Photo by Genghis
JUST US AND THE HIGHWAY: My stroker shovel digs being alone too.
Writing about being a Loner in the biker subculture, has elicited some curious responses. I recall once when a biker said to me, “Enough with this loner crap.” I can only think that it is a natural tendency for humans to react negatively to what these people are not, an oil and water type of reaction.
I believe that people subconsciously abhor what they are not, and that it is not a cognitive process. This is curious in the biker subculture, where bikers consider themselves the ultimate loners in the context of society in general. Are the self-described Ultimate Outsiders, really Inherently Insiders?
Admittedly, I have a certain amount of disdain for bikers who are overly social, so I’m not immune from this human flaw. I’ve always felt that using one’s Harley as a device to facilitate the mingling with others, to be a less pure form of what being a biker is all about. To me, the ultimate form of being a biker, boils down the relationship between a biker and his motorcycle, and that all else was extraneous, an interference and distraction from the purer form.
I wasn’t always as much a loner as I am now. There was a time when I sought out others on motorcycles, for whatever comfort that limited cameraderie brought me back then. But even then, my lonerism was showing beneath the surface.
I had a friend named Mario in the ’60s, who was a member of the New York City chapter of the Aliens M.C. He said to me, “Hey, you ever think of joining a club?” I replied, “Nah, I’m too much of a loner.” That was actually the first time that I ever referred to myself as a loner, that I gave voice to this underlying feeling.
Since then, I’ve gotten increasingly more reclusive, content to being alone with my beloved Harley 74. Since the demise of Snow’s Iron Horse in 1997, I’ve even weaned myself off of buying biker magazines, with an occasional foray into the motorcycle section of the magazine stands. I sure haven’t been riding with anyone since IH went belly-up. The last time I rode with anyone, or socialized with anyone since Iron Horse died, was when I rode with Snow, and that was only twice in my recollection.
One consequence of not seeing other bikers and reading biker rags over the years, was that I have remained blissfully unaware of bike style trends. For example, on one of my intermittent purchases of a biker magazine a couple of years ago, I discovered a fugly something called “exhaust wrap.”
What the hell is this, I thought to myself. I had no idea what this hideous trend was all about, and what motivated bikers to put this superfluous and stupid-lookin’ mod on their bikes. I concluded that this, like all dumb trends in the biker subculture, was the product of peer pressure gone wrong.
Another trend I was totally unaware of, since I was ensconced in my Me-And-My-Harley-Cocoon-Time-Capsule, was the adoption of baggers by many, even some one percenters. “Baggers.” I was even unaware of this term in this context, until I read it in a magazine a while ago. I thought of a “bagger” as the kid in the supermarket who bagged your groceries at the cashier’s register. This was a new term to me, a euphemism for what we used to call ’em:
Or, “garbage barges,” whichever you prefer. I still think of bikes this way. Now, today’s “baggers” may differ from garbage wagons from the ’60s, as the earlier bikes were technically “full dressers” or “dressers” for short, which were infamous for their brackets holding 20,000 lights. Some of these looked like fully-decked out Christmas trees.
Full dressers had a rep of not only having the bags, windshields and crash bars—but also every accessory known to man including a preponderance of lights. You name it, they had these geegaws. In the biker subculture of the ’60s, dressers were the butt of jokes, ridden by nerds and geeks.
Still, even a relatively bare full-dresser had the requisite basics: The saddlebags, windshield, etc. This was the barebones full-dresser, minus the 70 pounds of lights. In spirit and in execution, today’s baggers are identical to the garbage wagons of yesteryear.
The most surprising thing to me about baggers, is that they have been accepted so wholly by one percenters. It seems inconceivable to me, considering how one percenters used to view garbage wagons—with the greatest of disgust.
Garbage wagons were the target of one percenters’ ridicule, and the one-eighty by some one percenters, is surprising to me. I guess that I find dressers–sorry, “baggers”—incongruous in the context of motorcycle clubs.
In the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, clubbers and independents alike were strippin’ down their Harleys for that outlaw look. It just seems weird for clubbers to be trending the other way. Still, I do realize that a whole new younger generation of one percenters has arisen, and ideas do change, untethered to older views.
One percenters have also trended toward rear suspension, as Sonny Barger describes in his autobiography. This gravitation to rear shocks and stock Harley frames does not surprise or perplex me, as I’ve always championed classic Harley chassis and rear shocks.
There is nothing as righteous as the Four-Speed Swingarm Frame, that started with the panhead in 1958 when the Duo-Glide was introduced, and ended its rule in 1986 with the Evo powering it. Other Harley frames, will also be seen in this righteous light, as they age and become considered more classic.
It was only in recent years that some in the biker media attempted to scorn OEM Harley frames, as unworthy of respect. Some were driven by the need to impress an impressionable readership, and these foolish editors tossed Harley frames from used bikes they bought, as so much disposable trash. You’ve read these travesties, and you know the sources.
Before this recent attempt at negatively revising the perception of OEM Harley frames in the subculture, Harley-Davidson frames prevalently engendered reverence among bikers. The current mass use of OEM Harley frames by one percenters, shows that this attempt to ridicule original Harley frames and rear suspension has not worked. Although clubs don’t comprise the entire culture, clubs do typify the general attitudes held within the biker subculture.
In time, all original equipment Harley frames (with the possible exception of the FLT) will be seen this way. Look at how the original wishbone rigid frame, the straight-rigid frame and the four-speed swingarm frame have been viewed decades after The Firm discontinued their manufacture. These frames are highly valued now. I believe that these frames should be given the respect they deserve, based on the tradition created by the physical characteristics that carried over from generation of frame to generation of frame.
There was a strong (and I hesitate to use this term) evolutionary process when one big twin frame superceded its predecessor, with vestigial hints seen on the new frames, leftover from the older sisters. One can even see vestiges of the Duo-Glide frame (the four-speed swingarm frame) on the newer Softail sister.
It’s just a matter of time until FXR, Softail and Dyna frames are seen in this context. The putdown of Softails in Iron Horse in the ’90s did do some damage to the Softail’s image, but that perception won’t last forever.
Aftermarket frames on the other hand, will be judged by history as a mere afterthought when they are decades old, compared to the way old Harley frames are perceived. Hey man, there ain’t nothin’ as righteous as a Harley frame around a Harley motor. The only frame I have my doubts about getting this type of respect in the future, is the FLT frame.
I guess I’ll stay sheltered in my Loner Cocoon, protected from and segregated from the sight of bikers on baggers. To me in my cocoon, these will always be Garbage Wagons. Can’t see it, and don’t wanna see it. To me, the epitome of the Harley cycle, is the Stripped-Down Hog, righteous and beautiful in her elegant Essentialness.
Hey man, the Stripped-Down Hog is Occam’s Razor in excecution in the Biker Subculture. Our cultural forefathers tore all of the extraneous parts off of their Harleys for greater speed and better handling, and this resulted in the organic development of the outlaw styled bike as a natural byproduct. The bags went, followed by the windshield and crash bars in fast order. That’s the way it should be. Later.