Motorcycles Bring People Together

You can meet the nicest people on two wheels

Here’s a test: Can you remember the names of your grammar school and high school teachers? I’ll bet you can. I can, even as I continue to lose brain cells by the billions. For instance, I remember my kindergarten teacher, Miss Stein. Now she was hot, and I mean hot! This is really saying something, because my standards for beauty, love and total infatuation were a lot more stringent when I was five than they are now, at the desperate age of 52.

What’s behind that? No, not my plummeting standards, but rather the strength and longevity of the bonds we form with people? Perhaps it’s because we are social animals. Now admittedly, some of us run a little closer to the animal than the social side of the equation, but still, we all gravitate toward people.

Motorcycling family and friends
Here are a few friends I came to meet on two wheels: Steve, Neil, and Terry.Photography by John Weinstein

So what’s the link to motorcycles? Quite simply, bikes are social machines; they not only identify our passion, they bring us into contact with others who share a similar interest, thereby opening the way to memorable experiences. In this way, motorcycles are completely unlike automobiles. You can look at a driver in his car but not know anything about him. When you spot a motorcyclist, however, you know that rider has at least one interest in common with you: an appreciation of two-wheeled transportation. That can be a strong foundation for friendship.

Motorcycling family and friends
Sonda and Ken Carwile.Photography by John Weinstein

Serendipity is one of the things I enjoy most about motorcycles. You never know who is going to pull up next to you at a gas station or a McDonald's, or who will stop to offer assistance if you're stopped along the side of the road. The rider may be on a sport bike, a cruiser, a chopper, a tupperware-encased mega-touring bike or a crusty old UJM, or he may be running a hack. In any event, you know that you'll have at least one thing in common and that it'll be enough to sustain a pleasant conversation about roads, destinations, eateries, mechanical issues, memories, etc. If you're lucky, this connection may turn into a lifelong friendship.

Motorcycling family and friends
Tom Perea.Photography by John Weinstein

On a recent ride around the U.S., I met scores of terrific people. Take a trio of sportbike riders I met while swilling water to combat the 110-degree heat at a Tuba City, Arizona, gas station. I was on my way to the Grand Canyon and had just traversed about 150 miles of dusty roads through the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations. These guys, on their Suzuki, Aprilia and Kawasaki sportbikes were returning to Phoenix from some serious mountain riding in Colorado. The casual passerby might not think we had much in common. We rode opposite styles of motorcycles, and I was twice their age. Still, we chatted for well over an hour, and they gave me some great information about the Grand Canyon, unsafe areas to avoid, and must-see sights in the Flagstaff area.

Motorcycling family and friends
Berit "Bear" Neilsen.Photography by John Weinstein

Then there was the tattoo artist from the Seattle area who was returning home from a vacation in California. She was riding an old ’74 Harley ironhead that she had wrecked and rebuilt a couple of times. She was covered with tattoos and piercings, not to mention a fair amount of grease under the fingernails of her gloveless hands. My only skin coloring was the blistering two-tone remnant of a nasty sunburn I got in the Florida Keys. I was in leather and a full-face helmet. She was in a tank top and wore a turtle helmet that was unlikely to provide even a modicum of protection. I live in a town house; she lives in a tree house (really). Again, we were people from different walks of life; but we were both riders. She gave me a great tour of Seattle while we sat in stalled traffic on Interstate 5 and then helped me find a BMW dealer in an out-of-the-way location to replace a front tire.

Motorcycling family and friends
Jim Tennessen.Photography by John Weinstein

I bumped into a hippie couple on a cold Sunday morning in a gas station high in Washington’s Cascades Mountains. They were flogging an old ’64 Panhead back home from a rock concert in Bellingham. We had a nice chat, and they told me where to take the best photographs of the Cascades. I ran into them with a flat tire about 30 miles down the road near the Diablo Lake overlook. I spent a few hours on the side of the road with them, trying to get them on their way. Scores of riders stopped during this time to offer help. It was gratifying, and I met lots of other nice folks.

Motorcycling family and friends
Jerry Goff.Photography by John Weinstein

I met a senior executive with the Cray Computer Company at a motel in the “suburbs” of Glasgow, Montana. He had ridden through Glacier National Park the same day I had and was heading home to central Wisconsin. We rode about 300 miles together through eastern Montana and North Dakota until I headed north to visit a friend at Minot Air Force Base. As luck would have it, he and I had a lot in common: We rode BMWs, and we were the same age, both brilliant and erudite, and both shy with retiring egos. We got along famously and are planning to ride together again.

Motorcycles are more than a stimulating means of transportation. They are magic carpets. They carry us to new friends and adventures. It’s as I’ve always said, to coin and chop a phrase, “You meet the nicest people on a HonPriliaYamaKawaDaviZuki-MW.”