Motorcycles, Travel & Adventure


Motorcycle TourMagazine

About On The Mark

Having piloted a motorcycle for many years, Mark has many thoughts floating in his helmet and he's ready to share them with us.

Name: Mark Byers

Current Rides: 'Honestly, his stable is in such a constant flux that we can't keep track of it. If you need to know, just ask him.

Favorite quote:

If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.

- Winston Churchill

Instruments of Mass Combustion

Music and motorcycles go together. It’s no coincidence that some iconic album covers involve motorcycles: Prince and his Honda 400 on “Purple Rain,” a stylized rider screaming skyward on Meatloaf’s “Bat Outta Hell,” Janice Joplin aboard a chopped Sportster on her “Greatest Hits” album, Jimi Hendrix astride a chopper on “South Saturn Delta,” and the contemporary Lady Gaga becoming part of a motorcycle on the cover of “Born This Way.” I’m sure music aficionados can cite more examples, especially from the metal genre.

Bands of all genres incorporated motorcycles into their songs. Bon Jovi sang “On a steel horse I ride” in “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” Motörhead’s iconic Lemmy dedicated “Iron Horse/Born to Lose” to the Hell’s Angels, Motörhead’s unofficial bodyguards. Our friend Byrd hates “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf because his dealership plays it every time they sell a motorcycle (c’mon guys, really). One of my personal favorites is the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider.”OTM

A song that incorporates the roar of an engine is “Leader of the Pack” by the all-girl “Shangri-Las;” unfortunately, it also incorporates crash sounds to allude to the fate of bad-boy Jimmy. It’s up there in the attic with 1964’s “Little Honda” by the Beach Boys, a song the company should have paid Brian Wilson and Mike Love to record because it fit so well with their “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” campaign. One of my personal favorites is “Roll Me Away” by Bob Seeger, in which he “Headed out to my big two-wheeler, I was tired of my own voice. Took a bead on the Northern Plains and just rolled that power on.” To me, that’s the quintessential motorcycle ballad: he meets a girl he thinks is a kindred spirit in a bar, but when the motorcycle ride gets cold, it’s too much for her and she leaves him to carry on alone. Judging from the song, he still had a good time.

There are a number of artists who ride. Prodigy’s Keith Flint is not only a sportbike nut, but a team owner. Rush drummer Neil Peart is known for riding his BMW GS on epic rides and writing about them. Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt has a Honda CB750 cafe racer made by Carpy Carpenter that I lusted after for years. Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler isn’t just a rider: in 2007, he launched a custom motorcycle company called Red Wing Motorcycles. The company’s been renamed Dirico Custom Motorcycles, but Tyler still signs each bike. Billy Idol likes to ride Triumph motorcycles (no surprise). Bruce Springsteen rides and bought his Moto Guzzi from Billy Joel, who owns 20th Century Cycles in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Mark Knopfler rides from home to his studio.

Regrettably, there have been artists who came to grief at the hands of their motorcycles. Much-publicized anti-helmet guy Gary Busey famously crashed and it nearly cost him his life. Billy Idol rode through a stop sign in Hollywood and the resulting injuries supposedly cost him the role of a Terminator in the “T2” sequel. Steven Tyler, unsurprisingly under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time, rode into a tree in 1981. Billy Joel was hit by a red-light runner and Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler ran into a car in London. By far, the biggest tragedies to befall musicians had to be the Allman Brothers’ loss of both Duane Allman, who died from crashing his Sportster in Macon, GA in October 1971, and bandmate Berry Oakley, who rode his Triumph into the back of a bus just over a year later and three blocks from the site of Duane’s fatal mishap.

Despite the sometimes checkered history of musicians and motorcycles, the two are inextricably linked. Motorcycles inspire artistry, whether it is the making of the machines or the making of music that includes or alludes to them. I know people for whom riding without music would be torture. Hunter S. Thompson, himself the author of the greatest motorcycle review ever called “Song of the Sausage Creature,” had this to say: “Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel…On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.” I don’t think Hunter would have a problem replacing “car” in that quote with “motorcycle.” I sure don’t.