This is a blog about why people choose motorcycles, what motivates them and why that's important. What has that got to do with DressCode Shirts you may ask? In 2 days time it is the Distinguished Gentleman's Ride, it's a global event raising funds and awareness for male mental heath and prostate charities.
We had supported the event for a number of years, riding dapper, helping marshall at our local ride and raising funds. It's a natural fit for us, we love clothes and motorcycles, you could say it's a match made in heaven. But we understand the marmite nature of motorcycles, so we wanted to explore the motivations behind motorcycling.
Back to the question...why motorcycles?
It’s a good question and one that I have found hard to answer. Why? Because the motivations will vary quite a bit from person to person, nevertheless here’s some of the things that I’ve observed and things that I recognise in myself.
Motorcycling is a bit marmite, you either like it or hate it, there’s no denying it’s popularity, with over 200 million motorcyclists globally! The most apparent benefits are in the area of mental health and well-being. Which I’m going to break down into chunks as there’s a lot of ground to cover.
Riding a motorcycle offers a unique sense of freedom and an 'escape' from daily life. In order to ride a motorcycle safely the rider has to be focused on the task in hand. There really is no room for multi-tasking and any form of distraction, you need to be 100% present. This focus on your riding can help to clear the mind, reduce anxiety and is actually a therapeutic experience for many people.
Mindfulness and Presence
I’ve already touched on this above, riding a motorcycle demands your concentration, you HAVE to be fully present all the time that you are riding, the risks to yourself and others are simply too great not to be 100% dialled in.
This ‘presence’ allows riders to detach themselves from everything else, ignore and switch off the distractions, connecting with the road, enhancing personal mindfulness and increasing your inner sense of clarity.
Riding a motorcycle is a skill, mastering your riding and overcoming the challenges on the road is a win-win. It boosts self-confidence and self-esteem. This personal sense of accomplishment can have broader positive effects on a person’s overall mental outlook.
Motorcycling, like any interest or hobby, brings people together, creating communities and camaraderie amongst the members of these tribes. Joining group rides, events and clubs provides opportunities for even greater social experiences.
With people around you that you know, sharing the same interest, you also gain a huge amount of support, which positively impacts mental well-being.
The reasons people enjoy motorcycling as a pastime varies from person to person. We’ve already said there are a lot of benefits, here’s some of the reasons many people sight for riding a motorcycle.
The sense of Freedom
Motorcycling offers a unique sense of freedom and exploration. It’s one of the few things that remains undiluted and unrefined - the open road, the wind in your face and the ability to travel at your own pace. Of course there’s more tech involved today, it’s hard to escape everything, but you still have the ability to ‘switch off’ and leave those elements behind which feels incredibly liberating and valuable for many people.
Thrills and excitement
The adrenaline rush of being on a motorcycle, open to the elements is unlike any other form of personal transport, it is this feeling of excitement when riding a motorcycle that attracts many enthusiasts.
The feeling of speed, riding the bike along twisty roads with the multi sensory experience that accompanies this activity contributes to the thrill that many people seek.
Connection with nature
As mentioned above, there really are no filters, you are in the environment, exposed to everything. Motorcyclists immerse themselves in their surroundings and so experience the natural environment much more intimately. The sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors blend with the motion and ability to travel your own route, enhancing the experience even further.
Motorcycles are often an extension of someone's personal style and self-expression. The colours, shapes and customisation options are huge. The bikes really are an outward expression of your personality (the look of the bike feeds into Enclothed Cognition affect which is heighten further by the associated clothing).
There is a diverse range of motorcycle types, with some motorcyclists even creating their own bikes from scratch. Of course there are many brands that operate within this space, catering to individual tastes and needs.
There is a huge movement to celebrate the design and engineering of the past, with classic motorcycles. It's a cliche, but there is 'something for everyone', and if you can’t find what you need, people simply make their own, allowing people to express their identity.
