Except for the lucky ones, far too many of us live in a climate where riding all year round isn't possible. For the better part of my life I lived in New England where winters were long and cold. My bike got laid up typically about mid October and stayed there until March. I kept my bike in a shed, and on many a day during the winter, providing that snow hadn't blocked my access, I found myself opening the shed door to check in on the bike, wistfully yearning for the springtime to arrive, hoping it would be early.
Depending on how much you ride, you might even have welcomed the colder months so you could focus your free time on winter preparation chores or things other than riding, but in my experience it would take but only a few days before I found myself wanting to get back on the road. Splitting firewood could wait. So, occasionally, if snow didn't prevent it, I would pull the bike out of the shed, don the snivel gear, and ride for an hour or so. Riding in 28 degree weather sucks! No way around it.
Now I live in SE Arizona, a place I consider to have one of the best climates for riding all year round. Winters are not cold compared to what I've known in the Northeast, summers can get warm, but nothing like the unbearable heat of Phoenix or Yuma. I know, I lived in Phoenix for a couple of years and riding in the summer was pretty much limited to early morning or nighttime. Sitting in backed up freeway traffic at noontime with air temps about 115 degrees isn't pleasant. I have a friend who swears he loves to ride in that kind of heat, but I think he fried his brain one too many times.
One way to cure the winter doldrums, though, is to plan a winter trip, a bike vacation to a warmer climate. Rent a bike for a few days. Southern California, Florida, southern Arizona, and Hawaii make for good destinations during the winter to ride. Of course, it's not cheap to rent a bike, but, shoot, what else are you going to spend your money on during the winter. Buy yourself and your spouse a roadtrip for a Christmas present.
In the meantime, maybe some motorcycle magazines can help pass the time. Dreaming about riding helps. Plan trips for the warmer weather in your head. Look at websites for new parts and accessories for your bike. Read blogs like this one. While the bike might be on hiatus, no need for you to stop being a biker.
Each and everyday I live by "the rules." I get up to the alarm, shower & shave, dress, gather my car keys, cell phone, and lunch, then jump in the car and head off to work. Drive 20 miles to my workplace, walk into the coffee room, fill'r up, head to my desk, and begin by reading emails and checking in with fellow co-workers, and then carry out my duties for the day. Five days a week, 50 weeks a year, spending more than 2100 hours per year at the beckon call of my boss, yielding my life to someone else's vision.
Riding my motorcycle in my free time is my therapy and antidote to all that. So why then would I want to spend any of that precious free time following MORE rules of some Motorcycle Club (MC) or Riding Club (RC)? I wouldn't and I don't. I'm a Lone Wolf Biker. I have been one for most of my life.
The genesis for having lived my life as a Lone Wolf, and a cynical one at that, stems from lessons learned very early in life directly or indirectly from my father and mother and their experiences. My father was a war hero. He walked his way across Europe fighting in numerous battles, and then he was captured in WWII's infamous Battle of the Bulge. Having been wounded in combat and been a prisoner of war where he suffered along with his comrades, he paid a heavy price for me and the rest of us. He mourned his whole life for those of his buddies that never made it home.
But what struck me most about his life's story was when my mom told me that upon his return from the war he applied to work as a postman, but was rejected because he was too short. My dad was, indeed, short, 5'1." I recall seeing a photo of my dad from when he was in basic training in the Army, with him in his khaki uniform projecting a fierce looking face while thrusting his bayonetted M-1 rifle, which appeared as large as he was. He was an infantryman who carried his rucksack, ammo, and M1 as he trudged through harsh winter weather walking across Europe, lived in foxholes and trenches in heavy combat for weeks, and, wounded, witnessed many of his fellow soldiers die one by one. Too short to be a fucking postman?! So, the indelible lesson for me was that one either places his life in the hands of others, who likely have no true vested connection to your life, in other words, "they don't give a fuck!," or you do it on your own, independent and self-reliant.
Simultaneous to this epiphany about my father, in 1969 the TV series "Then Came Bronson" appeared, and it sparked a yearning which to this day lives within me. The series featured actor Michael Parks as the protagonist Jim Bronson, a newspaperman who becomes disillusioned after the suicide of his best friend and, after a heated argument with his editor, "working for the Man." In order to renew his soul, Bronson becomes a vagabond searching for the meaning of life and seeking the experiences life has to offer. Bronson rides a Harley Davidson Sportster motorcycle and, as such, was viewed by some as a modern version of the solitary cowboy wandering the American West.
The TV series inspired my dream to be that Cowboy on an iron horse. But, as an East Coast kid, that dream seemed more like some nebulous vision than a possibility. Of course, today that dream has become a daily reality for me, that I now live in SE Arizona. When I ride alone across the vast landscapes typical of this area I do feel like I'm now living a true adventure. For those of us who have the opportunity to ride the lands of the West, with their cloud piercing snow-capped mountains and unforgiving hot and dry expansive deserts, the experience can sometimes feel surreal. And yet, ironically, the impressing sense of isolation experienced in this vastness leaves me feeling more an integral part of the Universe than any other place that I've been.
One of the other salutary effects of being a Lone Wolf biker is that I have no obligation to any specific group, club, or organization. No need to contend with MC/RC Presidents, V-Ps, Sergeants at Arms, or Road Captains and all the associated politics of such convoluted relationships. Instead, I solely decide where, when, and how I ride. Period.
This leaves me free to unihibitedly explore various opportunities without the burden of projecting or defending some "colors" and its implied prejudice, which can naturally lead others to react defensively to your presence. I can ride virtually anywhere I want, to any bar, rally, or event where other bikers are at, and I don't have to worry about conflicting with some perceived or illusory boundary of some other club's territory, turf, or kingdom. No, I'm just an unassuming loner; no agenda, no threat, no message other than I'm an achromatic Lone Wolf biker out on an adventure. Most other bikers intuitively accept, if not respect, that.
Some members of organized MC's or RC's might retort that a Lone Wolf biker is out there on his own, vulnerable. But, I've never seen that as a problem. Weighing the pros and cons of individuality and freedom vs membership and security, I choose for no shackles. And sometimes I wonder too if not one or more of the serfs of the MC's I've encountered along the way might not wistfully wish that they too had held onto their once independence.
