High on the Hog
by Naomi Mendelsohn
When Dan Church turned 50, he presented his wife with an ultimatum — either he bought a motorcycle or he started shopping for a trophy wife.
“I’m really too old today to seriously consider myself a chick magnet,” says Church. “But the bike works as a memory magnet.”
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|Crotch Rocket (disparaging): High-performance, sporty neon bike.|
|Chopper: Easy Rider bikes. Named for the 60s practice of chopping off bike parts to increase speed.|
|Bar and Shield: The infamous Harley Davidson insignia.|
|HOG: Hog can refer to Harley Owners Group, a Harley rider or the bike itself.|
|Touring Bike: Any motorcycle you can take on a long ride. Most have saddlebags and require little maintenance.|
|Rat Bike: Like a homeless person's shopping cart. A bike to which the owner has attached all of his worldly goods.|
Church, a journalist-turned-communications consultant, hadn’t ridden a motorcycle in almost 30 years. So why, you might ask, did he want to get back in the saddle?
Chalk it up to nostalgia, though not for the riding itself. Don't get him wrong — Church harbored only the fondest images of adrenaline-laced summer evenings in Washington, D.C., with his first Honda 50. But his midlife return to biking had little to do with the thrill of the open road. In fact: “I was terrified," he says, looking back. "I remember going down the hill and feeling hopelessly exposed.”
Instead, he was looking for a way to rekindle old memories, to recreate a long-lost community and to reconnect with himself. Circling back, after a lifetime’s worth of experiences, to his old pastime, he couldn't help but be confronted with the changes— and constants — within.
He's riding a trend. During the last 15 years, the motorcycle industry has seen explosive growth — Harley Davidson quadrupled its production between 1986 and 1998 — and a shift toward an older and wealthier demographic. Forget motorcycling's old ZZ Top image; there are more Dan Churches out there than Frank Beards. Recent studies by the Motorcycle Industry Council show that the roar of the ride passing you on the freeway is most likely being made by a 38-year-old dad with a college degree and a hefty paycheck. After all, a bike isn't cheap. Harleys run around $20,000 or more, and insurance is expensive.