Mother really wanted me to become an attorney when I grew up. But like most parents, Marianne Clovis’ kid didn’t turn out precisely how she’d anticipated. The road to Law School took a sharp detour toward a Yamaha dealership, and, well, you probably know the rest.
My two-wheel journey originally began at age eleven, when mom bought a (literal) basket-case Honda CT90 – a project well beyond a fifth-grader’s mechanical ability. Taking pity on me, mom eventually drove over to Hinshaw’s Honda and purchased a shiny new one – and thus my world was complete.
Four years later a miracle struck, in the form of a ’79 Ford. While walking home from school, I suddenly came face-to-grille with a half-ton pickup truck. That near-death experience – and subsequent cash settlement – paid for my first genuine street bike, a Honda VTR250. Mom begrudgingly signed the insurance check in exchange for what must’ve looked to her as the fastest vehicle ever created by man.
My ticket to freedom and awesomeness had arrived. Paying homage to mom’s northern Italian heritage, I painted it the tricolore livery of a Ducati F1 – complete with custom graphics that read “Cocetti Italia.” You see, mom’s paternal grandparents were named Cocetti and hailed from Rimini, Italy, also home to Bimota Motorcycles. In reality, I doubt any Cocetti could tell a racebike from a wheelbarrow, but it fooled the local riding crowd. At least I thought it did.
Not long after, mom drove me out to Sequim, WA in a quest to definitively establish my limitations as a mechanic: a 1974 Ironhead chopper complete with ‘60’s-era frame, dry-rot tires and no front brake. That I survived the two-hour return trip aboard such a loose collection of grease and bailing wire was absolute proof in the divine – as mom is devoutly religious and keeps the man upstairs on speed-dial. Clearly the power of prayer on display.
As the years passed, my bikes got newer and less terrible. Yet without fail, mom was always on-hand to drive me to the dealership, help me with insurance, co-sign a loan, whatever. Riding a motorcycle became not what I did, but who I was. Ultimately, the motorcycle industry provided a great life for my family.
Throughout all, however, one paradox remains: my mother HATES motorcycles. Despises them.
While driving me to the dealership in 1982, she hated them. When co-signing for my GSXR1100, she hated them. As she wrote the check for that Ironhead Harley, she hated them. She hated them, but – and because – she loves me dearly. So for nearly forty years, mom has swallowed her disgust, plastered on a smile and supported my reckless obsession. Just last week, following an idyllic Vegas-to-Hoover Dam run, my wife was careful to ensure that the photo we sent mom didn’t show the Indian Chieftain we were riding. Even to this day it would – still – worry her to see us astride a bike.
Motorcycle culture was borne of youth and rebellion. Yet, leather and skulls aside, we’re not a death cult. On the contrary, riding is the ultimate expression of life and freedom. Our job, as purveyors of this religion, is to effectively communicate the zeal and joy motorcycles bring. We must challenge ourselves to elevate this relationship from mere customer, to guest, to one of family. In the biker community, we refer to each other as “brother” or “sister,” and not just “colleague” or “customer.”
Riding is a shared experience that builds lasting bonds. These relationships are at the core of our business, and the best companies in powersports tap into this power. They are built on a foundation that is reassuring, authentic, social, and liberating.
Start by thinking of your customers’ mothers – that’s the “reassuring” part. Make sure your guests are equipped right, trained right and riding smart. Understand what a malleolus bone is and how to protect it. Learn what a multi-stage EPS liner is and how it can save your life. Go ahead and build that MSF course in your parking lot. Begin from a foundation of safety and intelligence, then allow your guests to expand their horizons and experience the freedom riding brings. That’s the “liberating” part that makes us a life-changing community.
And yes, getting someone in the wind absolutely changes their life forever. In fact, the joy of shepherding that transformation is intoxicating. Although we can’t remove 100 percent of the risk, we can mitigate it and not let it rule us. A motorcycle crash can be horrible and deadly. But so is heart disease; or getting hit by a ’79 F150 while crossing the street. We riders make a conscious decision: Not to blindly ignore the dangers of this world, but to embrace each day we’ve been given. We choose to live by our own terms, and not be governed by fear. That’s the message to send through our customers and fellow riders.
Sure, motorcycles are dangerous. And they aren’t logical. But neither is art, love, music or passion. And I wouldn’t care to live in a world without any of those things either.
So I say thank-you to my favorite motorcycle momma. Although supporting my two-wheel hobby must’ve been rough, you can rest assured in the knowledge that I’d have made a terrible lawyer. I promise to ride safe, wear proper gear and always keep the shiny side up.
That said, don’t ever stop praying – I’ll take all the help I can get on the 405 freeway.
Chris Clovis has had the honor and pleasure of 26 years in the Powersports Industry, currently serving as vice president of EagleRider Motorcycles [www.eaglerider.com]. Chris’ opinions are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer, publisher or clients. Most importantly, Happy Mother’s Day to Chris’ two favorite Italians, Marianne and Nicole Clovis.