And, lastly, one of the greatest benefits of riding as a Lone Wolf is that the strangers I encounter in my travels seem to be intrigued by my choice to go it alone, so they seem more open to talking to me I believe. More often than not, when I listen carefully, these new friends will share parts of their life's stories with me, leaving me, ironically, with a greater sense of connectedness than ever thought possible for a Lone Wolf Biker.
Too many people view the biker lifestyle through the lens of much exaggerated news accounts and tantalizing fictional TV shows about Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs. For the most of us who ride, and even for the Outlaw MC's, the lifestyle is about something quite different than that image portrayed by naive news media, TV producers, and law enforcement departments that suggests that bikers are just about extortion, drug dealing, and a myriad of other illegal activities that supposedly consume our days. Fact is it's mostly about the ride and meeting special people along the way.
December 1st, about 11 a.m., and it feels like it's about 70 degrees along Broadway Blvd. in Tucson where my buddy Shon and I are pulling up outside Crow Tattoo. Shon is scheduled to have a touch-up done on a large back piece that Jason, shop owner and tattoo artist, created several months ago. We anticipate a short stay at the shop before we head out on a day without plan, except for running some miles on the Harleys and hitting some bars for a beer or two and the camaraderie of fellow bikers.
An hour later we are on the hogs headed to the Bashful Bandit, a "biker bar" whose reputation as described to me a fews years ago by a friend, who is a retired cop, is that of a hangout for fierce evil bikers looking only to commit mayhem. My cop friend warned me not to bring my wife, who happens to be an attractive sexy woman, to the bar because bikers would tear her away from me and rape her, forcing me to stand by helplessly idle.
Of course, nothing of the sort happened, and I think my retired cop friend suffers from years of brainwashing of law enforcement's delusional and erroneously reinforced assumption that, ever since the mostly fabricated account of the alleged biker riot in Hollister, California in 1947, bikers' sole purpose in life was and is to commit mayhem and extol fear from innocent bystanders.
As we pull up to the door of the Bandit, only one other motorcycle, a bright yellow Yamaha, is parked there. But there are a few other cars and trucks in the parking lot so I assume there will be a few patrons inside. It takes a second for my vision to adjust to coming in from the bright sunshine to the darkness of the interior of the bar.
The backs of three men sitting at the bar show that one of them claims himself to be a biker, as he is wearing a black leather vest with biker patches and a doo rag. He's a very big fellow, well over 300 lbs I estimate. The two men to his left look like locals, a couple of older men, maybe in the 60s or 70s, one drinking some sort of draft beer and the other, a rather feeble looking gaunt gentlemen, drinking from a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. As I sit onto the bar stool I look over at the big biker dude and he's got a green can of soda pop, maybe club soda, in front of him.
To my left a couple of stools away is a guy in his mid 40s, short sleeved plaid shirt, with close cut greying hair, sitting with a small pitcher of beer in front of him. He looks like just some regular Joe, quiet, unassuming. The bartender is a woman who I've seen working there on my previous visits, her name I forget, and she is loud and blunt, but very polite when serving. Apparently, we have walked in amid an ongoing conversation she's having with the guys about some shirt that she recently received as a gift, the shirt labeled in the front with the statement, "Fuck you you fucking fuck," she states loudly. Everyone laughs as she banters with her regular patrons whom she calls by their name, and informs all of us how she had gone to the mall the day before wearing that shirt, but decided to wear a jacket over the shirt, "because there would be little kids there.
A few minutes later I hear a bike pull up outside the open door of the bar, and the bike, now at idle, is running like it has a high lift cam, with that distinctive "potata potata" loping sound which makes Harley riders like me smile. It's hard to get a clear view of him because he is silhouetted by the bright sunshine coming through the door. He doesn't come to the bar, but sits at a table alone. I continue to study him and as my eyes adjust I can see that he's no spring chicken, probably in his mid to late 60s, tinted metal rimmed sunglasses on his face, brown with leathery wrinkled skin; he appears hispanic to me. He looks of average height, but very thin and he's wearing a black baseball cap, black tee shirt, black jeans, and black boots. Both arms appear to be full sleeved with fading tattoos. He's also donning silver studded black fingerless gloves and studded wrist gauntlets. The bartender shouts over to him, "You drinking today?" "Coffee," he replies.
A couple of minutes later I see him pull out a cigarette and stand and turn towards the door, and I notice that stuffed into his belt at his lower back is a large black handled sheathed knife, a bowie style, which I figure has to be at least 9" in length. A few minutes later he re-enters the bar and takes his seat again, and the bartender serves him another cup of coffee. Ten minutes later his bike starts, the familiar loping sound echoing through the door, and off he rides. He had spoken to no one other than the bartender.
My buddy and I chat with the other men at the bar for about 30 minutes, and the conversation comes around to the fact that we were considering riding to Picacho, a small town located north of Tucson about a half hour away where there was supposedly an old biker bar named, "Eddies" My buddy tells me that it was at one time, according to his step-father, a place where hookers provided services to truckers, as it was located aside the interstate. A pudgy red faced and grey bearded man with stringy deshelved hair hanging down from beneath an old somewhat crushed straw cowboy hat walks up to the bar just after the silver studded coffee drinker departed, catching our conversation about Eddies and says, "It's been years since I was there," and I wonder whether or not the place is even there anymore. After considering it, my buddy says, "Fuck it!, Let's go!"
The interstate is very busy even for a Saturday in Tucson, but we weave our way through the traffic, showing little patience for slower drivers, especially those in the high speed lane. We cut across lanes again and again, several times coming within inches of cars we are overtaking, rolling the throttle, our loud pipes cracking over the din of traffic, and I look down and see the speedometer reading 110 mph as we pass the last of cage drivers before we glide out onto at least a half mile of open lanes ahead of us.
I look over at my buddy and he is pumping his fist in the air celebrating the victory of surviving the obstacle course we had just come through. We back off on the speed to 85 mph as the highway opens to 4 lanes heading north towards Picacho, a place famous, well maybe not so famous, for the mountain peak of same name that dominates the landscape of the area, and the location of some historic significance, the place of the only Civil War battle (actually a small skirmish) to take place in Arizona.
We have no clue where to go in Picacho, which is but more than a tourist stop with a gasoline station, some abandoned buildings, a Dairy Queen, and some road-side ostrich petting ranch. We take the only exit for Picacho and we pull into the gasoline station to fill up our tanks, and ask a worker there whether or not he knows about Eddies. He claims that it's been closed for some time. He says, "There's a bar in Red Rock." About 5 miles back on the interstate we had passed the exit for Red Rock. He tells us to take the frontage road back towards Red Rock and to go over the highway on the overpass and there would be a bar.
