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1 “Teach the Children Well . . .” “Bikers are born, not made!” “Everyone’s got to learn how to ride, no one knows how at first!” “Anyone can ride!” “It takes a really special person to handle a bike!” 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? In films, bikers are portrayed mostly as outlaws. But America has a taste for outlaws. Ole Jesse James once claimed that everyone loved an outlaw. He wasn’t exactly sure why, but he knew it was so. Old horse thief that he was, Jesse never rode a bike, but then bikers don’t usually ride horses, either. Horse riding now belongs to ranchers, rodeo performers , and the rich. Biking belongs to the working class and the modern-day outlaw. Until very recently, bikers mainly came from some part of the working class. Jesse would have felt right at home. The connections between biker and outlaw tease our perceptions and cross our categories. A biker does not have to be an outlaw. Not all outlaws ride. But still the connections are made. In some places, the shoe still fits. The outlaw’s special place in the American heart is easy to explain and difficult to describe. Outlaws are not gangsters—although this group too has its followers. But gangsters present a different image. They inhabit a different landscape. Outlaws are mythologized. Outlaws are dangerous. They test and tear the social fabric of society. They thumb their noses at the social order. Unlike gangsters, they may or may not be criminals. They may not have broken any laws. What they have broken is the routine of the ordinary 7 History and Structure world. They refuse to fit into the normal world. They do not follow society’s rules. They follow their own rules. They have their own ways of doing things. They reject common authority. They rebel against following orders even when that rebellion gets them into trouble. Their danger lies most often in their commitment to the unconventional, the unknown, and the untried. Societies survive by imposing rules. The danger posed by outlaws is their indifference to these rules. Outlaws act alone as well as in groups. They are the loners, the drifters, and the rebels. Even the very successful, the rich and the famous, have been known to appropriate the term to justify both their private views and their public images. When Waylon Jennings describes himself as an outlaw, he is not talking about robbing banks. He is talking about a state of mind. An outlaw is different from you and me even if he never breaks a law. The outlaw goes his own way and says “fuck off” to anyone who doesn’t like it. He does what he wants and is willing to take the consequences for those actions. Clint Eastwood in his old movie roles is an outlaw extraordinaire, most especially when he is playing a cop. One Percenters are outlaws because of their attitudes. They blow off authority. They fly the colors of independence up front even when they ride on the legal side of the law. Every isolated loner of a kid who longs to go his own way can identify with the outlaw. Gangsters, on the other hand, while sharing attitudes with outlaws, make their living from breaking the law. They usually have a darker, more sinister image. Al Capone was a gangster, Willie Nelson is an outlaw. Outlaw motorcycle clubs may traffic in illegal businesses or they may not. The defining aspects of the outlaw club are its attitude and its organization, not how it makes its money. Members may ride on the legal or the illegal side of the road. It’s their business. Their comings and goings are private and you look too closely into their business at your own peril. Being uninvited into that territory, I leave descriptions of outlaw motorcycle clubs to Hunter Thompson and Daniel Wolf. While I am unwilling to stick my nose into outlaw affairs, I have ridden with some of the outlaws’ children. One of my most exciting riding moments came late one cold...


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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
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