Growing up in Southern California, I always viewed motorcycles as a luxury item. A toy generally acquired alongside a car or truck to make weekends a little more interesting. I hadn't considered just how privileged this view was until I began to do some traveling into countries less well off than our own (which, besides maybe a couple oil based states in the Middle East, is every other country).
The States in particular is privvy to weekend warriors. Most Harley riders fall into this category, and many sport bikers as well. When you own a bike that needs an engine rebuild every 30,000 miles, a new rear tire every 8,000 and a chain every 10,000 it's tough to not see the line of diminishing economy when using it daily.
In California though, it's common to see these bikes on the streets despite their maintenance schedules but elsewhere throughout the world they are almost non-existent. After 9 months in Central America, the only Harley Davidsons I ever saw were in the fairly well off capital of Costa Rica. What of sport bikes? One would be lucky to see one in a day, even if in the Capitals. Bikes over 200 CCs I found generally to be outnumbered by bikes under by at least 100:1. Why? Because motorcycles aren't luxury items in most places.
Apparently the manufactures of this bike that I came across in Costa Rica couldn't decide on a name for it. The badges taken together read: JIALING JH125-16 Super Lion King II SLK. Irregard, locals tell me they're good bikes.
People in other countries don't ride motorcycles because they're "cool" or "rebellious", they ride them because they can't afford a car. Here in California most motorcycle owners have a car to supplement their lifestyle but such a situation is improbable to find in Central America, where the most common motorcycles are Chinese built between 50-150 CCs or an air-cooled Suzuki 125. Mopeds are also very common. While living on a farm in Costa Rica I saw a family of 4 ride off on a Honda 125. Motorcycles aren't about status elsewhere (though the fact that it was a Honda does indicate they're relatively well off), instead it's pure functionality.
Even in Europe small CC motorcycles are a much more common sight on the streets because they simply make sense…bigger bikes are around, but not nearly as pervasive as in the U.S.
This is a common scene in London. When gas costs approximately $8/gallon riding equals economy, and on such busy streets wearing reflective gear does as well. Photo taken in Clapham
One thing travel has done for me is to help me appreciate the living standard of Southern California where, despite its' flaws, we are enabled to acquire most materials that we set our minds to…or at least we have the necessary tools available to acquire them. This is a uniquely American privilege and we should not let it go unnoticed.