Motorcycling's Greatest Urban Legends

We will let these legends speak for themselves

You remember that amazing experience that your neighbor told you that his uncle's girlfriend's father had on a motorcycle? It never happened though thousands of people almost know someone it happened to.

Motorcycling's Urban Legends
Two headlights does not necessarily equal two motorcycles.Illustration by John Breakey

I heard my first one from Steve Gillman, a motorcycling buddy, back in the 1960s. His uncle, or someone, had read it in the paper, or something.

"These two outlaw bikers were riding somewhere up in Northern California at night. Coast Highway I think. I guess it was out in the country, no lights around and kind of foggy. Coming the other way, they see two approaching headlights bouncing, the way bike headlights do.

“One rider leans over and shouts to his buddy, ‘Watch me scare the hell out of these guys!’ Then he guns his engine, accelerates away and swerves across the centerline to pass in-between the two motorcyclists going the opposite direction. At the last minute, he realizes it’s a truck with headlights that are loose and one is dimmer than the other.

“Did he realize in time and swerve away?” I asked.

“No, man.” Steve looked at me with a don’t-you-get-it stare. “He got splattered.”

I have also heard this story told by someone who said it happened to a relative driving a car back in the early part of the 1900s. In that case, the motorcyclist supposedly flew over the car and survived, and was thereby able to relate his lapse in judgement.

The Harley in the Barn
Harley figures in several cherished Urban Legends. Quite a few motorcyclists seem to have known or heard about someone who found an ex-Elvis Presley Harley forgotten in a barn or a garage. It was purchased by a visitor or sold at a yard sale, and because it wasn't running, the price was just a few hundred dollars. When this person began to work on it, he found an inscription reading, "To Elvis." There is a message like "Happy Birthday" or "All my love," and it's signed "Priscilla," or occasionally, "The Colonel." The new owner realizes what he has and after the serial numbers, etc., are verified, he sells it to Harley for millions of dollars. As one teller reported, "It's in Harley's museum."

Sure enough, Harley does own an ex-Elvis motorcycle, but it was purchased (for an undisclosed sum) from a collector who has a very clear trail back to Elvis, with no holes in the ownership history to account for time in a barn.

A variation of this story has the bike being sold to Tonight Show host Jay Leno for something in the seven-figure range, but Leno also denies ever owning it.

The competition between Harley and Japanese manufacturers also spawned some good stories. In the late 1970s, I was told repeatedly that one of the Japanese firms (usually Honda, but Yamaha once) had bought Harley. The proof was offered in the colors of the bikes (similar to the colors used on the bikes made by the company that allegedly purchased H-D). Some imagined messages in ads or company literature or knew because “a friend at Harley told me so.” The reason given was the purchaser wanted Harley’s name, American identity and design acumen. The story went away when Harley split from AMF and started prospering.

Imagined signals also spawned the rumor that the Fat Boy was a shot at the Japanese because its name was taken from the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945—the Fat Man and the Little Boy. It was supposedly rubbing in the fact that Harley was finally getting the best of its rivals. The proof offered was the original Fat Boy was silver, like the B-29 bombers that dropped the weapons.

Motorcycling's Greatest Urban Legends
Potty Talk.Illustration by John Breakey

Potty Talk
Motorcycling lore is filled with such myths and legends. We love to believe that loud pipes save lives, helmets break necks and a guy's bike could cause him to get blown off the toilet.

The latter is probably motorcycling’s most pervasive Urban Legend. I have seen it in newspaper clippings and had it related to me numerous times as having happened to an acquaintance of a friend’s neighbor.

It varies in detail, so I'll relate it as I first heard it circa 1972. A guy buys a new Honda CB750. He brings it home and pulls it up onto the patio, outside the sliding glass doors of his home to clean it. Anyway, he puts the bike on the centerstand and at some point decides to start it. The bike is in gear (or is put in gear while running on the centerstand), and somehow rocks off the stand. This causes the bike to lurch forward, propelling itself and the new owner through the glass door. The guy is badly cut by the glass, and the bike falls over onto the floor. His wife calls the ambulance, which arrives promptly and transports the hapless owner to the hospital.

The wife is now confronted with this fallen bike which is leaking gasoline onto the floor. Since a bathroom is immediately adjacent, she uses tissue paper to blot up the leaking gas and drops it into the toilet.

