“Every time I start thinking the world is all bad, then I start seeing people out there having a good time on motorcycles. It makes me take another look.” – Steve McQueen

 

He was an old man with a tan wrinkled face and blue overalls, like Uncle Jesse from Dukes of Hazzard.  He sported a long white beard like Santa Claus, a small black skull cap helmet with tan leather gloves and black work boots astride an early 70s vintage Harley Davidson Electra Glide.  Naturally, I gave him an extra long look.

I was riding The Unicorn to coffee after completing a week long northwest tour meaning I still had my neon green mohawk attached to my Nicky Hayden replica helmet.  That mohawk, combined with my black leather jacket, kevlar jeans, high tops and overly loud vintage sport bike likely gave off all the wrong vibes.  Admiring the old man and his Harley, I waved.  Maybe I looked at him too long.

Those colors do attract a lot of attention.

He gave me the finger.

But it wasn’t just the finger, it was his face.  Behind that long leather clad digit extended skyward was a scowl, a tanned and angry downturned face accented by squinty eyes that traced me and my bike as we rode by, eyes and finger perfectly aligned like sights on a pistol aimed at my forehead.  Military technology could learn a lot from this man’s ability to track a moving object.

Why?  Who did he think I was?  Did the abundance of patches on my leather jacket and green mohawk fit his stereotype of a punk biker?  Did my “rice burner” rub him the wrong way?  I will never know.  But I do know this.

Snap judgements are often wrong judgements.  Time spent talking to a person typically reveals motives and circumstances that increase understanding and break down stereotypes in the biker community.  Take the time to get to know someone.

Upon getting the “single finger salute”, this scene in “Easy Rider” popped into my head.

About a year and a half ago I was in the Southern Appalachians during a priceless October as the Road Dirt crew did a working tour out of Iron Horse Motorcycle Resort.  Our destination on one particular day was the Wheels Through Time Museum, a treasure trove of American motorcycling history. Given my choice of rides from Iron Horse’s stable of bikes I chose Yamaha’s three wheeled oddity, the Niken.  I quickly found that if you want stares, ride to an American motorcycle museum on a three wheeled Yamaha that looks like a refugee from a “Transformers” movie.  Naturally, as I parked, an old codger approached me.

“Whaaat da hale is thayaaat?” The old man asked in his drawn out North Carolina accent.

“It’s a Yamaha Niken,” I replied.

“More like a Yamaha nothin’ ” he scowled, then spat tobacco on the ground in front of the bike.  I guess he didn’t like the Yamaha.

If he’d had a conversation with me, he would have discovered how excited I was to peruse the American iron in the Wheels Through Time Museum and that I got to North Carolina on a 30th anniversary limited edition Harley-Davidson Fat Boy I affectionately nicknamed Monica.  Had I pulled up on that black and gold beauty he would have probably shook my hand, maybe even asked me my name, or discovered what I do here at Road Dirt Motorcycle Media.  All it would have taken was a smile and a few discovery questions and he likely would have found that despite our difference in years and bikes we probably had a lot in common.

Thrilling machines, if a bit unusual. Photo by US 129 Photos.

Many years ago I was following a group of Harley riders up a local canyon.  Curiously, the tail end rider was on a Can Am Spyder.  The Spyder struggled negotiating the uphill curves and the steep grade so I passed him and followed the lead group of Harleys to a nearby gas station.  After a few moments of chatting with the Harley riders over the gas pumps the Can Am rider pulled in.  I almost teased him about his trike and his slow pace.

Almost.  Instead of a good natured ribbing about his ride I asked questions.  A conversation began.

Turns out he was a war veteran who, because of his injuries, could not ride a motorcycle.  Like all of us he found a helmet shut out the world and the open road eased his psyche.  He was getting his wheeled therapy, number of wheels be damned.  Did it really matter if it came from two wheels or three?  I thanked him for his service and rode off, giving him the usual wave as I pulled out.

At the end of the day, we all share a common love of the bikes, the rides, the companionship, and the road.

Regardless of what you ride, whether American, British, Euro or Japanese, cafe racer or bar hopper, if what you are riding requires a helmet, you are getting a wave from me.  I think Road Dirt Motorcycle Media mirrors this philosophy because we love bikes of all kinds.  On this site you will see everything from Harley to Honda, MV Augusta to Royal Enfield, sport bikes and cruisers to adventure bikes and even a Slingshot which, yes, requires a helmet in many if not most states.

If I could’ve sat down with the old man who gave me the finger I would’ve bought him a cup of coffee, asked him questions and listened to his story.  At his advanced riding age he’d likely have a lot to share.  It’s even more likely we would’ve discovered that as riders we both had a lot in common.

