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Why "Why Do We Ride?" Is the Wrong Question


We’ve all seen the in-depth analyses of why we ride motorcycles. Many philosophize and even wax poetic over the things that riding means to us all. The problem? Love of motorcycling has as many different reasons as it does individuals who ride.


Many ride to meet people and to encounter new cultures. The core of why they ride is to make a connection to those around them. Others ride because it is simply an inexpensive way to commute. Some ride to cruise from bar to bar and to be part of their local “biker” community. I know one woman who found, almost from the start, that riding long distance in short time is the core of her love of riding. An Iron Butt certificate is cherished and an outward sign of what she has accomplished. I, myself ride, not so much for interacting with people along the way, although I do enjoy that to a limit, but for simply the time on the road in new places feeling the air pass around me and the ground pass under me. I just want to see parts of the world I’ve not seen before, and I relish the saddle time away from other people as a kind of meditation and a way to escape from society’s demands.


The point is that, while there may be common attributes of riding that are in common between two people, there is no one reason that binds us all, and therefore, the question “Why do we ride?” does not have an answer. We all have our own reasons for riding, and not any of them are the wrong answer to, “Why do I ride?” (unless they bring harm to others). That makes me wonder why we even seek a common set of reasons. Perhaps, as humans, it is in our nature to find groups or to find definitions for the why of our lives. I find it ironic, especially in America, where the idea of “rugged individualism” is held in the highest regard that, in reality, many of us are looking to be a part of something outside ourselves within which to identify who we are. Perhaps it is not a bad thing to have a circle of friends who share the same interests or beliefs, but when the group defines a person, instead of their own personality, something is lost.


This desire to form groups does not belong just to motorcyclists, but to all of society. So many want to be a part of a group in order to claim an identity, instead of forging one on their own and of their own. Today there is so much discussion of labels with so finely crafted definitions of each, but the reality is that human beings are on a long continuum of multiple characteristics no one of which or sum of which represents the whole. Feeling one must have a label limits a person; the individual should not be defined by society’s definitions but by their own. There are many other divisions in which we place ourselves, such as Republican and Democrat, as if every Democrat believes in exactly the same things as every other Democrat, or that no Republican believes differently than their party brethren. Republican and Democrat, Liberal and Conservative, Right and Left views are really also on a continuum of thought, and in reality, people fall along many places along it. In life we are not all one thing, but are diverse with many beliefs, desires, aspirations, and moral codes.


When it comes to motorcycling, the groups we join defy, just as our political parties, who we really are and replace me with us. We’ve all seen the rider who belongs to a biker gang who, and to be part of it, must project that they are a “bad ass” and must act a certain way, sometimes violently, to be validated by the group that defines them. There is also the “adventure rider” who has to have the right brand of gear and bike so others may see how rough and adventurous he or she may be, when what they might rather like to do is sit down in a comfortable easy chair for a while and have a coffee and read a book, instead of fording rivers on the tall adventure bike. There’s the sportbike enthusiast who measures their worth in miles per hour and what leathers they wear, but who may ride, sometimes with tragic results, beyond their limits to keep up a reputation of belonging. Some must ride a thousand miles each day to feel accepted into an association but would rather stop at 350 miles and rest before moving on the next day. It’s always a game of keeping up with the Joneses, and the Joneses always win in the end.


So, instead of trying to belong, why not try to be who we are authentically, that we are not what others tell us we should be. If you love to ride thousands of miles at a stretch, and no one besides yourself moves you to do it, then do ride on. If riding across Mongolia on a dirt bike thrills you, then do it, but do it for yourself, not because someone expects it of you. If you want the most expensive gear because it will serve you well in what you are doing and you can also afford it, then buy yourself the best, but just don’t let those things wrapped around you or idling underneath you define who you are; they are tools to achieve your hopes, but are not your hopes.


If you chase your dreams because they are your dreams, then you’ll then be able to answer the right question: “Why do I ride?”