Motorcyclists Without Motorcycles

Yes, you, with the bumble bee perforated leather DUCATI jacket at the 2nd Avenue F train station: why aren’t you above ground and on your Scrambler? Perhaps you rode your GSXR to the St. George Ferry Terminal, but that D-30 back protector can not make the waist hugging, shoulder puffing SUZUKI one piece any more comfortable nor any less stylish. Similarly, while period-correct behind the bars of Honda Hawk GT650, I know the perforation from shoulder to wrist on that seemingly custom stoney white, asymmetrically pinstriped jacket isn’t doing you any temperate favors on the Downtown N train.

It is not my paid profession or my earned place to make consultant style trend judgements in the world of Fashion. I am not ​Chris Black​! Telling people what they can and cannot wear is not a qualification I-or really anyone-fit. But, from the standpoint of comfortability, the weight of a multi-millimeter thick leather jacket isn’t a wearable workout,but rather a stocky, squeaking, and unruly molded animal skin. The spine fracture preventative padding digs into your skin and unflatteringly stretches the exterior of the jacket, creating what would be otherwise concerning lumps, and, even if you remove the figure misconstruing protection, the mesh inner lining strangles your pores into a perspiration-steeped mess. I can confidently say that the lightning bolt patterned black and grey leather Harley Davidson jacket is uncomfortable in line at the Williamsburg Whole Foods. Form over function it is.

For the most devout riders, however, the necessity of function over form isn’t so much as a semi-conscious stacking of the statistical odds but a creed to live by. I’m not here to preach the hymn of all-the-gear-all-the time or to dictate what precautions individuals who ride should take. While I, having been properly influenced by my employment at Union Garage, am a subscriber to an amended version of All-The-Gear-All-The-Time—simply add ‘Almost’ before ‘all’—and numerous ​studies ​verify safety gear’s protective vitality, it is truly upon the rider to make a choice with their survival at the center. In addition to the parable of ATGATT, the vocabulary of a road weathered motorcyclist will dutifully include “dress for the slide, not the ride.” To keep your nervous system intact and your skeleton properly aligned in said slide(it’s not a matter of if you crash but when you crash)a DOT or SNELL approved full-face helmet(to keep your brain synapses communicating), a leather or textile jacket with CE rated armor(skin grafting and casts are expensive and painful), riding specific jeans with kevlar sewn into the “crash areas”(see skin grafting again), boots with a stiff toe and bolstered ankle(Dr. Martens will burn, slip, and still let your ankle shatter), and knuckle reinforced gloves should suffice. For a group so supposedly steeped in thrilling adventure and a nonchalant coolness, the potential for catastrophe seems to cycle through the devoted rider’s psyche almost too frequently.

Let it be known; the proliferation of Harley Davidson apparel is not personally offensive- I have no particular affinity, an ambiguity really, towards the brand-and is not surprising, seeing as the fervent domestic patriotism of Harley’s hit-the-open-road marketing has been part of what keeps them in business. And that is exactly why sleeveless, belly button adjacent Harley Davidson t-shirts have become a staple in the closet of metropolis bound tweens, teens, and twenty-somes: the shirt, or really the brand behind the shirt, represents the lingering impossibility of carrying out their “Easy Rider” fantasties. In the case of these altered and revived garments, the wearer is no longer the AARP eligible man with the $23,199 custom colored Street Glide but, more often than not, a young, unapologetic woman. Instead of being relegated to their backs pressed against the sissy bar, they are the ones behind the handlebars twisting the throttle.

Those who claim “It’s like wearing a jersey or another brand,” have fixated on the visual imagery of a significant team over the tangible function a competition-weight rawhide jacket provides. A brand or a sports team is a cultural unifier, an image to rally behind and often in collective form, a motorcycle is solely something to be ridden on and operated. The barely ridden but deeply invested motorcyclist in me wants to wax poetically that a motorcycle is a machine requiring respect, a learning curve, and taming: an assertion that implies anyone without the experience of being on a motorcycle is in the outgroup. Anyone who has dumped a motorcycle(I have, sorry Gabe!) will assuredly agree that what I waxed on is true: your mortality is never more present behind the bars of your crotch-propelling machine. And perhaps this is why motorcyclists are so vehemently attached to their preferred method of transportation, and why they willingly out anyone without first hand experience, especially those who feign having felt that coccyx pulling acceleration.

In the same way that true motorcycle gear is uncomfortable as daily attire, garments designed with the intention of looking but not being rideable serve no more purpose than an interchangeable cotton Gildan hoodie or Asos pleather zip-up. Take Ducati’s collaboration with Tasmania born boot company Blundstone: with a splash of yellow elastic and an aptly placed shift collar, the admittedly rugged but slip-on leather boots are touted as the line between safety and style while upon a Ducati Scrambler. Moving at a respectable pace, but certainly not at a full clip with only 803ccs of inline twin power available, down the New England Thruway on a hazy and sweltering July day, the varyingly paved and undulating 180 degree entrance ramp to the Hutchinson River Parkway(after all, cutting across the Bronx and through Queens is the less congested way to Williamsburg) forces a refocusing of your eyes far ahead of where you instinctively look. As you apply pressure to your right hand(buzzword: countersteering)and initiate the lean angle needed to carry you through all 180 degrees, the descending change in paving type shifts weight forward, folding the sidewall of the front tire and forcing your body onto the ground, and into the air your slip-on Blundstones go. There are infinite numbers of anti-safety safety products, always at the wish of further aestheticization.

I’m left with the question of why, when the genuinely protective gear is cumbersome and the aestheticized versions lack any protection or cultural merit, do non-riders wear it at all? The answer is obvious, to some extent, that the symbolism of speed and intentional risk taking projects as cool. And because it is purely about the symbolism of motorcycling, the motorcycle itself becomes antithetical to the look.The wearer of motorcycle gear, in its clasping leather or zipping waxed cotton forms, seeks to invoke the idea that they ride, or that they could. The fabled rush of wind through one’s hair(the wind actually pummels your chest and kneecaps)is the desired aesthetic output by the look. With that look, naturally, comes the voluntary operation of the machine itself, but the weight of a two fingered clutch pull or the metallic snick accompanied by a precise upshift are not the actions romanticized. In all likelihood, the actual operation of the bike itself isn’t of interest to the imposter motorcyclist.

And that’s ok. For the metropolis-bound private art school educated sculptor and the City College of New York graduated civil engineer alike, any means of privatized, motorized, rapid transit is a far fetched aspiration. Relegated to the positively efficient but shoulder to shoulder experience of public transportation, these working people’s transportation fantasies and realities diverge at the payment point of their daily multi-dollar fare. In cities large enough and with appropriately distributed subsidies to enjoy a generally well functioning public transit system, the motorcycle becomes for many a fantasy of self indulgent pleasure, and an induction into a socially rejected but tightly interlinked out-group. Who am I to deny them the dream, especially when I share it?