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June 29, 2013

FREE TO RIDE: Motorcycle culture is alive but evolving in Southern Indiana

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — “I’m a motorcyclist. I’m not a biker,” says Bernie Bartley, 64, of Louisville. “That’s them people running around looking like pirates, making a lot of noise and don’t want to wear their helmets. That’s a biker.”

Maybe Bartley sounds cranky about today’s motorcycle riders. But then again, maybe that’s a right he’s earned. Bartley owns 14 motorcycles, and he used to own 10 more. Of those, three are licensed for the road, while the rest are now museum pieces that he restored. And there’s not a Harley-Davidson among them.

“I don’t drive an old car and I’ll be damned if I drive an old motorcycle,” Bartley said. “And that’s what a Harley is, basically — an old motorcycle.”

Instead, Bartley’s partial to bikes of Japanese make. He loves to ride often, and when he does, he chooses between a 2012 Honda Gold Wing, a 2013 Honda CB1100 or a Honda Blackbird.

“I’ve got like a Corvette, a Cadillac and something just common,” he joked.

And the differences between Bartley and other bikers don’t stop at a distaste or preference for American motorcycles. Bartley derides the leather chaps, jackets and boots worn by other riders as tough-guy affectations. He eschews chrome as an unnecessary accessory, preferring a simpler look.

But the passion in Bartley’s heart for windy roads and unmarked pavement beats in the chest of anyone who’s partial to two wheels and loud engines.

“Say you’re traveling out west. In a car, you’re in a movie theater,” Bartley said. “When you’re on a motorcycle, you’re in the movie. You know what I mean? OK, you’re in a car, the windows are up, you’re in your air conditioning, you’re seeing everything I’m seeing, but I’m outside and I’m in the movie, and if it rains or if a bird flies up and poops on me, I get hit.

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