I got my Minnesota motorcycle endorsement in the summer of 1994. I was 18 years old and had failed to graduate high school with the rest of my friends, which meant I was feeling pretty low. The state of Minnesota is full of smart people; I read a statistic recently that 91 percent of the state’s population has a high school degree. And every single one of my good friends had graduated in the top 25 of our class.
I always like to tell the story that, according to my final report card, I was ranked 416 –– despite the fact there were only 414 people in my class. And there was a kid in my class who thought he was Batman. No, really. He dressed up as Batman and referred to everyone as “citizen” (1). He graduated on time; I didn’t.
So, my getting a motorcycle endorsement was primarily an act of proving to myself that I could do something: an easy, confidence-boosting win. To a certain extent, the motorcycle endorsement was an end rather than a means. I am not able now to get back into the mind of my 18-year-old self, so I can’t really say how strong was my desire to do anything with the endorsement after earning it.
I know that I was a kid with a poor work ethic (and therefore very little money) who had no close friends with motorcycles or even any sort of mechanical inclination. No one in my circle worked on cars, they were too busy pretending to be arts-minded liberals (2). I know, too, that I was generally put off by the look and sound of sport motorcycles –– a stance exacerbated by the fact I lived amongst the slow-to-change latent racism of the Upper Midwest. As late as the 90s it was still very common for a dude to roll his eyes and complain about “rice burner crotch rockets.”
On top of this, it was a time before the internet. So what I knew about motorcycling was incredibly limited. To the point of naivety so intense I was afraid to confront it. I never set foot in a motorcycle shop because I feared being instantly exposed as a fool. The only “shopping” for motorcycles I did was via classified ads in the Star Tribune. Which was rarely of any use to me because the ads were text only and I had no idea what the letters and numbers of a motorcycle’s name meant (3). My best lead came via occasional Sunday pull-out adverts from Tousley Motorsports, where the tendency was to show pictures of “rice burners” at prices far beyond what I was willing or capable of paying for something I didn’t really want.
Motorcycling seemed to present only two faces to me: 1) Dude in his 50s who is loping around on an enormous, expensive and shiny Harley hoping it will compensate for the fact he is fat and his penis doesn’t work; 2) Dude on an ear-splitting sport bike who wears Oakleys and a backwards baseball cap. I didn’t want to be either of those people. And I think that’s why, or at least part of why motorcycling fell out of interest for me.
I wish I had been more aware, though. I wish I had been able to see that a bike is just a bike; it can be an extension of your personality if you want, but doesn’t have to be the source of it. I wonder what my adventures would have been like.
A little different, I suppose. I used to do a lot of sleeping in my pick up.
(1) He was beloved. He always took it upon himself to break up fights by stepping into the fray and giving both combatants a good talking to. And it always worked. Both sides were so amused they couldn’t help but walk away.
(2) Because I am such a contrary person at times, I annoyed my friends by listening to Rush Limbaugh all the time and daydreaming of owning an extravagantly large ranch in Texas. In my parents’ storage area I still have the drawings of the house I wanted to build –– a large ranch home with a sort of grand hall in the middle that has huge doors on each side that can be opened to catch the wind and move it through the house.
(3) I still find that to be an annoying aspect of motorcycling. What’s wrong with a name, for the love of Pete?! Call it a Bonneville or a Speedmaster or a Vegas 8, not a VT750 or VN900.