Click here for Home

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:

Garbage Wagons.

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.



  1. lwillie47 Says:

    Thanks Gengis, I like reading your thoughts. I have similiar views and learn from you. I currently have an ’81 shovel which I have put in an after-market rigid frame, but still have the original frame. Actually the old frame still really rides rough but as you said, they do take the bumps out of the road. Again thanks for sharing. My life does revolve around my family and my bike. Being a loner is natural for me. Again thanks for your thoughts.


    Hey Willie, you’re welcome.

  3. dah71fx Says:

    Genghis,I wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading your thought on this topic. I feel very disconnected from the current biker scene. I have not really read a biker magazine since Snow’s IH went away. Combined with 8 years in the military and starting a family I really did not have the time to socialize, and to be honest I am not a very social person. I ride to ride. I do not like to just ride to go to social event that is 30 minutes away. I would rather ride 4 hours then have a 30 minute diner and then head back to the house and garage. Recently I was dragged out of my self imposed exile by some old friends; guys I had ridden with in my 20s. I was shocked to see on of them on a “Custom” dresser (if there is such a thing), and the other on softail with these strange short pipes and exhaust wrap. Being a gear head I knew the purpose of header wrap on cars. It has its place but it is not on a bike not on a chopper or a bobber. At that moment I felt like i had just been taken out os suspended animation. As if I was the lead in a strange Sci-Fi movie where every thing was the same yet not the same.

    I first discovered your writing when I was a kid in high school reading Inside Kung-Fu magazine. Later your column Going the Distance in Iron Horse echoed many of the thoughts I was having at the time. Your dedication to Mabel really defined what i considered to be the core of being a biker. At the time I was riding an 82 sportster; but being heavily influenced by the you and David Snow I found myself starting to yearn for something anything in a four speed swing-arm frame eventually while living in Olympia Washington I found her a 1971 that was 11 years ago. I have been riding since I was 18 and have had only the 2 bikes. I will never sell her and my shovel head will be here long after I am gone. Thank you for sharing your thoughts


      Hey man, no, thanks for YOUR thoughts. I’m glad that you’re a longtime reader of my writing. It’s for bikers like you, that I write. Later.

  4. terry Says:

    i dont know who u r or have i ever read ur part in a rag . the only thing is i have this same attitude in my heart about bikers around my area , they suck they never stop when ur broke down & wave with a smile & drive on shops that take high performance parts out only 2 replace them with stock . u can never depend on a person that u ride with 2 help with a problem even a bike mechanic freind . nor be able 2 call just 4 them 2 get ur van 2 pick ur sorry ass up . back when i bought my 68 electra glide everybody told me i was stupid 4 buying it & it would never run . but i did get it together in 4 mounths . this same friend took over payment on a bike i had & got drunk 1 night i took the bike & left my van behind during the time i was gone he had busted all my widows out . i just saved that bike then i stopped carring 4 his life of what could have happened . thru all this crap from these kind of people being all the same motorcycle riders i 2 dont wave trust or ride with anybody at all . im asked but i decline . the brotherhood here in michigan sucks .


    I hear ya, terry.

  6. Maaui Says:

    I started riding in the early Eighties in New Zealand. British bikes were very cool, Harley’s were even cooler. High theft rates for anyone not connected to a club. And by club I mean the patched bikers who had the reputation of stomping the living shit out of anyone who messed with their shit. And there were me and my mates who just rode our bikes every chance we could. got on the booze, smoked weed, had all sorts of crazy psychedelic experiences, got into the best music, got laid as often as we could. We grew our hair long, lived in boots and leather jackets, didnt, (still dont), care about the Law, (other than trying not to get caught).
    The clubs left you alone if you didn’t give them a good reason to stomp the living shit out of you. I knew people in clubs then, and I noticed that, because of their club politics, they couldn’t just do whatever they wanted with who ever they wanted like I could. I don’t like any sort of restriction of my freedom, beyond basic common courtesy, i.e don’t steal or mess with anyone else’s shit. I try not to offend people, unless they offend me first. Over thirty years later, and I still ride with mates I knew back then, still a bit Lawless, just trying not to get caught, and doing what I want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Don’t know if that’s being a loner, but its fun!

  7. AEC Says:

    Came across this excellent article and wanted to comment.

    Most people I know who ride seem to share two common characteristics: 1-their bike is a state of the art, hands off, silicon chipped Factory unit. 2- their main goal appears to be ‘seen’ with like-minded riders at events and watering holes who think the latest cad-cam technicalities coming out of the Factory is nirvana. Moreover, with the exception of bolting on chrome accessories (Chromosexuals, I call ’em) they wouldn’t dare entertain the notion of fixing their own bikes should their two wheeled sealed unit v-twin ever break down. I guess they just can’t, I know I couldn’t. But I think that’s the way they want it.

    No. they’re not “bad” people. Call it a vibe, if you will.

    Moreover, there’s a “faux” consumerist quality to the way they think they’re ‘living the life’ (whatever that is) and I can spot it a mile away. Motor Clothes is one give away.

    I can honestly say I stand apart from this crowd. I ride a rattle can black stripped down 1975 Ironhead Sporty (strutted) and I’ve maintained it, wrenched on it, and loved it for 33 years.

    I prefer to ride alone (especially at night) and I’ve learned I don’t like paling around with these dudes. In terms of actual riding, yeah I can hang, but its tough to do on a 42 year old 4 speed carbureted motorcycle and I freely admit that.

    Whenever I take a notion to hit a bike night or bike event, I can sit out of sight where I can still see my ride and watch people stop and take pictures of it. Why do they? Because these events are usually traveling showroom extensions and my leaky unchromed organic looking Sporty doesn’t fit in. And I like it that way because ultimately *I* don’t fit in either. Nor do I want to. Going to these events reinforces that.

    Conforming thoughts couched in personal comfort zones doesn’t appeal to me from these people either, and I find myself seeking out a random encounter with someone who rides something they’re mechanically familiar with and whose bike reflects the idea that they think in terms outside conventional wisdom on any subject that comes up over a beer.

    Truth be told, I have known a few guys who ride Jap bikes equivalent to mine and we get along great. I like the guys who are bucks down blue but can pull together whatever they can and build something that unmistakably has their name on it. But they are few and far between.

    So yeah, where I want, as far as I want, and when I want — I ride alone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: