“Narcissism and self-deception are survival mechanisms without which many of us might just jump off a bridge.” —Todd Solondz

“I don’t care what you think unless it is about me.” —Kurt Cobain

I’ve been thinking a lot about narcissism lately. I don’t want to be one of those boring middle-aged guys who shares every detail of his personal growth and development and then inevitably starts administering pro-bono psychotherapy whether you want it or not, but tough titty, as they say. This is my column. Blame Sean for hiring me in the first place.

Anyway, narcissism. Narcissism is a complex thing. Like many human traits, too much of it can be debilitating – in fact, it’s in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, (fondly referred to by psychiatrists and psychological hypochondriacs like myself as the DSM-5) as an actual mental health condition: Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). But we also need measured doses of self-interest to survive. As they say, somebody’s gotta take care of Number One.

Of course, some of us are interested in us more than others. And for some reason, we like motorcycles.

I know I’m painting with a broad brush, or maybe an industrial paint sprayer, but after learning about narcissism and its effects, I’m starting to realize just how many narcissists there are in the motorcycle industry and media. In fact, it would be harder to name the folks I’ve met over the last quarter century of motorcycling who aren’t narcissists than those who are. I’m sure I’ve met one or two, but I’m at a loss right now. Give me a second.

Narcissus, a character from Greek mythology, waiting for the Honda dealer in East Secaucus, New Jersey, to open. He's wondering if he should skip the CBR600RR and go straight to the CBR1000RR, because he knows he can handle it.

Narcissus, a character from Greek mythology, waiting for the Honda dealer in East Secaucus, New Jersey, to open. He’s wondering if he should skip the CBR600RR and go straight to the CBR1000RR, because he knows he can handle it.

Since this column could jeopardize my job security, I’ll build my case carefully and anonymously. The word narcissism refers to the Greek myth about a youth named Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. His obsession was so consuming he turned into a flower – the narcissus – and was then eaten by a goat, who was later condemned to the fifth circle of Hades for selling an Isle of Lesbos timeshare to Demeter, the goddess of agriculture.*

So the dictionary definition of narcissism refers to love of one’s appearance, but the psychological/anthropological definition deals with feelings of superiority, self-absorption and self-admiration.

So, I’m not saying all motorcyclists are narcissists. I’m just saying that if a narcissist were to design a vehicle, it would probably be noisy, compromised in function, uncomfortable for passengers, bad for the environment and very difficult and dangerous to operate. Luckily for the narcissistic among us who don’t have the creativity to invent some kind of coal-fired balsa-wood motorized hang glider, motorcycles fit that bill perfectly. So do AC Cobra replicas, tandem bicycles and high-lift pickup trucks, but we’re not talking about those today.

Motorcycles are, let’s face it, attention-getting – and that’s why we like them. Maybe that’s not why you started riding, but it’s a big part of why I did. I thought it would be cool to ride a motorcycle, and have everybody look at me as I rode by. You need a lot of skill to operate one safely, and everybody knows it. In fact, it’s a big reason why so many people don’t ride – they fear they don’t have the necessary basic skills and abilities to learn. So, narcissists get a little thrill every time we even think about going for a ride – another opportunity to show off how skilled we are to strangers! Look at me!**

And then there’s motorcycle racing – a solo sport even when there are 60 riders on the grid. If you’ve spent time at the racetrack, you’ve met your share of self-centered racers, racers who strut about the pits like prize roosters, hawt girlfriends and admiring buddies straggling along in their wake. After their racing careers, they often open motorcycle shops or other businesses, inflicting their self-absorbed, micromanaging behavior on overworked, underpaid employees who still sigh admiringly whenever they’re in the presence of the Great One, their boss. “He podium finished in 750 Superbike at Loudon in 1991. And he just touched me.”

You can buy this on Amazon as a gift set with a Clymer repair manual for the Suzuki Hayabusa.

You can buy this on Amazon as a gift set with a Clymer repair manual for the Suzuki Hayabusa.

Like every other aspect of motorcycling, narcissism abounds in the world of motojournalism, the cramped, incestuous sweatshop of our own making. Go to a motorcycle press event, or anywhere motojournalists gather, and you often won’t find them doing what actual journalists would do, which is interviewing subjects who know things about motorcycles. Instead, motojournos regularly gather together at a table away from the industry people, telling stories about how awesome they are. Meanwhile, a group of small, quiet engineers, who individually know more about motor design, component manufacturing and chassis dynamics than a Yankee Stadium-sized crowd of hacks like me sit on the other side of the room, muttering to each other about the local food. “Watanabe, what is this thing called ‘Frito Pie?’ Is it safe to eat?”

