A few years ago we talked about a trend I had noticed which was almost startling -- baby boomers riding the country’s highways on tricycles.
No, of course we’re not talking about little tricycles like you see on the playgrounds of child care centers or chuch nurseries.
Far from it.
We’re talking big, powerful, ear-splitting trikes -- made by Harley Davidson, the most iconic motorcycle manufacturer in the history of this country.
You know, of course, that Harley – its aficionados never use the full name, just the first word of the brand, which sorts of screams “manly” – speaks to a longing in Americans across the country, even those who have never straddled a motorcycle and never will.
Harley is a lifestyle -- the lure of the open road, the freedom to leave behind the chains of a workaday world, the urge in us to cast aside the tentacles of convention and venture into unknown territory. On a Harley, there’s always the mystery of a new day unfolding somewhere on a serpentine road, the wind in your face and a new adventure around the next turn.
You might have a certain scruffy image of Harley riders, maybe hearkening back to the heyday of the Hell’s Angels, those hard-drinking, scofflaw ruffians of the biking world.
And while the brand has made great inroads in attracting what used to be called “yuppies,” Harley has always been considered, well, tough.
And so now you have grizzled, leathered biker boys sitting up on three-wheelers?
You’re darned right, and since I noticed those first trikes a few years ago, they’ve boomed in popularity.
The Maine Island where Wife Nancy and I spend time is a big biker destination, with miles of oceanfront, rolling highways that look ripe for a movie set.
Early this week I saw more than a dozen tricycles in one day alone -- blues and reds ands blacks, a couple of them pulling trailers that sort of screamed “cross-country adventure.”
Harley’s idea made perfect sense when the company conceived it. All of a sudden, their most loyal riders -- boomers -- were feeling their age. Their sense of balance wasn’t so good as it had been when they were younger and friskier, and balancing a 500-pound bike at a traffic light wasn’t a cinch.
After all, riding a hog – that’s what Harley mavens call the big machines – isn’t easy. It can be bone-jarring, and if you happen to make a wrong move, you can vaporize yourself pretty quickly.
And so recognizing an aging market base, Harley decided to trike it.
Not too much romance to that, is there? Going back to the days of “Easy Rider,” many boomers have always kind of imagined Harley riders to be ultimate cool – the baddest, toughest guys on the road.
You ever recall passing one of those biker bars on a rural road and thinking, “Man I’m not going in there ‘cause I might get my rear end whupped.”
So what do you think happens now when the tricycle riders pull into one of those biker dives? Barkeep: “What’ll it be? Shot of tequila? Boilermaker?”
Harley tricycle rider: “No thanks, I think I’ll have a spot of tea and crumpets. With a tall glass of Maalox on the side.”
One thing hasn’t changed: Harley riders still have their wives and girlfriends riding behind them. Biker babes, some have called them.
Only now, slipping past middle age and their hair going gray, their tushes are a little too wide for the seat and two prominent parts of their anatomy have started sagging south rather than pointing east, if you know what I mean.
But here’s the bottom line:
I think the trikes are great. I take my hat off to those guys who recognize that their reflexes aren’t what they were when they were cleaning out barrooms with their fists or putting in 800-mile days riding coast to coast.
They aren’t sitting in a rec room wilting away or spending their time lamenting over their lost youths. They’re out there on the open road – sure, on three wheels instead of two, but who really cares about that? – chasing that dream, following the center line, headed towards the next state and whatever might lie beyond.
It’s wanderlust of the most wonderful kind.
So I hope if you’re a Harley trike rider and you’re reading this, you’re not thinking of heading my way and going upside my head.
You have my ultimate respect, and I’d hate to be bopped with a crumpet.