MEET MY GRANDFATHER: He rode a Knuckle.”
Meet my grandfather. He rode a Harley Knucklehead in the late 1930s, that he stripped-down for superior performance in acceleration and speed, braking power and handling, due to a proportionate decrease in weight. In his day, he would’ve called his Harley a “Bob-job.” His Harley not only became a better functional performer, she also looked righteous stripped-down. The aesthetic gain was undeniable. His Harley, when laden down with saddlebags and a windshield, looked stately but ungainly. The same Harley-Davidson when stripped down to her essence, had a change in character that was commensurate with her new, racy abilities. To Grandpa’s eyes, she looked downright dangerous, an Antisocial Machine that seemingly went against the grain of society. No doubt, The Man of the era, frowned upon such machines: Stripped-down, boisterous and rude. Wait a minute, though. This man wasn’t my biological grandfather.
He was my spiritual grandfather.
My spiritual grandfather, and bikers like him who were early adopters of the Strip-Down-Bikes-To-Make-Them-Faster belief, set the stage for bikers like us. We are descended from him, as surely as if we had his DNA within us, and his bloodlines coursing through our veins. Traditions don’t develop in a vacuum, nor did they begin with the Arlen Nesses of the 1960s, when purpose-built bikes began their ascendancy. No, it began with bikers like Grandpa, who took their Harley-Davidsons home from the dealerships, and started tearing superfluous parts off of ’em, rendering them into Machines of Character. Inspired by motorcycle racers on dirt tracks, bikers like Grandpa started an antisocial movement that is the crux of the Biker Subculture. They transformed their Sanitary Motorcycles that received tacit approval from police agencies, into something more sinister. Something not quite illegal, but as far as The Establishment was concern, machines that broke the Spirit of The Law—if not the letter of The Law. From the day that our Grandpas of the ’30s stripped-down their bikes, they, and we by familial linkage—became Marked Men in the eyes of Polite Society and The Law.
Photo by Genghis
NOT SO DIFFERENT: Mabel resembles Grandma.
You’ve met my Grandpa, now meet his bike, Eloise. Eloise was my bike’s Grandmother. While Grandma Eloise was a ’36 Harley Knucklehead and my bike, Mabel, is a ’71 Harley Shovelhead, the family resemblance is unmistakable. The aggressive low-stance is testimony to their familial relationship. The only big difference, is Mabel’s rear suspension. Otherwise, all the blood markers are there. Hell, they even sound alike, alike enough, that perhaps only the most finely tuned biker ears can tell them apart by sound alone. Their voices, that clipped cadence that is the sweetest music in the universe, tells of their bloodline connection. Both are stripped-down Harley–Davidsons, honest motorcycles that have been pared down to their animalistic essences. What Grandpa did with Eloise, was The Guide as to what I would do with Mabel.
There is a subtext to these family connections between Grandpa and me, and Eloise with her Granddaughter, Mabel. Like I said, traditions don’t develop in a vacuum. This is the most important point with regard to the biker subculture, that the real connection between our respective generations, is the transformation of these Harleys into Outlaw Machines. There was no magic in this transformation. There are no metal badges on Grandma Eloise and Granddaughter Mabel that scream, “Antisocial Machines.” There is simply the act of stripping away the components, that hid this Outlaw Character underneath, that waited patiently to be revealed to the world. Make no mistake about it, “The World” (as in FTW) recognizes this outlaw quality without badges and signs hung on the bikes. Polite Society and The World recognizes Outlaw Machines by the intuited intent of the bikes’ masters. The intent, was simply to render motorcycles compatible with how we see the world. Hey man, FTW and FTF! Later.