The Top Ten Motorcycle Fallacies

10 motorcycle fallacies – in order

I haven’t irritated or offended people in quite some time.  I never write to offend on purpose (almost never), but sometimes it happens.  This may be one of those times. 

You have been warned.

Certain truths we hold to be self-evident, the “we” being motorcyclists. Trouble is, many are not self-evident, and probably not true. Doesn’t seem to stop people believing in them. Alas, believing in any of the fallacies below can cost you money, time, credibility, or much, much more. 

They’re listed in order from most dangerous to your health, wallet, sanity, or ego down to the least.

  1. Loud pipes save lives.

This one makes me froth at the mouth, which is not a pretty sight. “Safety” is the “reason” cited by many to mount exhaust systems that serve mainly to irritate the neighbors, anyone else not into motorcycles, and many people who are.

We do have to explain “loud.”  Many companies make accessory pipes which allow the engine to breathe a bit better, possibly increase power a tad, and do make more noise. If memory serves, they are legal (in this state) to be sold as accessories, but not as original equipment. My own Triumph Speed Triple has “off-road” pipes. I suspect they are merely the stock pipes with about 40% of the exhaust baffles removed.  Louder than stock by a bit, but unlikely to be considered objectionable. 

For decades Harley-Davidson made millions marketing “Screaming Eagle” pipes, which to me made the bikes sound about right.  They were so successful at this that a healthy percentage of Harleys had Screaming Eagle pipes installed at the dealership before the customer took delivery of his or her brand new motorcycle. Harley was selling two sets of pipes for one bike, and the profit margin on accessories was higher.  I asked once if there was not something we could do that would be better environmentally and economically than tossing dozens of brand new exhaust pipes in the dumpster. At that time, nobody had a better idea. Everyone who wanted a stock system had one, and there was no known use for brand new stock Harley pipes.

Harley-Davidson chose to stop manufacturing “Screaming Eagle” pipes a few years ago as part of their laudable effort to make motorcycle noise less objectionable. At the same time, the stock pipes seemed to get louder.  A cynic might wonder if they’d been designing stock pipes for decades that were intentionally “too” quiet, in order to spur sales of the Screaming Eagles.  

We can separate such pipes from the truly loud. For decades you could buy pipes that had no mufflers at all, gambling that police officers had better things to do that write a noise citation. If you did get a ticket, you could request a court date and then show up with the stock pipes back on, etc.  

There’s a brand called “D and D,” and I liked to refer to them as “Dumb and Dumbers.” Back then, many of them made a whole lot of noise while not improving performance at all.  

These days most manufacturers have computer design programs that make stock exhaust systems that are very hard to improve upon from a performance standpoint, and noise restrictions are ever more stringent.

None of which deters a whit people who believe that loud pipes save lives. After all, they’re not that interested in performance. They’re interested in noise.

Loud pipes don’t save lives because the noise is going out the rear of the bike, or perhaps the side, and the motorcycle is moving away from it. Almost all threats to the motorcycle are coming from the front. We could explain the Doppler Effect and how sound travels, but why bother? Those who cling to “loud pipes save lives” are similar to people who rely on Fox News. They will believe what they want to believe, and facts so often just get in the way.

  1. A motorcycle is cheaper than a car.

This concept has been iterated by generations of first time buyers as a “logical” argument for a motorcycle purchase, usually presented by the intended rider to the funding source for the motorcycle.

It is true – up to a point. The point where the motorcycle is purchased. 

Unlike a car, motorcycles do not have fenders, windshields, a roof, and other such accoutrements that offer protection from the elements. With a motorcycle, those go on the rider, so just as the bike is purchased comes the expense of gloves, helmet, boots, jacket, and more.

Unless you skip all that and plunge ahead, where the first small mishap will teach an enormous lesson in the cost of preparation vs. the cost of folly.  Presuming you survive to learn it.

