To the general public, motorcycling appears to be a homo-genous undertaking. My wife, for example, cannot see the difference between my green 1999 Kawasaki ZRX1100 and black 1971 Yamaha RT360. "They're just motorcycles" she says, rolling her eyes in that cute, emasculating way she does. My non-riding friends equate my motorcycle obsession with other people's hobbies like origami, ballroom dancing or nesting-Russian-doll collecting.
John Q's inability to cull the four-cylinder wail from the V-twin chuff is why every Christmas I receive several copies of Biker Billy Cooks With Fire, the TV chef's guide to burning meat. At least once a year someone will send me Hell's Raconteur, a spoken-book CD of Sonny Barger reading life-negating Hell's Angels stories. I won't go into how many teddy bears wearing black-leather jackets, red bandannas and a surly, Don't-mess-with-Ted look on their faces I have abandoned among the Nordic Tracs and nicotine-tinged, cathode-ray computer monitors cluttering the alley behind our local Goodwill.
Would these same gift-givers buy a Green Bay Packers fan a Minnesota Vikings jersey? It's all cold, snowy football isn't it?
It must be a relief to pigeonhole me so easily: "He likes motorcycles, so I'll get him bike stuff." My relatives have sent me V-twin telephones that go potato-potato instead of ringing, bar-and-shield, fringed-leather toilet-paper snugs and commemorative 100th-anniversary, hand-painted, porcelain-bisque, Harley-Davidson garages complete with poseable outlaws.
My friend Charlie, a Harley rider since 1958, started collecting miniature motorcycle replicas representing every bike he had ever owned. Aware of this idiosyncrasy, his friends keep giving him model motorcycles, which he dutifully stacks on his collection-room shelves. They bring him these toy motorcycles out of rote, the original purpose of the gift perverted by time into a kind of meaningless circumcision ritual. Charlie now has an entire room filled with little bikes, the vast majority of them having nothing to do with his motorcycle history.
Once you are pegged as a motorcyclist, the Highway to Hell stuff pours in. How many large-format coffee-table books covering Harley-Davidson springer forks between the years 1912 and 1923 can one man stand? It's enough to make a rider yearn for socks and aftershave.
It's not the giver's fault. In the big, wide world of motorcycle gifts, there is only one brand of motorcycle represented: Harley-Davidson. In the big, wide world of motorcycle gifts there is only one kind of motorcyclist: The Live-to-Ride, Five-to-Nine Outlaw.
What about those of us without chain-drive wallets? What about our lifestyle? Just once I'd like to get a Ninja phone that rings like a 30-gallon Rubbermaid garbage can being dragged across the driveway, then falls off the table flinging sharp plastic bodywork all over my living room. "Dude, can I call you back? I'm bleeding bad, man, and hey, thanks for the cool phone."
I want a black T-shirt with a dramatic graphic of a sportbike plowing into a typical suburban home. The text underneath the picture would read, "Hell yeah, I'm riding too fast. Maybe you should have thought of that before you let your kids play in the front yard!"
Where is our scabrous-kneed, getaway-helmeted teddy bear with real breakable limbs? Or our 1/100th scale, hand-painted porcelain-bisque chiropractor's office with realignable-spine squid figurines? I'll tell you: nowhere. The tchotcke manufacturers are not about to splash out on sportbike-centric gifts until the cruiser market dries up. And with the way boomers seem to live forever, that should be about the year 2051.
Don't get carried away, though. Let's keep this inappropriate-gift situation between us. I'm not going to complain to my friends. Because there's only one thing worse than receiving those biker-lifestyle gifts. And that's receiving no gifts at all.