Archive for October, 2011


October 16, 2011

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Photo by Genghis

SHOWN HERE, MABEL, MY ’71 SHOVEL: She and #714’s FLH are sisters under the skin.


My ideal bike is the one that I have been in love with for the past 31 years. I have tweaked it to perfection. A 1977 FLH with Roasabilt 88″ stroked shovelhead, Andrews close ratio 4-speed gears in my original H-D trans, Avon tires, Performance Machine 4 piston calipers with 11.5″ rotors, Progressive rear shocks, Progressive springs in my wide glide front end. All this in that classic four speed swingarm frame. Tell me, does it get any better than this?



I just returned from Orlando, Florida where I gave a PowerPoint lecture on retinal photography. While in Orlando, one of the Seedy X-Bar’s regulars, John Warga, known as #714 at The Seedy, offered me his ’77 Sportster to use while I was in town. This is emblematic of the generosity and goodwill of true bikers. Not to get maudlin, but every time I encounter such generosity and bonhomie from other bikers, I’m impressed and more importantly, grateful. Although a full schedule during my week in Orlando precluded my taking up John’s offer, I was extremely grateful to him for his offer and his friendship. The Biker Subculture is indeed a brotherhood.

IH readers are familiar with my feelings about four speed swingarm shovels, and will note how closely in parallel #714 and I run in this regard, like two tributary streams that flow from the Harley-Davidson Lagoon. These rivers run in Orange & Black. Taste in Harleys is a mysterious thing to contemplate. It really is a matter of taste. The looks of specific Harleys, the sounds of different Harley motors, the cognitive associations that bikers have that are triggered by their particular bikes, they all play interlocking roles in the way that bikers love their motorcycles. It’s a fascinating study in human nature. What’s more, there’s no rationality to it, no template that neatly explains why bikers feel the way they feel about certain Harley models.

It is uncharted territory.

It is uncharted territory because sociological studies about those in the biker subculture, tend to focus on human interaction, rather than on bikers’ intimate feelings toward their motorcycles. Bikers’ feelings and relationships with their bikes, are as complex as any human interaction between one percenters and their clubs. Maybe even more complicated, from an academic point of view. This concept is so foreign to students of human nature, that they are unable to locate this subject on their sociological maps.

Sociologists can readily understand the concept of “brotherhood” among club members, because they have longstanding demographic models from society, and from studying other subcultures. But between Man and Machine? That is foreign to sociologists. They cannot relate to machines as bikers do. As the shopworn platitude goes, if you have to ask then you wouldn’t understand. It is such a complex issue, that sometimes even we bikers don’t understand it.

Take David Snow, for example. You might’ve extrapolated from his motorcycling history, that he’d of ended up with another Big Twin, maybe a return to a swingarm shovel, but nooooooooo. Instead, Snow’s fallen head over heels in love with a hardcore 1969 Sportster XLCH. Not merely in love with his ‘CH, but with the whole idea of Ironhead XLCHs as the very embodiment of what Hardcore Harleys should be. In other words, Snow is totally passionate about the XLCH as a concept. This I believe, is the key to what makes bikers’ passion for specific Harley models so intenesly personal and long-lived.

True Bikers fall in love with ideals.

Don’t believe me? Hey man, rewind the tape and look at #714’s words: “My ideal bike is the one I have been in love with for the past 31 years.” This is as simple a sociological model as an explanation for the phenomenon of bikers falling in love with inanimate (but we know they really do live, don’t we?) machines, as for why men and women fall in love with each other.

The passion between women and men is understandable, and acceptable sociologically to citizens. Where non-bikers can’t relate, is to the true passion that bikers develop for their motorcycles. These passions and subjective tastes that bikers have for motorcycles, are as individualized as their taste for brunettes, blondes or redheads, slim athletic women, busty women, big beautiful women, exotic women, plain vanilla women or none of the above.

It’s funny how Snow and I have inverted histories. I came up first falling in love with Sportsters and all that they represented to me at the time: Uncompromising, raw performance, and a motorcycle that presented to potential owners as a prerequisite for ownership, the demand that the XLCH owner be totally dedicated to the needs of the bike, not the other way around. Mangeto fired, and indifferent to the comfort level of any brave enough to straddle them, these Harley sisters are like the super sexy, hard-edged women you might find at the bar, intent on puttin’ the make on you, not the reverse. The bike captivates the biker. In a relationship with an XLCH, the biker never truly masters the bike. The biker serves the motorcycle.

I then fell in love with four-speed swingarm shovelheads, because of their history of being the inheritors of the tradition of being the quintesential outlaw motorcycle: Stripped down big twins that went off like unregulated guns with their lightweight status, outlaw machines that cried “CRITICAL COOL” like no other machines can or do. As opposed to XLCHs, Harley 74s become compliant and loyal servants to their biker masters. Their renegade class makes ’em stand apart from other Harley-Davidons. The “Harley 74” is legendary in the biker subculture, as the queen and workhorse, that supported the subculture. It’s ironic that Snow’s journey is the reverse of mine. He started from where I am, to end up where I began. Later.