The biker/Poser war is largely based on stereotypes. We all need to look beyond the stereotypical images before we pigeonhole someone as a poser.

Empirically speaking, the biker/poser issue is a tribal us/them issue. The “us” group tries to retain its strength, honor and reputation by demeaning both the enemy and the wannabes lingering on the fringes of the “us” group. The irony is that the wannabes are imitating the “us” group because they see something they deem “good” and they desperately want to be a part of it. (Remember the axiom: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.) In the biker example, the wannabes see large, safe groups of rough-and-ready folks with fun toys and cool clothing. A group of bikers on the open road is a very powerful and classically romantic image. It virtually drips with notions of freedom, adventure, camaraderie, and the warm comfort of safety in numbers. In the biker example of the us/them issue, it is easy to see why so many want to belong.

The resulting behavior of biker wannabes is predictable. Hollywood says that bikers are rough, wear black leather, and spend most of the day drinking beer and bragging about the speed and power of their bikes. While some of these attributes are (to be certain) accurate, they don’t involve the core bond that bikers share. Alas, the trap for the wannabes is that their attraction is based on the stereotypical surface images of the “us” group. The reality of every “us” group involves deeper issues which some of the wannabes won’t like. In the biker example, not all wannabes are prepared to spend time learning to ride their bikes properly. Their images of warm sunny cruises may be tempered by the reality of long wet days without the familiar shelter of the car. And finally, many are turned off by the realization that the joy of motorcycling is based more on solo reflection and less on social group dynamics.

Some biker wannabes are more than willing to give up their make-shift Hollywood biker persona. They’d rather ask why the Bike runs so rough in cold weather, or how to keep their chaps zippers from unzipping as you drive down the road. Educating these people is a good thing. By mentoring the biker wannabe, they can make their own decision about what motorcycling is and whether they really want to be a part of it.

The biker wannabes that are happier in their Hollywood biker persona are what, I believe, we usually refer to as “posers.” They aren’t as interested in the open road as they are in the group dynamic and playing oneupsmanship with their bikes (e.g., “I got this new $50 chrome speedometer needle, check it out!”). Given time, these people will either tire of the growing alienation they receive in the “us” group, or they’ll find other ways to spend their time.

Be careful with poser judgments because the definition of a poser is always nebulous. It usually has less to do with a person’s lifestyle, wardrobe, toolkit, and income, and more to do with what’s going on inside that person’s head.

This was originally posted to the Harley Digest sometime in 1997.

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