My recent purchase of a new Toyota Tacoma (not merely “new to me” and certainly not a just-on-the-cusp-of-being-a-beater-at-the-time-of-purchase like all my previous trucks) got me noodling about the importance of enthusiasts. While researching my purchase, I haunted the forums of the models I was considering, and before the ink was fully dry on the contract to siphon money from my bank account for the foreseeable future (and beyond), I was on several Tacoma sites seeking information and links to items that would make my truck better at the bike hauling duties for which it was being conscripted. In addition to finding the information I sought, I was reminded, again, about the importance of enthusiasts to niche activities.

Who else but an enthusiast would, thanks to a miscommunication, sit in an interstate parking lot for 45 minutes, waiting for someone he didn’t know just to make this stranger’s life easier the next day by selling him a hand-built accessory – a motorcycle tie-down bar, to be exact. He not only waited for me to arrive, but he also seemed completely unbothered by the waiting. So, we stood there, in a parking lot, with commuters roaring by, and talked about trucks and the bikes we’d hauled in them and riding and camping and many topics motorsports related. Another 45 minutes passed in this revelry before I was jolted back to reality by a WTF text from my wife – long-suffering from the black hole of motorcycling combined with my tenuous relationship with space and time.

Bikes in back of pickup

A motorcycle tie-down bar, built by an enthusiast for enthusiasts.

But back to enthusiasts – which is what I was mulling over as I drove home that night:

An almost indescribable something separates being a motorcyclist from being a motorcycle enthusiast. Odds are that, if you’re reading this, you’re a motorcyclist – or at least bike curious. Being a motorcyclist is easy, you buy a motorcycle and ride it. Getting a license and wearing proper gear move you up the food chain of motorcyclists, but there’s a chasm of difference between your average weekend warrior and an enthusiast.

Enthusiasts, like motorcycles or humans, for that matter, come in many shapes and sizes, but they usually share a few key features. First, they have an almost unhealthy interest in motorcycling – sometimes to the exclusion of just about everything else. (Just ask their loved ones.) They often also devote much of that obsessive attention to a particular area of motorcycling. You’ve got your racing junkies who can tell you which Phillip Island race Schwantz highsided himself out of second place on the penultimate lap, following an amazing come-from-behind charge (which set the fastest lap of the race) to catch the lead trio of Doohan, Rainey, and Gardner (the eventual winner, who was riding with his lower bodywork dangling loose after a near crash). (September 1990, though this video doesn’t capture the charge from behind or the hugeness of the high side the way camera angle on the U.S. broadcast did.) Or perhaps their specialty is a particular model of bike. Or a certain era of motorcycles. Or dirt. Or touring. Or the best motorcycle roads in a section of the country.

Truck tailgate

Spot a problem: Tacoma tailgates tend to bend under the load of motorcycles. Design a solution: A couple of guys with a shop in Maryland build steel tailgate skins.

They are fonts of (usually) accurate information and love to share it – not in the blowhard way of self-aggrandization. Rather, these people just ooze information – because, as the cliché states, information wants to be free. So, naturally, others tend to seek them out. These enthusiasts are the people that internet forums were made for. In the past, only local riders would benefit from their knowledge base. Now, they have the platform to dispense and collect even more of that important data. It’s good to know that they can now, finally garner the acclaim they deserve for helping so many – just for the joy of doing so.

Let’s not forget the inventor enthusiasts. They take a need – either real or imagined – and create a way to resolve it. These are the guys who saw GSX-R engines in half, trying to build the ultimate Battle of the Twins bike or graft multiple dirtbike engines into a sidehack and take it to Bonneville in search of records if not outright speed. They are also responsible for some real innovation in all areas of motorcycling.

Still, a special kind of madness is required for entry into the ranks of enthusiasts. You’ll find that, when attending moto-gatherings, they tend to latch on to each other like magnets in a tool box. Sparks can fly as they riff off of each other, like seasoned jam band musicians. These are the folks you’ll find starting an aftermarket company or toiling away after hours in the shop that they wrench in during the business day or working long hours in a manufacturer’s development and testing department.

Britten motorcycle

The Britten may be the ultimate enthusiast creation.

Without enthusiasts, there would be no aftermarket, no organized rides or rallies, no forums for like-minded riders to gather electronically. There would be no magazines or web publications, like MO. (We’ve gotta be enthusiasts because it certainly isn’t the money that keeps us tapping away. Not that I’m complaining, boss.) There would be no new models constantly being updated by the OEMs. Enthusiasts are the nucleus around which all riders orbit. We clump together to form the various molecules of the niches within our niche, and some even grow to become full-fledged segments or categories of motorcycles and motorcycling. Simply put, enthusiasts are to motorcycling what carbon is to life. One is the basis of the other.

Enthusiasts are motorcycling.