Did Soichiro Honda roll over in his grave when I wrote that?
I have never owned a chopper, but a few Hondas have passed through my garage over the years. It was the "You meet the nicest people on a Honda" ad campaign that helped kickstart the motorcycle boom in the United States, all those years ago. The unspoken comparison was to all those other people on motorcycles in the Easy Rider years.
Was it ever true? I don't know. I wasn't there. What I do know is that despite their rough looks and loud pipes, the chopper folks I have had the pleasure of running around with have been nothing short of… well… nice.
Case in point, several weeks ago Lemmy asked me if I wanted to ride out to the Lowbrow Customs Getdown in northeastern Ohio. Only one problem: I don’t own a chopper.
“Just bring the Tiger,” he said referring to the Triumph we had just reviewed. “No one will care that you’re not on a chopper, and besides, I’ll be on the Indian Scout and that's a far cry from a true chopper."
I was on the fence about the idea of roughly 850 long, straight miles to Ohio and back in two days, but the promise of swimming in a quarry, free beer, and a Blue Oyster Cult concert convinced me. What if famed rock producer Bruce Dickinson showed up? I was sold.
Within minutes of rolling into Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, we were swarmed by dudes in dirty denim, women in bikinis sporting raccoon tails, and more V-twin choppers than you could shake a pushrod at. A group of young guys recognized Lemmy from previous runs, while a guy who wanted to discuss the Tiger’s comfort on long trips approached me.
“I rode out here on my Sportster,” he said shaking his head. “I just got relocated to North Carolina for work and I need something different. The roads down there are just too good.”
We weren’t talking for five minutes before another guy asking the same questions approached me. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting this much attention riding a brand new ADV bike to a chopper rally.
By this point, Lemmy was fending off questions about the Scout, beers had been opened, and everyone was feeling good. A group of guys and girls with an assortment of hand-built choppers, stock Harleys, and modified Triumphs invited us to set up our tents in their circle and we all pitched in carrying firewood.
Then we met Pat and Party Cat, who has since become an international internet sensation. Pat looked tough as tarmac, but the way he rescued that lost and injured kitten revealed what was inside. Children ran up to Pat and his buddies, attacking them with giggles and smiles and begging to pet the cat.
These were nice people.
This was the third chopper rally I have attended with Lemmy in the past year and I was starting to grow quite fond of these events. First was 2014's Ride to Skate 8, hosted by Freak Out The Squares, which raised money to fund an inner city skate park, and the second was the 2014 Gypsy Run in northern Pennsylvania.
The latter event was a wash out. Temperatures dropped to the high 30s, it rained almost non-stop the second day, and most of us had showed up with little more than a T-shirt. Within hours, I had a guy offer me his sweatshirt, folks bought me beers, others shared their pizza. Our own John Strader used his handmade axe to chop wood for a fire while I shared my giant bag of peanuts with anyone who would grab a handful. All in all, everyone made the best of a bad situation and we all had a great time.
I didn't actually show up on a chopper to any of these events, and yet I was always welcomed. As with any segment of motorcycling, there are some assholes out there, but for the most part, there are more nice guys than not.
So the next time your buddy who spends his days rollin’ down the road on a stretched out chopper invites you to gear up, jump on your Honda and hit the road, just remember: We’re all in this together. Just because some marketing guru in the 1960s came up with an ingenious sales campaign to set those cute little Hondas apart from the big bad Harleys and Triumphs, that doesn’t mean that there was any truth to it.
You meet the nicest people... on a motorcycle.