Ten minutes later we are rolling into the gravel parking lot of what appears to be a red painted mobile home trailer apparently converted to a bar, with big white letters painted on the side, "Red Rock Bar," "Mixed Drinks." Aside the bar building is an abandoned gasoline station, pump islands sans pumps and an overhead awning are what's left besides the main boarded up building. Weeds grow through the cracks in the concrete pads, and the whole place, the bar and the abandoned gas station sit as a lonely island in a vast sea of moistureless tan dirt, with few signs of desert vegetation anywhere within sight. As if this place had dried up long ago.
There is one car parked in front of the place. A small porch, fed by a wooden ramp stands as the entry to the place, and two women are sitting outside on the porch. One woman, dressed in a turtle neck sweater and jeans, with long reddish hair, bangs covering much of her forehead and face, who is neither attractive nor homely, is sitting on a stool pulling a drag on a cigarette as I approach and she stares at me. She reaches her hand out and says, "Hi, I'm Deborah, who are you?" I say, "JT, this is my buddy Shon." She shakes our hands and turns to an older woman sitting aside her and says, "This is Sally, the owner." I reach over and shake her hand. Without hesitation Sally asks, "You want a drink?" I order our typical beers, Bud Light for me and Dos Equis for my buddy, but she says she doesn't have Dos Equis. Shon accepts her offer of Corona, and Sally recedes into the darkness of the inside bar.
I walk through the entrance of the bar and the place is sparse, a couple of stools at the bar and a refrigeration cooler with sliding glass doors with a small assortment of beer. The bar looked like it had long ago seen its better days. The only relatively new thing in the bar was the juke box. Above the juke box is a large amateurish painting of a naked woman lying on her side, with exaggeratted eyes and thick eyebrows and a voluptuous figure. Reminds me of the Elvis-style paintings routinely seen for sale alongside some off-beat roadstops. A separate room appears to have once been a busy lunch counter, with several old white kitchen appliances sitting atop a dusty counter. I'm hoping for a Slim Jim or something else to curb my hunger, but Sally says, "We don't have any of that stuff." I exit back out onto the porch where Deborah is talking to my buddy.
Two hours later I've learned a lot about Sally, who repeatedly claims she's an "old lady," and doesn't need a man, and that she's not Mexican, but her family is from Spain and Ireland, and about Deborah, who tells us that she just turned 50 years old. From her actions and comments to my buddy, just about since the minute we arrived, she has made it her obvious goal to "hook up" with him. My buddy has danced inside the dingy bar with Deborah a few times to music from the conspicuously modern digital juke box while Sally and I set outside discussing her life, her dead husband, how she's fought off speculative land developers looking to buy her commercial property, and how lots of bikers visit her place and that she proudly owns a ".380 pistol."
Sally's son Bobby shows up mid visit and that puts a quash on Deborah's romantic overtures to my buddy, and she explains to my buddy that, "He gets jeoulous." Bobby wears a cowboy hat, sports a thick black mustache with a noticeable space between the moustache's two halves, walks on crutches, and speaks with a distinct cowboy accent. "We're from Texas," interesting that he reminds us of that several times though Sally says that she and her husband opened the bar in Red Rock in 1979. Bobby tells me how he once was one of the best bull riders in rodeo and that he was personal friends with former bull riding champions Ty Murray and Tuff Heddeman.
Deborah whispers something to my buddy and heads to her car. I'm expecting that my buddy will follow her on his bike and I would head off towards home, but as she opens her car's door she turns back towards us and says, "I'll be back in 10 minutes." Upon her return she offers to show what she holds in her hand, three pictures, one of which is a picture of her when she was a year old, another of when she was 14 and a "Tom Boy," and a third of her, taken not too long ago, showing her natrually red hair, which is now covered by what she admits is a wig on this day. All three photos are held together with scotch tape. She explains that her boyfriend tore them to shreds during a recent fight in which he beat her, and he now sits in jail for that.
We exchage hugs and handshakes with Sally, Deborah, and Bobby before donning our leathers and heading out onto the frontage road. The sun seems minutes from setting. We roll onto the interstate heading back towards Tucson where we find some food at a favorite sports bar, after which we head back onto the highway in the dark towards our homes 40 miles to the southeast. The bikes' headlights pierce the night and we run side by side at 80 mph until I reach my exit and I signal a peace sign to Shon and he throttles away into the darkness of the unlit highway. I pull my bike into the garage and think what a perfect day this had been.
News agencies report regularly on law enforcement infiltraiton of MC's across the country, across the globe, in fact. Time and again these stories reveal that somebody within the cherished brotherhood of the MC has ultimately flipped and ratted out his comrades. You see their blacked out faces on TV series like Gangland, where the former MC member has turned on his brothers and is now working as a CI (Confidential Informant), typically paid by LE for his/her information and cooperation.
If the bond of the so-called "brotherhood," arguably the greatest benefit to being an MC member, is so sacrosanct why is it that we see this story of betrayal repeat itself so often? And why is it that "brothers" continue to fail to see this Achilles Heel for themsleves and their clubs, while the antidote to this dilemma in many cases is to just "Shut the Fuck Up!" But what prevents that from happening again and again?
Game theorists and cops understand why; it's call the Prisoner Dilemma. Here's how it works (extracted from Wikipedia website).
Two men are arrested, but the police do not have enough information for a conviction. The police separate the two men, and offer both the same deal: if one testifies against his partner (defects/betrays), and the other remains silent (cooperates with/assists his partner), the betrayer goes free and the one that remains silent gets a one-year sentence. If both remain silent, both are sentenced to only one month in jail on a minor charge. If each 'rats out' the other, each receives a three-month sentence. Each prisoner must choose either to betray or remain silent; the decision of each is kept secret from his partner. What should they do? If it is assumed that each player is only concerned with lessening his own time in jail, the game becomes a non-zero sum game where the two players may either assist or betray the other. The sole concern of the prisoners seems to be increasing his own reward. The interesting symmetry of this problem is that the optimal decision for each is to betray the other, even though they would be better off if they both cooperated.
Now imagine what happens when the stakes are so much higher. 20-30 years in prison.
