When traveling in rural Pennsylvania I saw several ordinary roadside restaurants having a sign reading "Bikers Welcome". I did not see similar signs for other categories (truckers, tourists, farmers,...). I'm having a hard time getting the sense of this. It seems to imply that bikers are not welcome everywhere. What is the meaning of this sign?
I can't speak for any specific proprietor, bikers are often associated with trouble, deserved or not I wouldn't venture a guess. Many people in the Midwest like motorcycles despite the fact they can be loud and dangerous (I've seen quite a few covered bodies on the roadside in 30 years of driving), but generally motorcyclists are your average, everyday citizens going about their business riding in the open wind. Sturgis is a big deal to a lot of people who work corporate jobs during the day, but wear leather on a bike in the free time.
Bikers is a word that conjures up a different picture: outlaw motorcycle clubs, perhaps the most infamous is the Hell's Angels. In the US, shows like Sons of Anarchy and the Mayan MC attempt to dramatize outlaw motorcycle clubs. I've had friends who have run into members of an outlaw motorcycle club once and came away from the event stabbed. The motorcycle is part of the image of rugged individualism and tattoos, bar fights, and trouble are often associated with bikers in the media. In this regard, bikers on choppers wearing leather and sporting tats are often seen as a counterculture. This can be seen in a selection of popular stickers designed to appeal to bikers.
As such there is often prejudice against bikers. Is it deserved? Who's to say, but consequently, I've seen a number of pro-motorcycle stickers and signs, like "Bikers share the road", etc. which are basically pushback from motorcycle enthusiasts that support the culture. A restaurant posting such a sign is simply saying, "I'm biker friendly" probably because of personal ties to the culture.
Now I will admit I am not American and this is an American culture question but I think the explanation from a Croatian restaurant just makes sense.
When we’re asked what Bikers Welcome means....
It means that we are more than glad to meet motorcyclists in our restaurant.
Some may find it odd as bikers are always connected to noise, hubbub, incidents and alike.
In fact, maybe we’ve opted for being still one of few caterers who have recognized that bikers are very special guests, who, no matter what the weather is like, enjoy the ride and the beauty of travelling making en route breaks and savouring culinary moments; unfortunately, they are still very rarely really welcome.
However, we do understand that you may need both more understanding and of course more place for putting your equipment down, for changing your clothes and so on; that, once arrived, you may wish to stretch your legs a bit and take position that is not usual in restaurants – we warmly welcome all of these!
@Nohbdy's comment and @NuclearFission's comments are both partially correct. Pennsylvania (York, specifically) is home to a major Harley factory, and motorcycle rallies/rides are common. At the same time, PA has a history of "outlaw" biker gangs going back to the 60s (Warlocks), some of which are "one percenter" (openly advertising that they're involved in crime) or white supremacist clubs — but, there are many motorcycle clubs in PA that aren't involved in criminal activity, and they bring good business, especially in groups on those rallies/rides, hence the sign.
The answers so far include a lot of negative stereotypes of bikers, I think people have been watching too much TV programs. While biker gangs surely exist in some places, it is much more common to encounter older folks who have some money and enjoy riding their Harley's along scenic routes.
If you were in central Pennsylvania, my guess is that you were probably along a scenic highway that is popular to ride on. The restaurants are just trying to cater to these joy riders and increase customers.
One thing not mentioned yet is that bikers, unlike (most) farmers, truckers, tourists, etc., tend to travel specifically in large groups. Like 20-50-100 people at once. This is really hard for restaurants to deal with, even if they have the capacity for x people, a single group of x is much harder than, say, x/4 groups of 4 people.
Quick sample of problems:
- it's hard to predict how many people to staff, you are likely to be either very overstaffed if no group shows up or understaffed if a large group shows up;
- it's hard to physically find a space for a large group, since they will all want to be together;
- groups tend to order food simultaneously, which overwhelms the kitchen;
- larger groups tend to stay longer while spending less per person per time spent than smaller groups--they sit around talking instead of ordering expensive food and then leaving.
There's somewhat an equivalent to this for tourists which would be "tour buses welcome", which used to be a thing but these days tour groups seem to be pretty good about arranging with restaurants in advance which allows the restaurant to preemptively address most of the above:
- staffing is no problem if you know the number of people in advance;
- setting aside a seating area, ditto;
- often tour groups will arrange for a prix fixe menu with only a few options which makes a lot less work for the kitchen, they can pick items that take less space in the kitchen and do a lot of preparation in advance;
- tour groups will leave on time since the bus has to get to the next place on time.
The sign "bikers welcome" may be an expression to oppose motorbike prohibitions.
Some roads in Germany, Austria, and possibly elsewhere prohibit motorbikes on weekends and holidays¹. There are also proposals for a general weekend ban. This is primarily motivated by noise, which can be substantial for motorbikes with an internal combustion engine, in particular in areas that are otherwise rural and quiet on roads that are popular with recreational motorbikers. As of July 2022, most motorbikes on the road have internal combustion engines.
Such prohibitions can be controversial. Some people enjoy recreational motorbike riding and believe the (relatively) quiet motorcyclists are collectively punished for the behaviour of the loud ones, who may be violating the speed limit or are generally louder than is legal. Other people have hospitality businesses along or near the affected roads, and believe they might lose customers. Those hospitality businesses may put signs indicating that they welcome motorcyclists to indicate political opposition to driving bans. The sign may also help to attract those motorbike-riding customers opposed to a driving ban, compared to hospitality businesses where no such sign is present.
I've seen such signs at hospitality businesses, but also in other places. I've also seen the opposite sign, supporting motorbike bans (but not at hospitality businesses).
¹Residents are usually exempt from such bans.