Get Off My Bike, Please — Motorcycle Etiquette

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Categories: Hell For Leather, HFL

Sometimes I really struggle with my fellow man. A few weeks ago, after a long ride, I came out of a coffee shop to find a tall, very good looking woman sitting in the saddle of my motorcycle surrounded by a group of her friends taking photographs. Why do people feel free to touch another person’s motorcycle?

I was astonished. Or, as we say in England my gob was well and truly smacked. I asked her what she was doing and warned her that the bike’s pipes were still hot from riding and she should be careful not to burn herself.

The woman looked at me, flicked her long hair away from her face, and told me she was a fashion model from L.A. reeling off a long list of fashion names and magazines that I have never heard of. She said my bike would make a great prop for a shoot she had coming up. She smiled at me again, twisted the throttle and squeezed the brake lever and then swung a long beautiful leg over my bike dragging a heel across the rear fender.

I just didn’t get it. Her friends, meantime, just stood there looking adoringly at her and continued to take photographs of this ‘fashion model’ standing alongside my motorcycle.

So, I asked her for her keys and where her car was parked and told her I was going to now go and sit in the driver’s seat and push all of the buttons I could find and fiddle with the radio for a while. I said I’d let her know when I was finished.

“You’re funny,” she told me. “Why would you want to go and do that?”

And that to my mind summed up this entire situation. What on earth possesses people that, when they see a motorcycle parked, they have the right to get on it, touch it and mess around with the controls?

I promise I am not that precious about my motorcycle. It’s a bike and its sole purpose is to be ridden. It’s no garage queen. It’s often dirty and carries numerous scars that underline my lack of ability on two wheels. I’ll talk to you about my bike. Heck if you ask me I’ll let you sit on it, providing you know what you’re doing and that you watch out for things like a hot engine or exhaust pipes that will leave a mark on your hide.

I once watched from inside a store a man lifting his young son on to my bike after carefully checking that the owner was not around and he wasn’t being watched. I like kids and nothing makes me smile more when they wave at me as I pass them on my bike. I always wave back. Who knows? One day they might be fellow motorcyclists too.

On this occasion, I really struggled not to rush out of the store and start yelling. But, I had to see how this was going to turn out and bit my tongue. The kid couldn’t have been more than three-years-old and his bare legs dangled each side of my bike, dangerously close to really hot engine cylinders. His father looked pretty confident. The child, though, didn’t look too sure. He couldn’t reach the bars and he wriggled around uncomfortably in the saddle.

I always leave my open-face helmet on the bike’s tank. It’s crappy and nobody’s going to steal it and I don’t like carrying it around with me. But dad had spotted that, too, and had taken it off and plonked it down on the kid’s head. It was so large that most of the boy’s head and face disappeared inside it. With one hand trying to support the kid’s back, the man whipped out his camera phone and tried to get a picture of a small, very confused boy balancing on the seat of a stranger’s motorcycle, wearing a stranger’s helmet.

It was at that point I decided I’d walk out of the store and ask the man what he thought he was doing. His initial reaction was surprise and then he became defensive.

I explained that my bike was still hot from riding and he stood a good chance of burning his son’s legs if he wasn’t careful. And, why hadn’t he waited to ask me, the owner, if he could do this? He mumbled something about not doing any harm and said that his son had wanted to do it. He yanked the boy off my bike, handed me my helmet and walked away giving me angry looks over his shoulder as they left. The child seemed quietly relieved.

Some of this is my fault perhaps. I have stupidly tall ape hanger bars on my bike that make me laugh at how preposterous they are. It seems members of the public think so, too. They will walk up to my bike while I am standing alongside it and try the bars for size (admittedly they don’t actually get on my bike) and ask me, “How do you ride with these things?” All while twisting the front wheel from left to right making the entire bike wobble around on its kick stand. Often I just shake my head and say, “I don’t know.”

I have, though, worked out a sort of solution. When I can remember, I place the sign in the above photograph on the top of my tank. So far, it seems to have worked. I have not come round a corner for some weeks now to find anyone sitting on my bike.

Maybe I am turning into the grouchy old man that my friends always said I would be. But, as I said at the outset of this piece, there are some days when I really struggle with my fellow man, especially when they’re sitting on my bike without asking me first.

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