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A MAJOR CLUB: Many are now riding baggers.

“I don’t think many outlaw clubs ride outlaw bikes anymore. It stopped being about the bikes 40 years ago. The only people that ride hardcore Harleys these days are loners for whom it always was and always will be about the bike.



I had my first ride of the year, and man, was it a welcome event! I had a new Harley AGM battery trickle-charging here in the house for a couple of months, waiting for the right time to put ‘er in. That time was this morning. That first time when I start Mabel (my 86 inch Rosabilt Harley Stroker) every year, is an emotional experience for me. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been riding. Waking up Mabel this morning , was like the first time I started my Harley up in 1968, and headed out, seeking high speed over the highway’s pavement. The sights, sounds and sensations of racing over the blacktop is mesmerizing and addictive—which may explain why riding is still magical after all these years.

It was just magnificent, commanding my Shovel this morning. If you have to ask, then you will never understand. After my ride, I spent a few minutes just gazing at Mabel in her parking lot. Mabel in her 1971 way, has joined her Flathead, Sportster, Knucklhead and Panhead sisters as an Outlaw Harley. How did a 1971 “Night Train” Super Glide, become an Outlaw Harley? Simple. She was stripped-down. An Outlaw Harley is nothing but a Harley stripped-down to her essence. It’s not complicated. Just take the garbage off.

Photo by Genghis

OUTLAW HARLEY: Mabel’s a stripped-down Harley, no more, no less.


This is the Outlaw Style Harley. Just take your basic Harley-Davidson, and take all the extraneous equipment off. That’s it. What did you expect, an unrecognizable metamorphosis of the basic machine, done with a magic wand, and clicking of one’s heels? We’re still in Kanas, man. We’ll leave Oz to those who would like an inflated view of what an outlaw bike should be.

Nevertheless, this is consistent historically, with what hardcore bikers did in the ’30s, ’40s and ’60s. They took their Harley-Davidsons, and removed the saddlebags and windshields. They shortened or “bobbed” their rear fenders. Some removed the front fenders, some kept ’em. Some went to skinny 21 inch front wheels, some kept their 16s. Doesn’t matter, When the bags and windshields got trashcanned, the bike became a different kind of Harley Animal.

There wasn’t a lot of making of parts in the early days of transforming an overladen Harley into an Outlaw Harley, unless one had to make a bracket–but that’s a utilitarian move—not to be confused with the sneeringly supercilious attitude regarding “home made parts” elitists have today. Just scope out photos of bikers’ machines from the ’50s man, and you’ll see how righteous they were. And they weren’t different machines than they were, with bags and windshields on. Same machines, but with different attitudes. They didn’t depend on one-off frames, tanks or fenders to be special. They were born special. All that was needed was some off-loading of garbage.

All it took was some basic tools and a few minutes to convert a garbage wagon into an Outlaw Bike. Oh okay, ya might have needed a hacksaw to shorten the rear fender, but that was it. All of the self-aggrandizement that today’s “master builders” heap on themselves, their shops bursting with specialty tools like the English wheel and whatever else—was not necessary in the Pure Days in order to make a garbage wagon Harley, into an Outlaw Harley.

Photo by Genghis

NOT COMPLICATED: An outlaw bike is stripped to her essence.

This simple approach to ending up with an Outlaw Harley, was reflected in the vocabulary of the times. “Garbage wagon” or “Garbage barge” was what the Harleys that came off of the showroom floor, were called. One simply took all of the “garbage” off of the basic motorcycle, and there you had it, the Outlaw Harley in all of her stripped-down glory.

There are those today, who would have you believe that in order for a bike to be worthy of their attention, would have to be weighed down with a bunch of hand-made parts. In the words of Stephen King, these people have forgotten the face of their fathers. Symbolically, “our fathers” were those early bikers who took the “garbage” off of their Flatheads, Knuckleheads and Panheads to produce, what is beautiful in her simplicity, the Outlaw Harley.

The motive may have been to lighten the bike to make her faster and better handling. The motive may have been to make her sleeker looking, and more beautiful in the end. But if these symbolic ancestors of ours, heard the pabulum spewed by some today, that they “we built our bikes, they’re not stock,” they would have laughed at these elitist, self-important people for their ignorance of biker subculture history.

What’s interesting, is that clubs have in large part, reverted to saddlebags and windshields—as David Snow observed. I believe that generational differences may account for the current taste in club members’ bikes. The younger generation of bikers in clubs, did not grow up with the prejudices against garbage wagons as I and those in my generation did. Younger bikers don’t even use the term “garbage wagon” anymore. Now, a bike with bags and a windscreen is a “bagger.” Whatever they call it, I still can’t stand the idea.

The purest expression of an outlaw bike, is a stripped-down Harley.

This is something I’ve believed in, and will always believe in. There’s nothing as righteous as a stripped-down Harley. Later!



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