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Bike Lust

Harleys, Women, And American Society

Barbara Joans

Publication Year: 2001

Bike Lust roars straight into the world of women bikers and offers us a ride. In this adventure story that is also an insider’s study of an American subculture, Barbara Joans enters as a passenger on the back of a bike, but soon learns to ride her own. As an anthropologist she untangles the rules, rituals, and rites of passage of the biker culture. As a new member of that culture, she struggles to overcome fear, physical weakness, and a tendency to shoot her mouth off—a tendency that very nearly gets her killed.
    Bike Lust travels a landscape of contradictions. Outlaws still chase freedom on the highway, but so do thousands of riders of all classes, races, and colors. Joans introduces us to the women who ride the rear—the biker chick, the calendar slut straddling the hot engine, the back-seat Betty at the latest rally, or the underage groupie at the local run. But she also gives us the first close look at women who ride in their own right, on their own bikes, as well as a new understanding of changing world of male bikers. These are ordinary women’s lives made extraordinary, adding a dimension of courage to the sport not experienced by males, risking life and limb for a glimpse of the very edge of existence. This community of riders exists as a primal tribute to humanity's lust for freedom.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix

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pp. xi

Bikers talk straight. Since this book is about bikers, the preface is fittingly short and straight. Bike Lust can be read from either end. Or, you can rumble right into the middle.

Part 1. History and Structure

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Introduction: The Love Run

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pp. 3-6

Six A.M. and the dense LA fog is thick enough to fondle. Six a.m. and I am already fortified with enough coffee and Bailey’s to burst. Six a.m. and I am riding on the back of a bike, while the rider is tearing up the road at warp speed trying to catch up with our friends who left five minutes before we did. Six a.m. and I am already pissed enough at the rider to bitch.

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1. “Teach the Children Well . . .”

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pp. 7-12

Ever since I started riding, academic friends have been making contradictory statements. And I have thought a lot about their words. Are bikers really born? Can only a special few learn to ride? Or is riding a skill that can be taught? And are there limits to that teaching? Must we all learn the same way? And what about the love of riding and the lure of the motorcycle? Must that too be learned?

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2. Harley Culture: An Emerging Community

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pp. 13-18

Something is going on in America. A unique culture is rumbling into life. Beneath a sea of suits, stockings, sweaters, and skirts, a culture cloaked in leather is roaring its way to birth. The office cubicles, trading floors, reception areas, and conference rooms have been forgotten. There is wildness left in America.

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3. The Early Years

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pp. 19-33

My husband’s been riding motorcycles almost all his life. But after he returned from Vietnam, it became a serious, if quiet, passion. Through a long, busy, messy, and moving life filled with kids and work, his love of bikes endured. During Harley’s lean and terrible years, he rode Hondas. In his youth, like so many other American men, he had fallen in love with Harleys but never quite got the money to buy one.

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4. Movers and Shakers: Some Key Players

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pp. 34-58

I’m a Northern California Harley rider. My references are all territory specific. In my small corner of the Harley world, I am fortunate to have interviewed a few of the important folk who make things happen. I was privileged to speak with Dudley Perkins Jr. and Tom Perkins, owners of the Dudley Perkins Company, the San Francisco Harley- Davidson dealership.

Part 2. Cultural Analysis

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5. Enter the Culture

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pp. 61-87

Mr. Harley and the Davidson brothers made a motorcycle. They had the idea, ran with it, created a bike, and started an industry. They were businessmen with a very American dream. Build a product and make a fortune.

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6. Women Jamming the Wind

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pp. 88-133

The female riding world, unlike the male world, is made up of women who ride and women who passenger. Sometimes women do both, but that’s pretty rare. Unlike men, women are not readily defined by class, age, style of riding, or how many years they’ve been riding. Women who ride defy the categories that can be used to divide men so easily into separate bundles.

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7. Sex and Gender

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pp. 134-150

Women have always defined femininity for themselves. Men have always defined it too. It’s part of what culture trains us for. Often the definitions do not agree.

