Tucson, AZ

Typically, when you hear the word "biker" two counterposed images spring to mind: the Whale, with his pristine, $30k hog and matching apparel and the Rat whose white skin and brown hair have averaged out to a dirty orange from sun exposure. The Whale aspires to be the Rat—he has seen the Rat depicted in hundreds of movies, TV shows, and advertisements. The Rat is somewhere between hardcore and feral, stringy and muscular. He lives in a shack in the desert and thunders through the sand from roadhouse to whorehouse. Breakfast is for pussies, lunch is a whiskey bottle with a broken neck, and dinner comes off a mirror. The Rat chews burned rubber instead of tobacco and spits corrosive fluid on police cruisers. He kills the weak with a scowl and the strong with a rusty chain. When Smoky takes a shot at him, he bleeds 20W-50. The Rat made "biker" a scary word but, today, he is nearly extinct.

When you see a chrome-coated cruiser thundering down the highway, chances are you're seeing a Whale. They are ubiquitous, parked in service stations, wheezing on and off their manicured rides at diners recommended by so-called "biker" magazines—as if bikers had magazines. As if bikers ate at diners touting A+ ratings from local health departments. Whales put their bikes on trailers and tote them around the country from rally to rally, the motorized equivalent of dog shows. Whales do not camp, ride during the winter, or carry adequate tools. They do, however, have families, lots of stuff, and 401ks. These attributes, coupled with their Harley brand pacemakers, render them unthreatening. Whales are too vested in life to risk misanthropic behavior. They are friendly, responsible geezers who like squeezing into costumes and taking in a bit of fresh air. They'll wave to you.

You can travel thousands of miles without meeting a genuine Rat and, if you do, he won't wave to you. He won't even see you, partly because you don't matter and partly because he wears inadequate eye protection and his vision is blurred by road-crud. But, sometimes, if you are lucky, you will meet a him at a gas station in the middle of rural New Mexico and he will deign to acknowledge you.

"Tucson? Huh." The Rat sneers that he is just setting off for Los Angeles. "Now that's a real ride." 10:00 has come and gone and the city of angels is nearly 800 miles to the west. The Rat spits on the concrete and finishes fueling his bike. Salt crystals cover his once-red bandanna. His Harley doesn't have bags on it. It doesn't have fairings. Or a windshield. It would be appallingly uncomfortable for one hundred miles, let alone eight times that. "Gotta get there for a funeral tomorrow afternoon," he says nonchalantly. His silver aviators can't conceal his self-satisfaction. There is a 50% chance he caused the funeral and another 50% chance that it will be his own after hitting a deer tonight. "They sure are going to be surprised to see me roll up at that country club." Without another word, he starts his weathered bike and interrupts conversations for everyone in a three-mile radius. Then he roars onto I-25 southbound.

If he speeds, doesn't stop, doesn't encounter traffic, he will arrive in LA around midnight. However much he brags about being hardened, his ride will be long, lonely, and uncomfortable. Beneath all of the assholic swaggering, one senses that the rest of his life is the same way. The Whale envies his image but, in the Rat's poor, rural existence, there is no glamor.