I recently finished the book, “Hell’s Angel” by and about Sonny Barger. I have little doubt that the general time line of events was pretty accurate. The part of the book I found less convincing and most terrifying was Mr. Barger’s attempt to downplay the dangerous and violent side of the events. Some gruff-looking guy acting tough and telling everybody how “bad” he is can be disconcerting. Mr. Barger’s attempt to distance himself from that image is far scarier. Though he frequently describes himself and the club as “Just a bunch of guys who like to ride their bikes and have fun,” the extremely casual attitude toward human life and an utter disdain for civility paint a different picture.
The book wasn’t so much an eye-opener as a point around which a growing conviction could congeal. When I first bought my motorcycle, I ran out and bought black leather riding gear. Looking back, it was a lot like selecting a Halloween costume. Ray Liotta’s character in the movie Wild Hogs referred to riders dressed in black leather, who weren’t part of the outlaw culture, as posers. The ghosts or mummies I may have imitated on Halloween don’t really roam the streets. The 1-percenters, on whom the black leather riding costumes are based, do. So do I want to dress like them? Is that truly the image of myself I’d like to convey?
In my case the answer is no. I like being a law-abiding citizen. I like being a good neighbor. I like people to feel safe and relaxed around me. I actually want to be an average American who rides a motorcycle for fun and relaxation. So if I don’t want to be some bad and dangerous biker when on the motorcycle, who do I want to be? Turns out that answer is easy. Me. The same guy sitting here at work writing this blog. The same guy who will sit with his wife, kids and grandkids on Thanksgiving. That guy enjoys riding motorcycles for the sake of the bikes and the ride. A guy who doesn’t need to feel he’s intimidating somebody to enjoy riding.
I’ll continue to wear protective riding gear. A lot of it will be black because that is the most popular color and the most easily available. But I won’t be dressing for effect. I’ll be dressing for safety and comfort. And if I don’t look like a biker? Good!
－ Guy Wheatley