Adventure and exploration
We’ve already talked about this, but I think it’s worth diving a little deeper. Motorcycles provide the means of embarking on adventures and exploring new places. This can be at a local level, or globally, I’m thinking about the 'Long Way Round', 'Long Way Up' etc series with Charlie Bowman and Ewan McGregor. Who were both inspired by Ted Simon, who had covered vast distances by motorcycle years before with little to no media coverage.
Motorcycling is the ability to not travel from A to B, following the sat nav, instead you take the more scenic, leisurely routes and discover hidden gems – often restaurants and eateries. To be ‘off the beaten path’ adds to this sense of adventure and discovery which is unique to the motorcycling experience.
These are just a few examples, everyone will have their own personal reasons for enjoying motorcycling. It offers many benefits and appeals to different people in a diverse range of ways.
I believe that everyone should ride a motorcycle
I truly do. If everyone who uses our road systems was forced, by law, as a part of the test to ride a motorcycle the entire road system would operate better. Why? As a motorcyclist you HAVE to be present, reading the road and engaged in every aspect of the situation around you. There simply is no escape, no get out of jail card. The comfortable (often excessively so) box around you, all the technology competing for your attention, not to mention the conversations within and outside the vehicle that significantly contribute to the lack of connection with the task in-hand, which unfortunately results in road traffic accidents each and every day.
As a motorcyclist you are open to the elements, in-touch with your surroundings, impacted (directly) by the choices you make. If every driver of a vehicle has this kind of exposure, I believe the outlook and understanding of other road users would be significantly improved.
My life in motorcycles
It’s hard to remember where motorcycles first entered my life. As a child, I remember, my younger brother being more interested than I was. A large proportion of my friends growing up were also into bikes and I guess that enthusiasm just rubs off. Here are a few of the times and places that I remember motorcycles being part of my life.
The BBC ran Kick Start, a UK trials championship programme. This would have to be one of my first experiences of motorcycles. It was one of the few motorsports that featured kids and teens, and most importantly it was televised. This was early 80’s when there was next to no content for kids and motorsport on TV was an extremely rare thing, mainly because there were only 4 channels. Kick Start brought the excitement and adventure of trails riding into my living room.
As a teen, me and my mates all hurtled around on mountain bikes. It was great fun, lots of wheelies, jumps and of course, crashes. But there came a point where we just seemed to get fed up with having to pedal everywhere.
Living in a very rural area, there was lots of open space and we started to come across ‘field bikes’ – essentially crashed or damaged road motorcycles that people would sell for next to nothing.
We were young and thought we could conquer anything. The fact that they were damaged didn’t deter our enthusiasm. A motorcycle meant we could travel further and we most important, we didn’t have to pedal. We didn’t care that these were crashed or old, this was our first taste of motorised transport, we could ride along the lanes and cover big distances with ease.
In reality, these motorcycles were not safe and we had no idea what we were doing on them, though youth was on our side, helping us ‘bounce’ when things went wrong and learning lots of skills -mechanically, emotionally and physically. This was when the fun of motorcycling really began to take hold.
Back to the TV in the lounge at home, BBC2 started to show the British Superbike championship on Sunday lunchtimes in the lat 80's early 90's. This quickly became a must watch post Sunday lunch event in our family. I didn’t know who any of the people were, or the type of motorcycles that they were riding, with one notable exception, the JPS Norton (the power of branding hey). This was colourful, fast and exciting TV, there was nothing else like it in those days, and I was captivated.
Motorcycling captivated me enough to stop me spending all my money on records and music, enter ‘Performance Bikes’ magazine. Part comic (because of the comedy in the writing and cpationing), part serious road and track tests, this was also the time of the Bad Boy magazines like FHM and Loaded.
Performance Bikes stuck two fingers up to authority, covered all the exciting racing from around the world and took the piss out of any motorcycle that didn’t meet their exacting criteria. It was an hilarious and informative read that got friends who weren’t in the slightest bit interested in motorcycles reading it.
My first road bike
I was kind of mid pack within my circle of friends, in that there were about half the group who were older, by a year or two and half who were younger. So I’d already seen a number of my friends make the leap from bike to motorbike and that really appealed to me. So at 11.59.59 on 29th October 1990 I took to the streets on my Kawasaki AR50.
