Skidmarks: No Beige Bikes

It’s better to burn out, than to fade away…
—Neil Young

Ah, beige. Like the apocryphal story about Eskimos having 18 different words for snow, so do car companies have many, many words for beige. There’s Stone; Bisque; Ash; Caramel; Camel; Smoke; Champagne; Linen; Almond; Shale; Sepia; Buff; Sorrel; Harvest; Sky Cool Gray and one for the fellas: Alloy. Those are just the interior colors. For the hard candy shell, Lexus sports Truffle Mica, Audi has a Beluga Brown, Porsche offers Cognac Metallic and Toyota, without irony, shows off its Toasted Walnut minivan.

“Toasted Walnut,” Toyota? Seriously? You want your $30,000 minivan to look like a snack? Come to think of it, Toyota’s minivan is called a “Sienna,” a shade of beige in and of itself. Why so much beige? Unless one of my great-aunts is on the boards of all the major car companies (and I used to have enough, believe it or not. I even had not one but two named Bernice) they must be pandering to the tastes (or lack of) of the car-buying public.

The miracle of beige is that it’s meaningless as a color descriptor: the word itself is French for un-dyed or unfinished wool or other fabric. It is a color for those who desire no color, a hue for those who want to disappear. The endless euphemisms are there to allow the buyer the illusion they are having their coach decorated with the latest in designer fashion, not a slightly altered shade of baby poop.

So why is beige a popular color for cars? Well, at risk of offending readers (reader?) who are middle-aged women, my wife, who is herself a middle-aged woman (and will even on occasion admit to it), pointed out that beige is mostly for middle-aged and older women. Such persons tend toward wearing neutral colors – more staid and dignified, plus I am sure there are myriad other reasons I don’t know, as I write about motorcycles and not lady’s fashion (I am willing to learn for the right price, so please email me in care of this website. Please save me). Not a lot of them in the motorcycle market, but they do buy a lot of cars, hence all the beige.

Madeline Kahn sporting the ultimate Louis Vuitton ensemble in Mel Brooks’ comedy classic High Anxiety.

Beige motorcycles? Not so much. Google “beige motorcycle” and Google’s auto-correct function will cheerily suggest “beige motorcycle jacket,” no doubt expecting you’re putting together a Linda Evans Halloween costume. Very little comes up on the image search, with the exception of Keira Knightley clad in a beige jumpsuit astride a beige-painted Ducati 750 GT. Actually, that was enough, and terribly distracting, too. Ducati built 4,133 of these bikes, and of the doubtless tiny number still running, one is now beige. However, this is excusable because there are nude photos of Keira Knightley (I checked, so you don’t have to).

Where was I? Oh yes: no beige motorcycles (though maybe a few scooters and those really old BMW thumpers. BMW called this color “Bavarian Cream”). Motorcycles do not make sense in beige. It’s like putting hijab on an elephant. Motorcycles – and motorcyclists – like to be seen, not blend in like gazelles in the Zimbabwean veldt. Aside from obvious safety concerns, our rarity in traffic puts us on display, so why not stand out? Own it!

As I slog through my middle years, I understand the desire to relax, go limp, and blend into the scenery. Being youthful is interesting to folks both old and young all by itself. To be interesting as an older person, you need to have done something interesting, so if your life is ordinary, or just a little north of ordinary, you get tired of hyping the interesting parts of your life. “Hey!” says the wrinkly old dude, “look at me! I was once interesting too, with elastic skin and small pores! Love me!” It gets old. Better to slip out the back door and head to the bar, where you can get double points on your United Miles card buying the other old guys a round of drinks, plus you can write it off against your 1099 income, even if there’s a loss, since you’re discussing business per IRS Publication 463. Being middle-aged isn’t all bad, you know.

Come to think of it, my own wardrobe is getting awfully dun-colored. Don’t want to draw attention if I’m just schlepping around my daily life, but my motorcycles always stand out. Right now my personal ride is white – yuck – but that’s still a bold color in a way that would just make a car look like a work van. Even black – whether factory-finish gloss or hi-temp matte black – still has visual impact on a bike. It says “look at me, even though I’m almost invisible.”

Luigi Russolo, “Dynamism of a Car” (1912 – 1913)

We on motorcycles have no need for beige. Motorcycles are color, sound, fire and smoke. Beige? “We want to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and rashness,” said Futurist poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti a century ago. Gotta love them Futurists: they were Fascists, but they were fun Fascists. They knew that to build anew you must first burn that shit down. Blend in? Fade away?

We’re just getting started.

Gabe Ets-Hokin’s atomic number is 51. A lustrous gray metalloid, he is found in nature mainly as the sulfide mineral stibnite (Sb2S3).

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