Monday, November 26, 2007


Here's something to ponder as you come out of the stupor from a long holiday weekend.

Do you consider our riding endeavours as a lifestyle or a way of life?

Last week we had some family over. My middle son had spent three weeks in Europe. During the course of the gathering Travis had the chance to show his pictures. They were on three CD's which we were able to show on our television.

In Paris there's this big square with the Louvre Museum, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe in near proximity. Travis' picture of the Arc de Triomphe showed quite a number of motorcycles. Having the reputation of a motorcycle nut, the assembled group turned to me and made motorcycle related comments. What stuck in my mind was the comment someone made about me living a motorcycle "lifestyle".

Personally, I've never considered my enjoyment of riding and the use of bikes in my world as a lifestyle. To me, riding is a way of life. Here's the difference according to my mind.

The word "lifestyle", to me, denotes putting something on. My Merriam-Webster desktop dictionary has two definitions. The first definition is when the word is used as a noun. It states: A way of living.

The second definition is when the word is used as an adjective. It states: Associated with, reflecting, or promoting an enhanced or more desirable lifestyle.

To say someone lives a motorcycling lifestyle would then mean they were using the bikes to get somewhere they think is more desirable or enhanced than where they are. A lot of people do that very thing. There's a large group of riders to whom the bike is a prop in a play. When they put on their carefully contrived costume and sit on the bike the acting starts. These people use the bike to try to convince others that they're something different than what they really are. Ever notice that this extra "something" is more enhanced? Like it makes up for what they lack. They try to appear more "bad", "brave", "cool", or an "individualist". Among other things. I love this "let's all show our rugged individualism by dressing and acting exactly alike". Woe to anyone who actually has the nerve to be "different". They soon find themselves exiting the group.

I consider what I do to be a way of life. A bike is a tool the same as anything else. Sure, the bike is a lot more fun than a kitchen knife, but it's still a tool!

Here's the big difference I see between a way of life and lifestyle.

Riding a motorcycle has, indeed, added to the quality of my life. I've gained perspective and insights from riding. There's been added skills, a sense of confidence, and a satisfaction in overcoming adversity. These things are added to what I already have. Once added, they become mine. With or without the bike I am now a more complete person. One of my philosophies is,

"If you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it."

Those who use the bike as a means to "pretend" will never find what they're after. There's no real struggle, no humbling that comes from attempting something and not making it the first time or two. There's very little real sacrifice involved. Their instant gratification that comes from adopting a "lifestyle" is like a painting. It looks good but there's nothing behind it.

For those to whom motorcycling is a way of life, the depth comes a little at a time. Getting up and facing the cold ride each morning. Dealing with commuter traffic. Performing frequent maintenance on the bike because we actually put miles on it. Struggling to master a new skill and finally conquering. These are all things that are real; built upon by a series of small steps every day. Added to what we already own in our lives.

That's my take on it. Of course, I'm a motorcyclist, not a philosopher. This is only my own opinion. What do you think? Lifestyle or way of life?

Feel free to use the comment section to express yourself!

Miles and smiles,



Heinz & Frenchie said...

Very Profound! Great Read. For us it is neither a way of life nor a lifestyle. For us riding is a "joie de vivre".

Bill Sommers said...

I guess I'll throw in with the "way of life" group. After living on the tightrope of being a patch holder, and being known as a "biker," I now happily make my way through my days with a great fondness for riding. No uniform, no rules or rulers, just me and my scoot and the elements. It's a way of life. It's simple.

Have fun,

Anonymous said...

I started as a lifestyle to show off my scoot. Then in started to grow on me. After 20K miles in the last 10 months, it has become a way of life. I cannot tell you enough how uncomfortable I was the entire last week when I had to ride my truck. The life felt different.
It was then that I realized that the Swing is now a real part of my life and how much it adds to my way of living.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dad,
You got your philosophy "If your not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it" from Cool Runnings. Ha, thought I wouldn't notice didn't you! As to your post, I havn't had the opportunity to watch more than a few thousand miles pass beneath my varied sources of two wheels, but I'm with you on the 'way of life' outlook as opposed to the 'lifestyle' comment(it was Cindy Huh?). To many get caught up in making others see them in their projected images and loose focus(or never see it in the first place) of what a motorcycle is, a slightly more challenging and enjoyable way of transportation.
Pooh Bear

Conchscooter said...

