Motorcycles have become one of the most common, accessible, and affordable transport means globally. With over three decades in existence, motorcycles have gone through several phases, each with increasing complexity and improved appearance. Although they were originally developed for transport purposes, they are used for recreation purposes and have become a measure of status in society. Motorcycle perception has not always been good, and the riding culture has faced several challenges. Today, men and women regard motorcycles differently, giving rise to gendered motorcycle culture. This paper analyzes the history of motorcycles, their culture, and the stages they have gone through up to today. Motorcycle culture has been associated with gender disparities, social class, and violence misconceptions.
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History of the Motorcycle
Every invention in history is preceded by a change in lifestyle and a pressing need for advancement. The bicycle’s invention was enhanced by the breakthrough in bicycle invention and the steam engine. With the primary aim of enhancing transport, researchers thought of combing the two (steam engines and bicycles) to develop a motorized means of transport. According to Chandra (2017), the 19th-century motorcycle that closely resembled those available today was invented by two famous scientists, Daimler and Maybach. The first bike was named the “Daimler Reitwagen,” which simply meant a riding wagon. The use of an internal gasoline combustion engine enabled users to move from one place to another without spending much energy cycling.
Soon after the first invention, researchers thought of ways to improve the speed, reduce the size, and engage in the mass production of motorbikes. As early as 1910, German automaker Hildebrand & Wolfmüller began mass-producing motorcycles after seeing success with its “Daimler Reitwagen” (Chandra, 2017). The company’s initial venture did not last long, but improved safety features and rising public demand led to rapid growth in the motorcycle industry during the early decades of the twentieth century.
The global popularity of motorcycles was ensured after World War II by decreased costs, enhanced engineering advances, and improved road networks all over the world. Most notably, Royal Enfield, the motorcycle manufacturing company in India, Triumph, and Harley-Davidson all began producing their motorcycle models (Chandra, 2017). Motorcycles became a popular mode of transportation throughout Asia and the United States, with men and women affording their motorbikes. Today, it is estimated that 200 million motorcycles are used daily, with China and India having the highest proportion of users.
The Motorcycle Culture
Motorcycle culture is a social group and a form of transportation that lives on the periphery of mainstream society. Riders’ desire for personal expression and freedom, as well as the strong social bonds developed by motorcycle riding as a group, strengthen the notion that their culture operates independently of other car cultures. Since its invention, the bike has ignited different perceptions among its users and the general population. The motorcycle culture can be analyzed concerning clubs, gender stereotypes, and riders’ motives from invention to date.
Bikers’ Clubs and Violence
The biker culture started with the veterans who needed ways to reach their friends in a bid to re-establish relationships after World War II. According to Lauchs (2019), troupers of the war missed their old bonds with their comrades and began to build new brotherhoods, this time based on a motorcycle rather than a weapon. However, incidents that occurred in the years following the war exacerbated the bad reputation bikers had.
The bikers’ clubs were started to give the members an identity. However, the clubs were associated with violent activities that caused people to label them rebels and rioters. Lauchs (2019) gives an account of the Outlaw motorcycle club that has been described as a group of bikers who could not stop for anything and were ready to fight openly with their rivals. The name outlaw represents their character of obeying their own rules as opposed to the law.
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Since bikers were from different backgrounds and statuses, the rich and poor all wanted to form clubs. British mods, a low working-class subculture that tried to amuse itself in a world where it didn’t belong, are also closely identified with the bikes (Lauchs, 2019). The peaceful tactic, however, was quickly superseded by the skinheads, a group notorious for its aggressive ways. After years of unity, the skinhead community broke into two groups: the “peacock mods,” who were less violent and confrontational, and the more orthodox “hard mods,” who remained true to their roots (Lauchs, 2019). The association of bikers with violence limited the aesthetic and use of bikes.
The 1970s were characterized by a sharp increase in the number of motorcycle clubs formed. According to Lauchs (2019), the “one percent ranks” engaged in activities that showed their masculinity through law-breaking. The culture changed after the regulation through the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act (RICO), which sought to punish law-breakers among the bikers. Today, many biker clubs are formed for different purposes. The clubs in existence today, such as women against the wind, sons of silence, and bikers against child abuse, have stood for good causes that have made society a better place.
Gender and Social Class
Bikers’ culture has been influenced by the gender and conduct of early users. Since most of the early bikers were male, many people have associated bikes with males, thereby treating female riders as social perverts. In the 1970s, society described men as the leading riders and women (who were rarely involved) as passive passengers. The masculine aesthetic created after World War II downplayed women’s role in bikes until the 1980s. Today, different bike models suitable for women have increased the participation of women in bike riding. Coquelet et al. (2018) record that by 2004, women represented 10% of all bikers in America. However, the participation of women in bike riding has remained below that of men.
Regarding gender and social class stereotypes, men and women occupy different positions with unique roles. Men are almost always bikers who are responsible for their transportation. Among men, age, riding style, number of years, and socioeconomic status all play a role in forming social groups. Women bikers defy gender stereotypes by taking to the road on their own, often in the absence of male companions. Women in motorcycle culture are still largely considered as passengers as opposed to riders, often accompanying males on their rides and being seen as mere props for their male companions (Coquelet et al., 2018). Despite the increase in the number of female riders, society seems not to have accepted this cultural shift.
Essentially, the typical motorcyclist and passenger are all white men in their 20s and 30s from the working class or lower socioeconomic levels. This stereotype has led to discrimination and negative perceptions against women and racial groups. In some instances, black riders are viewed as violent outlaws (Coquelet et al., 2018). Most advertisements still depict the typical rider as a white, masculine man, further supporting the gender stereotypes in existence. However, the formation of women riders’ clubs such as women against the wind signifies the hope of equality among genders in the motorcycle culture.
In conclusion, the motorcycle invention significantly impacted the transport sector and introduced a new set of cultural values. The early bikers’ conduct portrayed bikers as outlaws who followed their pleasures and laws. The early bikers’ clubs were involved in riots and violent activities that further exacerbated the stereotypes. The end of the second Word War signified a new era in the motorcycle culture since many men and women could own motorbikes. Society has always held different views about motorbike riders. Since the early users were men, many women have been labeled perverts when they ride motorbikes. In addition, the nature of motorbike riding has been associated with masculinity.
As technology changes and new bike models are produced, women have become more interested in riding. To counter the stereotypes, bikers have established clubs that contribute positively to society, thereby erasing the association of bikers with violence. Women have also established female riders’ clubs to champion their rights and fight gender stereotypes. However, the gap between men and women riders is still wide. Riders are no longer associated with violence and riots and have formed valuable clubs such as the Association of Bikers Against Child Abuse. Eventually, motorbikes have shaped society’s view of men’s and women’s roles, and now it is time to eliminate stereotypes and accommodate change.
Chandra, S. (2017). Motorcycle and Its Aesthetics: A Glimpse in History. Design Science and Innovation, 9-25.
Coquelet, C., Granié, M., & Griffet, J. (2018). Conformity to gender stereotypes, motives for riding, and aberrant behaviors of French motorcycle riders. Journal of Risk Research, 22(8), 1078-1089.
Lauchs, M. (2019). A Global Survey of Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Formation. Deviant Behavior, 41(12), 1524-1539.