Unless you are criminaly psychotic, insane, or totally delusional, you are mostly human, therefore experience a wide cross range of emotions, including fear, love, hope, anger, etc. But mostly, you are controlled by your Ego, which screams with all its might that above all else you must survive!
Look over at your brother. Study him for a minute. And ask yourself this question: If he were facing the choice of spending 20 years of his life behind bars, losing his Old Lady, kids, income, his ride, the ride, would he sell me out for keeping his life that he likes so much? Then ask yourself, would I sell out my brothers if I were in that dilemma? Remember that even Jesus was betrayed, sold out by Judas, and Cain killed his brother Abel.
Have you ever tried lane splitting? What is lane splitting you ask? I say it's nuts! But, in some situations it's absolutely necessary, even if not legal.
In general, lane splitting refers to a motorcycle being ridden between lanes of vehicles that are moving in the same direction, passing stopped or slower traffic.
If you frequent the highways and byways of California, either as a bike rider or a cage driver you've experienced this first hand. Of course, if you've driven or ridden the roads of California you totally understand why bikers choose to split lanes; traffic is constant and congested, at least in my experience. And as dangerous as it seems, I too have split lanes while stuck in traffic between San Diego and L.A.
But it's now more dangerous than ever. It seems that virtually all cage drivers are on the cell phone, talking or texting, despite its illegality in many cities and states. So splitting lanes, especially today, is a death-defying act.
On the otherhand, imagine sitting in rush hour traffic in Phoenix during the warmer (hotter!) months of the year and watching and listening to your air-cooled engine slowly dying from overheating. I have had to suffer that situation on too many occasions. While it's not legal in Arizona to split lanes, I know many bikers who do so when stalled in traffic, and I think appropriately so. If you find yourself stuck in traffic in a high heat situation the choices seem to be risk a ticket and save your engine or sit and listen to your engine dissolve beneath you. I'll go with the risk for the ticket; it's a lot cheaper than a new engine which could easily cost thousands of dollars.
And, lastly, there's always the risk taker that thinks splitting lanes, even when there's no need for it is a fun and exciting way to make the commute, some of them pulling wheelies while splitting the lanes. Exciting to see? Yes. Nothing wrong with wheelies in my opinion, but when you are putting others at risk it's stupid.
Does your state allow lane splitting? Would you do it?
"That's all we serve!" the bartender shouted out over the din of dozens of bikers and the loud music, as he slammed the Budweiser beer bottle on the bar. Dozens of leather clad bikers and their women stood shoulder to shoulder, virtually everyone holding a red labeled dark brown Budweiser bottle. No one but I noticed the bartender's admonition to my x-wife. The bartender looked over at me and I replied with a wry smile, hoping that he understood that my wife was a novice to this type of place.
Nowadays it's pretty hard to find a true biker bar. Most biker bars have had to accept that survival of the bar is going to take more than a few seedy bikers, so it's not unusual to walk into a biker bar and see some college kids dressed in a polo shirts, shorts, and sandals, standing at the pool table with their college buddies alongside hard-core bikers.
And then there's the bars that really try to cater to bikers, but struggle with allowing MC members to wear 'colors' while in their bars. Until the infamous "riot" at Harrah's casino in Laughlin in 2002, it was not unusual to see patch wearing MC members in many of the bars. Now bar owners's fears of lawsuits from victims and innocent bystanders and damage to the facility and its reputation preclude the option for this self identification in most bars these days. This is how it is now for most small bars in towns all over America.
So what once was a place where bikers could rally together and party together, has now been forever changed because of a few foolish badasses, fueled by alcohol. A quintessential American scene has been lost.
I keep telling my new wife that we should open a biker bar. Of course, non-bikers would be welcomed, but the place would exemplify the American iconic image of the biker, simple, patriotic, and fun-loving. Of course, there'd have to be loud rock music, shapely young ladies serving the drinks, and plenty of room for wet t-shirt contests and the like. And motorcycle only parking for sure.
My wife wears lots of jewelry. Many other women and girls wear jewelry. And bikers do too. And I'm talking the male of the species.
The first man I ever saw with an earring, outside of some pirate in a movie, was my badass biker friend Steve. He showed up at my dad's funeral adorned with a small gold cross in his left earlobe. Now Steve is about as badass a man as ever walked the earth. Steve's mom had more tattoos than most men and she road a Harley long ago, and when my brother and I greeted Steve at the airport upon return from his second tour in Vietnam he was wearing a necklace of a dozen dried leathery shruken ears around his neck. Ears that he had cut off from dead Viet Cong figthers. No kidding.
For a long time about the closest thing to jewelry that a biker wore was the chain on his wallet or a plain neck chain. Today, it's not uncommon to see a biker wearing rings on several fingers, earrings, (although noticeably fewer than not too long ago), and neck chains with intricate pendants.
And this trend has not gone without notice. Several jewelry companies have found success in meeting the needs of the biker. One of the more recent and very successful makers of biker jewelry is NightRider Jewelry of Phoenix, AZ. It's an American company, something all American bikers want. I have followed NightRider's progress for several years, and I have purchased a few of their pieces. The picture below shows the style of ring I purchased from NightRider a couple of years ago. Exceptional quality, but not inexpensive. But as the old adage goes: you get what you pay for.
I also recently took a trip to Prescott, AZ where I stopped in at a small shop named Newman Gallery located along this Old West town's infamous Whiskey Row. Donna, owner of the shop with her husband David carried one of the better sets of biker jewelry I have seen in most any ecclectic shop in Arizona that I have visited. Most pieces are made by regional and local artisans, so the unique designs are apparent.
More shops and manufacturer's need to 'see' the large market of bikers out there, and like NightRider and Newman, focus their energies on taking care of that market's desires. NightRider attends most of the big biker rallies with an up-scale display, well worth a visit, but other companies too need to recognize the potential market and begin to respond to the growing demand. There are millions of bikers roaming the roads of America. All seem to want to wear items that reflect their passion for the ride, and jewelry is a growing and fashionable way to make that statement.
Jewelry is not just for your momma anymore. Do you wear biker jewelry? What kind?
While the Motocycle Club stands as the epitome of biker brotherhood, many other goups, organized or not, even the last minute ad hoc weekend ride of friends, connotes some level of brotherhood. After all, the riders all have something in common, they ride. But how strong is that brotherhood? How you ride with each other and how you respond to situations as an individual and a group speaks loudly to how you are committed to your fellow bikers.