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8. Rites of Passage

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pp. 151-166

Much of what makes a culture viable, what makes it survive over the long haul, is the attention paid to the routine functions of life. Birth, death, and the ordinary rites of passage affirm and reaffirm a community. Harley culture is ritual rich and ritual proud. Having attended a number of weddings, a few funerals, and one birth, I have noted a ...

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9. Family Portraits in Duplicate

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pp. 167-178

There are no typical riding families. There is nothing routine or ordinary about bikers. Each person, each bike, each family has its own style and story. Recognizing the arbitrariness of the label, let’s look at the following families who ride.

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10. Hanging with the Clubs

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pp. 179-191

The meeting room is in the basement of a garage. Bikes, tools, bike parts, and oddly mismatched chairs fill the cluttered space. As the garage doors open and close to admit new members, the air in the room shifts from the heavy odor of oil, gas, grease, and exhaust to the lighter smells of fog and city pollution.

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11. Bike Lust

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pp. 192-201

Six days ago I picked up my new bike, a Low Rider (FXD). She’s black, of course, and incredibly beautiful. She’s streamlined and sleek and powerful. All other thoughts pale in comparison to bike contemplation. I talk bikes to anyone who will listen. I call friends across the country who couldn’t tell a bike from a bulldozer, and I babble about my Low Rider.

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12. NFGs: The New and the Old

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pp. 202-208

Bikers need feedback and reinforcement. Some get it from friends. Some get it from reading biker rags. Some get it from joining clubs. However the lifestyle is attained, it’s cherished. Time, work, money, energy, danger, broken bones, broken families, and confrontations with the law have gone into forming this lifestyle.

Part 3. Jamming the Wind

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13. An Intimate Account of the Redwood Run: Our First Year

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pp. 211-220

I awake with serious nausea and a sharp sense of things gone wrong. Check out Ken, no problem there. He snorts in oblivion. Roll out of bed with the stiffness of having lived too many inactive years and curse my laziness. Check the cats, the house, and the phone. No cat shit, no break-ins, and no callers. Something’s wrong, I’m just not sure what it is.

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14. The Pit: Layered and Loud

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pp. 221-225

I have always dreaded the pit. Heard stories about it for years. Every woman I knew said “Stay away.” Every man I knew said “Go for it.” The pit is the stuff of legends. It’s where the main action of the run takes place. The pit is where you earn your right to boogie. Getting into the pit is the first rite of passage. Descending into the pit, I leave all expectations about behaviors behind. The pit makes its own rules.

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15. The “Wetwood” Run: Frigid and Freezing

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pp. 226-230

Two years later, Ken and I are off to our next Redwood Run. We are more experienced riders. We are more savvy in the ways of the road. We make plans to ride with friends we trust. A whole horde of them expect to share the road with us, and two special friends, Jonathan and Kitty, become our mainstays. Ken and Jonathan ride. Kitty and I are packed. The men say they don’t mind packing us but I have my doubts.

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16. Redwood Run Rerun: Heat, Harleys, and Havoc

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pp. 231-237

For our third Redwood Run, I have pulled strings to upgrade from one small room into nine wonderful double rooms with porches and air-conditioners. All our friends are going to be there. It will be a nonstop, three-day party. The weather is clear and dry, the pit passable, and the music promises to be superb. Once we arrive, it’ll be party time. It takes us, however, twenty-eight hours to get there.

Part 4. Polemics and Philosophy

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17. Bikers’ Dirty Little Open Secret: The Racism Rap

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pp. 241-256

Standing in front of Dudley Perkins’s shop were two of the biggest, brightest, most lacquered to perfection, brand-new Buells ever seen. This newest addition to the Harley family of bikes is a masterpiece of mechanical engineering and market strategy. The Buell looks like a sports bike. With its wrap-around fairings, humped gas tank, and sleek-for-speed lines, it requires a rider to lean over the hump while riding.


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pp. 259-261


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pp. 263-264


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pp. 265-271

E-ISBN-13: 9780299173531
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299173548

Publication Year: 2001