Monday, 5 August 2013

Editorial - Thoughts on the Cult of Persecution

SV650 Custom Streetfighter

Time for a break from legitimate motorcycle journalism to showcase another rambling, raving editorial from OddBike's benevolent dictator and sole contributor, Jason Cormier.

Being a dedicated long-term motorcyclist ingrains in individuals a certain mindset that is particular to our sport. In joining a tight-knit fraternity of like-minded people who share a common passion, odds are you will start to develop a strong sense of belonging and will become defensive of your hobby. But few hobbies have as confrontational an attitude as motorcycling. Therein lies the peculiarity of being a “true” rider – you will find that you are constantly defending yourself against an onslaught of dangers, detractors, authority figures, and general disdain for your enthusiasm. This brings with it an attitude that I can only describe as a “Cult of Persecution” whereby your very participation in the sport forces you to develop a strong us-vs-them mentality.

SV650 Suzuki Streetfighter Custom


Being a motorcycle rider in itself is a process of exposing oneself to danger. It’s not, as the average person would think, due to the nature of straddling an obscenely fast machine that is powered by a series of barely-contained explosions with nothing to protect you from harm aside from what you are wearing, though that does play a factor. No, the real danger in riding lies in the very real threat posed by other people. A good education in how to ride a motorcycle usually begins with “here’s how you control the bike, here are the rules of the road, and by the way, everyone else on the road is a colossal idiot who is driving with the express intent of killing you dead”. The best piece of advice I was ever given as a beginning rider, aside from “look where you want to go”, was “ride like everyone is trying to kill you”. It’s an unfortunate fact but the majority of accidents are due to interactions with other people on the road (see page 4 for a good summary).
Honda Interceptor VF750F Ratbike

The Road is a dangerous place to be a rider. We must contend with the constant presence of these moving hazards in addition to the usual considerations of weather, road surface, obstacles, doddering pedestrians, schizophrenic wildlife, self-entitled bicyclists, and anything else that might conspire to ruin your day. You have to contend with distracted drivers piloting massive boxes of steel and glass who simply “didn’t see you” when they abruptly cut in front of you, across two lanes of traffic, without turn signals, and without any sense of spatial awareness. As such a long-term rider who has survived any time on public roads is going to develop a keen insight into how astonishingly dumb and dangerous other drivers are, which will inform his or her level of perception while riding. You must constantly assume that the drivers around you will do the most irresponsible, negligent and idiotic maneuver possible – then when they (inevitably) perform this action, you will be prepared to react and you won’t be caught off guard. This constant heightened level of awareness, and the regular close calls experienced by every rider, is probably the single most important determination of this attitude of persecution that we riders nurture. We say everyone is out to kill us in jest, but after a few years on the road you'll swear it is the honest-to-God truth.
BMW Honda Cabot Trail Cape Breton

The other determinate is the consistently ignorant and ill-informed opinions you are bound to encounter spouted off by any halfwit who decides that motorcycles are bad and you should feel bad for riding them. We all know these dolts, and we all lose a considerable amount of respect for them as soon as they open their maws and vomits out the terms “dangerous”, “scary”, or that cliché that grates to no end: “donorcycles”. Yes, we all know “that guy” or “that gal” who has thrown the ol' DC at us, with that smug expression on their face as if they were so incredibly clever to have come up with such a brilliant contraction. Because I haven’t heard that damnable term from every white-bread nitwit who is too scared to throw a leg over. Worse still, in my opinion, are the fallen riders - those former motorcyclists who have turned vehement enemies of the sport because they got scared off by some unfortunate circumstances. They are often the first ones to pull the out the dreaded "I knew someone who was killed on a bike" card, which is one of the most insulting and insensitive comments you can throw at a motorcyclist.
Sportbikes Montreal

If I have been riding bikes for many years, and I too have known many people who have been killed on bikes, and have had my own share of close encounters with the far side of death, you can be goddamned sure I’m well aware of any real or imagined “danger” and I chose to ride anyway because nothing else in my life makes me as happy as a perfect day on the back of a motorcycle. I'd rather take my chances and live, instead of resigning myself to an impossibly dull Suburbanite life with nothing to look forward to except playing golf every Sunday morning with a bunch of old dead-on-the-inside WASP men. Frank Drebin summarized it quite nicely: "You take a chance getting up in the morning, crossing the street, or sticking your face in a fan."
Sportbike Dyno Day

