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Photo by Genghis

MABEL FREAKIN' WONG: Forty candles this Christmas.

Christmas 2011 bore witness to my 1971 Harley-Davidson turning forty years old this year. She is my Rosabilt Stroker Super Glide, "Mabel." That she turned forty seems significant to me, a true milestone in my life, and in the life of my Harley-Davidson. The advanced age of my forty year old motorcycle in my mind, confers a Patina of Specialness on Mabel, and that is what this Christmas Message for 2011 is about: The power of old Harley-Davidsons. As we celebrate Christ's birth and are readying to transition into 2012, let's ruminate for a moment this Christmas, on what it means to keep old Harleys keeping on: The true dedication of True Bikers is what it takes to keep a good 'ole girl like Mabel on the road, like new. There is nothing like time as a capable qualifier of who's a True Biker. You've heard me over the years decry the exact opposite of who True Bikers are, with some recognizable snappy catch phrases:

"Biker Lites."



I included in there by extension, "FTF" which was a tell regarding how YUPs and RUBs have epitomized transient role-playing by buying new bikes, until the Next Big Trend makes an appearance in their empty existences, rather than as a descriptive term for Biker Lites. "FTF" says more about Lites who ride new Harleys exclusively, than about The Firm. Blind Consumerism was the target of this catch phrase. Bullseye, man! Maybe instead of flippin' our H-D patches, we should've been flipping patches depicting Biker Lites wearing leather vests festooned with twenty pounds of tin rally badges. True Bikers like you, eschew the new and celebrate the old.

I was flipping through a biker rag the other day, paying little attention to the polished, ground-up custom chops so ubiquitous these days. Let's face it, ya see one, you've seen 'em all. These are bikes with a ton of gaudy glitz and glamour on 'em, looking like painted whores on crack. They give garbage wagons a run for their money for superfluousness and complication by default. Complexity rules, man. Then I turned the page.

I turned the page, and this 1951 panhead rigid hit me in the eye like a big pizza pie, and it's amore'. My heart flipped over as my eyes were glued to the picture of this machine. I stared at this photo for minutes, unable and unwilling to turn the page. I was riveted. This pan was heart-achingly beguiling. I had to ask myself, why? Unpretentious, with no fancy paint. Some rust here and there. No gaudy one-off geegaws on her. But, she was righteous. She had a standard wishbone frame with all the brackets still attached. A stock-length wide glide with OEM risers and buckhorns. This bike had this "Patina of Specialness" that only age can confer to a machine, an authenticity ratified by the passage of time. What a beautiful machine this good old pan was, who shone with an inner light that only Old Harleys can emit. She was and is, gut-wrenchingly beautiful. Like My Mabel. Age confers unpretentious righteousness. There is an intangible quality to an old Harley, that is just plain missing from a new Harley-Davidson. It's like the motorcycle has to pay her dues with the passage of time, to earn that respect, that patina.

That's what this year's Christmas message is all about. It is what my underlying message for True Bikers, has always been distilled down to: That unshakeable dedication and passion is a requirement, to be a True Biker. As the years and decades unfurl like a glorious biker subculture flag, the numbers of the Select Few who dedicate themselves to maintaining their loyal old Harleys, diminishes from attrition. Make no mistake about it. It takes guts, gumption and steel-like determination, to keep one special bike running, to ensure her future. We know that the effort to this end, is worth it. What we are rewarded with, for that unflagging dedication to the bike, is a bike that is dedicated to us. It is the proverbial man-machine bond, that is so elusive and so prized by True Bikers, that is the holy grail. Don't believe me? Ask Snow.

Age confers wisdom to the biker, and righteousness to his Harley-Davidson.

This year witnessed David Snow returning to The Fold. The fold of True Bikers Who Own Old Harleys. He bought a 1969 Harley-Davidson Sportster XLCH, whom he has cheerily named "Animal Mother." The palpable rekindling of Snow's passion for Harleys has been a revelation to see, and this old Harley-Davidson is responsible for it. Old Harley as a catalyst to greater passion? You'd better believe it. Snow saw something in this bike the moment he laid eyes on her. He had to have Animal Mother. This passsion and joy for Harley-Davidsons was reborn in Snow, and expanded like a level seven hurricane, after he acquired his Sportster. There is something special about a biker bonding with his 42 year old Harley-Davidson, that all True Bikers can recognize, and then quietly exclaim, "Ayuh, yup." Particularly if they're from Maine. Who knows why a given biker takes years and sometimes decades, to recognize that special Harley-Davidson that he wants to go the distance with, the one Harley who ignites a passion so fierce, that it is akin to a marriage? One thing is certain. Once that passion is ignited, it becomes a life-long conflagration that is impossible to suppress. Once that special Harley is found, quashing that passsion would be like using a lawn sprinkler on a house-on-fire.

It took me 17 years for me to find my Harley 74, Mabel. It took Snow three decades to find Animal Mother. As time marches on and the biker gets to know his chosen bike initimately better, a respect grows for the history behind that H-D model. Tradition, is then treated with reverence. It begins to make sense, whereas "tradition" was previously just a shallow concept, or a bow to stodginess. A recognition of the righteousness of that motorcycle, becomes a seed in the biker's mind and soul, and sprouts. Old Harley-Davidsons have this effect on riders, that must seem totally illogical to non-Harley riders. This is what separates the wheat from the chaff. This understanding only comes to bikers who become initiated by the process. It is this seasoning, that allows Harley riders to realize what Great Machines our old Harleys are, and what makes us "bikers." There is a sea of difference between "bikers" and those who merely ride motorcycles. It also separates us from those who would insist on riding only new Harleys. The latter are merely Biker Lite Consumerists, whose focus is on possessing the latest, shiny thing.

There is something so very special about being propelled by a 40 year old shovelhead motor, or a 42 year old ironhead mill. It is like riding the past, headlong into the future. Or even older flatheads, knuckles or panheads. My visceral reaction to that slightly scruffy, absolutely beautiful '51 pan told me all I needed to know, about the powerful righteousness that old Harleys have, and the hold that they have on us. These are "time machines" who accrue beauty with age, that we ride loudly and proudly. Their meaning in our lives as bikers, transcends words and syntax. Age confers wisdom. Age confers righteousness. On this solemn holiday, express some thanks for our Old Harleys. Merry Christmas, everybody. Later.