Why Asphalt & Rubber Supports Riders for Health

10/03/2013 @ 11:10 pm, by Jensen Beeler11 COMMENTS


You would have to be living in a hole not to have heard about the video footage of a Range Rover plowing through a group of motorcyclists, and the chase through New York that ensued afterwards.

I say this not because the video has been the highest trafficked article on Asphalt & Rubber this week so far, though it is; nor do I say this because the video has been posted to virtually every motorcycle forum and blog on the internet, though it has; but instead because the video has elevated itself out of our obscure sport and into the national, if not international, public consciousness.

It is rare that motorcycling finds its way into mass media, and unfortunately it is rarely a good thing when it does so. Motorcycling by and large has an image problem in the United States. Few motorists commute via motorcycle, which means our industry is filled with people who come to motorcycles from either a hobby, sport, or lifestyle perspective, and because of this motorcycles remain on the fringe of mainstream society.

For some, that is the allure. Motorcycling is “something different’ which in turns allows a motorcyclist to express their individuality in an obvious manner. To illustrate this point, I am fairly certain that the vast majority of flame threads that start on forums and blogs can be boiled down to the premise that because your enjoyment of motorcycles is different from my enjoyment of motorcycles, it therefore must be wrong.

Despite our internal disagreements, most motorcyclists enjoy their passion for two wheels in an entirely respectable manner, though unfortunately we are rarely recognized as doing so. It is the one-percenters, the members who are two standard-deviations removed from the generalized term “motorcyclist”, who instead come into the attention span of the public.

We saw it with the 1% movement in the 1940’s, and we see it again now with the Hollywood Stuntz group in New York. There has always been a subculture in two wheels that revels in the subversive mystique that surrounds motorcycles, and this group has always been in the minority.

We are beyond the Pareto Principle here — better known as the 80/20 rule — this is motorcycling’s 1/99 rule. In fact, the only instance of a positive social message from motorcycles going mainstream is Honda’s “You Meet the Nicest People” campaign from the 1960’s. If you ask me, we are long overdue for a media win of that magnitude.

While the debate will continue about “who was at fault” in the video (I think I’ve made my views on that issue pretty clear already), the real tragedy of this event (from a bigger picture of course, not to discredit the individuals and families who now have to deal with the direct consequences of this event) is that once again motorcycling, in the broadest sense of the word, has to be dragged once again through the mud in the mainstream media.

It is not like our industry as a whole is thriving. After watching sales plummet the last 5 years or so, things have stabilized…but they aren’t rising. One has to wonder if we have hit that tipping point where growth is no longer possible, and everything from here on out is the long decline downward. I don’t personally believe that, but I cannot discredit it either. As I am fond of saying, time will tell.

Meanwhile the mainstream media will cast fire and brimstone on these NYC motorcyclists, and all other motorcyclists will suffer with them, if for no other reason than guilt by association.

You see, while veteran riders can distinguish between sportbikers, tourers, Harley riders, adventure riders, and all the other permutations of the two-wheeled demographic, the public at large just sees two wheels and lumps us all together accordingly. This is really our industry’s greatest flaw.

We are all members of a great mosaic. From far away, the image of a motorcyclist is easy to define, but upon closer inspection, we see that the generalization is made up of many diverse and tightly distinguished groups. Good luck trying to explain that principle to a non-rider though.

When I see a video like the one from the Hollywood Stuntz ride into New York City, I cringe for our sport/industry/passion, because it just died a little bit more.

It is for this same reason that I pour as much support into the charity Riders for Health as I can. There are few charitable causes out there where motorcycles are making a difference. If you have ever participated in something like a toy ride or have donated to any of the many motorcycle-based charitable groups, I applaud you for helping make the world a better place. A genuine hat-tip to you ladies and gentlemen.

We need more people like you. But what draws me to Riders for Health isn’t that it is motorcyclists going and doing something for a worthy cause, it is about motorcycles, the actual physical machine, being an integral part of a solution to a problem in this world.

Any group can raise money for charity, but only motorcycles can travel to remote villages in Africa to bring critical healthcare services. Motorcycles themselves making the world a better place, that is what Riders for Health provides, and we need more stories like that in the public consciousness.

We need more instances where motorcycles are making a tangible and meaningful difference in this work, to help drown out the noise from the riffraff.

We need to turnaround the precedent where motorcycling’s 15 minutes of fame is only a negative message. If we can do that, maybe more people will join us in our passion for two wheels, and that is why you see Asphalt & Rubber doing anything it can for Riders for Health.

Whether you already support Riders for Health, support another similar cause, or have the motivation to start your own motorcycle charity…it’s all good in my book. But we as motorcyclists, the 99% who are contributing members of society, we need to step up our game. Otherwise, the 1% are going to ruin this whole thing for us.

