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GOING THE DISTANCE
"PAYING HOMAGE TO IRON HORSE"
From Chris Callen, editor of Cycle Source magazine:
".....It was around 1995 when Ghenghis (sic), that used to work for Iron Horse magazine, was running one of the first forums on the internet....they started talking about Iron Horse....The topic was that David Snow, at that time IH editor, had quit the rag....Now back then, and before that even, cats like Horse and Source readers would have been diggin' on the old Iron Horse so this was a big blow to the culture....."
Actually, the year was 1997 when Snow left Iron Horse. What's more, The Seedy X-Bar & Grill, the forum that Callen referred to---is still around. The Seedy is our home. Yup, it's hard to believe, but the Seedy X-Bar & Grill, better known by its shortened nomenclature, "the Seedy," has been around for twelve years at this writing. What's more, the Seedy is an institution that will be around forever, take my word for it. As a chronological direct extension and vestige of Snow's Iron Horse, the Seedy and the Going The Distance website survive and thrive, giving renewed life and solid meaning, to old and revered IH ideas. These vestiges are a small footprint of the larger earthly imprint of the Iron Horse vision, but a ongoing aspect of the old Iron Horse. Going The Distance and the Seedy carry all of the quirks and prejudices that characterized my very small corner of Iron Horse. Indeed, my contemporary Going The Distance columns are virtually indistinguishable, from my past GTD columns on IH paper.
Therein lies the power of "going the distance," the idea that a biker stays with his Harley cycle, and his biker principles forever. What was valid yesterday, is valid today. What was valid in the early '90s when I joined Iron Horse, will be valid twenty years from now in the biker subculture. An idea that has the power of conviction behind it will never die, just as a righteous Harley that is maintained and cherished with dedication, will never die. That is in nutshell, what I feel separates Iron Horse from the rags that followed it: The power of ideas that flourished from the original. It has been my observation that IH copies carry on in a more diluted form, like a luxuriously creamy milk made less viscous by the addition of water. If Snow sees the big picture in this, I perhaps see the smaller picture. Here's what Snow had to say in 2006 regarding the role of Iron Horse in the biker subculture, and his perspective on the rags that followed IH:
".....Magazines that didn't exist ten years ago can only follow the trail blazed by Iron Horse and choppers now dominate the covers of publications that once sought the style's demise...."
That is true. The chopper style flourished after IH's reign, and grew even more popular after the Horse's demise in 1997. This is directly attributable to Snow's emphasis on choppers in Iron Horse. His contribution to the subcultrure cannot be underestimated in the culture's history, for it was nothing short of redirecting a river's tributary in another direction. However, motorcycle styles tend to have expiration dates, as the wane of the chop style that occurred before Snow resurrected it, demonstrates. History lessons are hard to ignore, especially when they repeat.
It's happening again: Choppers are precipitously falling, due to a number of factors.
Chief among them is the notoriously short attention span of the Biker Lites.
It is no mere coincidence that the rich celeb "master builders" are going out of business. The day of the hundred grand chop are over, and out. It won't be long until Jesse James will have to shutter his doors, take my word for it.
Flashy paintjobs, fat rear tires, these are giving way like a compliant California mudslide to the "next shiny thing" that the Lites have embraced as their own. Next on the list for eradication? Maybe mummy-like exhaust wrap, exhaust pipes as short as your forearm, and bikes that are rusty pieces of crap that are heralded as somehow "pure." That is so over, man.
Another indication of the fall of chops, are the rapid disintegration of TV chopper shows. These are becoming as extinct as tyrannoaurus rex.
The great pride that chopper freaks take in the flowering of the chopper style, is this a short-lived illusion? Is it as transient as an ischemic attack, before the final stroke?
Does it go the way of bell-bottoms and paisley shirts that is pathognominic of the meteoric rise and abrupt dive of stylistic trends, or is there more to life in the subculture than this? Of course there is. The biker subculture is eight decades old, and the chop was a moment in time in it, like the bobjob. Just blips on the overall radar of the biker subculture world, but significant blips nonetheless.
But there will always be chops and bobjobs around, just not in the copious numbers they at one time enjoyed. Chops are, just a skim of the surface at this time. But the custom media still tries to engorge the importance of singularly styled motorcycles, that is to be expected. Snow did it, with success. His time was ripe and his tools of inspiring writing and aristic foresight, enabled the rise of chops.
The difference is, that today's custom media doesn't have the influence that Snow did in IH's heyday.
