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GOING THE DISTANCE
"THE NEW NORMAL?"
PHOTO BY GENGHIS
NO MERE TREND: What's old is new again.
CHRIS CALLEN, AUGUST 2011 CYCLE SOURCE MAGAZINE:
"The man behind this old girl needs little introduction from the likes of me. Donny Loos has been turning old scrap iron into show beauties for twenty-five years this summer and the funniest thing about it is, he finds himself right back where he started. You see, when Don started working on bikes, the only thing people really did on average was dress them up and chrome them up, put some paint and chrome on them and ride. The neighborhood parts store could stock most everything a custom bike builder needed. After all, there were only two choices in exhausts, mufflers or drags, and other than different types of hardware, the parts were either chrome or polished. That was a time when bikes like this FL Shovel were a pretty common and decently tricked out....In the end he would have a bike just like everyone was doing back when he started....this may not sound like a list of custom parts in today's crazed world of far out choppers, but as for how it was in the eighties, this was so badass, and so it is again....swingarm bikes have been underrated for the past decade or so and it figures that it would take a builder like Don who's been there and done it to remind us how cool they still are....Over the years, Don would follow the trends, as his customers demands did....He quickly found himself growing out of....."
The custom motorcycle pictured in this feature article, is a stripped-down four-speed swingarm shovel. with a sixteen incher in back and a twenty-one in front, both with chromed spoked wheels. There's no front fender, and she has a bobbed rear fender on OEM fender struts. Drag pipes. Unstretched, 30 degree rake OEM frame---it's a Harley frame, baby! Unextended wide glide fork with stock disc brake. Unpretentious and honest.
Clean, but not gaudy like a dressed-down ten dollar whore on crack. She reeks of class, as restrained customs tend to. That old time-religion type of Old School Harley Authenticity, emanates from the motorcycle's pores, the way it used to back in the day before flashy and fussy became the temporary norm.
May I please direct your attention upward, to the picture of my Harley 74, Mabel? I'll tell ya what, man. What's old is new again, for this reason: Trends come and go, but what constitutes the baseline of normal is forever. In other words, the biker world has moved on, and then came back to what it was. But I never left. We, never left. We stayed in place while the custom world turned a full rotation, to return to where it started from. The old normal, now the "new normal" came back to us like a faithful boomerang.
Hey man, we never moved the goal posts.
What Callen describes as "badass" for the eighties, was actually the working norm for the '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s and '70s too. A righteous Harley in any decade you'd care to cite, is still a righteous Harley today.
Simple is always best, always do the simple thing first. There's that Occam's Razor, again. There is great beauty in simplicity, and simplicity is power. The beauty in customizing a motorcycle using simple and time-proven changes, the embrace of less is more, the shunning of complexity and exclusivity for their own sake---dictates a motorcycle style that is straightforward and powerful at the same time.
We old school bikers never changed our parameters. When others were deviating from our paths, we stayed on course. While others were pursuing difference for difference's sake, we stayed true to a few simple options that gave our bikes, class.
While others chased exclusive, one-off parts that shouted, "MONEY!" we relied on tried and true, ubiquitous parts, that we took pleasure in using in common, because thse simple parts shouted, "DIGNITY."
Now, the "old normal" which is the "new normal," has come full circle back to us. We never left, man.
The baseline of normal for custom Harleys, is timeless, elegantly righteous and shows class no matter what else (to use Callen's word) "crazed" trend is competing for favor at the time.
Bikers who respect the baseline of normal, need never worry that their bikes will go out of style, because their bikes set the baseline from which all other deviations, diverge.
Water always seeks its own level, and righteous bikers will always return to the baseline of normal for their Harleys. The baseline of normal, is the permanent template on which the classsic Harley 74 is based. The rediscovered "normal" described by Callen, is not a "new" normal but the normal that always was, immune from the flailings of the "crazed world of far our choppers." There are many signs in today's biker subculture, of a return to our Baseline Harley Roots. One need look no further than what David Snow, the iconic editor of Iron Horse magazine, is currently looking for in a Harley:
"An original...Low Rider, baby. My lust is undiminishd after 35 years. I knew a kid in '77 that worked at the Little Rock AMF bicycle plant who got a company deal on one of the first Low Riders. He'd never had a bike in his freakin life. I should have killed him, scalped him and rode away on that FXS...."
Snow's adventures with changing his early '80s Super Glide into a Shovel-powered after-market rigid, and his building of his S & S "F.U. Chop" were well-documented during his time with Iron Horse.
