Jake Crandall

When the young boy listened to the motorcycle engine choking maddeningly in the open air and smelt the nauseous fumes of burning gasoline and rubber mixed with sour oil, he covered his ears and looked away.

Then he grew up, and the young man listened to the soothing purr of all the metal organs and smelt the sweet perfume of the hog’s exhale.

Even as the son of a motorcycle rider – a damn good one at that – and a rider myself, I must admit that I used to dislike motorcycle riders.

Well, maybe not all bikers, but definitely the ones you imagine when you think about a “hardcore bike gang member,” like one of the grizzled guys in the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. The riders that love leather almost like a second spouse, who chain smoke and play pool in the shittiest looking bars and who travel for miles just to attend Sturgis week. They do all this and ride a two-wheeled machine that’s manual shift and will throw you in a crash, breaking bones if you don’t have the strength.

In a way, I understand maybe why I did, and why other people might. I mean, what does the general person think when they see some guy who tries too hard to look tough and comes off as an abrasive asshole at face value when they hear the word “biker?” Also, people get a taste of the tire iron swinging chumps in shows such as “Sons of Anarchy” and movies like “Wild Hogs,” “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” and “Easy Rider.” From what I can tell, “biker” culture has definitely gained a bit of notoriety as one being filled with delinquents and thugs who crack skulls first and ask questions later.

Unless there’s a community of motorcyclists, with a large and diverse population of riders of all age, skill level and motorcycles used, then there might be a general hazy understanding that the media might possibly bring.

“From what I’ve seen – like, TV and movies – there’s this impression that there are really tough guys,” said Matt Nathan, a junior broadcast production major. “There’s a certain code they have to live by; they have to be very masculine.”

I hate to go out on a limb and talk about this perception myself, since a lot of people are smart enough to see past the stigmas, especially in the Midwest where you have clubs such as the Lincoln Riders Motorcycle Club or the Sioux Valley Cycle Club in South Dakota. Plus, I’m not quite a “biker” myself – I’m a shy, nerdy, twitchy little biker who loves science fiction and just likes to wear leather, at that.

But even then, with what I’ve seen and experienced as a rider and as someone who lived and rode with riders, I’ve got to say – to those few out there who still think of the “biker” as the thug - this stereotype shouldn’t really be held over all motorcycle owners.

Granted, I don’t want to defend the guys that destroy public property or get into bar fights every Sunday over who has the most fingerless gloves. There are those guys out there who truly do want to pick a fight or pull on the throttle in first gear to make a really loud engine growl (ironically enough, this actually harms the engine).

But even with the few bad apples, there are always those men who are more “biker” than the jerks from the latest violent gang, ‘The Lucifer Cheerleaders’ or whatever the hell they call themselves. A true biker becomes a biker more for the rush of the wind or the satisfying click of the gear shift rather than the dark glamour. Sure, they can wear the black and bones, and wear a patch for a local group. But the thing is, many of these “bikers” – pretty much all of the ones that my father and I have met – genuinely love the thrill that a motorcycle gives and treat the culture as a fun, individual way to express themselves.

Some of the beginning bikers that gave a sort of tough exterior were war veterans, according to Jeff Carle, the shipping and receiving manager and parts specialist at Lincoln’s Frontier Harley-Davison. However, Carle also mentions how the culture wasn’t just a way to act like a “badass biker,” but to express themselves.

“It was an expression of freedom,” Carle said. “They fought for…freedom, and this was the way that they expressed the freedom.”

Also, as my father always reminded me, a lot of guys--even the leathery old guys who lurk around gas stations in August-- are just attorneys having a fun weekend away from work. Nowadays, you can find a variety of employees – from doctors to lawyers – who weaken the stereotype.

“That stigma isn’t really there anymore,” Carle said.

Still, from my perspective, there’s always this sense that, even if people don’t truly believe in the negative portrayals, some folks feel a bit apprehensive toward the abrasiveness. Really, most people are fine with the people associated but will not even so much as learn how to ride a motorcycle.

“All they see is the danger,” Carle said. “They don’t see the joy of getting out there and riding them.”

I guess maybe this could be why there’s a sort of general misunderstanding held by anyone toward bikers. If one does not understand the point and only sees the danger, then maybe one will only see one who rides for badassness of “danger.”

I can see that, since I sort of felt that way as well. Hell, motorcycles are dangerous. Within my lifetime, two people that I have known have died in motorcycle accidents. But I still ride without any sort of sick adrenaline rush from risking my life. It’s the sense of control, not the sense of anarchy or anti-establishment, that my family enjoys as well as others.

Sure, we may be riding with the leathers on and maybe I’ll purchase a bandana with some flames. But what of it? Most of those clothes are surprisingly used for protection, whether it be from wind, the hot exhaust pipe or the pavement.

So, really, what I’m driving at is that this negative portrayal, while still in society, is dying off like a stalled motor after a new rider dropped the clutch. Also, that these hard-core colors are more than just shallow peacock tails.

But, then, what exactly is a true “biker?”

A biker is a lover of motorcycles who rides for the sake of riding and puts his motorcycle before his image. A biker is the person who will ride his or her Triumph or Indian motorcycle through the street nonchalantly without giving a damn about what anybody thinks because he or she is just having fun with the sunny day and the smooth streets.