by Rob Callahan
I know vintage bikes.
I also know how much your heart just broke over the idea that Rob Callahan is into something as decidedly un-nerdy as motorcycles. I’m really sorry. I never meant to hurt you and I’ll try to make it up to you with a future entry about graphic novels, conventions or franchises that begin with “Star”. For now, though, just bear with me. If it helps, try to think of me as the exchange student from Grease 2. If that isn’t enough, know that we’re actually talking about books today.
But not so much in a Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance way as in an Audubon Field Guide sort of way. Let’s you and me take a look at some of the most prominent specimens on display from order motorizia, family cyclia, genus vintagia and species customizaria. (Those of you who know Latin, shut up.) Let’s identify the different bikes out there and then, just to maintain the requisite bookishness, compare what we find to some work of literature or another.
Why, you ask? Because I went out to the Bearded Lady Motorcycle Freak Show over the weekend. That’s why.
It was a nice show. Not the kind of place where you’ll see dudes in sandals who don’t know how to shift their Ninjas. Those guys would get their asses kicked by even the moped riders at Bearded Lady. No, this is the kind of place where you’ll see painstakingly restored old bikes from every possible era standing alongside daily runners and bikes so heavily modified you can barely even tell they’re bikes anymore.
As I looked around, though, the wide variety of bikes before me sort of sorted itself into narrower and narrower varieties. And, as luck would have it, they all reminded me of some book. I figured that’s exactly how anyone else would’ve seen it too. Then I figured a person’s taste in bikes is probably symptomatic of their taste in a lot of other stuff. Then I started to miss those old facebook quizes that told you which Firefly character you were and why. The ones where the results were always a surprise because the questions never telegraphed the outcome. Absolutely never. After that, I started to think we’re well past due for an internet quiz Renaissance.
So I’m going to get that ball rolling. Ask yourself, “What book am I, as illustrated by my taste in motorcycles?” Go ahead. Ask.
Done? Good. Now read on and learn the answers to all of your questions.
Vintage Small Motorcycle
Your bike is small, simple and efficient. Whether it’s a Sears, Cushman, Puch or any of the dozens of flavors of Honda C-series, you ride a compact nostalgia machine that turns heads and can corner through a revolving door. You do all your own work. This is due in equal parts to the fact that you can, you love to and no modern mechanic will touch your ride. They haven’t made new parts for it in your lifetime, so its got more unorthodox patches and spare parts than a Cuban Chevrolet. Still it’s yours, it’s vintage and anyone in the know would pay good money to take it off your hands. Hardly anyone is in the know, though, so people mostly just laugh at you because it looks like a moped.
Small, classic and to the point: You are Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Your bike’s built for the hills yet totally street legal. You can commute with the best of them but you never let a little thing like lack of pavement stand in your way. There are times after romping through bogs, woods and ATV trails that you come back looking like little more than a mud delivery device, but you’ve got power enough to hop on the freeway and let the wind blow you clean.
Your crossover appeal would’ve made you Harry Potter, but anyone as rough and dirty as you is obviously Anita Blake.
Hot Rod at a Motorcycle Show
You’re that douche who listens to audible books and then claims to have “read” the novel.
Nothing screams senseless manchild like a grown man ruining the shocks on a perfectly good and potentially lethal toy motorcycle. You don’t mind if you look like a bear on a tricycle, this is the most fun you’ve ever had and everyone’s too busy making moped jokes to notice you anyway. You’re not about to waste your time and money at a bike dealer either. Not when your ride is on shelves now at the local Checkers, AutoZone or O’Reillys.
You are everything that’s amazingly fun and everything that’s sad, ridiculous and stupid in the world. All at the same time. You are Archie Comics.
Modern Knock-Off of a Vintage Bike
Actual old bikes are expensive and hard to find, but anyone can mimic the style of those vintage snobs’ bikes. Enter the knock-off. You ride the PT Cruiser of bikes, if “PT Cruiser” were synonymous with low grade aluminum, worse plastic and not a single tight bolt on the frame. Screw substance. Go for style. Go knock-off.
You are Fifty Shades of Grey. Because even though everyone laughs at those vintage small bike guys behind their backs, the vintage small bike guys laugh at you.
