Sunday, March 7, 2010
A man and his machine...
What is it about two wheeled hooliganism that soothes the soul?
“Open All Night” might have been a Springsteen ode to white trash roadrunners, but the spirit of the song translates nicely to anyone with an affinity for motorcycles. Not a mere interest, not an occasional fling, but an affinity; a full on lust for the perils that accompany a two wheeled pilgrimage anywhere past the driveway or apartment parking lot.
Today’s society demands the common man spend the majority of his life toiling away at some sort of soul-sucking insignificant task until he eventually is forced to retire and die of something he never knew existed. Alternatively, a person always has the option of slugging it out over a dream; and if he’s lucky, the bourgeois-sons of bitches who run Corporate Amerika won’t choke the hope out of him with high-interest loans.
Make no mistake about it sports fans, these are Hard Times we’re living in. The stock market’s falling faster than a suicide jumper and people’s savings accounts are disappearing like good ol’ fashioned rock n’ roll. Someone once said something about everyone needing some kinda ventilator; and the proletariat is no exception. People need some relief, goddammit!
Some people go fishing and wear shoes with no socks. Some play a round of golf in atrocious clothing, some go for a hike and watch bears fuck, and some of us swing a leg over a two-wheeled, quarter-ton, fire breathing suicide machine. Nothing kicks the work-day blues like executing a precision twenty-foot churning burn out in the workplace parking lot; cackling like a bat-shit speed fiend as you hurdle yourself into 5 O’ clock traffic with all the reckless abandon of a kamikaze pilot.
Fear not; you are not alone. Motorcycle hooligans are everywhere. They lurk in mild-mannered suburban garages, low-rent apartments, and down town tenements; and you can bet your ass you’re going to see a whole lot more of them coming out of the woodwork in these troubled times. Turmoil turns out two-wheeled rebel rousers like a full moon draws out an army of fuckin’ werewolves.
Let’s face it folks, hard times are what started all of this in the first place. The custom motorcycle was born in the hearts of men who had been to hell and back; their departure from conventional cycling was a direct reflection of their new perspective on life. These guys returned from years of unimaginable horror and were expected to trade their blood-stained fatigues for a clean white shirt and their rifles for a briefcase or union card. They were expected to assimilate themselves into a society that could never understand the things they’d seen and done; and by god, that’s what they did.
But with assimilation came the necessary ventilators; be it a highball in a rocks glass or a beer in a bowling alley. Others (read: The Boozefighters) cut loose on finger-fucked Harleys and Triumphs. Now here were some guys who were simply out to have a good time. Historical accounts of the clubs that sprung up after World War Two indicate they were little more than a bunch of vets looking to sew some wild oats and do a little living after kicking the krauts out of France and smacking the shit outta Tojo.
Clubs from all over used to get together for scrambles, hill climbs, and grassroots race events. There were no fights over territory, no bloodshed (save some occasional fisticuffs) over how many fucking patches were on the back of your vest, and no stupid-assed coalitions. Hell, some of the originals even flew different colors on different days. It was all about riding your machine and making some good memories with some good friends- which naturally included freaking out the citizens and AMA jockeys from time to time.
This brief visit upon history begs the question, “What the fuck is going on around here?!”
I came back from Russia five years ago utterly confused; but I knew for sure I was going to buy myself a ‘sickle and I was going to chop the fuck out of it. Not long after I accomplished that, some blue collar buddies and I started our own little motorcycle club, the Knuckle Dusters. The"rules" were absurd and nonsensical at best (i.e., "finish your goddamned beer"), and participation simply dictated you ride a motorcycle and show a little class.
No sooner did we dawn our crudely sewn colors then the shake-downs start rolling in. Some asshole from an “outlaw” club would come wandering up at a gas station in bumblefuck to feel us out. I’d tell ‘em we were a small group who just liked to ride and scare the squares; which would inevitably lead to a monologue about how we should join some sort of coalition for twenty bucks a month so “bad things wouldn’t happen to us.”
The way I see it, if I’ve gotta pay money every month to avoid having my ass kicked, maybe I need to have my ass kicked…
But I digress. We were talking about hard times and the soothing mystique of riding a hand-wrenched death trap.
Hard times might encroach on a man’s ability to put four-thousand dollar billet rims on a motorcycle, but they’re certainly not going to keep him from turning a wrench or firing up a sawz-all on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Desperation pushes people to inexplicable behavior, like chopping the shit out of a perfectly good fender or trading a fine set of shocks for some rigid steel struts. Your average God-fearing citizen will always question the mental health of a man who grinds all the turn signals off a motorcycle in favor of running a taillight the size of a dog’s asshole- but who gives a shit.
The stripped- down, bare- knuckle, death trap murder-‘sickle is a personal expression. Hell, ANY motorcycle can be a personal expression if the rider wills it. In the end, a true custom ‘sickle is one that embodies its rider’s fight against whatever ails him. If your bike stands as a monument to your struggle for freedom, you’ve turned a wrench in the right direction.
And that, mi amigos, is what it all boils down to. Work can get shitty, life can throw us curve balls, the whole world can come to an end- but we’ll be standing there to the bitter end, reeling in the dust and the blood; a noble and proud few who refuse to give up until we’ve been planted in the dirt.
We are savage horsemen, for fuck’s sake; and the custom motorcycle is a tribute to our creed. It’s about not giving up when you’re tits deep in parts on a modification gone awry, it’s about busting your knuckles on a week night spent wrenching up your shit when you’ve got to drag yourself in to work at six. It’s about screwing it on after a soul-sucking day at work and feeling alive- feeling ten and twenty and thirty years younger; feeling free, fearless, and completely in control of your own destiny despite whatever plans the world might have for you. Say what you want about brotherhood and beer joints, what it all comes down to is the machine- your machine- and what it stands for. You can strip away the extraneous bullshit, but you can never take away the feeling that comes with hammering through five O’ clock traffic at ninety miles an hour on a two wheeled suicide stallion you’ve made your own. That’s the living, breathing custom motorcycle. That’s the church of choppers. That’s the heart of the motorcycle hooligan.