Eventually, the husband returns home. He rights his brand-new, but now dinged, motorcycle and surveys it with disgust. He then goes into the bathroom and sits on the toilet. While there, he lights a cigarette. When the match is tossed into the toilet, the gathered fumes explode, badly burning our hero. The ambulance is summoned again.

In most tellings, the story ends with the ambulance attendants asking about his mishap as they are carrying him out. Upon being told the details of his adventure, they laugh so hard they drop the stretcher going down some steps and break his arm.

We have printed that story and had people tell us they know the person it actually happened to or have seen it in a newspaper. I have seen the clippings, so I don’t doubt the latter statements. The basic events are always the same, but the details are often changed. In one telling, the woman was a mistress who was visiting while the wife was away, which led to some amusing subplots.

Don't Lose Your Head
A couple of our Urban Legends involve a motorcyclist losing his head—literally in one case. The Headless Motorcyclist of Sleepy Hollow tale has a motorcyclist overtaking a truck carrying something like corrugated siding sheet metal that can be lifted by the wind. Just as the motorcyclist is passing, a sheet is blown off the truck toward the rider with such force he is decapitated. But his bike continues along, passing the truck, so that the driver looks over and sees this headless, bleeding corpse riding past him. This causes the driver to lose control or have a heart attack. Having once been struck while riding by a piece of corrugated sheeting material being unloaded from a truck on a windy day (I can produce a witness!), I was initially inclined to believe this story. But it seems to be just a legend, probably adapted from some similar tale about a horseman.

A related story involves the rider who dons his coat backward on a cold night so that the opening doesn’t let in much air. I have heard it recounted that this rider, who appeared to have his head on backward, spooked other drivers, causing an accident with amusing consequences. The driver involved in the accident then must explain that he saw this backward-headed person riding a motorcycle. All those gathered around the accident have a good laugh—until another white-faced driver pulls up and says he saw the same thing. More often, the rider in this story has a minor crash. He is found unconscious (or nearly so) by someone who believes his neck has twisted backward. The good samaritan attempts to help him out by twisting his head back straight, thereby killing him. In some cases, the wrong-headed rider is a passenger who lacks the proper jacket and so is advised to wear his backward. Either because of a crash or because he falls off the bike unnoticed, the same head-turning fate befalls him.

Another truck-and-motorcycle legend involves the motorcyclist who rear-ends an interstate truck with a large open trailer or bed. The more common telling involves the motorcyclist dying as he lands in the trailer or bed while his bike comes to rest alongside the road. The truck driver is unaware of the crash, but finds this dead person in his truck, launching a police investigation. Meanwhile, another investigation a thousand miles away is seeking to determine why a bike is lying by the road with its lights on (and perhaps, its engine running). The alternate telling involves the motorcyclist being knocked unconscious, then starting to come to many miles away while still on the moving truck. His movements cause him to fall from the truck and tumble down the road to the shoulder, where he blacks out again. This leads to a huge mystery about how his crashed bike is found many miles from where he finally reaches full consciousness. No one can figure out what happened until he receives a package from the trucking company. It contains his wallet, which was found in the back of the truck.

Then, there is the story of the rider who is taking the test to get his motorcycle license. The test is almost complete. One of the final requirements is he demonstrate a panic stop. The examiner tells the guy to ride around the block, and as he approaches, the examiner will step out in front of him at which point the rider should make a hard stop. Unfortunately, something goes wrong on the trip around the block. The rider makes a wrong turn or something. In any event, when he turns onto the street where he is supposed to make his stop, he finds the examiner getting medical attention. It seems that he stepped out in front of the wrong motorcycle, which hits him.

Don't Mind If I Pee on that Do You?
Not all motorcycling Urban Legends involve death and mayhem, fortunately. Some involve only acute embarrassment. In one of my favorites, which I heard a couple of years back (and was tempted to believe), is about a driver who stops to help a motor­cyclist who has run out of fuel on a very cold day. Fortunately, the driver has some gas in his trunk. The rider is well bundled up against the weather, but the problem is that the motorcycle's gas cap has frozen and can't be released. The driver suggests that some warm urine would be a good way to melt the ice. Since he is significantly taller than the motorcyclist, the driver asks if the rider minds if he relieves himself on the fuel cap. The rider can barely be heard through the scarf and other gear protecting his face, but his gestures make it clear that it would be fine. The driver pulls out his equipment and pees on the cap, successfully freeing it. The tank is filled and both are on their way.

That Sunday, as he is leaving church the driver is stopped by the preacher, who thanks him for the assistance he had rendered when the preacher’s daughter’s motorcycle ran out of fuel.