Working in motorcycle journalism is a good way to get fired, though I feel oddly safe here at MO. Egos clash in impressive firestorms, with grown men weeping and cars peeling out in various Orange County parking lots as balding, angered men head off to new jobs at rival publications or ho-ing for OEMs or PR firms. There is one editor/publisher who has fired almost every motojournalist I know, sometimes more than once. I’ve been fired several times, though I’m not sure whose fault it was – the narcissist I was working for, or the narcissistic hack working for them. At some point, it doesn’t really matter.

Anyway, there are two ways to cope with narcissists. You can avoid them, which would mean not being involved with motorcycles, or you can swallow your own bloated self-image and put up with it. It beats getting a normal job with all those nasty little regular people. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Google myself. Again.

*I made the part about the goat up, because I’m a self-indulgent narcissist.

**Of course, when my editor-in-chief posts a column showing off all the awesome wheelie photos he has of himself (some of which are pretty cool, I admit), it’s not narcissistic at all.


Gabe Ets-Hokin is currently on a hiatus between jobs as a columnist for major motorcycling websites so he can spend more time with his family and catch up on his favorite Lifetime Network programming.

  • Alexander Pityuk

    ** One year from now on:
    – Anyone knows what happened to Gabe’s column?
    – Some say he was run over by a wheelieing motorcycle. About 6 or 7 times in a row. And then found in a ditch. Police still has no suspects with motivation to do so.

    • Kevin Duke

      That gave me an honest LOL – thanks!

  • Old MOron

    “It beats getting a normal job with all those nasty little regular people.”

    Oh, you mean people like us, your MOronic readers.

    • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

      Not all of our readers, but yes, you in particular.

      • Old MOron

        Hmm, you and Gabe peg me as unappealing, unimportant and unremarkable. And in his recent comparo, JB clocks me as “…pale, pasty and balding type…”

        My internet anonymity filters must not be working!

        • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

          We have you pegged. (in a strictly platonic sort of way)

          • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

            So long as you’re not pegging me.

          • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

            What happened in Torrance, stays in Torrance!

  • ducatirdr

    Best article I’ve read on the inet in a while. Very funny while thought provoking…. My track day weekend… I decided to ride in a slower group. I felt like a god out there! LOL – The Sandbagger

  • James Stewart

    Gabe, come on, you need to get more creative with your LinkedIn Profile.. You’re not “on a hiatus between jobs”, you’re simply “doing some freelance consulting work” – because after all, you don’t want your narcissistic moto-journalist colleagues to know that you’ve been…uh… fired…

  • JMDonald

    It always has been and always will be about me. I know it. I live it. I love it. I’ve been fired. My first thought was what could I possibly have done to warrant this happening? After many hours of self introspection I realized it was the inadequacy of my employers that drove them to make that very bad decision. All the better for me. I think therefore I am.

  • http://batman-news.com Gary

    I began riding largely because it was looked down upon by polite society. I really hated polite society. Still do.

    • Tinwoods

      So you’re more of a sociopath than a narcissist. Got it.

  • Born to Ride

    While I have encountered elements in my motorcycling experience that support the opinion written in this article. I actually find that almost every motorcyclist I meet on the road(not to be confused with “bikers”…) is a friendly and helpful sort of human being. Whether its a group of squids gathered under the big shade tree at the bottom of palomar mountain or a bunch of long haul tourers on the side of highway 1 taking the cliff-side vistas; you can almost always just walk up and strike up a good natured conversation about the ride. I’ve met some of the coolest cats in the most remote of twisty backroads that simply share their experiences with me. One time I was by Lake Henshaw in a turnout taking a break, and a guy pulls up to me on an RC-51 and hit me with “Hey do you know the best way to get to Borrego Springs?” I simply smiled and told him follow me, then proceded to take the back back way through every desert canyon I could find. Afterwards he told me that it was the most fun he’d ever had on two wheels.