Take this discussion to the streets, persuade a few million shoppers to ignore fads and fashion and bang goes the entire economy!
When I look at buying a motorcycle one of the criteria, in a world packed with reliability, is whether or not the machine "speaks to me." Do I like it when I walk away? A difficult admission to make as it starts to cross the line from "way of life," to "lifetsyle." Horrors.

David said...

I think I fall into that "Way of Life" category. People have asked me why I decided to ride my bike on a particular day, or for a certain errand. My response is always, "I ride if I can. It's what I do." No
"I'm a biker" vibe, although I did go through that in college, a long time ago. Now, a motorcycle is my preferred method of transport. It's just who I am. :)

Dave T.

Don said...

Hey! What do you know, I am a philosopher! Of course, you're asking ethical questions (very roughly: What is the good life?), and I do philosophy of science (very roughly: What is science?), but...

You've hit on an interesting and neglected distinction that a group of French postmodern philosophers called the Situationist International first posed in the 50's and 60's. (Yep, Dan, you're a French Postmodernist. Also, possibly a Communist! Maybe even an Anarchist! Congratulations!) The distinction is between (and these are just technical labels) situation and spectacle. Situations are authentic experiences (a nice time with your friends over dinner, riding your motorcycle to work because its practical) , spectacles are facades specifically constructed for consumption (going to see a Hollywood movie, riding your motorcycle to create an image). Part of creating a good life is creating situations and destroying spectacles.

Of course this means that, were we really good Situationists, we would be morally compelled to go beat up poseur bikers and take their toys away. Also overthrow the government. But that's neither here nor there: I think the basic distinction has a lot of philosophical merit and needs to be seriously explored (anarchism be damned) particularly in this age of increasingly rampant commercialism.

krysta in milwaukee said...

“I consider what I do to be a way of life. A bike is a tool the same as anything else.”

So you use riding as a way to improve yourself, and just incidentally along the way you have gobs of fun. You see others riding who seem to think the bike is a magic shortcut – get on a hog (or crotch rocket), and instantly I’ll be just as great a person as him.

Sadly, they probably outnumber the serious riders. The more desirable the goal, the more people will try shortcuts to get there. Look at high-level athletes and drugs.

"If you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it."

People can grow. A year or so ago everybody who was in the Coast Guard received a Presidential Unit Citation for the work the Coast Guard did during Katrina. Some, like me, didn’t feel we’d done anything (even though I volunteered, and could have been called to work here in Milwaukee to free an active duty person to go south).

So in presenting the award to my flotilla I challenged them – if they felt the same way, grow into it. Do something to deserve it. It’s possible that the poseur mindset can be changed, and the person can grow into what they’re pretending to be.

(Condensed from your definition)
Lifestyle: promoting a more desirable way of living

We’re already living it. Others, seeing something that looks good, want to join in. And since we’re having fun (and growing, improving ourselves), why shouldn’t we want to share? “Have all the fun you want! We’ll make more.”

If riding weren’t more desirable than the humdrum driving-a-car-everyday, why would poseurs want to imitate it? I feel kinda sad for them, ‘cause with the mindset you described (“like a painting”) they’re not really getting all they could out of the experience. Maybe someday they’ll have an epiphany, but if they’re getting what they want, at least for now, that’s their business.

There are probably people who look at scooters and think they’re not real, that those people are wannabes, etc. You and I know that’s not true – scooter riders can be just as serious as someone who rides anything else, or just as foolish as a teen on a squid bike. The difference is in the person, and that’s something we can’t see at a glance.

