The Natural Law of Motorcycling

Why you never, ever ask to ride somebody else’s bike.

Peter Jones

The Natural Law of Motorcycling: Peter Jones

There's a guy in my neighborhood who wants to ride my motorcycle. My brand-new motorcycle. Of course, we all want other enthusiasts to look at a bike of ours with aching envy, shuddering with jealousy, gazing at our machine with the begging eyes of a starving dog. But we don't want a single one of them to ask if they can actually go for a ride. That's what this guy's done. I'm sure that, just because he asked, I'm within my rights to shoot him in at least four states.

Sharing is fine and good if it’s French fries, bad advice or the warmth of a fire. But with girlfriends, cigars and motorcycles, no. That’s biker law. Complicating this situation is that if one of us ever did, on his own, decide to offer our bike up for someone to ride, it wouldn’t be to someone who’d asked if he could ride it. That’s an age-old biker rule, too: Having asked automatically excludes a person from ever being considered to ride your bike. That’s because having asked guarantees bad manners all around. Off he’d go, launching into a wobbling wheelie, returning in a sliding stop with the rear brake locked, capping off the ride by staring you in the eye with feigned innocence and a smile. If you’re lucky, he’ll give you this look while handing your bike back to you. If you’re not lucky, he’ll give you the look while sprawled on the pavement at your feet, your bike on top of him.

This isn’t the first time such a thing has happened to me. In my first year as a novice roadracer, a corner worker approached me during a lunch break at a WERA event at Roebling Road, Georgia, asking if he could borrow my bike for a couple of Expert races. Before I could respond, he quickly added that he’d split his winnings with me, even-up, after he won the two races he planned to enter. He assured me that winning was basically a done deal, if someone would just lend him a bike.

Forget that I had a particularly uncompetitive bike, that this guy was easily 6-foot-2 and weighed well over 270 pounds, and that I’d never seen his name listed in racing results. What racer shows up at a track without a bike? And since this guy chose me, in particular, as the dupe who’d hand his bike over to him to race, I was forced to accept that I look way stupider than I’d always hoped.

Checking out a motorcycle

The Natural Law of Motorcycling

A measure of how improper it is to ask if you can ride someone else’s bike is that simply touching someone else’s motorcycle is forbidden, unless they’re a friend and you’ve been invited to do so. Touching someone else’s motorcycle is pretty much on par with stealing a hug from the Queen: It doesn’t matter if you understand why you’re not allowed to do it, you just don’t do it.

Yet, once, while I was walking with a friend through a parking area at a bike event, marveling at the variety of modified machinery, a stranger joined us for a moment while we admired an MV Agusta America. Without warning, this stranger reached out and grabbed the handlebars. We jumped back in horror. My friend asked him, “Is this your bike?” The guy replied, “No, but I sure wish it were.” Then, he threw a leg over it. We shrieked like little boys.

My friend then asked him, “You don’t actually own a motorcycle, do you?” The guy answered, “No, why?”

At that point, we had two choices: Either try to educate this guy about the rules of motorcycling, or run from him before he touches the wrong bike at the wrong moment and we witness a violent crime that we knew we wouldn’t raise a hand to stop. We fled.

Girls are, of course, exempt from the rule of not touching a guy’s bike. That’s because if a girl touches your bike, it means she wants to have sex with you. Or so guys like to think. On the other side of this fantasy, males are not allowed to touch a girl’s bike. That’s because it means the same thing in reverse, and we already know the answer, so it’s just gross, violating codes of both gender and motorcycling.

There is one slyly legitimate way to ask if you can ride someone else's bike, but it also has its rules: Just ask the person who owns the bike you want to ride if he/she would like to ride your bike. The insinuation is clear, but the option for refusal isn't clouded with rejection, even though we all know that in this case, "no" doesn't mean, "I don't want to ride your bike," it means, "I don't want you to ride my bike." Discretion must be taken if your riding mate has, for example, a Bimota and you have a Jawa. It's uncouth to offer down. Well, a little down is okay.

I guess sometimes there is no easy solution. It’d be cool if someone wrote about this biker-law thing in a bike magazine. Then, we could clip it out and show it to our friends, claiming we’re sharing it because we admire the writing.