Time to digress. With all that being said, you can argue with these people until you pass out – they will never understand that the danger isn’t inherent, it is introduced in large part by absent-minded jerks like themselves, and the negative perceptions they propagate does nothing to advance our sport. They had long-ago convinced themselves that you are stupid for being so irresponsible as to enjoy yourself on a motorbike, and they will proselytize the error of your ways because they somehow feel smarter than you for recognizing the risks involved. This whole attitude against bikes speaks to a certain anthropomorphizing of the machine, whereby these naysayers fail to acknowledge that there is a person on these “donorcycles”, a person who extracts great enjoyment from the act of riding. To these detractors the machine and man are one, but not in the positive sense – it is a result of ignorance and a lack of respect that they view motorcycles as machinations that are threatening and dangerous in themselves, their inherent nature being unrelated and completely divorced from the pilots perched atop them or the circumstances surrounding them. Simply put without the flowery language – they fucking forgot that there are actual people riding these motorcycles.
Ducati Owner's Club of Montreal

So you have the actual dangers introduced by others and the constant parroting of the perceived dangers from everyone else. Those two factors alone would be enough to introduce an inferiority complex in the best of us. But there’s more. So much more.

The very act of riding a motorcycle inspires visions of outlaws and neo-wild-west fantasies of lawless escape on both sides of the continuum. Many motorcyclists flaunt the law and cultivate an image of badassitude, be it the patch-addled biker gang reject or the leather-clad wheelie-popping Power Ranger racer-wannabe. Lately we’ve had a resurgence in the Rocker image, with many a perfectly-groomed young punk astride his/her carefully modified classic machine outside the local espresso bar – you might call them café-racers, I’d call them hipsters who graduated from fixies. I’ll leave motocrossers out of our catalogue of stereotypes because they operate outside the public eye on closed courses and backwood trails, the lucky buggers. The ignorant public makes no attempt to look past these carefully constructed images and immediately labels anyone on two wheels an obnoxious, antisocial menace, further reinforcing the old tropes. To them we are nothing more than noisy, negligent, speed-crazed hooligans.The façade effectively becomes the reality. And then one side informs the other, and the cycle continues. And all the while you are creating a further division between the rider and the “other”.
Kawasaki Zx12 Burnout

Our predilection for modifying and tinkering with our rides tends to aggravate things. We are not ones to leave well enough alone. I can't recall the last time I encountered a bone-stock motorcycle. The obvious (and most illegal) changes are exhausts and fueling to improve sound and performance, which puts us at odds with every noise and emissions law this side of California. We love the hearty sound of an uncorked motor, and the precise throttle response of proper carburetion. A little extra performance is always welcome as well. Yes, we read those "for off road use only" tags and ignored them, even if we tell Mr. Officer we had no idea these pipes were illegal. We adjust fuel metering to make the bikes respond properly and run smoothly, something that is often lacking in lean-as-dammit-to-abide-by-the-EPA stock tuning. We make changes to the point where we no longer recognize the laws we are breaking, we just take it for granted and expect to be given a free pass because there is no way we wouldn't change this items. And then get sore when we are taken to task for our violations and fight back as if we were in the right all along. It becomes the classic outlaw mentality, where we no longer recognize the nature of  our deeds and take offense to anyone who tries to serve us punishment - only now we get mad because we were issued a fix-it ticket, not because we were caught robbing the Union Pacific No. 3.      
Motorcycle Flaming Burnout Kawasaki ZX12

