I understand the premise of your column is to encourage curmudgeons and whiners to air their general grievances and receive abuse and a “Holy cow, dude! Get a life!” in return.
Why do Harley-Davidson bike riders and bikers in general have a need to goose their throttle at a stop sign or light? Is it a throwback to unreliable motorcycles, when a rider needed to affirm his bike was still running? (Nothing worse than putting your cycle into gear and phutt, nada, nothing there. Very embarrassing.)
Or is it a general defiance? Do they over-rev their motors as a way of shouting that they are free and loud? Looking for answers.
West Valley Wah Wah Wah
Dear West Valley Wah Wah Wah,
First of all, it’s not always a “Holy cow, dude! Get a life!” It’s sometimes a “You know what? You’re right,” sometimes an “I sympathize but have no solution,” and sometimes a “Your question is dumb, and I think you’re very likely dumb.”
Usually, though, I do try to answer the question to the best of my ability, even as I’m casting judgment and tossing off insults. In this particular case, I had to do a little research (literally googling “Why do motorcycles rev at stop lights”). And, after reading a whole bunch of stuff about the matter, I found a pretty clear online consensus: Motorcyclists rev their engines because they don’t want to stall — especially with new or recently repaired engines that have not been “broken in” yet — or, in the cases when that probably isn’t an issue, because they’re just in the habit of doing it and/or would rather be safe than sorry.
Now, even among riders there’s a broad acknowledgment that some people just do it because it’s loud and cool and showoff-y. And you know what? I think that’s fine. Growing up, I always wanted a motorcycle, and it wasn’t because of the fuel economy; it was because a motorcycle is an emblem of old-school American cool, an iconoclastic middle finger to polite society or whatever. I wanted to be Brando in “The Wild One.” Or even Lee Marvin. Those guys would rev their engine while staring you right in the eye and daring you to say something about it.
Then, in 2004, I went on a ride-along with a Department of Transportation incident-response driver. It was supposed to be a feature story about a guy whose job was mostly to hand water bottles to drivers of broken-down cars and stuff. An easy slice-of-life piece. Instead, we were first on the scene of a fatal motorcycle crash. It remains the most gruesome thing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been to a few murder scenes.
I gave up on the whole motorcycle thing after that. The danger suddenly seemed less romantic. But I still get it. I understand the impulse, the urge to get out there on a bike and really push it, to find the edge and ride it, as that ol’ motorcycle evangelist Hunter Thompson wrote. And if you’re out there doing that kind of stuff, then find yourself at a red light next to some square like me in a midsize Toyota SUV with a couple of child seats and a goofy look on his face, I think you’ve earned the right to rev your engine a little.
Now, if you haven’t been doing any edge work at all, if you just rode your Hog down to the Safeway for some artichoke dip, then it’s probably even more important to show off. So go ahead, tough guy. I’ll give you that.
Hope that helps.