One envisions MC members riding side by side, inches apart, traveling in a tight formation at high speeds through city streets, running red lights, passing unexpecting motorists, just having fun making a lot of noise and making a good show of it. No, most riders don't ride like that, and I wouldn't recommend running red lights, but if you have you know that it's an adrenaline rush. Not so safe, but fun and exciting for sure.
Like the Blue Angels, the Navy's elite pilots who fly supersonic jets within inches of each other, the willingness and ability to ride within inches of each other, risking certain injury if not death with an accident, few but the hard core bikers dare to travel this way. Riding this way certainly says something about those bikers. Trust is paramount to riding like this. Years ago when I sometimes rode with a friend of mine who was a hard core MC biker, he would make it clear to anyone new to the ride that if you couldn't keep up, then "stay the fuck away" from him and be in the back. Those that couldn't handle the pace of the ride rarely returned for another ride with him. Honestly, it wasn't easy following Steve. He had NO fear, maybe even a death wish.
To me, how you ride speaks volumes about your competence, self-assuredness, and your commitment to the group. I stopped riding in "organized" rides a while back because of the frustrating combination of good riders and not so good riders (and too many rules!). Any size to the group and it easily gets strung out over the road, forcing some to get stuck at stop lights, break up of the line with some cage squeezing in between riders, etc. That's just not for me.
So I ride with a few, very few, regulars. And even at that I get frustrated by laggards in the group. But because mostly they are my friends I put up with it, unlike my friend Steve who would have berrated many of my friends for the way they ride. And at that, my friends will mostly tell you I ride up front. That's not my ego, mind you, it's my brain telling me to lead the way so I don't end up in the rear end of another rider out front who decides to jack up on the brakes because he sees a cop or something else ahead. That's a good way to end friendships, and maybe even lives, so I don't tolerate that kind of bullshit, and I ride up front, whether they like it or not. When I ride as part of a group, and I'm in a situation where I'm not in the lead, I am totally committed to following the leader, speed wise and lane wise, so I have to trust them.
In addition to riding like a brotherhood, I also believe that that means tat all share the gain, AND THE PAIN. So if a situation were to come that we were stopped by a cop for speeding, and the leader were issued the ticket, I believe it is MY obligation as well as every other rider in that group to cover the cost of the ticket with the one getting the ticket. No exceptions. If you're not committed to that, then you really are not my brother on the road. Stay home or ride with someone else please.
How you ride together speaks volumes of your commitment to each other. If you are a laggard and you miss the green light don't expect me to pull over and baby sit you waiting for you to catch up. Get over that shit! And, at the same time, I'm not expecting that we ride down the road with reckless abandon, throwing safety totally to the wind. But it would be nice if when I looked in my rear view mirror that you were somewhere close to me and not back there like you were on your own ride.
But, of course, we all have different ideas of what is brotherhood and how we should ride with each other. How do you like to ride?
Old skoolers have a different view of a motorcycle rally. Used to be that camping at a rally was a way of life and biker games, music, and parties were the mainstay of the gathering. We would gather in some remote farm field or pasture and have at it. We were pretty much left alone by law enforcement, and as long as idiots didn't cause trouble outside the rally grounds we were left to live large for a weekend. While the partying remains one of the mainstays of the rally, selling shit has now become the primary function of too many of these gatherings, especially the larger ones. But too, overkill by overwhelming police presence has also been a big contributor to the downfall of many a rally.
A couple of months ago I attended the rally in Cottonwood, AZ. My first time there. I was shocked at how few bikers (maybe 300 bikes) attended the event. I learned from local vendors and other bikers that the rally used to be a big success (5000 bikers) until last year when some genius decided to have the cops come down hard on the bikers, with lots of arrests for various reasons. So this year hardly anyone showed up. Cottonwood City Council, how's that working for ya?
Unfortunately, it was the local businesses that took the big hit. Motels had low occupancy rates, restuarants weren't very busy, and local bars were virtually empty of bikers. Yeah, how's that working for ya now?
And then there's the Arizona Bike Week event held annually at Westworld in Scottsdale, Arizona as an example of another growing problem with modern rallies. It has turned into nothing but a large mall of vendors, all working hard to sell you their version of the best biker t-shirt. And, with the increase in entrance fee to ridiculous amounts (last year it was $40!!!), many of us have simply turned away vowing never to visit again. The alternative is to pay the $40, getting charged so I can go into the place to buy shit. Yeah, right!
And to make matters worse, there's the vendors that sell non-biker related stuff. I remember seeing a guy at the Vegas Bikefest selling custom designed watches, studded with jewels and glitter with no connection to riding or the biker. Can't remember the last time I wore one of them while riding. My wife did like them, however.
Bikers love gatherings of like-minded folk. We are connected by the lure of the ride, and we enjoy each others company. We admire each other's bikes. We enjoy good music, and we are always ready for a wet t shirt contest. So when there's a rally and we can make it, we all look forward to the gathering, hoping for a congenial time. But of late, I've found that rallies have turned into just giant sales events. Now, I realize that we all like a t-shirt as a momento to our visit, but enough is enough. I swear that every other vendor sells t-shirts!
Sturgis, the best of the rallies, may be the last of the real opportunities to keep the flavor of the old skool rally, but only because saloons and bars, along with well equipped campgrounds, many of them isolated from the town, allow pretty much anything to a point, without harrassment of vendors or the police. Sturgis gets it (mostly); don't bite the hand that feeds you.
Mind you, I still want my t-shirt, but I'd rather go without one than lose the flavor of the true biker rally. Somebody, please start a new biker rally in the vein of old-skool. Then again, does the modern era biker like it the way it is now?
If it weren't for the unjustified criminality of it I'd be an Outlaw Biker. Now I know that reads as a contradiction, but let me explain.
Outlaw MC's (the 1% of MC's) demand respect. Show them disrespect and you're more than likely to end up hurt. Now I'm not meaning "respect" in the sense of admiration or emulation. Not at all. You respect a Grizzly Bear because of its potential lethality. Same goes with Outlaw MC's.
Now I ask you, do we respect cops because we admire them or because they have the ultimate power to "take" your life? Be honest. So is there much difference in the foundation for the respect for the two groups?