Insurance companies, government bureaucracies, and law enforcement further ingrain our sense of alienation. Depending on your locale, you might face obscenely high insurance and/or registration rates for being so bold as to chose a motorcycle as your mode of conveyance. Speaking from personal experience, in my province of Quebec we have faced significant opposition over the last 10 years in the form of astronomical increases in registration costs. I currently pay $1100 per year (taxes included) to register my bike. Register. A license plate and a slip of paper, and a vague statement about how my choice of "high-risk" motorcycle is too expensive to insure under our no-fault insurance system in spite of my 10 years riding experience and a flawless driving record. I still pay my actual vehicle insurance on top of that fee. The cost of registration peaked at $1400 a year and were scheduled to go over $1800, but those kind souls at the SAAQ (our dimwitted equivalent of the DMV) were so generous as to reduce our rates to $1100, only slightly up from the the $320 we paid before 2008. I just rolled my eyes so hard I think I may have detached my retinas.
Honda NC24 BMW Flying Brick

To add insult to injury we are charged an additional annual fee on our license renewal to retain our motorcycle endorsement, and every time I call or visit a SAAQ outlet they ask me if I want to keep renewing my motorcycle class as if it were some blight on my record that I should erase. And so it is that we here are made to feel like second-class citizens, guilty of enjoying a passion that was seen as an easy target to milk for funds. Lately we've been targeted en-masse for loud exhausts, not to mention the usual speed traps, with widespread harassment and hefty fines becoming the norm for riders in this province. It all contributes to a general sense of malaise and disrespect that has given our province a bad name among motorcyclists all over the country. Aside from destroying the local motorcycle industry and putting a serious damper on bike sales, it has turned off a lot of would-be two-wheeled tourists who would rather not encounter our notoriously overzealous law enforcement.
1987 Honda VFR400R NC24

Sometimes the sense of persecution can be indirect as well. Recently there have been some slapshod repairs done to some local riding backroads in the form of tarsnakes. Tarsnakes are a threat to riders in general, being enough to upset traction in a turn, but these are a particularly sinister type of 'snake that are the most diabolical thing I've ever encountered on a public road. They are some sort of new formulation that is horrifically slippery - black-ice slippery. Forget diesel spills and gravel - these are sudden-death overtime game enders. Riding over them is terrifying, the bike simply skates and shimmies across the surface - and that is at speeds well below the limit. There have been several serious accidents along one popular stretch of road where these menaces were applied. My immediate reaction upon encountering this stretch of road was that some pencil-necked bureaucrat had approved a new supplier for the material that would save the government a few pennies per year, only to inadvertently endanger thousands of motorcyclists across the province. I felt personally affronted - someone had made a casual, uninformed decision that might result in my death or injury. A few half-hearted conspiracy theories were concocted that the locals were trying to drive us off their road with shoddy repairs (my personal theory of them driving their cars up and down the route at 10 under the posted limit without giving way is continually proven by subjective testing, however). It's clearly a case of inadequate testing, or poor application of the repair, but our immediate reaction as riders tends towards "they are out to get us!". 
Ducati 916 Winter

The attitude of riders in these situations can sometimes be quite surprising to people outside the motorcycle community. After years of harassment we tend to become indignant at any suggestion of wrongdoing, no matter how wrong our doing may be. We snap like cornered animals whenever someone denounces us - no room for polite discussion. With our recent rash of loud-pipe tickets issued as part of the Quebec crackdown on noisy bikes (motorcycles are specifically and explicitly targeted) the prevailing attitude has been to fight back and take the citations to court. While I'm not one to advocate laying down and accepting the bullying of an authority at the expense of your rights, let's not kid ourselves - if you break the law, expect to get caught and prepare to pay for the infraction. If your pipes aren't legal and you get a ticket, you shouldn't be surprised. If you speed and get pulled over, you shouldn't be blaming the cops. If you get caught pulling wheelies... You get the idea. We are not any more above the law than those pompous dolts on bicycles who ignore every traffic signal and then moan loudly on the local news about the injustice of getting ticketed for blowing through a red light. Except we aren't as likely to get the media airtime to make ourselves look like self-entitled morons.
Ducati 900 Super Sport and 916

