As it currently goes, I merely need to adopt the correct lifestyle aesthetics in the form of bikes and apparel and I can be part of the “club”; the actual identity of what it means to be a “rider” is devoid of the qualities that make us human and participants in society.
There are Harley riders, BMW riders, customs riders, leather-clad sport bike riders, and hipster cafe racers. In each of these demographic fragments, the specifics of what the person is riding matters more than the political, social, and/or economic standpoints of the riders themselves.
This consumerist mentality relegates the means for participation to the choice of how to exercise my purchasing power. Dominant motorcycle culture emphasizes the bike as the expression of the identity of the rider.
An apathetic culture that is centered around fetishization of commodities will reach limits to growth. Sure, motorcycles will get faster, lean better, safer, and smarter than the ones available to us. However, the market is already saturated with choices without enough reasons to pick one choice over the other.
Imagine, however, that being a motorcyclist meant more than just having two wheels spinning between your legs.
The emotional and practical reasons for buying a motorcycle are being exhausted. This is a consequence of the aforementioned limited scope of what it means to ride a motorcycle and be a motorcyclist. What is going to be the new frontier of growth and innovation in motorcycle culture?
Perhaps the way forward is to put motorcycle culture into conversation with broader societal issues. Perhaps what we need again are the form of the biker gangs from the past, but with an attitude and conscience that speaks to the needs of the present.
The industry and us as a culture can innovate and develop new networks for participation, where the motorcycle just happens to be a means to engage and not the end to it. We can call it: Motorcycling 2.0.
Motorcycling 2.0 needs to borrow a page from the information-technology and social networking book in order to develop new ways for engagement with broader issues, agendas, and frameworks.
It is not externally relevant nor useful to just share riding statistics, lap times, and routes traveled over social media. What must be shared is a common agenda, a political ideal, and a societal outlook.
Take, for example, this group Greek of anti-fascists who go on group-rides to demonstrate solidarity and force against the racist and nationalistic fascist element that is growing in pervasiveness in Greece:
Imagine a Russian equivalent of these Greek anti-fascists repelling the ignorant Cossack squad, while Pussy Riot was able to continue their demo last week. Imagine anti-racist gangs patrolling the streets of your town, and imagine you riding with them.
Again, I’m asking you to imagine that being a motorcyclist could mean more than just riding a motorcycle.
As demonstrated by the Greeks, motorcycles can provide an exciting and meaningful context for people to engage with political and social causes in a more active way than the token yearly charity rides.
Transforming the motorcycle into a means for new ways of societal participation is liable to open up whole new demographics to the riding experience and all the things we love about it; people will buy and ride bikes not just to get around or get a jolt of adrenaline, but to be part of a vibrant, thriving and politically effective community.
Finally, and no less importantly, the cultural revolution need not deny the roots and history of motorcycling. We can capitalize on the rebellious imagery, the counter-cultural attitude and the sense of kinship between bikers.
We can take all of these, and instead of merely letting a manufacturer commoditize and turn into kitsch artifacts to entice the few, we can channel them into galvanizing points of commonality that mobilize the many.