Image Issues: Motorcycling in the Media

Feb 03, 2014 View Comments by

Image Issues: Motorcycling in the Media1953’s The Wild One starring Marlon Brando was arguably the beginning of what has now become more than half a century’s worth of negative motorcyclist stereotypes. Many people still react with fear and anxiety when a group of “bikers” shows up in their rear-view mirror. Of course, this unfavorable image hasn’t been entirely manufactured by Hollywood; motorcycle gangs like the infamous Hells Angels have earned their fearsome reputation through criminal activity and plenty of intimidation. However, they are, and always have been, a small, if highly visible minority of motorcyclists. Honda’s 1963 ad campaign claiming “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” is a much more accurate portrayal of motorcycling than The Wild One or more modern productions like The Sons of Anarchy. The media doesn’t help either. Any time you see a news story about motorcyclists it’s almost invariably negative. Some even have gone so far as to write op-eds about how car drivers can protect themselves from motorcyclists! While motorcycle gangs still exist and the irresponsible actions of some riders can’t and shouldn’t be ignored, there is clearly a disproportionate focus on these few troublemakers.

Honda's 1963 You Meet The Nicest People AdFor those who don’t know anyone who rides, this portrayal has created a false impression that motorcycling is a dangerous lifestyle—or, at the very least, pushes the limits of social acceptability. As motorcyclists we know the reality is that we are just normal people who have discovered the joy of seeing the world from the seat of a two-wheeled machine. We are no more threatening to society than someone who enjoys skiing, camping, boating, or any number of other perfectly harmless past times. The difference is simply that we happen to share a mode of transport and hobby with a few lawbreakers whose misdeeds have been popularized and spread on both big and small screens for years. The truth is that motorcyclists and many motorcycle clubs are heavily involved in charities and philanthropic work across the country.

It’s important that each of us sets a good example for the non-riders in our lives and to make sure we’re doing what we can to put an end to the outlaw biker stereotype. Simple things like wearing proper riding gear and being courteous to other motorists can go a long way to show our commitment to safe and responsible motorcycling. Perhaps, with enough time and some positive attention, parents will no longer warn their kids away from riding, drivers will cease to worry when a motorcycle comes up behind them, and a new generation of riders will get to enjoy the roads free from suspicion.

What do you think? Why does motorcycling still have a tarnished reputation in the public eye? What can we do to change it? What message are you sending by the way your dress and act on your bike?

Photos courtesy of Stanley Kramer Productions and Honda.


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About the author

There’s something relentlessly romantic about riding a motorcycle. I’m blessed to know that feeling. With a background in photography and a love for motorcycles, I’m interested in the beauty and honesty of the open road. You’ll find me riding Carolina’s roads on my Suzuki SV650.