This sort of opposition to anything and everything that impinges on our riding can create odd situations, like we are seeing in many US states where there is vocal opposition to mandatory helmet laws. I think anyone with half a brain can agree that crashing without a helmet means you are going to have a bad time. A helmet can and will save your life, I would hope everyone is willing to admit. The point of fighting mandatory helmet laws is not because of any objection to the helmet itself so much as it is to fight the removal of one more element of personal freedom. Riders who object to helmet laws do so to protect their right to chose for themselves, even if that choice is one of self-endangerment. Soon the actual law becomes secondary to the cause it represents and much rhetoric and misinformation gets bandied about on both sides, and pretty soon a nice little quagmire has developed where riders are in the news claiming that helmets somehow don't contribute to safety. Then you end up with surreal developments like the AMA standing against helmet laws and making motorcyclists in general look dumb. And then when the laws are finally repealed, the motorcycle injury rates promptly spike. We fight to the extreme and end up going backwards, all the while alienating ourselves from the public.
Ducati 916

I try to maintain a certain balance in my attitude towards "outsiders". I defend my interests and my love of the sport. I will never let anyone get away with dismissing my community with ignorant rhetoric. I maintain a healthy skepticism of the machinations of authority and their supposed benevolence to us tax-paying motorists (fool me once, shame on you; fool me 3,586 times, what the fuck am I still doing here?). But despite this I remain a civil and agreeable member of my community. I wish to present a strong but friendly image to non-riders, one of a man who is passionate and will defend his interests vehemently but without aggression or unreasonable demands. I think this is the best approach for the community in general - throw off the bad-boy image and replace it with a cool, collected and intelligent disposition that shows confidence without obnoxious bravado. Show that we are people who enjoy what we do, and that we won't take your bullshit sitting down. Civil action and public discourse is required - if we stand in the corner and complain amongst ourselves, further alienating our group from the public, we won't get our issues noticed and we certainly won't get anything changed in our favour. Our position in society is a precarious one at times, and we are impinged upon from all sides. The cult of persecution is real and entirely justified, but it should be an impetus to act and improve our station, not to back ourselves into a corner and lash out at our attackers.
SV650 916 Cabot Trail

9 comments:

  1. That was righteous! Perhaps what's needed is another 'You meet the nicest people on a Honda' ad campaign.

    http://xdeadwolf.blogspot.co.uk/

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  2. You really need to come to Europe. Italy, preferably.

    Our cities are old and weren't built with traffic in mind, so traffic jams are a thing to behold and riding around on scooters and bikes is a way of life - by necessity if not for passion. Also, our driving age is 18 here, but you can own a 50cc scooter or bike at 14 and a 125cc at 16, which means there are four precious years in which a lot of youngsters can't help but have their introduction to motorized transportation on a two-wheeler.

    As a result everybody's familiar with single-track vehicles from mopeds to crotch rockets, almost everybody in medium-to-big cities has at some point in their life owned one, and though in more sparsely populated places people tend to prefer cars nobody will bat an eyelid at bikes - and those who do ride are more likely to do so out of passion.

    Besides, the entirety of Italian culture is permeated with an admiration for speed. While this does give us more than our fair share of insane speed-demons who go at 200 km/h in areas even half that speed would be unsafe, it also makes it so that saying you're a motorcyclist almost always grants you more admiration than any negative feeling.

    While there are a few of those people you mention here - the ones who see motorcycling as a thing of Satan - their number is far lower and they are rarely taken seriously. Active movements against motorcycling pretty much don't exist, most people on the road expect bikes and act accordingly (not that there aren't idiots, and it's always good to ride as if everybody's trying to kill you - it's just that they probably actually aren't), and even those people who themselves don't like bikes won't usually rant against them.

    We have bike clubs here, but not out of a need to defend the hobby - such a need doesn't really exist.

    Add a somewhat lax enforcement of speed limits and twisty roads aplenty, and you can see why I tell you you need to come here. :)

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    1. It does seem to be a peculiarity of the North American market where bikes are demonized and seen as nothing more than a nuisance/dangerous toy. I have long looked at Europe wistfully, reading your mags and listening to stories of how free and accepted riders are there (speed cameras excepted). There is a culture against riders here, fed by the outlaw biker stereotype that that has been around since the end of the Second World War.

      Quebec is actually one of the number one riding provinces (as in most sales and registrations) despite being one of the worst places to actually ride. Not only do we deal with all this registration bullshit and overzealous law enforcement, but the roads here are atrocious. Some of the worst I've ever encountered anywhere in North America. Funny how that is. There is also the matter of the high-profile biker wars that are still fresh in the minds of many Quebecers.

