Tires Make the Man

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

I am officially retired as of this summer. “No more pencils, no more books, no more rules, no more teacher’s dirty looks.” Ok, the dirty looks came from me, but I’m done with that too. The next time I hear some kid complaining about how hard school is, I’m just going to laugh at the pampered little cell-phone addict. I, officially, do not have to care any longer. One of the best things about being retired is giving up on all pretense of concern for dress codes. “What are you going to do, fire me?” The people who mismanage America’s businesses solidly buy into the old adage that “clothes make the man.” Since the only skills required for modern American managers are dressing themselves and pulling credit towards themselves while shuffling blame off on their underlings, that’s understandable. It’s hard to see the pulling and shuffling stuff, but even a CEO can identify a nice suit. I have spent most of my career ignoring dress codes or pushing their boundaries closer to my own comfort zone. Starting this summer, my comfort zone will creep closer to full nudity. Avert your eyes or don’t sneak into my backyard uninvited.

In the motorcycle world, our suits are on the wheels. Your tires say a lot about what there is to know about you as a rider. Your bike could be a cluster-fuck of vintage bits cobbled together with gaff tape and pipe clamps, but if your tires are good you’re officially well dressed. On the other (and more typical) hand, your bike may be a shining example of everything Cruiser Magazine says is “all the rage” (clearly a gay biker magazine) or a plastic-fantastic full-race liter bike that Cycle World calls “all pimped out,” but if your tires are bald you are undressed. If a motorcyclist looks at your tires and mutters “chicken strips,” you’ve been outed as a poser and a the kind of rider who crawls through corners and blasts down the block as if he were being chased by Barney Fife (look him up, youngsters). On the other hand, some tires say nothing but good things about your sterling character.

Sportbikers have a tendency to be proud of balled up bits of rubber clinging to the outer edges of their tires. If you are a racer, that’s just expected. You can’t successfully race anything on two wheels without pushing the boundaries of traction at all possible angles. If you are a street biker, you are a goofball who likes to push traction to the limits’ edge and are probably about as fun to ride with as a wasp trapped in the helmet. There aren’t a lot of places on the street where leaning a bike over far enough to touch a knee to the ground can be called anything but “reckless.” The sad fact is that almost every sportbike sold is over designed for any practical street application and that probably explains why so many of those motorcycles fall into the “less than 1,500 miles per year” category. Off of the race track, they are just rich kid toys with no more practical use than a plastic Star Wars laser sword. The tires tell that story repeatedly. 

Cruiser owners generally have more concern with the polish of their white sidewalls than traction or lean angle. In fact, cruiser lean angle is about topped out where the sidestand puts the bike when it’s parked in front of the usual bar. You can’t blame these guys for chicken strips, since straight-up is about the only way to ride a cruiser. However, a lack of concern when the tire wears down the inevitable center says a lot about the owner of an already-disabled vehicle. Motorcycles with marginal suspension, cumbersome maneuverability, and as much mass as a Prius can’t afford an on-the-road tire failure. When you’ve given away every advantage a motorcycle has in the road warrior battles, you can’t blow off swapping out that bald rear tire because it’s a hassle. Tires are the only real clothing a cruiser has.

At the other end of the style spectrum, dual purpose riders sometimes make a big deal out of their off-road worthiness. Seeing a KLR parked in front of a coffee shop shod in full non-DOT knobbies with narry a scuff on the side knob sprue nubs and the soft middle of the tire worn down to a bump is always good for a laugh. You might as well paint “dirt” onto the bike as imagine that other motorcyclists are going to be impressed with your tales of off-roading. Any trials rider knows that a pretty mild tire pattern can carry the average motorcycle through some seriously rugged stuff. Pretty much anything will haul a Lampkin straight up a wall. You don’t need knobbies for the occasional dirt road. But you’d know that if you ever rode that thing away from pavement.

The guys who almost never pose as anything but themselves are real touring riders. With 100,000 miles on the odometer, they know the only thing they can’t scrimp on is their tires. A Goldwing will putter along with watered-down Canadian gas with an occasional ping or two, but a flat tire in Butt Fuck, Wyoming is downright life-threatening. These guys will tape a $1-store cupholder to their handlebars, but the only money they save on tires comes when they install the skins themselves. There is nothing funny about getting stuck in Whitehorse with a wreaked tire. You won’t make it back out of town for less than $600 and you might spend twice that again on a motel bill while you wait for the shop to get around to installing your tire. Don’t even think about asking the Honda dealer if you can just buy the tire and install it yourself. Being “well dressed” on a 10,000 mile tour means having brand new tires on the bike and a second set wrapped and ready to drop-ship in the garage; postage pre-paid so your wife or best friend can just fill out the shipping label and drop the tires off with UPS.

I might be naked in the backyard, but my bike is always well dressed and there are two complete sets of replacements in the back of the garage waiting for the next big motoring social event. You never know when you might be invited to go somewhere and do something cool. Wouldn’t want to violate the only dress code I’ve ever honored.

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