Take a read at this statement from Cycle Source magazine that I feel demonstrates how superficial the scene has become. This is a quote about a custom bike show that took place in Japan. It refers to Japanese "master builders:"
".....if four of their guys came over here, they'd rule the States....Everywhere you look you see four foot long sissy bars...."
Dig it man, I once had a four foot sissy bar on my '68 XLCH, but that was forty years ago. Then they went out of style, and I went with the spare, bare look with Sally The Bitch, which is more in character with a hardcore cycle like the XLCH.
There's truly nothing new under the sun. But, "rule the States?" What does that mean? It's ridiculous on its face, and shows how shallow a perspective bikers can have of the biker subculture, when style alone is the reigning paradigm. That's why I believe that Iron Horse left behind a more substantial take on the biker subculture.
Is chopper style the only legacy that IH leaves behind, to be shredded and diminished by father time and waning yuppie interest, as the television shows featuring "master builders" get deleted from networks' programming schedules? Isn't there more to it, than this?
What's it all about, Alfie?
Does the Iron Horse heritage, and the culture at large have to live or die, based on popular opinion? In a word, no. The biker subculture is more substantial than that, and so was Snow's Iron Horse. The culture is decades long and miles deep. It began way before choppers were in a glint in '60s bikers' eyes, and will survive in a continuum into the future, a continuum of ideas. Iron Horse contributed mightily to the biker subculture in the ideas department. The chopper as an idea, was and is transient, as the first fall of the chop showed. There are more lasting ideas in the culture.
At the core of the culture as everlasting ideas and ideals, are the classic Harley platforms like the OEM rigids before 1958, the four-speed swingarm and the ironhead Sportster. Knucks, pans, shovels and Sporties in Harley frames, these will never go out of style. Their righteousness is guaranteed. The reverence for these platforms will never wax and wane, they represent a constant in our culture.
Here's where the small picture plays a major role. Significant milestones like Snow's Iron Horse magazine leave behind a trail not just of momentary interest in a motorcyle style, but a deep footprint of iconic ideas. Some of the icons created in a culture, live on as common usage phrases in the subculture's lexicon. Take for example, "flip your patch." This famous phrase was left behind in the subculture, because of Snow's disillusionment with The Firm. Snow's passions were the engine that drove and informed Iron Horse, and decided the magazine's direction. The Horse was like a mighty steam locomotive, heading straight from your eyes to your brain.
For my small part, I coined the phrases, "FTF" and "Biker Lites" and the less popular "Brando-Come Latelys." These phrases live on like bad pennies, both in print and in every day usage by bikers. The enduring and imperishable longevity of such words and phases in the subtext of the biker subculture, are important because they convey ideas and emotions in normal biker conversation. Are they as historically significant as phraseology like "showing class," "straights" and "citizens?" I don't think so, but they are in the conversation, so to speak.
Beyond the significance of a bike style's popularity, which may wax or wane depending on the fickle finger of trend bias in the subculture at any given time, lies the significance of the strength of belief, and beliefs in a subculture. In this sense, being a biker is not unlike being a relgious convert.
Such an enduring belief is the belief in the Harley-Davidson motorcycle, the idea that the Sportster or Big Twin in your shed is your life.
This is an idea that dwarves the idea of specific styles. Styles come and go, like changing your clothes from day to day, but the essential motorcycle will be there forever for you.
That is what Iron Horse and going the distance really means, to ride unitl there is no more. Motorcycles are life, and they end when life ends.
As so noted, the Going The Distance website and the Seedy keep on keeping on, man. You've all heard me rant about my three great passions in life: my Harley, my Vette and my photography. There is a fourth unnamed passion, a passion that dare not speak its name, yet it is as plain as the fork on your Harley every time you read my words. That passion is writing. To me, the passion for writing and the passion for words, is truly what separates the old Iron Horse from the copies of IH that have hit the newsstands in the decade plus since IH hit the skids.
From my point of view, writing is a true expression of the soul of the biker and writer that lives within, and generates the interest that it does when readers identify with what's written. The words are transmitted in the purest fashion, from writer mind to reader mind, if the conditions are correct. The conditions that are conducive to this bloodless transfusion, are words that readers can relate to, strung together in a coherent manner.
The SnowHorse had this in spades. Just drag out old issues of IH, and scope out Snow's words. They are like poetry. For my part, my words carry the weight of conviction and passion, a passion for the subject and a passion for the biker subculture.
I'm a believer in the biker subculture, and that comes across in my words. It's something I've been a part of for most of my life.
Iron Horse lives. Later.