  • JACrider

    Gee, as I recall in Feb 2012 I was severely slagged here for suggesting that the Nikon commercial/video depicting extreme aggressive city-street riding that was deemed SO COOL might not have been the best way to present motorcycling to the already anti-motorcycle North American public.

    Now we have a real-world example of extreme aggressive riding. It’s all “just fun” until someone miscalculates and gets hurt. Dislike getting run over? Don’t brake check an SUV. Alone or in a huge mob, dumb move.

    Brief enough?

  • JACrider

    Sorry, there’s more. Unfortunately riders supporting worthy causes apparently has little impact on general public perceptions of motorcycling. Up here in Ontario Canada, Ride For Sight has been running for over 35 years and the public doesn’t like us more now than then, rider numbers have fallen vs. population growth.

    As stated, until the motorcycle industry figures out how to AND comprehensively implements a re-invented “you meet the nicest people”, a few thousand riders “doing good” won’t have much effect.

    Particularly because history shows the mass media will ignore positive motorcycle stories in favour of negative sensationalism. I have a LONG exposition on this phenomena but will again “be brief”.

  • Alfred

    The “industry” isn’t thriving, perhaps, as new motorcycle sales are down, but motorcycling as an activity is doing just fine: motorcycle registrations are still going up, year over year.

    That means that the demand for riding as an activity is as strong as ever, but that people just don’t want these new motorcycles as much as old ones. It’s not our responsibility to buy motorcycles we don’t want. It’s the responsibility of the manufacturers, if they want to “thrive”, to make something we want to buy.

    I spent a good chunk of change last year on a motorcycle that I loved, and it was a used, older one. I could have bought a new 2013 model off the showroom floor, but it was pretty ugly. Mine isn’t perfect, but they didn’t fix any of the actual problems with it, and they tried to “fix” a lot of things which weren’t broken at all. It would strictly be a downgrade for me.

    Speaking for myself, there’s one or *maybe* two bikes currently being manufactured that I would even consider buying. From 10 years ago, there’s at least 10 bikes that I’d love to own. From 20 years ago, there’s (a different) 10 bikes I’d love to own. From 30 years ago, yet another 10.

    This decade seems to be about manufacturers cramming as many electronic and computerized gadgets into motorcycles as they can. I’m not against adding electronics (ABS is great!), but you can’t forget to make the motorcycle desirable on its own merits, not just because it has more microprocessors in it. Across the board, I can think of only one motorcycle model in the world that hasn’t gotten significantly uglier in the past 5 years.

    Designers, what is going on? Can’t you see that it’s a problem when people would rather have a 2003 than a 2013 model? I want to support you. Please, make a motorcycle that we think is worth buying.

  • mudgun

    I think one thing riders can do is be purposely friendly with the drivers around us when the opportunity presents itself. For instance, when ever a driver allows me to proceed by holding back a space or two in traffic, I always give a big wave of thanks. Likewise, whenever I have a chance to let a driver into the flow of traffic safely I do it. If he waves thanks I wave back. When I’m driving see all sorts of riders behavior. Some are disrespectful and don’t try to hide it, some are skilled, respectful and indifferent, and some are friendly. I always feel good when I see an overtly “friendly” rider. I think riders in general, and for sure, those who wear full face helmets may be a little intimidating to drivers simply because their face is hidden. I think a friendly wave or a salute at the right time is a small price to promote a little good will with folks who can’t understand why we ride anyway, and perhaps are not sure they would trust or like us even if they got to know us under other circumstances. I know it’s baby steps, but if Karma is real…

  • JACrider

    Alfred, registrations may be increasing in your part of the world, but up here in Ontario they have remained stagnant for at least a decade. And given that motorcycle roadracing attendances in the traditional markets (Europe and North America) have been dropping for more than a few years now, the outlook for “the industry’s” main marketing vehicle is not good. Up here in Canada, our “professional” Superbike Series is all but dead. Same old story, the racing is great despite small grids, but there’s no butts in seats or sponsors to pay for the whole thing. And don’t look to AMA/DMG for a successful, expanding business model. The Laguna Seca season finale wasn’t televised.

    Mudgun, I’ve been a polite rider for 30+ years. Drivers are more aggressive and less watchful towards riders than ever. They know they don’t know anyone who rides, so we don’t matter to them. Unlike in Europe where even grandmas and teenage girls get around on two wheels…

  • Andrew

    I have nothing against charity events and publicity campaigns but they are not enough to change the fortunes of the industry. What motorcycling really needs is not more publicity, but more bums on the seats. What it needs is something you already hinted at: it needs to become less of a lifestyle choice, and more just the means of transport. Less passion, and more day to day use. That’s why the most important motorcycles right now are not the new exotics but CBR250 or Ninja 300 and scooters. Yes – scooters! Just look at Europe.

