Motorcycling and the Man; now who are we?

An unfortunate truth is that motorcycling is essentially selfish. It is, in fact, one of the most selfish activities one could do. Even with a pillion only one person is riding the bike. Bikers are almost all romantics, we are idealists who share a common image of independence granted by two wheels. For some the motorcycle comes to represent individual agency itself; roaring out of the garage, sticking up two fingers to the stresses of modern day living and riding off to freedom and adventure.

Whenever bikers gather together there’s a tiny anarchic feel to the event. Biker meets and gatherings have a unique sense of liberation from the cares and mores of society that arriving on two wheels brings. Not exactly a Hell’s Angels’ run out to Berdoo, California in the ’60s, but something not exactly mainstream either. In fact that reminds me of Hunter S Thompson’s great opening paragraph to his ‘Strange and Terrible Saga’ of the Hell’s Angels:

HellsAngels04“California, Labor Day weekend . . . early, with ocean fog still in the streets, outlaw motorcyclists wearing chains, shades and greasy Levis roll out from damp garages, all-night diners and cast-off one-night pads in Frisco, Hollywood, Berdoo and East Oakland, heading for the Monterey peninsula, north of Big Sur. . . The Menace is loose again.”

The social roots of the Hells Angels; thirties depression, deeply affected and disaffected WWII veterans, itinerants and the rest of the ‘1%’ clan, have never been forces of change in the UK. The values the HA represented came over in parts;  the whole has only a limited total following.  Parts of the image have become mainstream however; the individual, the open road freedoms and the slight touch of anarchy.

It could have gone either way back in the seventies; British motorcycling was in the doldrum latitudes but the British marques were hugely famous internationally, Triumph, Norton, Enfield, BSA et al. The advent of Japanese sales competition and gathering interest in international motorsport changed the pattern. British motorcycling split, an old guard of now ‘Classic’ bikers and a new generation of bikers gathering status through speed, statistics and racing pedigrees.

Meanwhile, on the European continent giant trailies roamed; less affected by the UK and US dynamics. In the end this dual sport bike love would prove to have the longevity and stamina to go the distance; giving us the Paris-Dakar Rally, the BMW GS series, the big KTM twins and the Ducati multis. Japan’s industry answers to these multi role machines were less convincing; the Tenere and Africa Twins being the exceptions that prove the rule.

So I make that three gangs; ‘Classic’;




and ‘Adventure’.


Each has it’s own styles, smaller, inner groups and values.

There’s probably one notable emerging new group; ‘Customs/Cafes’.

wpid-Photo-19-May-2013-1203.jpgIt’s an international scene, driven from Oz by the Deus brand, picked up on internationally with, interestingly, Triumph as an newly cool brand worldwide and latterly re-emerging in the UK.

So who are we? Well, we’re all individuals with unique influences and ideas. The best of us will make new scenes come alive, bringing new life to that ancient and most powerful magic; the song of the road.

5 thoughts on “Motorcycling and the Man; now who are we?”

  1. Interesting but you missed the cafe culture of the UK in the late 50’s & early 60’s.
    It’s still influencing the custom scene today. It’s not the new phenomenon that you imply.
    John B

    1. Yes, thank you, I have. Possibly because I’m 35 and just don’t have the memory or feel for those decades. It’s a great point; was there perhaps the crossover of US and UK biker mentality then? The bikes themselves, clothing, people and attitudes being generally more similar in the post war 40’s, giving rise to the unique British cafe racer scene of the 50s. I didn’t mean to imply the custom/cafe scene now is new. In fact, I really do mean “re-emerging in the UK”, I just haven’t described the roots of the new scene deeply. Thanks very much for your comment and insights.

    1. Dude, so, rat bikes are motorcycles that have fallen apart over time but been kept on the road and maintained for little or no cost by employing basic jury rigged fixes. The low maintenance/maximum life concept has probably been around as long as the machines; the rat culture post apocalyptic and Nazi references are rock (‘let there be rock’) and HA. Note that rat bikes are different from the Mad Max inspired ‘Survival Bikes’ of the 80’s.

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