I cannot condone violence and mayhem on innocent people. So when Outlaw clubs do such heinous things they lose my respect and affinity. On the otherhand, isn't it nice to think that someone would have your back and protect you from others' abuse, attacks, and arbitrary mayhem? While our legal system purports to do this for us, is it really there for you? If you're wealthy enough to pay for a good lawyer, or you live in a 'good' neighborhood the answer is yes. But if you're poor, minority, unconnected, you will probably be, at one time or another, victimized by the system, either by an act of commission or an act of ommission, and you will feel helpless and abused. It's pretty hard to beat a system made up of judges and enforcers that are co-dependent. Yeah, it would be nice to have somebody have your back in tough times. And in the Outlaw MC's having each other's back is one of the foundations for their success and undeniable draw for many.
Now before any of you cry, "foul," let me give you a perfect example of how I've seen the sytem abuse one over another. I was a bail bondsman, and oftentimes I was able to be in the jails when a defendant was given a video hearing. One day I witnessed back to back video hearings for defendants being held on the same exact DUI charges, both with no prior record. The first defendant was a "local" white guy charged with DUI. No wife, no kids, no job. Released without bail. Second defendant charged with DUI was a "local" hispanic man, about the same age as the first guy. No wife, no kids, no job. $2000 bond! Go figure. And this is just one of many true stories of "justice" I've witnessed.
I wear a tattoo that reads, "Bounty Hunters - Just'us" It's a play on words for an expression I have used for most of my adult life, "There is no justice, just us." Unfortunately, I believe that this statement is true, again, especially when it comes to the little guy, the poor slob who struggles to get by each day, an easy "Mark" for the system to abuse or ignore. Now don't tell me that this isn't true.
Now I've known many good cops, and I've known some "bad" cops, who can never be excused for bad behavior. But we see time and again cops gone wild on people they come in contact with. SWAT assassinations, profiling, unauthorized searches, arrest and beatings of people video-taping police actions, etc. And we hear that those instances are few and far between, only about 1% of police. 1%? Hmmm. Yet time and again the law enforcers DO NOT get prosecuted for their misdeeds, but instead are supported by "justified" determinations of their peers and the Blue Code of Silence. Justice? or Just 'us?
So when the Outlaw biker has been abused his fellow MC member exact "just us" on the offender(s). And isn't that the same formula that government uses to enforce its "justified" will on offenders? We are told that we cannot "take the law into our own hands." I agree, but justice may be a different matter.
Yeah, there are just some fuckers out there that deserve a smack for what they do wrong. Only the government has the "authority" to exact that, rightly or wrongly, with impunity. Not so for the Outlaw MC's, however. I know, we need to have laws for the benefit of society. I get it. But we also need justice, and who receives that?
The Sons of Anarchy TV program on FX is one of the most popular shows on TV right now. The show depicts the life and times of SAMCRO, an Outlaw MC embroiled in constant battle. In the course of a week or less these MF's cap a half dozen people, get thrown in prison only to miraculously have charges dropped, get in several fights, and then work hand in glove with local law enforcement, CIA, IRA, Mexican Cartel, and the Mayor, all of whom happen to be playing effectively as double agents of some kind.
These bikers are married to or date sexy women, even porn stars, that provide for all their needs, who are totally understanding of their man who just before he came home for dinner had to make a side trip from the grocery store to crush some guy's skull in as retribution for disrespecting the club, and then walk into the home ready to make mad passionate love to his Old Lady. Oh, and before we make love, dear, would you stash this $300,000 cash in our safe please?
Clearly the show's writers and producers are on to something, as the show receives very high ratings. They have so craftily created the idealized man and woman, so that the average home-bound feminized mini-van driving male watches the program and wistfully dreams of living such a life and of having the balls to do some of the things that the SAMCRO bikers do. They are fearless, masculine, rugged, domineering, yet gentle and sensitive (tears), loving and kind. In the course of a day these badass bikers can go from planting a few bullets in the head of some enemy to gently tucking in his baby, breaking a smile of sentimentality at the opportunity. So for the average woman watcher these men are irresistable, macho, protective, yet gentle and tender, the ideal man.
The Outlaw biker represents, even in reality to most other bikers, the Stallions of bikers, Ike Clanton and The Cowboys of Tombstone, the 1% of bikers; independent, fearless, and rugged. So that, even the regular everyday biker emulates these Outlaws by riding the same kinds of motorcycles that the Outlaws do, by wearing leather vests adorned with patches declaring his crude side, by adorning tattoos (sin the neck and facial tats), and by joining their own forms of clubs, most of which are but a benign modicum of similarity to real Outlaw clubs.
The days of the Cowboy have virtually passed, and the Outlaw Biker may be the only remnant of independence and freedom that there is in our modern society. Of course, the TV show is dramatized to a great extent because Outlaw Bikers don't actually fight before breakfast, lunch, and dinner and then come home to rock their baby.
The poor slob average guy ritually drives his minivan back and forth from Surburbia to his job each day, shackled by enormous debt, frustrated at living a life of quiet desperation, so when Sons of Anarchy comes on TV he's able to escape, to fantasize, as does his wife, about what it would be like to be free of the "good life" they are currently living.
Sonny Barger, notorious founder of the Oakland, CA chapter of the Hells Angels, and the face of the Hells Angels for many years, wrote a book entitled, Freedom. I read it. Basically, the book is almost a free-flowing ramble of Sonny's thoughts on just about everything from politics to living with his Old Lady, to Patriotism onto issues about law enforcement, all delivered through the prism of the motorcycle club, the MC. If you want to know what makes Sonny tick, read the book. I would love to sit with the guy over a beer and listen to his many stories. But I think Sonny's position that being a member of an MC is synonymous with being free is totally wrong.
Before I address the issue of the paradox of Freedom and the MC, let me make it clear that from my limited experience (never having been a member of an MC), the greatest benefit of actually being a member of an MC is probably that of brotherhood. Sonny's book extensively addresses this benefit. And for most that benefit in itself may make being a member of an MC worth it.
The underlying theme of Barger's book is freedom, as the title implies, and again and again Sonny refers to this "idea" as one of the underpinnings of the MC. And while I do believe that ALL bikers believe that riding is an expression of freedom (see my previous post on Freedom), and while I cannot disagree with most of his thoughts on freedom, I do disagree with him that the Motorcycle Club is a true expression and the epitome of freedom. Frankly, I think it is quite the opposite.
