I own a couple of American-made motorcycles. More on that a little later.
Riding a Harley or custom chopper automatically bestows certain expectations upon a person. The Harley Davidson brand has particularly cultivated its image over decades, and that image is hard to shake even if you want to. Most people that buy those bikes don’t seem to want to, but I find the weird patriotism and “off the rack rebel” imagery to be…pretty stupid.
For a country that seems to generally reward people that don’t step too far out of line, America really seems to love the image of rebellion. I suppose that the image of a rebel, living outside the rules of conventional society is an appealing one. Since the 1950’s and especially the 1960’s, the image of bikers fits that bill nicely. Just watch any of the old exploitation biker films from the late 1960’s, and it becomes obvious that many Americans were both frightened and fascinated by the idea of “Outlaw Bikers.” Media coverage of stories concerning the exploits of those biker gangs created a modern mythos, and somehow in the last 40 years or so, the homogeneous image of American bikers became popular with mainstream society.
Yeah, the actual dangerous biker gangs are still active today, essentially having become crime families. But most people you’ll see dressed in stereotypical biker garb, riding a Harley are more likely to be middle aged yuppies than scary gang members.
I still remember my old band being on tour, and pulling into a huge truck stop one early morning after a show. We were still wearing gear from the night before. Since that was pretty freaky looking, and since our band included attractive women, I was concerned to see a huge crowd of Harleys occupying a big chunk of the parking lot, surrounded by what looked like a scary outlaw biker gang,
My fears were dispelled as we got closer, and I saw that no one in the group looked younger than 55. Although dressed head-to-toe in leather, and riding choppers, the whole crew looked more likely to be doctors and lawyers than meth-slinging outlaws.
In fact, we were far scarier than anyone in that gang, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
But what the hell is up with comfortable fattened suburbanites dressing like the cast from “Hell’s Angels on Wheels”? I get it, it’s a safe way to try to look like a bad ass once firmly in the grips of middle age. But it looks kind of desperate and lame too.
Besides, when I see an older guy wearing a leather vest and chaps, I don’t usually think “Bad Ass Biker.” I think “that guy likes to have anal sex with other men.”
Nothing wrong with that if it’s your thing, but something to consider if it’s not.
Also, for a bunch of “rebels” (or even yuppies playing rebel dress up on the weekend) the typical biker costume makes them look less like individuals that will fight the system and live outside of conventional norms, and more like a bunch of wannabe poseurs that all shop at the same costume shop. It’s the opposite of rebellion. You want to rebel on a Harley without actually becoming a criminal? Be a heterosexual male and wear pink or something. Wear a leather vest or some of that other junk, and you’ll just look like another old guy playing fancy dress up.
Then there’s the weird patriotism/snobbery that many Harley riders seem to cultivate. Harley Davidsons haven’t entirely been made in America since the early 70’s. Yep. This isn’t news to people that investigate such things, various parts are outsourced from many countries, and are assembled in the U.S.A. This isn’t something only H.D. is guilty of doing, of course. Our global economy has dramatically changed and reduced the number of goods that really are made entirely in America, but H.D. definitely promotes the hell out of being considered an American company. And they ARE, but their bikes are built from a lot of parts made elsewhere, and have been for years.
This is significant only because the company slathers almost everything they sell with the American flag, and so many people that own Harley’s develop a shitty attitude about any other motorcycle a person might choose to ride. In my opinion, someone driving a 50cc Chinese scooter every day is more of a biker than the leather clad dude that rides his Dyna Glide a few miles to show it off on weekends. That guy probably has a bunch of Chinese parts on his bike too. Anyone that’s tried to buy Harley accessories lately will see “Made in China” on those parts as often as not.
There’s even the occasional sneer directed towards people that own Sportsters, which are the smaller bikes that Harley builds. a lot of “bikers” consider them “girl’s bikes”, even though they can often perform better on streets than the bigger motorcycles in the Harley lineup.
So what do you do if you want a Harley or some kind of Harley style custom bike but don’t want to seem like a hypocritical asshole wearing a goofy costume to your “Tough Guy Club” parties?
Well, just don’t be that person. Don’t be a dick when you pull up to a guy riding something else, and consider dressing to ride rather than dressing to look like a dumb stereotype. That would be my advice anyway, but I’ll be the guy you see pull up on a custom chopper wearing a pink shirt.
Well maybe not. I don’t actually own a pink shirt, but I damn well don’t dress like a cookie cutter biker.
Oh, one last thing. For god’s sake don’t wear a bandana on your head unless you have some valid reason to. That looks so incredibly lame, and makes most of us just wonder if it’s disguising a receding hairline.