Yes, a more serious rider tends to be better protected, and doesn’t (usually) pull stunts, and probably has a safety course card in her wallet. But simply to look at the bodywork attached to the wheels and decide how that person thinks? Something about a book and its cover comes to mind. (Granted, the particular book to which you’re referring is well-known, and has very few exceptions.)

Gee, where did all that come from?! But you did say to express ourselves...

Bryce Lee said...

Maybe just maybe in reading this latest from Dan some of us can reflect on what it means. My first thought what, he rides a motorcycle unlike so many residents
of the United States that prefer four-wheeled petrol guzzling machinery. For him it is transport and he enjoys it,also as instructor
in the application of two-wheeled skills.

However lifestyle, that's going to the deep dark and dangerous. In my own world I roade because it was different, in my case a BMW and sidecar, in the late 1960's. Yes I had an automobile however the combination for me was more fun, and because of who I was, happier, full leathers all the time, as a gay person then and now it made me
what i was then. Today things have changed. A motorcycle as a prop is not longer required. The desire to ride anywhere and everywhere has changed. The freedom of riding a
motorcycle was then,my best psychiatrist. Found others of like mind, then found these others were anti-gay, I wasn't (their) family
and was asked to leave my family after 20 years. Then too recent medical issues make the accessibility of consulting with
my two-wheeled 26 year old mechanical psychiatrist more of a
chore than a pleasure. And too those who see me as now a rapidly aging old person have no desire
to be with me as a person or rider.
I neither can afford the new two
wheeled machines demanded by others
nor do I see any requirement of same.

Bryce said...
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Bryce said...
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irondad said...

Awesome! This post stirred a lot of discussion. I appreciate everyone who shared here. What's really amazing is how we all have so many diverse viewpoints, yet, we still agree on our love of two wheels.

heinz & frenchie,
Joy of life, eh? Nothing wrong with using a bike for recreation and fun!

Amen! Making our own way is what it's about.

A convert!

pooh bear,
Once in a while gems for life can come from movies,you know. Just not the Simpsons!! The last part of your comment is wise for one so young! Where did you get that kind of stuff? :)

I do give the poseurs credit for stimulating the motorcycle economy. Not always in a good way, but they do put money into the system. I don't think the type or brand of bike makes it subject to the lifestyle or way of life debate. It's more like how it fits into a person's life, I think.

dave t,
Exactly. Like I often say in this blog: It's who I am, it's what I do. That simple. It's an internalized thing, not an external decoration.

I've been called a fascist, but never an anarchist! I don't know about that French Postmodernist thing. Sounds like an intriguing area to explore.

The explanation of spectacle versus situation is pretty cool. As far as beating up poseurs I say live and let live. :) People should just be honest about things.

As for government, I'm tempted, sometimes!

Wow, look at you! Great comments. I think there's a big difference between wanting to grow into something by effort versus doing it by means of "things".

I knew a young man who wanted to play the electric guitar because a couple of his friends did it. Instead of putting in the effort to get good, this young man thought shortcuts would be the answer. He bought more expensive guitars and bigger amps. Like that would somehow give him the talent. He never got there.

When someone truly wants to become a motorcyclist for practical reasons or enjoyment, I'm all for extending a helping hand. Experienced riders helping newbies is very valuable. In that regard, I agree with your statement that people can grow.

I seriously agree with you that we are already living the good life. We're doing something we enjoy and it's fulfilling for the right reasons.

There's so much content in your comment that a short note can't do it justice. However, I think it illustrates the meat of what I'm saying. A person needs to be comfortable with themselves first and foremost. A lot of people aren't so they can't deal with anyone that's "different". Sounds like you and your 'Wing are an example of doing what works for you, not what's fashionable.

Take care,


Joe said...

For me its a reason to live. I don't ride nearly as much as I used to but my wife has picked it up and we have ridden together this year. All the poser stuff I just dismiss, they don't get it.
People go to church, I ride.