27 March 2020

It all started with a post in Aerostch blog where Mr. Subjective was commenting on the reaction of some “experienced moto journalists” to the overall suits that Mr. Andy Goldfine created decades ago. I was among the first users of such suit and over the years I developed a mail-friendship with Andy covering often subjects more touching than motorcycle. 

But this piece title “riding is cool” was a provocation to my thinking and it created a distant conversation that, I hope, will engage the few readers of this blog.

We open with a slightly edited version of Mr. Subjective (you can access the full version at the link above); after that and in italic the readers will find my comments.

Mr. Subjective writes “Younger rider’s reactions to Aerostich suits (Roadcrafter Classic, R-3) are not entirely positive.”  – Any number of experienced motorcycle journalists.

That’s an understatement. I’ve thought a lot about why this is.

First, youth-in-general looks very hard at the micro-granular details of everything but often has a more difficult time seeing the so-called bigger picture. Looking hard at each tree means one usually doesn’t or can’t see the forest so well. When it comes to rider’s gear this means having the ‘right’ kinds of gear and knowing this or that brand is fashionable or cool in-in-the-moment, and almost nothing else matters… Fashion and fitting in matter a lot more to the young (and young-at-heart) than to anyone older.

Today’s younger riders are no different than past generations of young riders. Most hope to ride the exact ‘right’ bike, wear the exact ‘right’ gear and be among the exact ‘right’ peers. This socializing-stuff is as developmentally and neurologically hard-wired in most of us as are our physical features. Aerostich’s geeky one-piece coveralls, which enormously help make it easier, safer and more comfortable to ride a motorcycle more often, in more kinds of conditions and to and from more situations, doesn’t quite compute. For most young riders, this is not why or how they want to consume motorcycling.

But after one has ridden for a longer while a few things become clearer:

  • No matter what one rides or wears, street riding itself always makes you the oddball in traffic, and in almost every other situation.
  • Riding can be a vastly better and more satisfying way to get from A-to-B than most people realize, if one doesn’t mind being that oddball-in-traffic.

In other words, once one throws looking cool under a bus, one’s life actually gets a lot better in so many areas and ways. This includes riding more.

Almost everything in our post-industrial-consumer-culture is sold to us on the basis of making us cooler — From whiter teeth to better nutrition to you-name-it. The assumption is everyone wants to be a legend and live forever. When I was young, I did too, and to be honest a part of me still does.

Bikes were more popular and much more mainstream-cooler back when I was in high school than they are today… Back then my moto-interest was dirt bikes. I didn’t know much about riding, more specifically dirt bike riding, but after school and on weekends I’d find some trails to explore and a gravel pit to go practice in. This culminated ten years later in riding local AMA Enduros for a couple of years, but this level of commitment still wasn’t sufficient. I could not get enough riding only on weekends and practicing a night or two after work. During this part of my life I’d occasionally randomly encounter former classmates and they would sometimes ask: “Are you still riding those dirt bikes?” The implication being that at some point I would outgrow this phase.

I half-believed it myself and unconsciously was waiting for this to happen but by around thirty I realized I was going to want to ride motorcycles for the rest of my life, as often as possible. Riding was simply too much fun. Even sitting at an intersection waiting for the light to turn green was better on a bike than it was in a car.

At that point most of my pretences about riding’s coolness and what-to-wear went under the bus. All that mattered was that I could be riding instead of driving and soon afterward the Aerostich coverall was ‘born’. Improvisation being a mother of invention.

All these years later now I’ve become sort of an amateur anthropologist-connoisseur of social ostracization. Not that I deliberately seek out being uncool, it’s just the embedded cost of riding all the time and G-d or the universe has a funny way of arranging things to work out like this. So, whenever someone in a grocery store or any destination stares, giggles or asks a really stupid question about what I’m wearing, or if I was riding a motorcycle (after all, it is raining…), all I usually do is silently grin. Inevitably those dumb remarks, stares and comments are later remembered as the best non-riding parts of my day.

If today’s young riders want to be young riders, I say let them. A few will continue riding long enough to realize that it’s riding itself which makes you cool, not the colour and model of one’s bike or if you wear the latest helmet, or what jacket or kind of boots one has. In the big wide world, nobody in any of the cars surrounding you in traffic cares even the smallest fraction about any of that. Riding itself is what is cool.

