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Half-helmets and American flags: Stereotypical marks of a cruiser rider.The second you swing a leg over a set of wheels you’re prone to onlookers sticking you into a neat package of biker stereotypes. We know better than to try and categorize bikers based on their ride… But our shared imagery must come from somewhere. We spent a few days at Americade in early June, which gave us an interesting eye on a big cross-section of motorcyclists, and the chance to hunker down on the main drag for a visual survey of 212 motorcycle operators. The goal? To see how real riders stack up against their biker stereotypes.

The result was… well… kind of funny. Turns out there is a lot more truth to the stereotypes than many of us would like to acknowledge. Here’s a list of what we expected, and what we saw.

86% of Harley riders were spotted in half-helmets.Stereotype: Harley riders hate full faced helmets; BMW riders love them.

Conclusion: True

Oh, those predictable BMW riders. 91% of those who rolled past us wore a full face helmet* (and 82% wore long sleeves and pants), staying true to the unwritten by-laws of the BMW club that geared up-edness is next to godliness. How many Harley riders did the same? We checked off only 14% with full-face helmets (14%!!). The rest donned their signature half-helmets that wouldn’t save a kid on a big wheel in the park. (They did, however, score high in the long pants category, at 95%. Long sleeves were a different story… only 29% had coverage down to the wrists.)

Popular biker embellishments.Stereotype: Goldwing riders are obsessed with decorations/embellishments.

Conclusion: True

It’s true that the Goldwing’s big body makes it more conducive to a little dress-up, but owners of the mark seem to out-do even their fellow tourbikers in the embellishments category. 39% of all Goldwing riders who rode past had an American flag attached to the back of their bike (Harley tourers were their closest competition, with 10% flying the flag); 30% had a stuffed animal strapped on somewhere; and 15% had tassels sprouting from the hand grips. Of all the bikes we considered “decorated”, 71% of them were Goldwings. Is it because their riders like to take a little more of “home” with them wherever they go? Sounds like it’s own stereotype altogether, (but that doesn’t necessarily make it untrue…)

A sportbike rider fulfilling stereotype with shorts and a tshirt.Stereotype: Sportbike riders never wear proper gear.

Conclusion: True/False

Who you callin’ a squid? 96% of all sportbike riders we saw wore full-face helmets, a huge number that would lead one to assume this group fully acknowledges the risk associated with riding machines built for speed… But don’t discard your stereotype just yet: This same group of riders ranked the lowest in other protection; only 20% wore both long sleeves and pants (and of those, 60% were Ducati riders — take the Ducati riders out of the mix, and you’re down to only about 10% who were fully covered). That means the remaining 80% were in the that famous shorts and t-shirt beach-ready combo, which defies our best attempts at logic. Must be that road rash is in vogue with this segment.

Female riders were only marginally better geared up than men.Stereotype: Female riders are wiser about gear than male riders.

Conclusion: Slightly true.

The stereotype of female riders as careful bikers led us to expect their gear habits would blow the guys out of the water, but the differences weren’t so extreme. Female bikers wearing full-face helmets totaled 40%, compared to 37% of their male counterparts. And 33% of ladies were properly attired in long pants and sleeves, compared to 28% of the guys. We’d still declare the ladies victorious winners, but after a few sightings of these fashion abominations (see photo at right), there was a mandatory docking of points and we had to call it a draw.

A friendly biker sports a tattoo, but the chest hair is modestly covered. Stereotype: All biker dudes are covered in tattoos and chest hair.

Conclusion: False

We know… We were disappointed too. We’d kinda hoped that the gruff, tattooed biker with a rug of chest hair under his vest would dominate the visual landscape, but the numbers came up short. Of those surveyed, only 11% had any sort of tattoo showing, and an even slimmer fraction bared their rug — 3%. To add insult to injury, most smiled when they passed by, which completely obliviated our idea of bikers as a rough-n-tough bunch.

But maybe we should count again in Sturgis.

Bikes included in the survey had to be fully stopped between a certain set of boundaries at a traffic signal, and the make of the bike had to be entirely visible or easily recognizable. (This excluded a handful of customs and a couple of exotic vintage rides). We recorded only data about the operator of the motorcycle, and not the passenger. We fully acknowledge the non-scientific approach to this data collection and in no way is this meant as an “official” study of bikers.

*This includes modular helmets.

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