How are we, as riders, perceived by non-motorcycle people? For starters, there are the run of the mill, stereotypical cliches: sports bike owners are often called organ donors, the chopper crowd is still perceived as either outlaws or, perhaps more recently, characters from Wild Hogs; street riders filtering through traffic are considered hooligans, and dirt bike riders are seen as a public menace in the green spaces. Sure, that’s not necessarily always the case, stereotypes vary, and the public opinion on riders may change or vary from place to place and person to person, but generally, these are the most common stereotypes most riders face.
But what about ADV riders? I used to think adventure motorcyclists were mostly seen as the least harmless of the biker species. After all, we ride armed with ATGATT to the teeth, often sporting hi-vis helmets or vests, our bikes’ exhausts produce more of a tolerable purr rather than the ear-splitting scream of the Loud Pipes Save Lives crowd, and we generally ride adhering to speed limits and wave to everyone including scooters (I do, anyway). We’re usually loaded with odd-looking luggage sparking interest rather than suspicion, our panniers are covered with stickers from all sorts of far-flung places, and our bikes, I imagined, inspire curiosity rather than hostility.
A recent experience in France, however, shattered my illusion of us adventure motorcyclists being perceived as benevolent – if somewhat peculiar – creatures. Somewhere near Avignon, my partner and I stopped at a large shopping mall in search of a little shade – the heatwave was in full swing in Southern France – and some food. Having sourced some lunch and drinks from the supermarket, we spotted a shopping mall bistro with several plastic tables and chairs outside. No one was sitting there; we ordered a coffee, sat down, and tucked into our supermarket-bought lunch of tuna salad. Our bikes were parked nearby.
As we began eating, the bistro waiter stormed out yelling we could not eat our own food here – this was a restaurant, didn’t we notice – and it was completely unacceptable. There wasn’t a single soul at the chain bistro, and we weren’t bothering anyone, but fair enough – we paid for the coffee, took our tuna salads, and sat down next to the bikes to finish the food. Apparently, that wasn’t enough – the waiter came back and told us to move away; my French is too basic to know what he was saying exactly, but I gathered he was upset we were ruining the appearance of his fine establishment. As best as we could, we explained we’ll just finish the food right next to our bikes – hell, on our bikes – and be on our way, but the bistro waiter was having none of it. He called the shopping mall security.
Luckily, the security guy was a jolly Italian who was mostly interested in talking about the football championship; he told us we were fine – after all, we were parked in the parking lot, and there was no issue except for the offended bistro owner – and, after finishing our lunch, we shook hands and were on our way, the bistro waiter chain-smoking outside, seething, and giving us the stink eye as we rode off.
Granted, this was a rare occurrence, and restaurants – even when they’re empty shopping mall bistros – usually do not allow patrons to consume their own food or drinks. It’s completely fair enough that we were asked to leave, but the hostility that followed was uncalled for; and so, perhaps, instead of being seen as harmless two-wheeled travelers, we were instead seen as two-wheeled homeless criminals.
Over the years, I’ve received all sorts of reactions – from people telling me I was asking for it traveling alone to being informed my bike was clearly too big for me. Most of the time, however, people are mostly friendly, mostly curious, and mostly interested and willing to chat, even when I roll up with a bike covered in mud and grime or park where I shouldn’t. So far, positive reactions have far outweighed and outnumbered the negative ones, so perhaps I wasn’t wrong thinking adventure motorcyclists are seen as the least suspicious of the biker species. And we can certainly help that along – simple little things like rolling your bike down the street so you don’t wake your Airbnb host’s baby by starting it, sharing water with cyclists or hikers, stopping to help a driver whose car’s broken down – all of this add to our collective good karma, and it’s so easy to do.
How do you think adventure motorcyclists are perceived by non-moto people? Have you had more positive or negative reactions? Share your experiences in the comments below!