Though Sonny wrote that his way of life, and by inference all bikers, "requires a never-ending devotion to the "idea of" and the "practice of" freedom," his own words spelling out the prerequisite for a MC's success belies this ideal. "A group only works if there is an established set of rules that all involved pledge to and maintain. When you are a member of an organization, life isn't about you."
Therein lies the rub for me with the MC's. Rules. In fact, most MC's have extensive written rules of order, charters, constitutions, protocols for who rides where, when, and how. Just like most any organization, rules are required to maintain order within its ranks. The undeniable implication of rules is the loss of individual freedom.
Clearly, there are innumerable benefits to being a member of an MC, but the loss of freedom is one condition that I cannot accept. In the choice of brotherhood vs freedom, I choose freedom. Consequently, I am a Lone Wolf and not a member of an MC.
Nothing sends fear into the minds and hearts of non-bikers like seeing a badass biker covered with evil looking tattoos. As if the loud ear blasting bikes and the dust and grease covered black leather outfitted biker without the tats weren't enough to send a message of "fuck the Man," bikers, and especially Outlaw bikers, like to adorn themselves with these graphic illustrations of rebellion, making a statement even stronger than needed to convince the average person of the biker's symbolic anti-establishment ways.
Of course, bikers aren't the only folks with tattoos. Tattoos have virtually become mainstream, with bankers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, and housewives all partaking in the individual expression of the medium. Despite the growing acceptance of tattoos, however, there is still a strong sentiment of disdain and mistrust towards tattoo wearing folks. And if you're of a religious family the resistence is even stronger.
Not too long ago my 6 year old step-grandson, who lives with his mom, step-dad, and other step-grandpa, who is very religious and has clearly impacted my grandson's thoughts, visited me and my wife for a few days. I had recently had a new forearm tattoo done, and when he saw it he said, "Papa John, you're going to the devil because you have tattoos." Interestingly, he had never said anything about my other five tattoos, but this one, a fierce looking skull with red eyes, caught his attention. Not too long after that day, on another visit by my grandson, a good biker friend of mine showed up at the house. He had just had a huge "dark" backpiece done and when he showed it to my grandson and I asked, "Is he going to the devil," my grandson without hesitation replied, "definitely!"
But even within the tattooed world, there's a caste system. And, with bikers it's very evident that bikers judge other bikers by the extent and "darkness" of their tats. The location and expression of tattoos are statements, and not all of us are willing to risk being too open about how we might really feel about this world by what tattoos we inked into our bodies.
Most of us who have tattoos are happy to get a shoulder piece or a back piece, those that are easily covered by clothing. Some even dare to go with pieces on their lower arms, but for most doing so is to test social norms and mores, and to risk careers and acceptance, even by family. It's the hard core tattoo enthusiast, or the convict, or the hard core biker that are brave enough to go with the neck pieces, or the hand pieces, and, most daringly, the face pieces that are blatant in your face expressions of some kind.
Let's face it, tattoos are statements by the wearer. Motorcycle club members inevitably adorn a tat of their club's logo. Ejection from the club oftentimes means losing the tattoo by any means necessary. Stories of removal by cutting them out with a knife, scraping them off with a file or cheese grater, or burning them off with a torch are common among the biker community. But beyond that ugly scenario, bikers have tats to express rebellion, for the most part, although many a biker's tats are inked as a memorial to a lost brother, family member, or some other significant event like a rally.
So bikers and tattoos are virtually synonymous. Some question whether or not a biker without a tattoo is a real biker.
If there weren't biker bars I'm not sure how much riding would get done. Then, on the otherhand, too much time spent in the bar and not much riding gets done. Catch 22 thing. Now this post isn't an invitation for you all to argue the pros and cons of drinking and riding (see below), as a previous post of mine addressed the ideal of freedom, and freedom implies the freedom to do reckless things, like it or not. Maybe I'll dare to post later an in-depth discussion of drinking and riding, but for now, let's face reality, it does take place, and many of us do it.
Now I'm not suggesting that bikers don't ride just for the love of riding. I have done so on countless occasions, but let's face it, it's hard to beat that ice cold beer or other refreshing libation after riding in the heat for an hour or more. Then again, some bars are only minutes (maybe steps) from each other and the engine hardly warms up before you get there.
The more seedy, the more divey the bar, the better in my opinion. Who wants to be a badass biker and stop at Chili's in-restaurant bar? They do make the best marguaritas though (do bikers drink marguaritas?!). After all, a biker bar HAS to be tough, or it just loses that air of danger needed to reinforce the biker image and to keep my wife thinking I'm the rugged kind of guy she married anyway.
Bikers live for the run, the rally, the biker event. There's Sturgis, Laconia, Daytona, the big cahoonas of rallies. And, of course, there's the thousands of weekend events sponsored by local biker shops, swap meets, charity runs, and so on, and while alchohol makers like Budweiser and Jack Daniels rarely miss an opportunity to provide refreshments at these types of events, it's the biker bars that stand as the everyday mini meccas of riding.
Some of the most fun I've ever had with my fellow riders has been at some of these stops in these little biker bars. Some stops have turned into unanticipated overnight stays, and some have turned into near fights, while most have turned into some of the best laughs and times I've ever had.
It's hard to beat the camaraderie of the Friday or Saturday night biker bar with your riding friends and better half, there to enjoy the local band which more often than not is stuffed in the corner beyond the pool table blasting out your eardrumbs, either because of speakers turned up too loud or by notes not quite on key. But it's all for fun anyway.
Then there's this cautionary note. Regardless of where, when, for how long, and with whom you ride and visit biker bars, beyond all else don't ride stupid drunk, especially if you are carrying a passenger. Look, if you want to kill yourself have at it and do it away from me, but never ever risk the life or limb of your passenger.
I have my favorite list of biker bars, and I would imagine you do too. My favorites are Dragoon Saloon in Tombstone, AZ, and the Hideaway Bar & Grill in Cave Creek, AZ, to name just a couple of the many I have enjoyed.
Maybe it's my age, maybe it's my myopic view of manhood, maybe it's my chauvinistic view of women, but I think that for the most part women belong on the back of a motorcycle and not riding their own bike. Now I know that most women, and maybe many men, will cringe with what I just stated, but that's what I think. The 1960's and the '70s were (allegedly) the age of enlightenment. Women discarded their bras and a woman's role as the primary homemaker dramatically shifted to where now women outnumber men in the workforce, and now many of them own and ride their own motorcycle. Now I'm not going to argue that women were not repressed and oftentimes seen as second-class citizens, but was there really a need to take it so far so that now women ride their own bikes?!