Motorcycle tires have to do a lot more work than car tires with a lot less surface area available, and they are made in smaller numbers. The result is that they are both more expensive and do not last as long. At least there are only two of them!  Insurance is more expensive. And on and on.

A particular motorcycle MAY be less expensive than a car, but that motorcycle is probably not the one the earnest shopper wants to purchase.

  1. Listening to music improves the ride.

Not to go all legal on you, but in this state listening to music with two ear buds is illegal.  One ear bud, which hardly anyone uses, is legal, but still lethal. There are a few reasons for this.

There’s a tendency when listening to your favorite music to ride to the music rather than the road. The people who designed the road were not listening to the same song. I know a highly experienced rider who holed the transmission case of his BMW because “Highway to Hell” did not match the terrain.

It is my belief that riding a motorcycle requires all of my attention and (limited) skills, all the time.  There is nothing else that I do that requires 100% of my focus, both hands and feet, and most muscle groups.  Sex, maybe, but I’m unlikely to indulge in that for six or eight hours.

I once had a chat with a colleague who liked to listen to music. He at one time was a rising star in professional baseball, before an opponent delivered a cleat job to his knee that ended his career. He described to me how intense pro ball was, where every day every single thing was watched, and any error was disastrous to your ranking with the team. I asked him if he ever wore ear buds at bat, and of course he said no. Riding a motorcycle is far more important than hitting a ball, so why give away a percentage of concentration and hearing to the “opponent,” in this case people in cages?

  1. You’re more likely to crash in the rain

I don’t have any data on this, but I led people on group rides for thirteen years and never had a crash in the rain.  It seemed to me that people slowed down in the rain so much that they were actually safer.  On dry days there were some people who would blow by me and walk away, and I was fine with that. On wet days, the same people would rapidly disappear in my mirrors. I was slowing down in the wet, but nowhere near as much as most people. As long as the tires on your bike are good and you are careful of painted lines, etc.., you’ll be fine.

  1. Chaps offer protection

Chaps are an item of motorcycle gear probably mispronounced by 98% of the people who wear them.  They were originally designed as leather covers for the legs to protect cowboys riding through areas of chaparral bush, covered with hard and spiny bark that could tear denim pants.  The brush was pronounced with a soft “c”, as in shaparral, shortened to “shaps.”  They have now been appropriated by motorcyclists who pronounce them as “chaps” to such a degree that either pronunciation is acceptable.  You can bring this up the next time you’re on a ride with friends who ride cruisers, the most common demographic for chaps. This will ensure that nobody speaks to you for the rest of the day.

Chaps do provide additional warmth and protection from stones and that sort of thing, and rain.  Except that, because they are worn over pants and have no coverage in the crotch area, they are woeful in the rain in an area that you most want to keep warm and dry. I am also concerned with the integrity of the belt-like attachment system in a crash, although I’ve never seen any data on this. The saving grace is that most cruiser riders do not ride in the rain and rarely crash, so perhaps it’s a wash.

The real function of chaps is that they make almost anyone, male or female, more attractive to others. I purchased a set for my wife at one time because she enjoyed riding on the back of any Harley I was riding in a charity event.  As a side note, Susan liked charity event rides because she felt safest, despite my assertions that they were the most dangerous type of riding I did. Cruising along with dozens or hundreds of others you do not know, all on heavy machines that neither turn nor stop all that well. Some of the entrants are sitting on machines that are moving, rather than riding them.  High alert riding for me, while she leaned against the back rest and enjoyed.

In any case, when Susan put on her new chaps, she remarked “Wow – these really accentuate your butt!” 

I replied, “What would be your point?”

Becoming?  Yes.  Safety enhancing?  Not much.

