Each of us has likely been advised not to judge a book by its cover, but my experience as a motorcyclist confirms that those of us who ride are routinely judged in that manner. It doesn’t help that media and pop culture frequently portray motorcycle riders as noisy bad-ass bikers or reckless crotch-rocket squids.
But that’s not who I am. Friendly, slight of build, and respectful, I am the definition of non-threatening. Have a question? I’m all ears. Need a hand? I’ll help.
When I’m riding, I make a concerted effort to be an ambassador for everyone who rides. I stop for people crossing the road, let other vehicles pull out, and give extra space to those with dogs or horses. Off the bike, I hold open doors, especially for old folks and families with kids. I leave generous tips for waitstaff. I say hi to people in uniform. Honestly, it doesn’t take that much effort, and if non-riders get a good feeling about someone they meet who is riding a motorcycle, the next time they think about a motorcycle they’ll be able to associate it with something positive.
Consider a couple of cases in point. Rides in my home region of Massachusetts often find me at Quabbin Reservoir. One particular day in March, the sky was cold blue crystal as I motored through the reservation. Water cascaded over the 400-foot-long stone spillway, indicating that the reservoir was at capacity. I continued up Quabbin Hill Road and, at the rotary, curved right toward the Summit Tower. From there I could enjoy splendid views of the valley and the mountains beyond. The unpaved parking area was a muddy mess, so I parked at the paved road’s edge behind the lone car there.
As I walked up toward the tower, a little girl, probably five years old, turned sharply at the sound of her name, looked back at me, then scampered to hide behind her parents. I offered a friendly hello, but my presence was clearly met with suspicion.
Though I gave them space, I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation: The girl was asking her mother for a quarter so she could look through the coin-operated binoculars. “Sorry,” her mom said, “I didn’t bring any quarters.” A hopeful look at her dad was also answered with “Sorry.” The girl’s expression switched from anticipation to disappointment.
I had a quarter. I fished it out of my pocket and held it up for the mom’s approval. Looking a bit surprised, she nodded her consent, so I offered the coin to the girl. The youngster flashed a grin and thanked me.
“My daughter is a few years older than yours,” I told her parents. “She always liked looking through those binoculars.” They smiled. Twenty-five cents had changed me from someone best avoided to someone with a daughter.
Stopping to be a good Samaritan has long been my practice, although it has not always been met with appreciation. Several summers ago, while riding in Vermont’s remote Northeast Kingdom, I came upon a minivan parked on the shoulder. A tire was flat, so I pulled over to see how I could help. A young woman and her kids were in the van. I parked my bike ahead, removed my helmet and, keeping back what I considered a respectful distance, offered to help. The driver held up her hands: No! She didn’t know me or whether my intentions were honorable, so I couldn’t blame her.
My family was expecting me back home in a few hours, and I could have just left, but my fatherly instincts were telling me this young family was vulnerable. Another dad who rides once shared with me his story of simply staying on-site until proper help showed up, so even though this driver didn’t trust me to help, I decided to wait until help she did trust arrived.
“I’ve got a family and I’d hate to think of them stranded,” I told the driver, keeping back at that respectful distance. “I’ll just stay here by my bike until a cop arrives.” She was looking right at me but didn’t respond. I went back to my bike and reached into the tankbag for a snack.
It was sometime later when a Vermont state police cruiser, with its distinctive green livery, came into view. I waved my arms and the lights flashed on. The trooper pulled over next to me and got out immediately.
“What’s happening here?” he demanded.
“I saw the van had a flat and stopped to help,” I explained. “The lady said no, but it’s just her and the kids, so I decided to stay until help she trusts arrived. My family is expecting me home in Massachusetts, so I really need to go now.”
The trooper pointed an authoritative finger at me. “Wait here.” He walked to the van, spoke briefly with the driver, then came back. “Thank you for staying,” he said. “Ride safely.” The lady waved at me from the van. I waved back and she smiled. The motorcycle guy had changed from an untrustworthy character to that thoughtful dad who stayed until help arrived.
It rarely hurts to be friendly, especially when we’re out riding motorcycles. That way, people who do not ride might appreciate that those of us who do aren’t outlaws or hooligans by default. They just might realize that motorcyclists aren’t all that different from them. We just prefer to ride.