Tribal Identity (Updated)

ducati riders
Bikers of the sporting kind

I’m hardly a conformist, but I do identify with my tribe. II’ve been riding motorcycles since 1965, and when I read a headline that says “Father with Family in SUV Chased, Beaten by Speed-Demon Bikers,” I ask myself what the fucker did to earn his beating.

I monitor comments on a Honda Goldwing riders’ forum. I quit participating in the forum years ago — a more dismal pack of ignorant racists you’ll not find this side of a Ku Klux Klan rally — but I still check in a couple of times a month to see what the rabble is saying. Since the confrontation between the bikers and the SUV driver in New York City back in September, several forum members have taken to their soapboxes to denounce the bikers and defend the SUV driver. Every time one does, the “me too” chorus chimes in. This thread is typical, if you have the intestinal fortitude to wallow through it.

Bikers of the Goldwing kind

In another forum thread on the incident, one member had the courage to ask whether the SUV driver might have started the fight. His post was buried under a heap of anti-biker comments from other members and the poor guy hasn’t been heard from since. As readers of this blog know, I’ve been asking the same question all along.

The media, and basically everyone else, instantly decided the bikers were wholly to blame: road-raging gang members who took violent mob action against a poor innocent motorist who was only trying to protect his family and get away. When the New York Times reported this week on the indictment of 11 motorcyclists, it repeated the party line. No one seems interested in finding out whether or not the SUV driver initiated the confrontation.

In the days after the attack, a couple of contrary reports slipped through the cracks. In one, a biker said the SUV driver started it by throwing a water bottle and hitting a rider with it (if you’ve ever been hit by a June bug or bumblebee while riding a motorcycle, you should be able to imagine what it would be like to be hit with a full water bottle). In the other, riders stated the confrontation began with the SUV driver doing a hit-and-run, swerving from the right lane into bikers who were passing him in the left lane, colliding with one rider and causing him to crash, then speeding away from the scene. I have since seen another report supporting the hit-and-run scenario.

Despite these outlier reports, the media narrative is settled: the bikers are entirely to blame; the SUV driver is blameless; contrary evidence will henceforth be ignored.

Since there have been indictments, at some point in the future there will be trials and perhaps more information on what really happened that day will come out. If it turns out the SUV driver initiated the confrontation, will it generate any headlines? Forgive me if I don’t hold my breath waiting.

Is this a tribal thing, siding with the bikers? I’m as quick to condemn bikers I disapprove of as anyone else: I hate loud-pipe poseurs, stunters who pop wheelies in traffic, lane-splitters who zap through 70 mph traffic like it’s standing still. I hate them because they frighten normal people and give bikers a bad name. But I am a biker too and they’re my brothers and sisters, as misguided as they may be.

I know first-hand the kinds of things hostile motorists pull on motorcyclists. Obviously I don’t know what happened that day in NYC, but my years of motorcycling experience tell me the SUV driver did something to provoke the riders who chased him down, probably something pretty damned serious. Even if that turns out to be the case, of course, it will never justify what the bikers did in retaliation, but it makes their actions more understandable.

I love my Goldwing and consider myself a biker and a Goldwinger. But these other Goldwingers, so fast to turn their backs on fellow bikers, give me a very bad feeling. They want no part of the tribe and I want no part of them.

Update (11/15/13): Reworded a couple of sentences to make it clear I’m not claiming to know what happened to spark the clash between the SUV driver and the bikers, and that I don’t approve of what the bikers did to the SUV driver.

© 2013 – 2015, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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