My First Bike Week: Lessons Learned About Human Nature

It's Bike Week in Daytona! A few years ago I wrote this article for our local newspaper on a few things my first Bike Week taught me about human nature...

Okay, I admit it. I was a little nervous as I strapped on my helmet for the ride to my first Bike Week. I mean, who wouldn’t be after all those scary pictures in the newspaper? As I cruised closer to Daytona, though, my strength slowly returned as I merged into a growing river of thousands of other riders—most of whom were surprisingly normal looking people.

So the first thing I noticed was something I should have already known: To know someone rides a motorcycle gives you no more information about them than knowing that they use a cell phone or carry a pocket knife.

My goal: Most of all, I just wanted to fit in—to be accepted. As it turned out, I didn’t have much choice. I may look a little different sitting next to you at a traffic light, but at Bike Week everyone looked like the outcome of a gigantic genetic cloning experiment: Black leather, bandanas, and boots.

What is Bike Week all about? A dazzling kaleidoscope of beautiful red, black, yellow, blue, green, and chrome motorcycles line the easy streets of Daytona. Like water finding the path of least resistance, torrents of motorcycles ooze down every street.  You can join the queue and parade your bike down Main Street, or line up to watch from the sidewalk. The smell of testosterone mingled with exhaust fumes permeates the air. Is Bike Week about the motorcycles? That’s part of it, of course, but a small part. 

So then what is Bike Week really all about? No doubt many of my fellow riders were living out, or searching for, an alternative identity—one miscreant cruising Main Street in a full-length lizard skin coat that he had caped over his saddle bags comes to mind. And no doubt some of these poor souls were accidentally dropped in the hospital nursery.  (This of course is true of any group). Most of these bikers, though, seemed to be more into the idea of “community” than “identity.”

What makes bikers into a community? Like all communities, bikers share a common interest. They just love to ride, and want to enjoy what they enjoy with others of like mind. Like all communities they have their own language, pull together against outside threats and oppressors, wear similar costumes, unite in common cause, find fraternity in their fellowship, and share values.

No doubt non-conformity is a highly prized value in the biker community. Ironically at Bike Week, like on a high school campus, the value looks more like “the conformity of non-conformity.” As someone has said about bikers, all the gangsters are trying to look like CEOs, and all the CEOs are trying to look like gangsters. The guy sitting next to you at a traffic light may look like a gangster, but at Bike Week everyone looks like a gangster! Naturally, some play this role more convincingly than others. But everyone looks at least a little like everyone else.

My conclusion? Bikers don’t really want to be different; they want to be accepted. Everyone wants to be part of a family. So how does one like me get “accepted” into the biker family? It was easier than I expected. If you’ve got a ride, you’re in.

The ride home: I was full of myself as I pulled out of Daytona Beach. I was accepted. I had found a new community, a family of which I could be part. I found myself revving my engine at traffic lights (something I had never thought of until Bike Week). Thanks to my comrades, the rumbling, surging power beneath me had transformed my motorcycle into an iron battle horse which would lead me in the charge toward home, a mystical symbol of my unity with all my biker brothers left behind.

Notes for my “to do” list: Make an appointment right away to get the ringing in my ears checked.  Clean bugs off windshield. More chrome for next year. Do exercises to strengthen my clutch fingers for all the sitting in traffic jams. Should I get louder pipes?

Until every church disciples every man...