A bunch of stereotypical biker dudes watched me pull up to the fuel pumps on a blisteringly hot summer day. I was wearing full mesh gear and honestly I was comfortable. This one guy, who was sunburned to a crisp like a cooked red lobster says, “Get a load of this ass&*#e, who’s dressed for winter.” I replied, I’m not dressed for Winter, I am dressed for the fall but I doubt you’d understand.”

  3. Ken Condon says:

    So funny/sad, Cassie.

  4. Cassie says:

    You forgot the question, “What do you do when in rains?”
    “Oh that’s easy! I get wet!” They don’t need to hear all of the specs of my gear protecting me not only from impact, but getting soaked, and my liners on the side cases…. They always seem please with the image of me looking like a wet dog with soggy belongings.

    When my mom and I road cross country together we got the question, “Does your husband/dad know you are doing this?” REALLY?? I assumed that they only wanted to hear, “Oh crap Mom we forgot to tell Dad that we took off on motorcycles across the country together! We should call him. Think he’ll be mad?” So I gave it to them and I was faced with rolled eyes. In hindsight I might not have been so coy, however I was young and quite pleased with myself at the time 🙂 Lastly, around Arkansas we got the ol’, “Where is your dad/husband?” Again young and quite witty, “I told ‘im what would happen if he didn’t hold on tighter!”

    Things Mr. and Mrs. Public say! Ken you should make this your next book.

  5. Peter Stevenson says:

    People are confused when I say I’ve been riding a motorcycle for over 47 years. I then say “I’m a motorcyclist…not a biker. No tattoos, loud pipes, nor bad attitude!” I enjoy riding, not pi$$ing people off or playing the roll of a tuff guy.

  6. Jeannine Condon says:

    I was hoping you’d bring up the 3 people on a motorcycle one! I remember that comment on one of our early trips. I also remember multiple instances of people calling me your son when I was on the back. I still get weird looks or comments when people realize that I’m a girl on a bike. My favorites are the little girls that show their sudden excitement that “Hey! girls can ride motorcycles too?!?”

  7. Greg Jarvis says:

    Aren’t you hot? (When uttered by the tee shirt & shorts cruiser rider)
    Well… Yeah, but I’m cooler than you.

    Usually takes a minute to sink in.. Always uttered w/ a friendly smile.

  8. Bill Kenney says:

    When asked, “Aren’t you hot?” my answer is either ” I would rather sweat than bleed” or ” This suit is air conditioned” It is amazing how many people believe the second one!

  9. Jeffrey Meyers says:

    This was great! I too often tell non-motorcyclists that “stock” motorcycles are quiet from the factory and these folks are always shocked. They assumed that people bought them loud right off the showroom floor. I then often tell them to watch one of my all time favorite episodes of South Park called “The F-Word” which nails the loud pipe issue right on the head!!

  10. Adam Novitt says:

    I’ve really had it with loud pipes. It actually makes me embarrassed to identify myself as a motorcyclist.

    I’ve taken to telling other motorcyclists that their bikes are too loud when I am in town where bikes congregate. I do this in a simple and direct way. “Your pipes are too loud.” People have too loud pipes because the culture allows and encourages it. I am one person determined not to be part of that ennoblement.

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