  1. Tennis shoes give you a friendlier look

This one goes all the way back to the introduction of the Honda Gold Wing. Early adopters wanted to separate themselves from the image of (then) Harley riders, so they all (and I do mean almost all) mounted a stuffed animal on the luggage rack so all would know they were friendly. They also took to wearing tennis shoes to get away from the stomping engineer boots worn at the time by Harley enthusiast. Tennis shoes worn on a motorcycle that weighs over a thousand pounds with rider and passenger is not friendly. It is stupid.

  1.     Motorcycles help you attract women (or men)

I had a female friend who got into motorcycles as her next adventure. She bought a Harley, and was delighted to find that anywhere she went she was welcomed into any group of Harley riders.  She thought motorcycles helped her to meet interesting men.  I’ll admit the Harley helped, but the real reason was that she was attractive.  After two years of this, she switched to golf.

Motorcycles can help you attract others, but only others who are motorcyclists. Motorcyclists are a very small demographic. The vast majority of folks do not get motorcycles, do not like them, or actively fear them. You’d be better off with a new hat.

  1. Chicken strip width is an indication of rider skill

“Chicken strips” is a phrase that refers to the portion of the tire treads that show no wear.  Because motorcycles lean over in turns, the treads, unlike on a car, wrap around the tire and extend up the sides.  At the extreme, race bikes or track day bikes ridden by the adept will show wear all the way to the edge of the tread and at times small shreds of torn rubber. This is at the track. 

On the street,  no chicken strips or very narrow ones simply indicate a rider who is riding over his or her head, and a crash is imminent. You cannot corner that aggressively in a world with stray dogs and people backing into the road just past the apex of the corner. At least not for long.

Some posers have been known to take a file to the edges of the tires to make them look more used, which is just silly. 

I’ve had many people make sarcastic comments on the width of the strips on my tires (one to two inches), which they felt belied what they assumed was my “expert” status. My reply is that they are exactly the right width. For me.

  1. You know how to ride

If you’ve been riding for a number of years, you’re probably pretty confident that you know what you’re doing. You are correct, up to a point.

That point is where you take an advanced riding class or attend a cornering clinic. I started doing this when I’d been riding for 40 years. I attended several classes with customers as part of my job entailing customer support.

I presumed, in my folly, that such a class would review many things I’d known for years.  But no! Each time I took such a class, and even when repeating a class, I learned something new. Brand new. As in a concept or technique I’d never considered before and now use every day. 

I am not referring to a class for racers. These were all classes held for street riders on street bikes, and in one case, on the street. You may know how to ride, but you never know everything. If you have not taken such a class in the past two years, you need one.

  1. You have to have a “touring” bike to tour.

My favorite for last.  Over the years I had literally hundreds of conversations with customers who dreamed of the “big trip,” a concept whose definition varies from a three day ride to one lasting several years. It seems everyone wants to do this, but many are thwarted because they do not own a “touring bike.”

In the beginning, so sayeth the elder, there were no touring motorcycles. There were motorcycles. If you wanted to go on a long ride, you did.  My first such ride took place in 1968, a 4,000 mile trip from Minneapolis to Seattle and back.  My “touring bike” was a 250cc two stroke Yamaha YDS 3.  My buddy rode his Honda 305.  And.. we were camping. We had a fabulous time I can still recall with detail after almost half a century.  Three years later I rode a Honda 450cc street scrambler from Seattle to Florida.  Last summer I repeated the Seattle to Minneapolis and return trip in the opposite direction on my Triumph Speed triple. And so on.

If you own a motorcycle, you can tour on it.  You may need to pack less than on a true touring bike, and you may ride more slowly, or get to ride faster, and you may cover fewer miles in a day.  In other words, you can adapt, especially with cell phones and GPS available and a warren of road choices.

You don’t need a different motorcycle, you just need time and money and the attitude that you will have a great adventure.

And you will.


That’s my ten. Do you have others to add?



Copyright 2015                          David Preston



About david

I am a 73 year old motorsports nut who lives in Snohomish, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Rocket 3 (2020) and a 2016 Ford Focus ST. What else would you like to know?
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