Proper motorcycle attire consists of a full regalia of purpose-designed gear from head to toe, and that’s what I wear religiously whenever I head out on a trip of any distance. That wasn’t always the case. For a good many years—from my teens to my 40s, actually—I was cavalier about my getup, and spent long summer days in the saddle wearing shredded jeans, a tank top and do-rag, cutting a dashing devil-may-care figure and working on my tan. As the years passed and I came to know that it wasn’t a tan I was working on, it was melanoma, I took to covering up more thoroughly, and with more years still, I came to adopt the full biker regalia, a mode of outfitting often referred to as “dressing for the crash.”
Not that I crash that much, really. There’s more to it these days than simply self preservation, and when I see underdressed bikers on the road it saddens me. Not because I fear for their physical well-being but because in preparing to ride by just throwing on any old togs and sneakers they’re missing out on the opportunity to lend some heroic scale to their riding experience and to their personal journey, generally. In explaining what I mean, I need to share a secret with you that may sound a little freaky at first, but hear me out: I don’t dress for the crash. I don’t “dress” at all. Rather, I “suit up.” I methodically lay out my regalia—socks and heavy boots, jeans and chaps, belt, belt knife, chain wallet, my threadbare old lucky T-shirt, riding jacket, gauntlets and helmet—and then commence a deliberate, ritualistic donning of the gear in the grand cinematic tradition of “suiting up.”
You know what I’m talking about. The suiting-up scene is a dramatic staple in movie making, and some of the most memorable moments in screen history are the transformative sequences where, for example, Gary Cooper goes from street-clothed rookie schmo to New York Yankee in The Pride of the Yankees. Other familiar examples abound; De Niro in Taxi Driver, Cruise in The Last Samurai come to mind, as do the nerds in Revenge of the Nerds II (camo, helmets, bandoliers and, yes, pocket protectors), the three amigos in The Three Amigos, oh, and that creepy guy in Silence of the Lambs. And not to leave the ladies out, the chick flick genre has given us brilliant suiting-up scenes in both Memoirs of a Geisha, and, of course, The Powerpuff Girls Movie.
Should you decide to start adding a suiting-up scene to your own routine, these are all worthy templates—except for that creepy guy—but certainly not the only ones, and you can even make up your own, provided you include a few essential elements, to wit:
1) A mirror. You absolutely must have a mirror. A standard full-length job is ideal, but pretty much any mirror will work in a pinch, provided it wasn’t salvaged from a fun house.
2) A soundtrack. This can be just about anything that suits your tastes provided it adds a heavy poignancy to your transformation. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor works well on the ominous tension-building end of the scale (think Rollerball), as does Orff’s O, Fortuna, the default Hollywood track for apocalyptic situations, and thus perfect if you’re riding off into threatening weather. There are a few biker-specific tracks that I find suitably stirring, things like Bon Jovi’s Dead or Alive (the whole steel horse thing), Free Bird (duh), Born to be Wild (double duh), and my personal favorite, Richard Thompson’s ’52 Vincent—the only truly mythic evocation of moto-culture.
3) A steely-eyed game face. Gotta have one of those. While the ability to laugh at yourself—to really bust a gut at your own comical absurdity—is the highest of human virtues, there’s a time and place for everything, and this is neither. This is me time. Stare yourself down like Travis Bickle. Go for the gravitas.
4) A valet. This one is actually optional, but for the full suiting up effect I highly recommend having an assistant to participate in the ritual, handing you stuff and then standing off in the corner of the mirror’s reflection looking on in awe and admiration once the metamorphosis is complete and you’re beholding the fully-fledged road warrior in the glass where once stood a pasty middle-aged guy in his underwear. My Personal Nurse will occasionally deign to play this role, acting appropriately awed and offering the occasional helpful observation like, “You got your chaps on backwards, numbnuts,” or “Where did you find that ratty T-shirt? I thought I threw that thing out.”
That’s all the preparation you should need in staging your own suiting-up scene, and I know you can take it from here and adapt it to your own narrative, but know this above all else: Your life is your movie and you should live it that way—even if it’s just a biker flick. That’s not a conceit, that’s simple self-respect, and if you don’t cast yourself in the leading role, chances are nobody else will. If you’re not the star of your own production, you’re just a bit player in everyone else’s. Suit up.
It’s all right here in the diaries.