Earlier this week, I toured the Harley-Davidson factory in York, Pennsylvania. It was amazing to see the gorgeous machines as they were carefully crafted by individuals who seemed genuinely to enjoy what they were doing — helping to bring fine motorcycles into Being. The factory was a whirring, dizzying symphony of people and technology, working to create beautiful clutch-bearing works-of-art-on-wheels. (I’d say “on two wheels” but the York factory also manufactures trikes.) Each motorcycle had to pass a complex array of quality control tests. An irregularity less than the width of a human hair found in the paint job of a gas tank would doom the imperfect specimen to the recycling bin. And, even if a seemingly perfect bike passed all the computer-driven quality controls during the final “roll test,” the human riders administering the test could still yank the bike off the line if they determined that something simply didn’t “feel right.” Each new Harley that passed its final inspection was spirited over to the shipping area, to make its journey to a dealership, and eventually, its new rider. Each bike was magnificent.
Thus, it infuriates me to hear car-drivers derisively refer to motorcycles and scooters as “toys.” I doubt that anyone in that factory was confused about whether they work for Harley-Davidson or Hasbro.
As an attorney, however, I have been trained to consider an issue from both sides. Thus, let us consider:
“Are Motorcycles and Scooters Toys?” — The Case For:
[This area has intentionally be left blank, as there is no Case For. Period.]
“Are Motorcycles and Scooters Toys?” — The Case Against:
As far as I can tell, people who believe that motorcycles and scooters are toys rely on the “Well, They’re Not Cars” argument. As a general point of vehicle identification and classification, I can’t really disagree with that. Thus, I will concede that motorcycles are, in fact, not cars.
What is less clear, however, is why drivers assume that cars are the only legitimate form of transportation.
We’ve created a world where our choices box us in. We go to the “right schools” to get the “right jobs” so that we can earn the “right salary.” We wall ourselves off in offices or cubicles, where we work 12 or 14-hour days to send maximum email correspondence and engineer minimum human interaction. Our offices and cubicles are situated in concrete towers where “suicide-proof” glass lets us watch the world as it (and Time) go by. We “settle down,” buy houses, and apply for mortgages; we carefully and systematically add greater responsibilities and more limits to our lives. Brick by brick and bar by bar, we build our cages, until one day we look out and wonder when and how life became narrow, boring, and monotonous. When did the imprisonment begin? When are we up for parole? Who can we ask to bake us a cake with a file in it?
In our society, the greatest existential question is no longer “Is there life after death,” but rather: Is there life before?
Given these slings and arrows of what I’ll generally call “Life As a Responsible Adult,” when presented with a choice — why choose to drive in a Cage as well? The decision to ride a motorcycle is a decision to be a modern-day cowboy and ride a powertrain-horse. It is a choice to embrace feeling the air and the road, and to have an intimate relationship with the world. Views are not seen from behind windows. The air is not filtered through vents. And rain makes you wet.
On a bike, you can still get to work, run errands, and accomplish “Meaningful Tasks.” You can be a “Responsible Adult” who does “Important Things.”
Nevertheless, on a bike, the journey becomes not about getting-from-point-A-to-point-B, but instead about how you got from Point A to Point B.
On a bike, you can’t text while driving. You can’t take a conference call. You can’t wolf down fast food. Instead, you ride. You pay attention. You notice your surroundings.
On a bike, you live.
So, is that the measure of “a toy” — something that brings one fewer wall into our lives? Something that removes a bar from the cage or sneaks us a file past the prison guard? If so, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all could play?