As I said above, a good number of my friends are older and they were soon onto bigger bikes which meant the AR50 didn’t really cut the mustard – though I did try! As they progressed up the ladder, getting bigger machinery the opportunity to ride pillion presented itself and I found myself loving the trips and the sense of freedom. We were regulars at Squires Café, where motorcycling took on a whole new dimension. Massive crowds packed into a tiny space, lots of colourful characters and bikes literally everywhere.
Taking the test
I did my motorcycle test with my brother. We went on a week-long course -start on the Monday, ride every day for about 6 hours with tutors and do your test on Friday morning. We did in January for some reason? I think there was a price incentive, I was a student at the time, so this appealed even though it was freezing cold with lots of dirt on the roads, wet conditions and generally the worse kind of road riding imaginable.
The week went by and test day came around quickly. It was raining and all was well until it came to the emergency stop. Back then (1996), the tester would walk out from in-between parked cars and you had to stop as quickly as possible from 30mph without skidding or crashing. NOT locking the back wheel had been heavily emphasized all week. We'd done a lot of practice but that was in the dry! I went for it, but didn’t get the balance right, locking the back wheel slightly – instant fail. Undeterred I immediately put in for another go and passed a few weeks later.
When I retook my test I’d already bought myself a Suzuki RGV250N (I loved the design of this bike, and it just so happened that Kevin Schwantz was winning Moto GP on a 500cc version of my road bike)
Moto GP and WSB (World Super Bikes) were now on the Sky channels (1990’s), making them much more accessible. It was also a time when the UK talent was at its peak with people like Carl Foggarty, Steve Hislop, Nial McKenzie and Jamie Whittam doing really well on the global stage.
My RGV was great and I loved it, right up to the point where I blew it up - forgetting to secure the airbox, it came off, a massive gulp of air went into the engine and it was 'game over'. I fixed it and decided it was time to go back to 4 wheels and, bare a couple of short periods on a 600 and 1000cc bike I stayed within the bounds of my cars for a lot longer than I had imagined I would.
It was probably a decade or more before I had a regular road ride after that. A combination of work commitments, travel and other ambitions left me with little, if any spare time, so my motorcycle fix became limited to Moto GP, The TT and WSB through the TV.
I decided it was time to get another bike after a good friend had been kind enough to lend me his bike throughout the summer. We had both relocated to Cambridge over the previous 3 years. I’d switched businesses and been through a drawn-out exit settlement which when it finally resolved itself, I felt that it was time for a treat (and I didn’t feel I could continue to use my good friends bike indefinitely).
It was time for a 2010 KTM RC8. Why? I could give you many reasons, but the most important one to me was the design, it was unconventional for a sports bike and loved that about it. And so began my next chapter in motorcycling.
After 2 years and many miles of enjoyment I found my combination of a weak ‘core’ and historic mountain biking injuries meant I couldn’t ride the KTM for more than 20 minutes before entering a world of pain. Something had to change, I opted to change the bike. In hindsight I should have just listened more to my PT and got on with more training - pilates and barre - but that’s a different story, I’ve learnt that lesson the painful way.
My current motorcycle is an Aprilia Tuono. This time my decision was quite different, choosing comfort over looks. The colour scheme is best described as OK. Sorry, I know that's a terrible expression, especially from a designer, but it is honest, it’s the greatest compliment I gave give it TBH. I selected the quietest, least shouty version – in my opinion. But if you know motorcycles you’ll also know that there’s not much that’s not shouty about these bikes.
Of course there’s always ideas rolling through my mind, possibly a big tourer and adventures further afield? A classic to relive times past and take a massive nostalgia trip? An electric bike really appeals – there’s so much incredible work going on within this space right now – Zero, LiveWire, Triumph and Maeving. Or should I create my own?
Right now I’m very happy where I am. Thank you for reading this post, and thanks to everyone who is taking part in, and supporting the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride – May 21st 2023. There is so much good work carried out through this event, I wanted to share my personal journey through motorcycling, something that sits right up there, with my love of design and clothing. DGR brings all of that together in one and I love it.