How Biker Gangs Reduce Risk for the Rest of Us

How 1%ers Make Motorcycling Safer

First, some terms to differentiate. We have “motorcyclists,”  “bikers,” and “1%ers.”

The 1% actually number far less than 1% of the motorcycle population, due to the deft marketing savvy of Hell’s Angels long term president Sonny Barger four decades ago. 

As an aside, Mr. Barger has written several books in recent years.  Some are motorcycle how to books and some are novels, and all of them outsell mine by several magnitudes.

In any case, motorcycles are, for 1%ers, essentially props. They are not really all that interested in riding. They are all about drug sales, prostitution, extortion, and the ever-present threat of violence. The motorcycles deliver this message very forcefully, but in every gathering of 1%ers I have witnessed the motorcycles were merely parked while the members all stood around in intimidating groups.  They are very effective in that manner.

“Bikers” are people who, almost to a person, ride large air-cooled V-twin cruiser motorcycles. Virtually all of them are Harleys or other brands designed and styled to be virtual clones of Harleys. Many of these people are the nicest folks you could ever meet, but the preferred outfit strives for the “bad ass” look. Lots of black leather, black helmets, and perhaps decals on the helmet expressing mostly rude “humorous” statements.

“Motorcyclists” ride all sorts of motorcycles, from dual sport to sport bikes to sport tourers to tourers and even cruisers.  Their look is usually slanted toward “ATGATT” as a philosophy – all the gear, all the time. 

All of these groups share one attribute – costuming.  The 1%ers try to look as threatening as possible, the bikers are bad-ass, and the motorcyclists are adorned with gear to the maximum for their choice.  There is no harm in this, and we all do it.

Fashion is not necessarily logical. The “chaps” favored by 1%ers and bikers are really not suited for motorcycle use.  They were originally designed as leather coverings for the legs to protect cowboys from the thorns of chaparral bushes. The correct pronunciation is actually “shaps,” although that is now changing by mass usage to “chaps.”  The cowboys usually wore a long coat or serape over them in case of rain, which bikers do not use, so in the event of rain the water goes straight to the biker’s unprotected crotch area.

The all-black “rule” can have amusing consequences. I used to ride with the Great Northwest HOG chapter, some of the nicest people ever. On one of my first rides a member said to me, “You cannot ride a Harley wearing a yellow helmet.”  He was not entirely serious, but mostly.

I replied, “Watch me!” as I pulled on my bright yellow Arai.

Later, the dealership asked me to devote more of my time to HOG events. As it was time for a new helmet, I purchased a black Arai.  Then came the comment, “Oh no!  We liked the yellow helmet, because we always knew where you were.”

But all of these genres have their silliness. At one time I owned a Muzzy Raptor, a barely street legal superbike. I wore my full “race leathers” and a pair of extremely expensive race boots that were incredibly uncomfortable when walking.  I used this bike to go to events, where I spent my time standing and walking. I never raced it or did a track day. But golly, I looked fast!

In like manner, many sport bike riders endure wrist and back pain by riding bikes designed to look like road race winners in jammed traffic conditions.  Most such motorcycles are not comfortable at all until you’re riding well over the posted speed limit. At the extreme, the suspension on my Muzzy worked very well – at speeds above 80mph.

Many dual sport riders both in their personal dress and with farkles for the bike, appear to be off on a dirt road journey of several months and multiple countries. All suited up, they ride to a local hang out, and are often termed “Starbucks Adventure riders.”

There is nothing wrong with any of this. We all go to some effort every day to look like we want to look.  The cosmetics industry thrives on this.

But the combined effects of the 1%ers and the bikers is that people who do not know anything about motorcycles react with fear whenever they see any motorcycle, no matter what type.  They do not differentiate by type of bike or the attire of the rider. We’ve all seen that look on the face of a car driver, a mixture of loathing and concern.

I used to feel awful about this, but in time the advantages have become apparent.  When someone is afraid of you, they want to move further away.  They may change lanes, fall back on purpose, or wave you by on a winding country road. All of these are good things, and enhance your safety.

“Loud pipes save lives” is one of the biggest lies ever concocted. Loud pipes offend and irritate, but do not save lives.

1%ers and the biker image, however, do save lives, or at least decrease risk.

Next time a car moves out of your way, you can be grateful for the branding campaign of the 1%ers.  Irony lives.


Copyright 2015                            David Preston


About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, 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 have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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