    To sum it up, I don’t think motorcyclists are narcissists at all, more like pack animals that take care of the herd. And clearly someone needs to take a nice long ride and rediscover the passion for riding that, I can only imagine, brought him here in the first place.

    • KSH

      I’d agree – motorcyclists have a sense of independence, in that they celebrate an activity that is usually enjoyed solo, but not all of us are strutting bulls, wanting everyone to admire us.

    • John A. Stockman

      I liked the part about motorcyclists and bikers. I read a column a few years back detailing the differences between bikers and motorcyclists, penned by Fred Rau and it rang true on every count. It reminded me of conversations my grandfather had with various folks, especially with those that didn’t ride and never would. I grew up in a family of accomplished motorcyclists, men and women rode their own motorcycles. They’d get together once a month for informal practice-your-skills sessions in a local empty parking lot early Sunday mornings. No one ever bothered us or told us to leave, mainly because we weren’t part of the loud-pipes-save-lives crowd and didn’t act like idiots. When folks found out we rode motorcycles, the “biker” term would always come up. Grandpa (my avatar pic on his ’39 Indian Chief in Tacoma, WA.) would politely tell them that “we are motorcyclists, not bikers, there’s a big difference…”. Those years were a huge positive influence on me. I went through years of lengthy surgeries and tortuous physical therapy in the early 80s so I could ride again; Ankylosing Spondylitis destroyed all my joint cartilage, fusing my entire spine and both hips by the time I was 14. The atrophied muscles because of joint deterioration was the most difficult part, hence the tortuous therapy to get them all working again. I remembered those practice-your-skills sessions and started doing my own. At least once a month I did my practice sessions, for the 27 years of riding I enjoyed as the oxymoronic “handicapped” motorcyclist, before no amount of surgeries could stop the deterioration and I had to stop riding. My story and experiences are too much and too long for here, but thanks for your post.

    • John A. Stockman

      I liked the part about motorcyclists and bikers. I read a column a few years back detailing the differences between bikers and motorcyclists, penned by Fred Rau and it rang true on every count. It reminded me of conversations my grandfather had with various folks, especially with those that didn’t ride and never would. I grew up in a family of accomplished motorcyclists, men and women rode their own motorcycles. They’d get together once a month for informal practice-your-skills sessions in a local empty parking lot early Sunday mornings. No one ever bothered us or told us to leave, mainly because we weren’t part of the loud-pipes-save-lives crowd and didn’t act like idiots. When folks found out we rode motorcycles, the “biker” term would always come up. Grandpa (my avatar pic on his ’39 Indian Chief in Tacoma, WA.) would politely tell them that “we are motorcyclists, not bikers, there’s a big difference…”. Those years were a huge positive influence on me. I went through years of lengthy surgeries and tortuous physical therapy in the early 80s so I could ride again; Ankylosing Spondylitis destroyed all my joint cartilage, fusing my entire spine and both hips by the time I was 14. The atrophied muscles because of joint deterioration was the most difficult part, hence the tortuous therapy to get them all working again. I remembered those practice-your-skills sessions and started doing my own. At least once a month I did my practice sessions, for the 27 years of riding I enjoyed as the oxymoronic “handicapped” motorcyclist, before no amount of surgeries could stop the deterioration and I had to stop riding. My story and experiences are too much and too long for here, but thanks for your post.

  • frankfan42

    Thanks I needed a healthy laugh- at myself .

  • panthalassa

    love the narcissus caption — but i think it should be a zook dealer, ’cause “sweet gixxer, bro” is the kind of mantra which narcissus would live for.

    • Tinwoods

      Huh? Narcissism knows no brand boundaries. You’re talking about squids.

  • Gee Bee

    Love it. True down to the letter. Just one request: you did mean “Watanabe-san”, right ?

  • BDan75

    Re: the part about riding to show off your coolness/skills to bystanders. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize the truth of the statement often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt: “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

    Anymore, I’m pretty sure that 90+% of the time, the only people who pay attention to me and my bike are other motorcyclists.

  • mudgun

    My first bike was an Allstate Moped. I bought it because I had a 5+ mile rural paper route. I walked, (several hours) I rode a bicycle, (up and down steep hills) I bummed rides from my mom ,(as she explained why she was against me taking the route in the first place) then I got my Moped. Problem solved. Not sure I’m a narcissists, but I do love to look at my reflection as ride past store front windows