On top of the very practical nature of being a motorcyclist, including wrenching, problem solving, technical riding skills and so on, there is a very metaphysical quality to being a rider. In fact, it maybe the exact opposite, that the technical aspect is in fact on top of a foundation of spirituality. These two alternate in importance, at least to me, and right now I am gradually shifting from having been technical the last few weeks to thinking more about the more abstract and emotional side of riding.
You see, as the weather improves here in Sweden and the bikers come out to play, the dominating groups become more well defined. Of course this will be a generalization of grand proportions but bear with me on this one:
You have the more hipster like community on their old BMWs, replicating the style being popularized by Bike EXIF, Pipeburn, Blitz motorcycles and the likes. The bike is an extension of their style. As they ride, it seems to be more a question about being looked at and admired than riding technically. Many bikes are bought in style and my guess is that wrenching is kept to a minimum for various reasons, such as lack of skills, interest or need for that matter.
Then you have the “real” bikers, the ones who embody the classic perception of a biker. Loud bikes with the classical American aesthetics, and the “typical” bike look: tattoos, muscles or beer bellies (it can go either way), leather, facial hair and so on. Being seen to them is as important as it is to the hipsters but this group take pleasure in the feeling of being outlaws, rebellious hellions. Their bikes are very well kept and often home wrenched to perfection but – and this is my guess as I haven’t ridden one – the riding extends to longer rides with stability on good roads.
The third category you see is the commuters. More often than not, they are elderly men with a lot of experience, not caring at all about being seen (except by other traffic, hence the brightly colored helmets and vests). The bike is a means of transportation and BMW, reliable and technologically in the front end, seems to be the brand of choice. These bikers can ride forever, and they have a destination in mind at all times, be it a cup of coffee or the south of Europe.
The fast riders are among the first to come out to play. Dressed in Alpinestars leather suits, they tear up the city, a playground for speed. Knee dragging, power wheelies, tight turns and high speeds; they love their bikes for both looks and performance. Age is not a factor but riding skills. In speed they find life so they chase it every single opportunity they get. Some of them are excellent mechanics, to the point where they are engineer like in their approach to cramming out a few extra horses. Others won’t touch a wrench but ride like the devil is behind them.
Another fun-loving group are the motard kids. Mostly younger people with great riding skills, they show off at any time like doing wheelies between street lights, or stoppies outside cafes. Looks are important but only within the community. Outsiders might not think a lot of the bright colors, hoodies and mx-style helmets but man, within the community, brands are important. Other bikers, with the exception of sport bike riders, tend to frown upon the motard kids playful riding style but they don’t care. Wrenching is quite important since a good stunt bike is a personal preference.
The sixth group are the adventure riders. You don’t really seem them too much in the city and if you do, you might confuse them with the commuters due to their textile riding gear and bikes with boxes and bags. But they are another breed. The world, as they see it, begins when the tarmac ends and they manage to combine a wrenching interest (a must when you’re all alone in the middle of nowhere), the bike as means of transport, technical riding (equally important outside the tarmac) and a spiritual view of being more connected to the world. Together with “the real bikers” they are the lone wolves of the rider community.
Lately I’ve been gravitating towards the last category. Function over form, using my bike to experience things on and off the bike, and seeing the beauty of the world have become more important than being fast, cool or rebellious (although I still ride a bit like a motard kid except for the wheelies and stoppies). I am ashamed to say that I’m even thinking of not commuting the ten minutes to work on my bike this summer. For a guy who bought a sport bike as the first bike and swore never to ride anything else but roads, this is a deep and soul changing experience. I still care about looks, being cool and all that, but what my soul craves are the feeling of freedom, the adventures, the companionship of my riding group and the independence that comes with being a biker.
There are no rights or wrong when it comes to riding. If you ride, you are one of us. What I’m feeling now might not even be true in six months. But right now, my soul is aching for adventure of the kind you cannot find within the urban borders…