Stickers: A Critical Analysis

March 1 2008

It’s been said in so many ways, that it’s the little things that matter; not as in bacteria, but more like stopping to smell the roses, that kind of cliché fluff. Finding the sublime in the most ordinary things is certainly a step towards a little peace of mind, though I will not be discussing self-help here. What I am concerned with here are those rather ubiquitous little pieces of adhesive-backed frivolity that are as much a part of motorcycling as bug smashing. Love’em or hate’em, they’re everywhere–stickers.

Now, I will readily admit that I’m a sucker for 1970’s pop culture. Besides producing the best rock music in the history of the planet, this was an era of Starsky and Hutch, murals on shaggin’ wagons, shovelheads, and of course bumper stickers. To this day, seeing an old Ford Econoline van bearing little faded nuggets of wisdom like “Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost,” or “Horn Broken, Watch for Finger,” warm my heart. If there is airbrushed Meatloaf album art or mythical beasts with nude female figures involved, then all the better. Show me deep metal flake paint and I’ll show you eyes glazed over as if I’ve inhaled a large toke of mother nature, and keep on truckin’.

Though rarely seen these days, the spirit of the bumper sticker lives on, as the keen observer will notice. Yes, I am referring to the helmet sticker, those commercial, religious, humorous, philosophical, or political postulations that have migrated from the days when bumpers were actually bumpers and people stuck things on them. In my opinion however, something has been lost in this transition, as if there was no room for the innocent, whimsical intent of their larger rectangular predecessors.

By now I am well aware that yes, Smith & Wesson was the original point and click interface (this was funny the first time I saw it nearly 20 years ago), and thanking all those virgins for nothing is–come on, admit it–getting a little tired. It seems like these are part of some requisite image portrayal meant to convey some sort of attitude toward the world. I have seen enough brand new shiny helmets covered in brand new shiny stickers that I am thinking they are now manufactured this way. Very rebellious looking indeed. One of my perennial favourites is “Speak English or get the F**k Out.” Maybe I’m missing something, but if someone can’t speak English it’s likely they can’t read it either…? There was a time when these things had a little more cache, not unlike original backyard choppers and Nazi helmets. Now they’re as vanilla as the black beanie helmets they’re usually stuck to.

The last time I stuck anything to a helmet, the Evolution engine was barely six years old, granted there has been some fresh creativity since then. Today if I wanted to stand out from the crowd with some adhesive aphorisms, there are a small number I might consider. How about “You Might NOT Be a Biker if You Have Stickers,” or “I’m Against Helmet Stickers But I Don’t Know How To Express It”?

Now you may think by these comments that I hold the defenseless decal in contempt. In fact, I afford them much reverence, often resisting the urge to sensuously crack and peel away the backing until I find the perfect place for that certain sticker–though it’s usually on my toolbox. The real difference you see, is in the acquisition process. To me, the sticker that you don’t directly pay for–or one that comes unexpectedly–is worth infinitely more than those bought from that sticker booth at the rally. For example, when opening a box of performance or replacement parts for your bike, finding a sticker inside is like an extra little prize in the Cracker Jack box. Of course, one would think these little tokens should be expected when spending often hundreds of dollars on some engine component, but there is an unpredictable aspect here. Thumbs up to Joe Rocket and K&N Air Filters for example, as one can always count on finding a worthy addition to the toolbox there. Not so with a certain well known aftermarket exhaust manufacturer with the initials V&H; come on guys, even a $30 blister pack of SBS brake pads includes a little red and yellow sticker as a reward for the mundane task of brake maintenance.

Over the past year, I’ve received two different customer satisfaction surveys in the mail from Harley-Davidson, each containing a bar and shield emblem sticker as a “token of their appreciation” for a recent purchase. While I was expecting at least a (not forthcoming) t-shirt when I bought the new bike, the stickers included in the surveys did make me feel very appreciated. In some ironic or even karmic way, they seemed like the counterpart to those legal document stickers on new bikes that remind you to wear a helmet and use only unleaded fuel.

So while I prepare for spring and finish-up winter bike mods, there will, with any luck, be a few more stickers on the toolbox, bearing witness to cold wrenches, maintenance and upgrades. I admit I am considering one message for the back of my helmet this season, “Hang Up and Drive,” as its poignancy and relevance is so undeniable. Besides, I already know that “Crashing Sucks,” and that “Shift Happens.”

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