I believe when most people call up the image of a nerd in their head it looks like the stereotypical Revenge of the Nerds poster boy: glasses, short sleeve button down shirt, high-water dress pants, pens in the shirt pocket, etc. However, I have rarely met this mythical nerd and I’ve worked in internet technology for close to 20 years now. I’ve known from a young age what nerdy things are and who nerdy people are even if I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time. Then I discovered the The Nerdist and WheelNerds podcasts and I finally have a definition and example for something I have felt for a long time, but couldn’t put into words. Chris Hardwick, the Nerdist podcast co-host and creator, has written a book entitled The Nerdist Way wherein he defines a nerdist as a creatively obsessive person with the ability to fixate on one thing to a very minute level. Todd and Chuck from WheelNerds provide a real life example of Hardwick’s definition of a nerdist when applied to motorcycles and riders. This obsession and fixation are what separates the hobbyist and casual participant from the truly dedicated enthusiast in any pursuit. It’s in this context that I can answer the question: Can you be a nerd and ride a motorcycle?
So why even ask this question? Because, just as there’s a stereotype out there of what a nerd is there’s also a perception of what a motorcycle rider is. According to Harley-Davidson’s marketing department and every motorcycle show on television, the image of a motorcycle rider is in direct opposition to that of a nerd. I don’t think either of these characterizations is accurate. The majority of motorcycle riders that I know are normal people, with normal jobs. They don’t fit the “biker” image any more than the programmers and engineers I work with fit the nerd image. Are there those out there that do? Sure. Do they represent the majority? No.
According to the definition of a nerdist by Hardwick I think I, and many others, are motorcycle nerds. I’ve learned to embrace this idea, but it wasn’t easy. My last bike was a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide®. I know that it shouldn’t matter what I ride as long as I’m riding, but every time I walked into an H-D dealership I felt out of place. I didn’t see many guys on an H-D in textile riding pants, full armored yellow riding jacket, and a yellow full face Nolan helmet. It doesn’t fit the “image” of an H-D rider. I even got ribbed by the guys in my riding club, and they all wear the same gear I do! But they don’t ride Harley’s. I felt like I was fighting with the idea of what I was supposed to be because of the bike that I rode and knowing that it wasn’t me. This should not have bothered me, but it did. I can’t help that, it’s how I’m wired. Having been a nerdy kid I’ve worked hard, like so many other nerds, just to blend and fit in with the crowd. I’ve become acutely sensitive to the feeling of being out of place or in the “wrong” place, and my first reaction is to flee and find somewhere I can be among those like me.
What changed was my becoming aware of others like me in the motorcycle world. Commuters, long distance riders, camping riders, ADV riders, all manner of motorcyclists who pursue riding like my nerdy child self obsessed over video games, D&D and computers. Obsessive may be too strong a word (unless you’re talking about the Iron Butt riders) but the enthusiasm these riders have for their bikes, for riding, for gear and gadgets, is refreshing in a very comfortable and familiar way.
There are gear-heads who are all consumed with upkeep, maintenance and modification of motorcycles, specifically their engines. I equate these folks with robotics and mechanical enthusiasts. They can tell you anything you want to know about a motorcycle engine from almost any aspect. Kevin Cameron, a columnist for Cycle World magazine is an archetype for mechanical motorcycle nerd. He writes about subjects that regularly require explanations of metallurgy, viscosity, structural integrity, and complex mechanical interactions. I admire his ability to textually illustrate intricate concepts that most people could only do with parts diagrams and pictures, yet I always feel that I understand what he’s written as if I’d seen it with my own eyes instead of just reading about it.
Gadget hounds in the motorcycle world are the closest to computer nerds in my opinion. Probably because most of them are computer nerds and the motorcycle is simply an extension of their love of technology. These are guys who put every gadget imaginable on their bikes: GPS, radar detectors, satellite radio, MP3 player, communications systems, etc. They also tend to buy bikes that are equipped from the factory with a lot of technology built in: tire pressure monitors, temperature gauge, fuel range, heated grips and/or seat, electronically adjustable suspension, the list goes on and on. I have a propensity to fall under the spell of putting many shiny things on my bike that have screens and tell me things, just like I do in life.
There are endless arguments that appeal to my nerd brain related to riding: chain vs. shaft vs. belt final drive, sport vs. cruiser vs dual-sport, naked vs. fairing, textile vs. leather. The discussions are as varied and heated as any Mac vs. PC debate I’ve ever seen. In the true nerd fashion there are ardent supporters of all these topics who delve deep into the subjects inner most details. Conversations at motorcycles gatherings about the abrasion resistance relative to speed between leather and textile jackets or self lubricating o-ring chains are better than Kevlar belts are not uncommon. There are just so many aspects of riding a motorcycle that lend themselves to discussion and debate. It’s fascinating!
So, can you be a nerd and be a motorcyclist? I think that you can, and that I’m proud to be one. I hope that there are others out there who find out that motorcycling, like most things in life, can be molded to fit your life. It’s what you put into it and not what others tell you it is that’s important.