Yet, in spite of his meanderings from the baseline of normal, his resurrected Ideal Harley is an ummodified Harley-Davidson Low Rider, featuring an original Harley four-speed swingarm frame housing an original Harley-Davidson shovelhead motor. This is clearly a case of going Back To The Future, only he has to go back to the past to retrieve the future. It's the new normal baby, only it's the old normal.
Herein lies the difference between the baseline of normal and "trends."
If Judge Judy says that "beauty fades but dumb is forever," I think that we can reverse that for a more complimentary point of view of the New Harley Normal:
Normal is forever, and trends are transient. The classic formula for cool in the biker subculture, will always be the stripped Harley without a lot of bells and whistles. As far as my sensibilities go, the more fancy stuff ya ladle onto a stripped Harley, the more ya detract from its class. Loyalty to this principle is more common in the biker subculture, than it would seem.
I firmly believe that all old school bikers developed an immutable loyalty to Harleys. Sometimes that loyalty is repressed, but it always lies beneath the surface, omnipotent and large, ready to erupt in a gush of ecstatic Harley Joy. I also believe that True Bikers of the old school, have a common trait: Uncommon loyalty, particularly Brand Loyalty, that is demonstrable to non-motorcycle facets of their lives. It's not uncommon at all, to find bikers who also have pronounced loyalties to certain car brands. Take me for example. I've been a Chevy Loyalist longer than I've been a Harley Loyalist, but this just illustrates a broader trait in me.
I have strong loyalties to certain brands, that established 'emselves very early in life. It all started with an extreme loyalty to Chevy. When I was a preadolescent, I roamed the parking lots of Jones Beach on Long island, looking for Chevy Corvettes to photograph with my Kodak Brownie camera. Early on, I fell in love with Vettes, a love that has been sustained to this day. This loyalty led me tio start saving money from the age of 13, to eventually buy a used Vette 6 years later. Little did I know that the money I saved for that Vette, allowed me to buy my first Harley in '68.
PHOTO BY GENGHIS
THE NIKON I BOUGHT IN 1962: This is a recent picture of it and I still have it.
My brand loyalty trait, which I believe all in the biker subculture share, led me to embrace photography as a life-long passion. The photography of cars in parking lots, led to my professional photography career, and eventually to a loyalty to Nikon cameras. Hey man, Nikon's best, screw the rest. If you have to ask, you.....you get the drift. Nikons, Harleys, Chevies---doesn't matter, man. If I'm loyal to 'em, then they're righteous.
I bought my first serious SLR camera, the Nikon F which is pictured, in 1962. That's 49 years ago folks, and that picture of it is a recent one. I've kept this camera in pristine condition for a half a century, and she functions perfectly.
I have several generations of Nikons since that first one from 1962, and have never used any other brand in my personal photography. I have remained fiercely loyal to Nikon.
Do you see a parallel here with my forty year old Outlaw 74, which I've also kept in pristine, like new condition?
The Mighty Cone Shovel rules, man.
One loyalty runs into another, fueled by the underlying trait of lavishing love and attention on beloved machines. The whole trip, whether it's with Harley-Davidsons, Vettes or Nikons, is to pledge absolute allegiance to 'em. The prototypical Outlaw 74, the stripped EL and FL---has been the veritable backbone of the biker subculture for the past 80s years. Such an iconic design deserves kudos beyond all the deviations from it, and wild flailing about of the "crazed world of far out choppers" advocates. Brand loyalty to the classic stripped 74 is both the old normal, and the "new" normal in the culture.
There is also a commonality, in terms of my loyalty to these brands. I've never owned any bikes but Harleys, and both cars I've owned were both Chevies.
Each example I cite in my life, my Harley, my Chevy and my Nikon, all represent a Baseline of Normal for their respective areas of life. To me, these "baselines" are what the epitome of motorcycles, cars and cameras should be. The return of bikers to what Donny Loos considers his old school "new normal" of what a custom Harley should be, is the old normal. Class and righteousness are forever, man.
Trends come and go as frequently and fleetingly, as technological upgrades in cell phones and computer devices. Who can keep up with the constantly revolving merry-go-round of changes? We can only be assured that the next newest change, is right around the corner, ready to obsolete what ya thought was the cat's meow just five minutes ago. So it is with Harleys. Bike styles in our culture are as disposable as toasters and microwave ovens.
The Old Normal Rules! Later.