October 2006

Hard tales gone soft

By David Feela

I wish I knew why Harley riders stare straight through me when I’m coming down the street on my scooter from the opposite direction. We’ve all seen the secret signal they flash each other as they pass by, a quick salute, often with the left hand or arm quickly extended. A kind of wave, an undeniable sign of acknowledgment between two riders who likely have never met. It’s a gesture of support, a confidence, a way of saying “hey” to a fellow biker.

Sadly, I’m beginning to suspect American motorcyclists of subscribing to a caste system in which Harley Davidsons occupy the top tier, followed by the Euro-touro blends, crotch rockets, dirt bikes, and finally the dung of motorized two-wheeled transportation, the scooter.

I own a scooter. Americans are buying and riding more scooters. Do we have to organize our own rally just to get a little respect?

It may be that a manifesto tooled into leather and nailed to a dealership door could make our case for a new age on the streets. Not everyone who chooses to ride a scooter is a wimp; clearly, not everyone who rides a Harley is a rugged individual. I’ve seen the ladies with blue hair driving their Buicks and, believe me, it takes guts to scoot around on our public roads with only 49ccs under our seats. I’m proud of my comrades for staying alert, being cautious, and sucking up less gasoline. It’s time the big bikes realized they’re representing the Hummers and SUVs of the motorcycle world.

If I could market a scooter look – an outfit, say, that screams take a ride on the mild side – maybe stereotypes would shatter and the thundering chrome classes would meet us with open arms. Unfortunately, uniforms don’t appeal to those efficient souls who ride scooters. Most of us follow the fashion model dictated by common sense: If it’s cool, we dress warmly; if it’s warm, we wear something cool; if it’s wet we try to stay out of the rain. Leather, chains, fringed vests, beards, braids, and tattoos amount to clutter, and really, there’s not enough room on a scooter. Trademark insignias and corporate belonging do little to motivate the scootee.

I’m not sure if it’s a matter of economics or just sour grapes. In the State of Colorado scooters under 50ccs need not pay for endorsement licensing, registration, plates, or insurance. They can even park on the sidewalks. If I was big bike, I’d be upset, but there’s no need to take it out on the little guys. Let’s roll and be role models for each other. Let’s try to relax: we won’t say anything about 12 bikes lined up in two parking spaces if you’ll just disregard our shopping baskets.

Being ignored as a bipedal without pedals only makes matters worse. The scooter rider already feels invisible at the traffic light. I’ve arrived at i n t e r s e c t i o n s early in the morning when no traffic is forthcoming, especially from side streets. I pull up to the crosswalk where the traffic signal should get some sense of my presence, but nothing happens. The light stays red for me, green for the rest of humanity.

I could sit a full five minutes wrapped in my invisibility cloak, waiting for the signal to change. Once I even put the kick stand down, got off my scooter, and jogged over to push the pedestrian crosswalk button. The light changed, but it mistook me for a pedestrian.

Lately I’ve taken to simply looking both ways for traffic and scooting across the intersection, regardless of what the light tells me to do, which amounts to a blatant disregard for authority — just like any good Harley rider.

David Feela is a teacher at Montezuma-Cortez High School.