Don’t we all? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Ted

13 Comments

  1. FLOYD BURDETT

    So often, we “judge” others by the choices that WE make…
    I see this Very Often… whether on the road, or on “social Media”…
    As you know, I also ride a Sport Naked Yamaha FZ1, as well as a V-Twin ‘Cruiser’.
    {and just like that Veteran, I am also planning to soon purchase a Can-Am Ryker, for similar reasons. I am also a “Disabled Veteran” as well as permanent leg and hip injuries from a traffic crash that nearly killed me. [a ‘cager’ ran a Stop Sign and hit me head-on at over 60 mph] So as my legs become more and more limited in movement, over time, it becomes harder to ride 2 wheels.}
    But I see “Harley guys” who do not even acknowledge me on my Yamaha, but will wave when I am on the Intruder… and vise-versa…
    I am the SAME PERSON regardless of which bike I am riding. And am I suddenly “Not Legit” if I have to go to 3 wheels in order to keep riding..?
    Ultimately, it is ALWAYS about the PEOPLE… not What we ride.
    I was driving my Dad’s Station-wagon, one Saturday, and stopped to offer ‘hitch-hiking’ 2 young ladies a ride… they said, “No Thanks… we are waiting for a Different Car.” So I asked them if I would be a ‘different person’ if I went home and got my Custom Corvette..? Both of them cramped into one small seat with one in the other’s lap, a stiff ‘performance’ suspension and somewhat loud exhaust… or a really plush car with A/C (on a hot Summer day), very nice wide leather seats, a nice surround stereo system, etc. But they did not want all of that… they just HAD to have a certain type of car…
    Just like “Politics”… we often make WRONG decisions all based on emotions or “OUR idea” of what is “right” or what is “the Truth” to US… rather than Facts.

    Reply
  2. Jimmy

    I always waved at any biker, no matter what style of bike they were on. Most of those who didn’t return my wave were, drum roll please……Harley riders. I guess they didn’t like the thought that my FZ1 could outrun them in 3rd gear? Heck, I don’t know….

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      Older H-D riders tend to defend themselves, saying stuff like, “Hey, we’re old school, get over it” or “It’s my right, I’ll salute whoever I want”, ad nauseam. No reasoning with @$$-holes. But by and large, riders of all types acknowledge each other out on the roads, I will confirm.

      Reply
  3. Marco

    I take no offense from non-wavers. If you want to wave, wave. If you don’t, don’t. I’m cool either way. But in my experience, it’s always a HD rider that has a one-finger salute or tells me to get a “real” bike. I wonder why.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      I’ve received a single digit salute from “old school” Harley riders once or twice when on a sport, but ironically, when on a cruiser or Harley myself, I’ve been flipped off by stunting “squids” on sport bikes they can barely handle. So there’s a bit of biker disrespect to go around.

      Reply
      • Angela

        Sometimes I’d like to give the one-finger-salute to those Harley riders who refuse to wave because I’m riding the wrong kind of bike.

        I think, “if they knew me, they might think I’m kind of cool.” They don’t know that I basically grew up on the back of my dad’s Harleys (and Hondas & Kawasakis); that my husband used to ride a Dyna Glide; that my father-in-law and brother-in-law both ride Road Kings.

        Nope… An adventure bike is not worthy of a wave. Common bonds be damned.

        Seeing other riders excites me to no end. I don’t care what you’re riding!

        Reply
        • Rob Brooks

          Well-said, Angela. Fortunately the old non-wavers are aging out of motorcycling, except maybe among the 1%ers, and there’s a small segment of “stunters” who can be @$$-holes, but by and large, we’re a welcoming bunch.
          And for the record, we think you’re kind of cool.

          Reply
  4. Ted Brisbine

    My experience is that I am much more likely to get a wave from a Harley rider now than I was 30 years ago. I enjoy the on-the-road brotherhood of all riders and the friendly wave. When I am in a corner, which I will hopefully be when you see me, my hands are likely to stay on the handlebars and you might get a helmet nod. I am most likely to get a wave from a rider early or late in the riding season. Conversely, anywhere near South Dakota in August there are simply too many bikes on the road and the occasional wave must be coming from a real die-hard waver.

    Reply
  5. Bruce

    Great piece, and I heartily agree. Everybody gets a wave from me, and handlebars are essentially where I draw the line. No hostility beyond that, mind you… we’re just strangers is all. Very happy to discover your site!

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Bruce! We’ll check out your site and podcast as well!

      Reply
    • Ted M Edwards

      I would even wave to someone on a Yamaha Niken. I know you love them Bruce.

      Reply
      • Rob Brooks

        You love them too, after riding one!

        Reply

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