I’m a motorcycle enthusiast!
One of my interests in life is my mild fascination with languages…in fact if I wished for a super power, then being able to speak and understand any language in the world, would come very close to the top of my list.
I am intrigued and confused by words, terms and phrases in equal measure and, at times, I wonder why people place meaning and emphasis on a particular word.
I think back to early last year when the Oxford Dictionary changed the definition of the word: ‘BIKER’ to: “A motorcyclist especially one who is a member of a motorcycle gang or group”
This was changed from its predecessor of: “A motorcyclist especially one who is a member of a gang…a long haired biker in dirty denims”
The term…’BIKER’ means different things to different people, and this is replicated all over the world in all sorts of languages. There are bikers, motorcyclists, riders…”I am a biker!”, “Je suis un motard!”, “Sono un motociclista!” etc.
When I was growing up in my home town in the 70’s, British bikes were a dying or forgotten breed…certainly for my generation at least. European and American brands were not known or were so rare that they never came up in conversation. So the only bikes that were around…were Japanese bikes! They were motorbikes and the people who rode on them were termed ‘Bikers’
I never used the term: ‘Motorcyclist’ or ‘Motorcycle’…in fact I only started to hear those terms when I sat in front of the TV and watched some American programmes like ‘CHiPs’
Of course you could always spot the difference between riders…be those the ‘long haired greasy biker’ or as was locally known ‘Grebo’ and the riders who would just get on their bikes with white helmets, white top box and high vis sash, like my old French teacher would do! There were of course the moped riders and the everyday rider…but they were all referred to as ‘Biker’…someone who rode a motorbike!
As the 70’s moved into the 80’s, then as fashions & music changed, so did motorbikes! Now more ‘motorcycles’ were emerging with hidden engines by plastic fairings, those impersonating the race machines of the track. Films like ‘Silver Dream Racer’ starring David Essex, making race bikes cool, thus encouraging manufacturers to bring to the market race replica bikes.
As years passed, motorbikes and motorcycles became more powerful and more importantly more reliable. Riders were less inclined to make repairs and perform
maintenance and hence less likely to be covered in grease and oil. The ‘Dirty Biker’ became ‘cleaner’ and ‘brighter’…the motorcyclist became a rider of machines that would serve multiple purposes depending on the requirement of the individual! So as motorcycles mirrored the track bikes, so did the everyday rider follow suit and copy the track stars. One & two piece leathers of varying colours were evermore available to the average rider to wear on the road…complete with in built armour and the oh so important knee sliders, race hump & race boots!
During these passing years…the ‘biking community’ has grown bigger, stronger, more affluent, and technology has enabled more travel and better communication…especially through social media.
It is now one big happy family of different people who ride different motorcycles, motorbikes, mopeds and scooters…not forgetting those off roady types on motocrossers, enduros and adventure bikes, etc.
When I think of a definition…I want it to be definitive and I want it to accurately represent something. Unfortunately, for me, the dictionary has failed in this regard. It was outdated and inaccurate then as it is now. It does not represent what I remember and what I see today…but are we all to blame for that inadequacy?
We all use terms like: “Bikers”, “Motorcyclists”, “Riders”…and for some they mean the same thing, for others they mean something completely different. Is it the mere fact we ride bikes…or is it something deeper, more soulful than that? Is it about lifestyle…is it about being part of a biking group or community…Is it about having a tangible everyday involvement with bikes and an overriding passion for all things motorcycle related?
If you ask 10 riders to define these terms, you’ll probably get ten different answers as each will personalise the definition and this may have been influenced by their own experiences and how these terms have been used in social circles, local environments and by media and film.
I may be a ‘Biker’…but I may not be your type of biker! I may be a ‘Motorcyclist’…but resemble nothing like others you know! I may be a ‘Rider’ or even a pilot…but we could not be more unlike each other!
The biking community has changed…it has grown and become more widespread, but it is vastly different around the world. We share a common bond in that we ride predominantly on two wheels…but that can apply to three as well. We may share lifestyle & preferences choices with others, we may belong to groups or be as individuals. We may be more inclined to spark up a conversation with another rider who is a stranger to us and we may eagerly nod or wave at another passing rider…but…we may also be not so inclined!
“The times they are a changing” Bob Dylan sang, and no more has it changed in the biking world. Are we less likely to address a ‘biking community’ but more likely to address a ‘biking faction’ these days? Is it possible to truly define the undefinable?
How do you define yourself and what are your biking values? Do you openly acknowledge other bikers & would you stop to assist another in need? Would you walk into a biker pub or go to a biker rally and feel at home, welcomed…or intimidated? Would you define your interest in bikes as a passion, as a lifestyle, as a mode of transport or all of them?
How do others regard you…do you live up to their preconceptions and is it common to break down barriers?
For me…the term or the word is not important! It does not define who I am or what I may appear to be or even how I wish to be considered. It is a feeling, it is the sensation, it is the highs and lows and the riding experience, the people you meet and the places you go, that make me such a motorcycle enthusiast…no no…a motorcycle passionista…errm…well maybe bikes are just in my blood!
They were put there as a child and have never left…regardless of whether I do or don’t ride, whether I ride alone or with other riders and whether I go to biking hangouts, events, rallies or races!
Motorcycling, I suppose, is a sub culture and within that there are many further sub cultures. When trying to engage with the ‘motorcycling sub culture’, many struggle with a mass appeal to the whole audience and more so nowadays…the sub – sub cultures are now individual targets for manufacturers, event organisers, accessory and apparel vendors, etc.
This is one hurdle that has hindered my path since launching the safety initiative 3 years ago. How to make something that can apply to all and how to engage with the whole biking community or the sub cultures within it! How to appeal to experienced riders and novice alike…those interested in sports bikes and those more into cruiser styles, etc.
It’s great to be different and the same, and it would be great to know the difference…but maybe some things should just be left unanswered!