Another roadside tale involves a female driver who is stopped by a motorcycle cop for speeding. It was related as fact to me by a neighbor who said it happened to the sister of his son’s girlfriend. In this telling, the woman admits to going too fast but has caught the non-professional interest of the officer, who tells her, “Well, maybe I should sell you a ticket to the Highway Patrolman’s Ball.”

“Oh,” replies the woman. “I didn’t know Highway Patrolmen had balls.”

He throws the book at her.

In the version I have read circulating on the Internet as a joke, the lines are reversed. The woman says, “I suppose you are going to sell me a ticket to the Highway Patrolman’s Ball.”

The cop replies, “Highway Patrolmen don’t have balls,” then realizes what he has said, shuts his ticket book and without another word gets on his bike and rides away.

Famous Diner Chronicles
Famous Diner Chronicles.Illustration by John Breakey

Famous Diner Chronicles
In some legends, it's not the truck but the driver who comes into conflict with the motorcyclist. There is an old story about some motorcycle-riding ruffians who mercilessly harass a trucker at a roadside diner, pushing him around, eating his food and making derisive comments. The trucker finally gets up and leaves. The bikers hoot it up after he goes, and one says to the waitress, "He wasn't much of a man, was he?"

The waitress looks up from pouring coffee and says, “No, and he’s not much of a truck driver either. He just ran over those motorcycles in the parking lot.”

The variation on this, currently circulating on the Internet, has a more motorcyclist-positive spin. A motorcyclist walks into the diner carrying his riding gear and sits in a non-smoking section. Nearby, in the same section, another patron lights up. Annoyed, the rider goes over, and points out that no one likes to have smoke with his meal and this is a non-smoking section. The smoker replies he is done eating and likes to smoke afterward. The rider suggests he move from the non-smoking section, but the smoker refuses. So the rider contacts the manager and the smoker is asked to leave.

A few minutes later, the rider looks out the window to see the ejected smoker drive up next to a Harley in the parking lot. He gets out of his car, walks over to the Harley, does something to the seat, and looks over to be sure the rider sees him. He then puts his foot against the fuel tank of the Harley and kicks it hard, sending it crashing to the ground. He takes a final look at the rider sitting in the restaurant, then turns to run back to his car—and runs straight into the huge, bearded, cigar-chomping man who owns the motorcycle. This fellow is deservedly annoyed, and the bike-kicker gets a bit of a thrashing. Meanwhile the rider in the restaurant pays his bill, then goes out in time to help the Harley owner pick up his bike. Wedged between the seat and tank is a note the smoker, now on his way to jail in the back of a police car, had left: “This will teach you to interfere with the rights of smokers.”

The rider has a good laugh as he walks to his BMW parked on the other side of the restaurant.

Motorcycling's Urban Legends
The Naked Damsel.Illustration by John Breakey

The Naked Damsel
Back in the 1970s, I was told a story I was very fond of and have repeated many times, as happening to a friend of a friend. Early one morning, a motorcyclist riding along a California backroad is amazed to come upon a beautiful naked woman standing by the road. She waves frantically in a completely unnecessary effort to get his attention. He stops and learns that she was sleeping in a camping trailer being towed by a car driven by her husband. She was awakened when the trailer stopped and assumed that they had arrived at the isolated place where they were planning to stay. Peeking out, what she saw seemed to confirm that they had arrived where they were going. Since it was sunny and she believed no one was around, she stepped out of the trailer, intending to surprise her husband with the best nature had to offer. Just as she closed the door to the trailer, she heard the car door slam, and the trailer began to move. At first she thought he was just repositioning it. It was too late when she realized he was driving away and didn't hear her yell. He'd just stopped to relieve himself.

The motorcyclist (the first vehicle to come along) arrives a few minutes later. Upon hearing the situation, he offers his leather jacket and they both climb on his bike and set off in pursuit of the husband and trailer, getting a few startled looks from traffic as they passed. As I was told the story, the rider tremendously enjoyed having the lovely, nearly naked woman clinging to him. He was unhappy when they caught up with the husband. For his part, the husband was astounded to see his semi-nude wife waving at him from the motorcycle that roared up alongside the car. Can you imagine?

I really wanted to believe that one. Heck, I wanted it to happen to me (although with my luck, the woman would have driven off and left her naked husband). But alas, it seems to be just another wonderful motorcycling legend.