      But I'm Canadian and I love this country, won't be leaving anytime soon. I'll just keep fighting for my passions and hoping that someday we will be "accepted".

      I likely won't stay in this province, mind you - especially if they continue their crusade against riders.

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    2. I wasn't necessarily telling you to move here, just to have an extended vacation with a rented bike. :)

      I make no guarantees that you won't want to move afterwards, though. :P

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  3. So much of my experience of animosity towards riders seems to stem from.... helmet design... I live in an area with very narrow lanes, when I drive a car it becomes important to see what people coming the other way are doing, to see their faces and examine their mood (irritated tourist in too-wide 4x4/ smiling local granny who knows how to reverse). Too many bikers have over-reflective helmets and it seems to dehumanising to look at; being 'dangerous'(and worse insults...) is one thing when directed at a faceless sci-fi-esque 'thing', something much other when directed at someone clearly recognisable as a human being, let alone someone obviously having the time of their life (well duh, that's motorcycling for you). If I could 'push' policy, I would encourage open face helmets, to bike is human, we just need to make it seem so. Be interesting to see what people thought?

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    1. I respectfully agree and simultaneously vehemently disagree.

      I have several l motorcyles and matching gear for each. From a retro Honda Elite, a ZX10, an S&S
      124 in a BTR frame to an FLHR dresser.

      The reactions I get in the same areas and on the same streets varies greatly, but I am the same rider.

      Your ideal of a "push" for a legislation that requires conformity in a draconian manner to correct the perceptions of others is totally against every facet of why we ride. It is a uniqually personal sport AND lifestyle. If you are looking for conformity and acceptance, you have either lost or never truly understood motorcycling in any of it's many facets.

      The very first credo is enjoy the ride and leave conventions and preconceptions behind to the masses of non-riders...it is your sport, not theirs. And how you enjoy the experience is not a right to impose others to only enjoy it your way for your comfort zone.

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  4. Its governing through legislation.
    Your government is your health care provider and your vehicle insurance system. There is no competition to drive down cost. Since the government took over your insurance the at fault party is no longer footing the complete bill for their clients actions you become an average because your insurance is the same source. Injury to a rider is usually a LOT more then a driver. So they decided penalize your free will to drive the vehicle where your injury is likely to be higher in a wreck (despite who is at fault) because while you are young and healthy you are suppose to be bank rolling the elderly heath care expenses with your tax dollars, not using your insurance.
    It wont be long before its the same in the US with the unaffordable health care act. :(

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    1. I would avoid using blanket statements about the Canadian health care system, because Quebec is unique - no other province operates this way. Anywhere else in Canada I pay the same (or less) for vehicle insurance and a nominal registration fee. I would also pay considerably less income tax. And no extra fees for health premiums.

      Quebec has the highest income tax in all of Canada, in addition to having the highest healthcare fees/premiums. That's due to many political and cultural reasons that I won't get into here. Do not mistake the system here in Quebec as the same as all of Canada, or some indication of "big government" in this country. It's not the case.

      That's why I'm finally moving out of Quebec in January. I've had it and I'm doing something about it.

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    2. Does your move include a change in Career? Hope whatever has allowed the move works out for you.

      Its fair to call me on my interpretation of the Canadian systems. My knowledge is dated. I left Detroit in the late 70's so the frequent trips my family made to Canada ended then.
      One of my best friends in High school Here in Marietta GA family were Canadian Ex patriots. His father being a doctor who left when the government became so involved in the healthcare system but even that was 25 years ago.

      I will make you sick though. My yearly Registration on my 95 BMW k1100lt is under $60 a year. My monthly full coverage insurance that includes 100k of medical and $50k of liability is $36 a Month. Granted I drive a bike that is considered a Touring bike for older adults despite how minor the difference are then the RS and....well I'm getting closer to 50 then I am to 40. Somebody in the late 20's early 30's would be paying more for the insurance.

      I'm sure after my government finishes screwing up our heath care system they will try to federally centralize vehicle stuff and screw it up too.

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