Tradition Revival

Steve Lita American Iron Magazine Editor

Steve Lita, American Iron Magazine Editor

I mean, who doesn’t have a desk drawer full of pins?

It’s all the rage these days. From the huge OEM manufacturers that produce the bikes to the dealerships that sell the bikes to the magazine staff that writes about the bikes, everyone is trying to figure out how to increase motorcycle ridership. Everyone online is spouting off that he knows the answer—or that another person doesn’t: welcome back aging riders who gave it up long ago; start the next generation young, before they get inducted into the handheld gaming device cults; make smaller, cheaper, entry level bikes. While all those may have a little traction on their own, doing one or all of those will not cure the current lull in American motorcycling. Do I have the answer? My answer is a flat out No. But we must keep trying fresh new ideas. And hopefully a combination of efforts will bring some new life to the motorcycle industry.

People have asked me why I ride. They also ask why I became a RiderCoach for the Connecticut Rider Education Program. I wasn’t exposed to riding by a family member. I remember the cool kids in high school were given special parking privileges, and one of them rode a brand-new sportbike, even cooler. There were models in the mid-1980s that just clicked with me. They spoke to me. They were “my style,” even though I didn’t know how to ride and didn’t even have a style to speak of yet. I took up motorcycling for the fun of it, for the cool factor, and for the challenge to learn how to do it right. Later I became a RiderCoach because it looked like yet another challenge. Not only to help people participate in something I enjoy, but to teach them how to do it the right way.

But back to the conundrum of increasing ridership; a seemingly inconsequential thing happened to me the other day while attending a swap meet. I stopped to say hello to some regular swappers I know and among them was Tim Baer, the editor of Motorcyclist’s Post magazine. You may not have heard of it unless you live in New England. It’s a full-color regional publication concentrating on the event and vintage bike scene in the Northeast. After the usual “How have you been? How’s things?” Tim asked me if I liked pins. Of course my answer was, “Yes, of course.” I mean, who doesn’t have a desk drawer full of pins? (Or is that just me?) He reached into his pocket and presented me with a modest round pin, measuring only 1″ in diameter, and stacked on the front were four simple words: I Like Motor Cycles. Naturally I smiled and thanked him for his offering. It seemed like quite a plain, simple pin, not particularly colorful or flamboyant, but I politely told him I would be happy to add it to my collection.

Then came the backstory. Tim told me that in 1938 his grandfather, Fritzie, known as The Man In The Red Felt Hat, was instrumental in bringing motorcycle racing to Laconia. Fritzie had a batch of similar pins made up with the very same slogan. He would give them out in his travels as an icebreaker when he met like-minded motorcyclists. Receiving an I Like Motor Cycles pin became a tradition and a privilege. He continued to pass them out for a long time. And when they were gone, they were gone.

Well, fast forward to today, and Tim found himself confronted with an unusual find on eBay one day. A vintage I Like Motor Cycles pin was for sale on the online auction house. It slightly perturbed Tim that someone would sell this piece of local motorcycling lore, and it inspired Tim to recreate his grandfather’s goodwill gesture and produce a new batch of pins just like the originals.

Well, once I learned the meaning of the small gift I had in my hand it gave the item a whole new value to me and inspired this column. Now I’m not saying anyone should copy Tim’s actions or inundate him with requests for these pins (they’re not available for sale), because if he made a million of them, then the value and the meaning diminish. You can only get one by meeting Tim at an event. But if only we could all come up with an icebreaker of sorts and use it to reach out to someone, anyone, who will listen to us about the fun, adventure, and challenge motorcycling brings to one’s life, then we might be on our way to that goal of increasing the number of riders on the road. Turns out, this time, the fresh new idea is to continue the tradition of an old one.