I've written previously in this blog about freedom, and certainly I'm a defender of an individual's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But when it comes to a woman riding her own bike I have to check my own libertarian views. And, of course, it is my selfishness that underlies my position on this.
You see, I don't want my wife riding her own bike. I absolutely love the feel of her behind me, holding gently to my hips, leaning her head against my back after a few hundred miles of riding, reaching around and hugging me around my neck and shoulders, my being able to reach down and touch and rub her leg, or reaching back and squeezing her hand, all while heading down the road together, attached as one into the wind. I like that. I like my wife. And I would expect that BOTH men AND women like that too. If not, I expect that you are one pissed off frustrated person.
So, when I see a husband and wife on their own individual bikes I feel sad for them. I wonder what it is that went wrong so that they've lost that passion for each other's company, for the touch, for the love of doing it together. Then again, I've heard many a man express his frustration and wish his wife would get her own bike so he could have the freedom to ride however he wants. And then again, I'm sure many a woman fears that the guy in front of her can't totally be trusted and she'd feel more comfortable choosing her own fate and not have to rely on his abilities to save her ass in a bad situation. Yes, riding with my wife behind me demands a respect for her safety, and sometimes, when I've crossed the line and made her feel endangered she's reminded me that she's there behind me with a slight pinch or a comment later on, so maybe even she has thought more than once how she'd be better off on her own ride. I hope not.
Of course, the enlightened woman may demand her own ride as an expression of her independence. I get it. But why? Have we so screwed up as men that we've made our wives or girlfriends feel demeaned and powerless? Probably.
I hope that my wife never asks for her own ride. For me it will mean failure for our relationship, though I'm not too worried about my wife actually going that way. She tells me often how she's so grateful that she's not on her own bike, especially after a couple of hours riding in the rain. She's a smart one she is.
I don't know about you, but I love my leathers. There's just something about the feel, the weight, the smell of leathers that I so strongly associate with the freedom of riding, and with the feeling of speeding down the road feeling fully alive. Maybe it's the ritual of if all, the one by one donning of gear in preparation for an adventure that has grown to symbolize a special breed of people, an intrepid kind bent on riding around the next bend. But my leathers are an essential part of my riding.
Motorcycle jackets stemmed from bomber jackets of WWII. With time, the jacket has evolved into, in some styles, highly sophisticated pieces of riding equipment, with special thermal layers and ventilation. But for the most part, the motorycle leathers are simple, a buffer against the wind, dirt, and oil of the road.
I've had flight jackets, leather coats, and leather vests, but nothing seems to wear and feel so right as my leather motorycle jacket and chaps. While the other leather garments I've owned satisfied fashion yearnings, nothing says "Ahhhh, let's ride Mother Fucker!" like my aging leather jacket and chaps.
Of course, leathers serve a multitude of functions, from keeping you from freezing to death to making a soft cushion for your knees while tending to an emergency fix while on the road. And then there's the hope, maybe an illusion, that somehow, in a not so good situation, they'll keep your skin attached to your bones in the event of a laydown. Regardless, I really really like my leathers, and the older they get the better they get. You know what I mean?
Just for the hell of it I do not clean my leathers. By the end of each bug season, both the jacket and chaps are splattered with the remnants of thousands of bugs. For me it's a symbol of the road; you get what you get, and you ride on regardless. Okay, sometimes when I've run into a giant Mexican Grasshopper filled with green slime that has plastered a half dollar sized splat on my leathers I do wipe it with a rag, but I don't ever use a leather cleaning agent or conditioner. I do, occassionally, wash my face though.
Who doesn't feel free when they're riding down a two lane road in the middle of nowhere? Living here in SE Arizona with lots and lots of open space and two lane roads to nowhere, I find it easy to get lost in freedom out on the road.
Although I prefer my backroads, I even feel free in the middle of heavy Interstate traffic. As hard as it may seem for non-riders, even riding in stupid maniacal traffic I feel free. When sometimes the riding gets a bit hairy in heavy ridiculous traffic, though, I'll find myself yelling out in defiance, "Motha Fuckaaaa!," and I'll usually roll the throttle and pass a few cars occupied by people whom I feel bad for, stuck in their cages and all. It's an adrenaline thing I guess, but I love the feeling of independence I always get when rolling out from such a situation.
Ever notice going down the freeway when you are passing or being passed by families in their minivans that the dads who are driving rarely look over at you? Maybe they're embarrassed; maybe they're resigned to their plight; maybe they just can't bear it. The moms riding shotgun typically look out the window at you with a forlorn expression, staring over usually seeing my wife riding behind me, wind blowing her hair, intent. Oftentimes I'll raise my hand and gesture a peace sign, and the mom will respond with a wry smile. I wonder if she too wishes she could change places with my wife.
The kids in the back seat are glued to the windows. I remember doing the same when I was a kid. Full of wonderment I was enthralled with the roar of the bike, the black leather jackets and chaps, dew rags, and dark sunglasses, and the rugged look of the biker. And when there was more than one bike, I would crane my neck for as long as I could watching the bikers pass us and quickly ride ahead, watching them until out of sight, eventually letting myself fall back into the car seat releasing a sigh of wistful desire.
When I was a kid many years ago my dad said to me, "Everytime they pass a law you lose some freedom." He was right. Imagine, in New York City it's illegal to purchase a fountain soda pop drink larger than 16 ounces. Are you fucking kidding me?!!
Helmet laws piss me off! Not because I think it's wrong to wear one, although I only do so when required, but because the law has taken away your freedom of choice. Notwithstanding the myriad of positions and arguments for or against, for me it's purely a matter of freedom. Since the attacks on 9-11, our civil rights have been severely curtailed. Surveillance cameras are ubiquitous. Photo-enforcement cameras lurk in waiting for you. Nothing is left unobserved. Except maybe in the middle of nowhere on our bikes. Still too far out for the long-arm of the law to press you into compliance.
So I ride. Because it's one of the few vestiges of freedom. So, when you get a chance to ride, go. And for you dads and moms cruising in that minivan, consider buying a bike and leaving the kids with grandma for a while, so you too can enjoy what we know to be true; that the freedom of the road is special, and it is to be cherished and protected for as long as possible.