  • mudgun

    I think there are at least two major issues with “growing” the motorcycling community.

    1. Motorcycle riding is dangerous for many reasons. That’s a fact. So trying to persuade folks to ride is in fact inviting them to do something we know and they know is dangerous. That will always be a hard sell. The first thing to do is to make riding safer. To do that we need technology to avoid accidents. I know training and good riding is the best we have to protect us now but it’s not enough to make motorcycle riding as safe as driving. And I think telling people if they’ll practice and concentrate enough they can be fairly safe while riding is not enough.

    2. Motorcycle riding is inconvenient when compared to driving. You have to dress to ride. You have to plan to carry something other than yourself. You must endure the elements.

    In order to grow the motorcyclist pool the industry must find advantages to riding. Parking, special lanes, rules, tax deductions, insurance subsidies, rent before you buy…something for the question, “what’s in it for me?”

    I’m not sure why we need more motorcyclist at all. Honestly, I prefer riders who ride because they like it.

  • JACrider

    Motorcycles were never as well integrated into North American society as elsewhere. Gas and cars were kept artificially cheap (compare historical and current European prices to those here), so cheap that public transit also struggles to this day.

    So in North America riders engage primarily as a recreational choice, not by economic necessity or as a widely accepted and viable transportation alternative.

    In Ontario and most of Canada, usurious insurance rates and onerous graduated licensing are the main obstacles facing new riders. I started riding when it was still relatively cheap and easy to do so, I wouldn’t start now. But a habit of over 30 years is hard to break. That said, I recently disposed of all my old/collectible bikes because I simply couldn’t justify approximately $700/yr EACH for basic liability coverage (no collision/fire/theft etc.). New riders with a clean auto driving record face liability-only insurance of at least $2,000/yr on a 5-yr-old plain-jane bike. Not a 600 or 1k sport bike, a mid-size SV or the like.

    Then factor in the constant negative media only reinforces excessively sensationalist “motorcycles are dangerous” and “all that ride are antisocial scofflaws” messages used by safetycrat lobbyists and corporate strategists to justify barriers such as insurance rates, licensing, anti-motorcycle legislation and enforcement targeting.

    The industry cannot justify the range and complexity of the current model offerings if the numbers do not make it profitable. The cost of passing the vehicle safety and emissions requirements must be a big factor. Most growing markets (in Asia, South America, Africa) are absorbing large numbers of general-use small-bore scooters and commuter bikes, not the specialized big bore models aimed at North American and Western European Boomer populations.

  • Andrew

    @mudgun: You can always chose which motorcyclists you associate with – nobody is taking that away from you. In fact, the main thing people who want to keep their motorcycling exclusive need to grasp is just that: making bikes more popular doesn’t take anything from you! Bu we need more motorcyclists for two main reasons at least:

    1. To sell more bikes, plain and simple, and to keep the industry viable and reasonably accessible. In car industry you also have enthusiast products, but for every Porsche and Ferrari there are hundreds of Toyota Camrys or Ford Fiestas or whatever… that is what creates the critical mass and what keeps the industry afloat. That’s also what gives it some politiacl clout – something motorcycle industry doesn’t have to anywhere near the same degree.

    2. In the context of this article, more bike riders means also more drivers will be more rider aware – either because they are, or were at some point riders themselves, or because at least they know someone, perhaps even in their own family, who rides. I think that is the only real way of improving rider/driver relations and again, I quote Europe as an example.

  • jman

    If you want to remove these negative motorcycle occurrences the solution is simple. Large clusters of moronic riders are the issue!

    ie: This latest occuance of violence, the last viral video of the police blocking the freeway, and some bikie gangs

    idea: have tighter restrictions on large clusters of motorcycles riding in formation.

    All group rides with more than 20 (pick any number) motorcycles must be registered online on a database (online) where the riders must register their names and intended route.

    -If your riding with someone who is known to police, your ride will likely be under close police observation.
    -If you deviate from the registered route, you cop a fine
    -If your riding in the group without being registered, you will cop a fine
    -positive benefits would also include liasing with local authorities to coordinate traffic management for very large rides!

  • Really j-man?? I can’t see any good reason for registering a ride. The fact would remain however that unlawful idiots wouldn’t register anyway. Why bother? This was a rare incident, no need to write laws to make people feel better about it.

    Sadly small bore bikes are the wave of the future… I think America is going to reject them because of the expanse.