restricted access 2. Harley Culture: An Emerging Community

From: Bike Lust

University of Wisconsin Press colophon
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

2 Harley Culture An Emerging Community “Sure as shit, there’s a Harley culture, and it’s what we’re doing now. We’re riding.” 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. The lure of chrome and steel challenges tired workers and transforms them into bikers out to jam the wind. They are riding. As the shirts, ties, and pumps give way to leathers, chaps, and shades they start their search. Office-exhausted and weary of spirit, they are out on the road looking for something not found in law or business or teaching, something more. They are looking for something with soul. While bikers have long existed as a fringe element, invasion into the American mainstream is new. Motorcycle riding as a way of life has been around since the first motorcycles appeared. Riding a Harley meant having a free, devil-may-care attitude toward life. In the twenties and thirties, it was also good transportation. Both men and women rode. Both took pride in their skills. World War II changed all that. Returning vets, in the forties, made it very clear that they wanted their Harleys and they wanted them now. Like all vets both before and after them, they came home restless and expectant. They had trouble inside themselves and something had to calm it. Some quieted that restlessness in family and work, but others roamed the roads, refused to settle down, and maintained their hold on the edges of danger by riding. By the end of the forties and into the fifties, outlaws claimed Harleys as their own. Through the very lean and hungry Harley years of the sixties and seventies, only the few, the faithful, the fearless, and 13 History and Structure the fanatical, continued to ride Harleys. The Harley-Davidson Motor Company was close to broke. The bikes demanded constant maintenance and every rider needed to know how to tear down his bike and rebuild it. A biker had to be able to wrench. In those years, being a biker meant being a member of an alternative and very fringe society. You could join only if you had the experience and guts to survive the road. If you couldn’t wrench a bike, you didn’t own one. If you weren’t tough enough to defend your turf, you didn’t have one. The Motor Company had its troubles. The riders had their troubles. And while motorcycling became respectable in some quarters, bikers remained outcasts, living in a world of their own. In the mid-eighties, the biker world began to change. A new pattern , a new rider, a new Harley order was rising phoenix-like from the stubble and rubble of the fringe. New Harley riders come from all kinds of classes, races, regions, and backgrounds. And despite the lack of a common territory or community, a biker culture is emerging. And it is shared. There is a strong and vital bond. Harley riders share some impressive traits in common. They share attitudes, values, dress, and language. Linking it all together is the profound love for the bike. Harley culture is out in the open. It’s no longer fringe. It’s roaring toward mainstream. It’s proud, loud, and pushy. American society is so large and so amorphous that most people identify with just the big stuff. We share cultural icons. But sometimes it’s hard to find the America in Americans. Most identify with only the things we know. We know the flag, the eagle, Uncle Sam, baseball, McDonald ’s, Norman Rockwell, and apple pie. Harleys are becoming part of the shared stuff. They are cultural icons. Harleys are not amorphous. They are not ephemeral. Like the other icons, they are very concrete, very real, and very identifiable. Harleys may have started as hard-assed bikes, good rides for fringe folk, but they have transformed. They have become cultural symbols, and as such they have the power to unite separate groups. Harleys have always been the vehicle of choice for a large group of hard-working, politically underrepresented, risk-taking, frequently ignored middle Americans. They are the vehicle of pleasure for a large number of office-working, career-training, overpaid, overworking professional Americans. They are uniting...


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