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5 Enter the Culture “OK! That’s the history and the structure, but where’s the culture? “Relax, relax, it’s here now.” 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. Harley-Davidson went on to become a success story. Although the company had its ups and downs, it endured. But for generations of riders, Harleys were more than a product. They became a way of life. “Live to Ride, Ride to Live” was a slogan, a mantra, and a creed to live by. The original Harley builders were all born in the nineteenth century. The culture grew up with the kids. The kids, the ones born between 1910 and 1925, started it all. They were the first generation to grow up knowing about motorcycles. Harleys weren’t the only bikes around, but they were the important ones. These kids, now all in their seventies and eighties, represent the living history of the biker legend. They didn’t know they were making history . They didn’t know they were starting a culture. They just loved their bikes and rode them. They rode them for transportation, they rode them for sport, and they rode them for fun. The mystique came later. But it started here. It started in garages and cow pastures. It started on dates and on milk runs. Americans have always loved the open road. The road does not get more open than on a bike. Long before Kerouac, bikers were having an affair with the highway. Here in Northern California, land of great open spaces, curvy mountain roads, and stunning ocean highways, motorcycle life took hold. Those early bikers, those on Flatheads and Knuckleheads, formed a small core of dedicated riders. They were into something that grabbed their imaginations and fired their lives. My friend Easy Ed 61 Cultural Analysis would say it grabbed their animal. They were mostly, but not exclusively , men. They rode with friends and formed loose communities of riding buddies. They rode on dirt trails, straight up mountain paths, and across the country. They created a racing circuit and dedicated their lives to it. They rode solo or they short-coupled. The guy sat on the tank while the girl sat in the saddle. “Wasn’t it painful to ride a long distance sitting on the tank?” I asked Dick McKay one afternoon. “Nah, you’re young. You can ride forever. It doesn’t bother you. You could go for miles.” Dick, in his seventies, remembered the old days of riding. A veteran rider of the late 1930s who rode a ’37 80-cubic-inch Harley and ’39 and ’40 Knuckleheads, he reminisced about the Harleys he had owned. “The best bikes ever built,” he recalled, “were built in the forties. They could go anywhere. They could follow a cow trail. They could go right up the side of a mountain. They were low and well balanced and you could trick ride. Great bikes.” Besides his ’37, ’39, and ’40 Harleys, he also owned a ’74 Sportster, an ’80 Shovel, and an ’85 Evo. He rode a right-shifting Triumph in the dirt but reserved his best riding for the Harleys. After he claimed that the best Harleys ever made were Knuckleheads, I asked why he wouldn’t just get a restored Knucklehead instead of an Evolution engine? “Not practical. You can love a Knuckle, but when you spend $15,000 you want it to be a new bike.” Before World War II the motorcycle community belonged to anyone who threw a leg over. They were all bikers. They varied by region, sometimes by class and bike choice, but they shared a common set of road rules, the most important of which survives today. It is still the number one rule of the road. Protect your own. You see a biker in trouble, you help. You see a biker at the side of the road, you offer assistance. Rule one is the common denominator among all who ride. Sometimes it takes awhile for new riders to learn it. Sometimes there are riders who just don’t give a damn and ride by anyway. But, in general , it is a thread that runs through the biking world. Who rides in the Harley world? The simple answer: anyone with enough dough to buy a Harley. The...


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MARC Record
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