Few days later I sent to Andy (published now in the blog comments) my considerations

Paolo Volpara writes: “Riding itself is what is cool”

And I cannot agree more although I have difficulties in specifically define “cool”. The dictionary does not help since “fashionable and hip” are the nearest meanings attributed to an adjective in old times reserved for temperature. Looking at movies, series and media in general is sufficient enough to get the spirit.

Cool is fashionable without being fashion, it is trendy without being a trend, it is “to be in line with young, modern look”, ,it is to be acceptable by peers. Cool is a matter of look.

In an era of entertainment, when even the dramatic conflicts must have (at least in CNN) a suggestive title and movie-like shots, look is the key ingredient, the sought after component. The victims must look good, the place must look good, the sound must be good, cool, dramatic at the cost of covering the words of the commentators.

Look dominates content, what it is is not important unless it looks good. Looking good, cool, fashionable, hip, trendy, up-to-date is the desperate search of a civilization that wants to be immortal (forever young), efficient (forever profit) and heroic (forever famous). Science (or technology or pseudo-technology) comes to help creating a language and a terminology to easily include everybody in the league is specialized connoisseurs. Take a look at the names, acronyms, fantasy brands on sport shoes, on motorcycle helmets, on textiles for any activity, on manuals and fairing of motorcycle, on inscription on the rear of cars or golf clubs: it is a pseudo language that gives to the cool people confidence of being in an elite of expert heroes.

The word “Pro” and “Tech” are mandatory as mandatory are numbers combined with letters (H546): with these elements the mind of the marketing man can then run wild in lands of PRO RIP, T40 RAINSLASH, CEramoid,  15 proslide, Terrextrac, Aquastop55 and… you got the idea. It happens in gear (coolest to call it hardware) it happens in machines, it happens in brain.

So, the brand that can pretend maximum of hyperbolic features is cool, brand that stays with banal feet on the ground is no-cool, no look of heroic expert.  With the panoply of names and acronyms the rider going for home to shop can “give the look of” crossing simultaneously Artica and Atlas. It costs but it pays back in reputation and number of “like it”.

 Moreover, trendy brands are a sure guide for the incompetent, one cannot go wrong wearing a Terrextrack-Pro and it comes with the accessory of the favourite virtue: “social acceptance”. Looking good is unfortunately a damnation since the fashion world is plagued by an inherent disease: boredom. 

Looking good demands continues changes and so the brand has to enter in camaleontic efforts for “series 45” “new colors” “new and totally redesign” or,  better, “and now with additional gimmicks”.

The only hope is given by the “fake technology” itself. Adding gimmicks (…and now with nose protector retractable) confuses the user and make the adoption more complicated.

At a certain point, simplicity or technical efficiency move in and function takes over formreturning or discovering for the first time classic gear as a good pair of Daytona boots, a friendly Held glove, the warm and safe embrace of an Aerostich suit.

By Paolo Volpara

"Si sta come d'autunno sugli alberi le foglie"

One thought on “Riding itself is what is cool.”
  1. Andy sent time ago a comment of fashion that I just retraced in my archives. Very pertinent and clear
    “Popular designs which are repeat-purchased (as they wear out) cannot be redesigned without causing customer-relations problems. The Roadcrafter is one of these products. Changes should be limited to refinements and enhancements, not complete redesigns, or repeat-purchasers will be unhappy and shop elsewhere.. Examples of non-riding branded clothing wearers don’t want changed include Levi’s 501 button fly denim pants, Burberry trench coats, Kangol hats, and Blundstone slip-on shoes. There are many others. Of these examples I own only the Levi’s jeans…but I know I would be happy with any of the others, also.
    I don’t want my Levi’s jeans changed. I have been wearing them out — and replacing them — since I was a teenage student. I’m sure Wrangler and Diesel and Lee and many other companies make a fine pair of denim jeans. For whatever reason I ended up wearing out pair-after-pair of Levi’s. And some of our customers are currently wearing their third or fourth Roadcrafter. It’s hard to believe…
    The closest thing to philosophy on this stuff is a German word that was a favorite of Albert Einstein. ‘Schlimmbesserung (sh-lim-BESS-air-oong). Means changes attempted or improvements that make something worse. Basically, for every gain there is something lost.
    You and I are mostly happy with the compromises the Roadcrafter represents. Other riders want something that looks and functions differently. Whatever it is may meet their requirements better than a Roadcrafter. Some riders want new fashion and style for reasons I don’t understand well. Some riders want their bikes or gear to wordlessly announce to others how smart, experienced, hard-working or wealthy they may be. I like to think that the more one rides, the more a Roadcrafter’s compromises make sense.

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