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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?

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    To add context, in America, some bikers are effectively members of criminal street gangs. Certainly not all of them, not even a lot of them, but definitely some. Others are more simply just rowdy, in the same way one might expect from a soccer hooligan, but this similarity also extends to long-standing rivalries that may lead to violence if rival groups arrive at the same time. Most are just people with an expensive hobby and free time on the weekends, making them good patrons and interesting company.
    – Nohbdy
    Jul 16 at 14:28
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    As @Nohbdy said, bikers (as in biker gangs/clubs) have a reputation for being noisy, rowdy, and in some cases, problematic (i.e. - rude to staff, starting fights, etc.). This reputation started in the 1960s & '70s, and as a result some roadside restaurants had signs posted that said bikers were NOT welcome. Nowadays, biker clubs tend to be older people who ride on the weekends. But, yes, as the sign implies, bikers are (or were?) not welcome everywhere at one point.
    – Omegacron
    Jul 16 at 18:45
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    Aside - "bikers" specifically means riders of motorcycles and does not include cycles that need pedalling, even though they're also called "bikes"
    – Criggie
    Jul 17 at 4:41
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    @Criggie: Cyclists ride bikes and bikers ride cycles. Just like in English, we drive on the parkway and park in the driveway.
    – EvilSnack
    Jul 18 at 0:29
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    @EvilSnack Nah, I'd easily say "Watch out for that biker" to the driver if they're in the lane; and never call anything a "cycle" Jul 18 at 1:41

6 Answers 6

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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.

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    The "bikers share the road" bumper stickers are usually more about reminding people driving > 1 ton motor vehicles to watch out for bikers and try not to hit them with their car in my experience, not so much countering the (now mostly outdated, IMO) image of bikers in general as motorcycle gang members.
    – reirab
    Jul 18 at 21:22
  • @reirab Absolutely. But both the sign and the bumper sticker are appeals from and for the motorcycle culture. As for the image of bikers being outdated, the Justice Department might disagree. justice.gov/criminal-ocgs/gallery/outlaw-motorcycle-gangs-omgs
    – J D
    Jul 19 at 1:43
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    I think most "share the road" signs I've seen are for bicycles, not motorcycles, usually in areas where the road is too narrow for a bike lane. Most of the top results on a Google image search for "bikers share road sign" have drawings of bicycles. Jul 19 at 3:44
  • @BrianMcCutchon Fair enough. ecosia.org/…
    – J D
    Jul 19 at 4:47
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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.

The meaning of Bikers Welcome slogan:

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!

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    Thank you. I actually saw this website when I searched, but it seemed to me more a personal explanation from the specific restaurant owner than describing the general meaning is the sign, but I may be mistaken.
    – doetoe
    Jul 16 at 3:49
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    @doetoe its one restaurant's take on it. Bikers are unwelcome in many restaurants and other establishments, by personal preference of the people who run it. The sign tells bikers that they won't have any trouble with ignorant proprietors. For example in a pub in UK, when two bikers came in the landlord (manager) rushed up to them and said "get out, the toilet is down the street." Jul 16 at 7:47
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@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.

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    Some outlaw motorcycle clubs can be distinguished by a "1%" patch worn on the colors. This is said to refer to a comment by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) that 99% of motorcyclists were law-abiding citizens, implying the last one percent were outlaws.” — Outlaw motorcycle club - Wikipedia Jul 19 at 1:38
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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.

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    And many of us ride, but don't ride Harleys. Jul 16 at 19:44
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    The (many) bikers we saw were actually exactly as you describe: older men with big Harleys.
    – doetoe
    Jul 17 at 5:06
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    @doetoe precisely - that's a demographic with disposable income now the kids have left home. No merchant would turn them away.
    – Criggie
    Jul 17 at 5:22
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    "The answers so far include a lot of negative stereotypes of bikers" – Yes, because the existence of said stereotypes is the answer to the OP's question. If those stereotypes didn't exist, those restaurants wouldn't feel the need to put out those signs. Jul 17 at 10:06
  • They are called social bikers.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jul 18 at 19:03
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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.
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  • If this is the whole reasoning behind the ban on motorbikes in some places the signs would be 'groups of people' or even 'groups of bikers', but the signs are for all bikers, regardless of group size. (And yes, having been part of a group of 40+ people who walked into a restaurant after a short conversation with the owner and he could handle the group if we were happy to reduce the number of different meals.)
    – Willeke
    Jul 18 at 15:20
  • @Willeke Then it gets too complicated. "No Large Groups Over X People Unless You Phoned In Advance Or Are With A Tour Group That We Coordinate With"...and you have to argue with people who see another large group (that coordinated in advance) and want to know why it's different for the other group... if you get large groups of bikers regularly but not large groups of other people, "No Bikers" is easy. Jul 18 at 15:43
  • They also have helmets and bulky leather jackets and backpacks that they don't want to wear while dining, which other large groups generally wouldn't. Acknowledging this and having space (that could be used for more tables) to accommodate the requirement would also be part of the welcome.
    – mcalex
    Jul 19 at 6:46
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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.

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  • FWIW, I don't think this is it in the U.S. While I don't doubt that some Karen somewhere has at some point, I've personally literally never heard anyone attempting to legally ban motorcycles in any part of the U.S. I think it has much more to do with implying that the owners welcome people who ride motorcycles for fun and don't associate them with the negative stereotypes that came from biker gangs that are mentioned in other answers. Such signs are also especially popular in places where large pleasure biking groups go, just as signs welcoming visitors from large conventions, etc. are.
    – reirab
    Jul 18 at 21:28
  • @reirab >> 'never heard anyone attempting to legally ban motorcycles' maybe check with Tina Turner about Nutbush
    – mcalex
    Jul 19 at 5:44
  • @mcalex haha - Fair enough. I haven't heard that song and it was written around a decade and a half before I was alive. I wouldn't recommend judging the current state of things based on how they were 50 years ago, though. (And, honestly, I live in TN and had no idea Tina Turner lived here, though it's not especially surprising since a rather large percentage of the music industry does.)
    – reirab
    Jul 19 at 6:02

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