Screw style and substance. You’ve got size. Your loud pipes save lives. At least we hope they do, because you need something to make up for that helmet you won’t wear. When a Civic or Prius sees you coming, it gets out of the way. You are so All-American, anyone who isn’t you is clearly un-American. (We’ll overlook the foreign sweatshop that made your carburetor, speedometer, forks, shocks, electronics, turn signals and wheels.) You also like to think of yourself as a rebel, an outlaw and a real badass. The other bikers are usually polite enough not to point out that you’re actually a lawyer or an accountant during the week.
Incidentally, that Prius and Civic that moved aside get much better gas mileage than you. But then so does an M1 Abrams.
Your complicated inner workings have a reputation for breaking down without constant maintenance and you announce your big, bad all-American awesomeness with deafening volume wherever you go. Then you break down. You’re Atlas Shrugged. Sorry.
Believe it or not, Harley-Davidson spent a good chunk of the ’60s and ’70s courting the small bike market. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t go so well. And while these bikes may have been a decades-long exercise in futility for Harley, they are now a great gateway Harley for the modern wrench-turner with a penchant for all-American motorcycles (See above, re: carburetor, et al.) and a working class budget. Dude, you totally found a Harley you could afford. Now all those lawyers and accountants who dress up in jeans and chaps and play Easy Rider on the weekends will have to let you ride with them! Right?
You’re Ayn Rand’s Anthem. One of many lesser-known Ayn Rand books which simply retells a couple of chapters out of Atlas Shrugged, for those who couldn’t commit to the full book.
You want big. You want loud. You want all-American. You just don’t want a Harley. So what’s more all-American than appropriating the image of your nation’s conquered victims and using it as a trademark? Nothing. That’s what. Your bike is as American as baseball in Cleveland and Atlanta, or football in Washington and Kansas City. On top of that, you’ve got not only size and volume but substance as well. Your bike is known for its performance and reliability. Just like a Honda but bigger, more expensive and uglier.
When your seventh grade lit teacher let the class decide between Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath for your Steinbeck unit, you were the apple polisher who voted for the bigger book, weren’t you? I’m going to find you, you know.
You are The Grapes of Wrath. Nearly as long and boring as Atlas Shrugged, but actually grounded in reality.
Ironic Paint Job
You’re whatever Urban Outfitters had on sale next to David Sedaris this week. I have nothing more to say to you.
You’re just as into image and branding as the Harley guys, but you’re also into not being a lawyer or accountant who plays Easy Rider on the weekends. You’re a lawyer or accountant who wants everyone to know about your successful career crunching numbers or convicting the poor, and nothing screams upwardly mobile like a Beamer. You actually ride a pretty solid, reliable bike. But you wouldn’t know that. That’s your mechanic’s purview.
You are How to Win Friends and Influence People, specifically the chapter on first impressions.
You ride a racing bike. According to many, you ride the best. Racing bike. Ever. Ducati took everything everyone else ever put into making bikes awesome and then turned awesome up to eleven. Then twelve. This is the bike all other bikes want to be and the standard by which the rest are measured. Its fans adore it and pretty much everyone else sort of goes along with them because no one wants to be the one guy who doesn’t see the emperor’s clothes.
You are Gone With the Wind if Lucio Fulci was the copy editor and went through with a red pen until it was the next Riddick manuscript.
Otherwise Perfectly Fine Bike Marred by Stickers
I just hope you catch the guy who did that to your bike, dude.
Also Gone With the Wind, but after someone’s hyperactive kid brother went through it with My Big Book of Stickers.
Brand New Moped
Let’s face it. You haven’t got time for things like learning how to shift, getting a motorcycle license and learning the laws that govern passenger safety or, you know, physics. The designers obviously thought riding one-handed with your son on your lap was perfectly fine or they would’ve engineered that option out of the final product. Just like they engineered shifting and survival instinct out of the final product. You’re not concerned with the mindless tedium of laws, safety, the lives of your loved ones… and we won’t even get you started about maintenance. When it’s time to clean the carb or change the plug, you buy a new bike. You want your bike easy and you want it now. Consequently, your annual new moped budget exceeds what anyone with half decent credit spends on car payments in a year.
You’re not a book. You’re are an iPad, but you downloaded the Kindle app so you could read the Steve Jobs biography. That’s your only book, though, because nobody really reads. Those hipsters sitting around in coffee shops are just pretending to read the books in their hands. And you’re not going to sit around make-believing that you’re reading books like the rest of those pretentious posers.