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Photo by Genghis

Has it been sanitized into anonymity?


Outlaw style.

Outlaw motorcyclist.

I'm an Independent. I've always identified with the outlaw segment of motorcycle culture. This shows in the style of bike I favor. I ride a Stripped Swingarm 74, the prototypical outlaw motorcycle. An "Independent" is a biker who does not belong to a motorcycle club. The very use of the term "Independent" in the lexicon of the biker subculture, carries with it the implication that Independents are a component of the larger whole of the outlaw motorcyclist culture. Think of Independents in the biker subculture, the same way that ronin were thought of, in samurai culture. Ronin were simply samurai who were not employed by the daimyos (liege lords) of the realm during the samurai era. Ronin roamed during those times, unattached loners who pledged allegiance to no fiefdom, and stood apart from the armies of samurai employed by rich and powerful feudal lords. I identify with the outlaw element of motorcyclists, as independent samurai known as ronin of the past, related to the samurai class of Japanese society, during feudal times in Japan.

The Stripped Harley-Davidson has been the iconic symbol of the biker subculture, and has been the machine of choice for outlaw motorcyclists, who spawned these bikes. This is indisputable. The inevitable marriage between the Stripped Harley-Davidson and the Outlaw Motorcyclist, has been the staple of biker subculture history, but there has been a subtle shift in this once inviolable relationship between outlaw biker and outlaw machine in the chopper media. Recently, there has been a diminution of the outlaw motorcyclist's role in the culture, by those publications who would like to see the outlaw-styled bike sanitized of all outlaw associations. These magazines would like to erase the root from which outlaw-styled bikes developed, from society's fickle memory banks. They would like nothing better than for stripped-down bikes to stand on their own, fully-formed in a vacuum as if by immaculate conception, without any historical input from outlaw motorcyclists.

This is evident in today's biker magazines. The nomenclature of "biker magazine" might even be inappropriate, given the direction that contemporary bike rags have taken. How can it be a "biker" magazine, if the very word "biker" is shunned at all costs? Semantics matter. These publications would prefer to be known as "chopper magazines," forever cleansing 'em from the outlaw influences that spawned these styles, originally. This is the worst type of subcultural ethnic cleansing. Outlaw-styled bikes rose from the minds and emotions of outlaw motorcyclists, and no amount of subcultural cleansing can change that fact.

I recently thumbed through an issue of one of the more popular chopper magazines, and could not find even a single use of the terms "biker" and "outlaw" in that issue. Furthermore, this particular issue featured a letters section consisting of 26 letters from readers showing their chops, 18 of which, were Japanese cycles. That's over two-thirds of that letters section, folks. That says whole bunches about the demographics of that magazine's readership. In the true days of the biker subculture, outlaw motorcyclists, whether Independents or club members, wouldn't be caught dead riding a Japanese bike. That, is a fact. I would like to think that we're still in the "true days" of the culture. No way could 66% of the culture be on Yamahas, Hondas and Suzukis. This subtle shift in contemporary chopper rags, demonstrates this deliberate attempt to separate outlaw motorcycles, from the outlaw element of motorcycle culture. I find this effort at sanitzing the biker subculture, disturbing, and insulting to the intelligence of true bikers everywhere.

Photo by Genghis

TODAY'S "BIKER" MAGAZINES: Pandering to Honda and Suzuki riders.

Is what these chop magazines are doing any different than what The Firm did before Willie G. embraced and acknowledged outlaw influences, when Willie G. introduced the outlaw inspired Super Glide in 1971? Prior to that, H-D stayed clear of any association with outlaw motorcyclists and the stripped Harleys they rode. This style of bike was ridiculed by H-D and the AMA. There was a time when bikers who didn't fit the leather cap and bow-tie mold riding garbage wagons, were not welcome at Harley dealerships. Things changed after 1971 for The Firm, because outlaw style was highly profitable. After 1971, The Firm coopted outlaw-styled Harleys as their own, while still standing far apart from outlaw motorcyclists, just as today's chopper rags embrace the style while trying to sanitize the image of these bikes. For today's magazines, outlaw style is highly profitable, even if it is expressed on hacked-up XS650s and Honda Shadows. A Harleyesque Yamaha, is not a Harley. Not even close. Today's chop rags have done a one-eighty, from outlaw motorcyclists. Slapping a Sportster tank on an XS650 doesn't make it a Harley, man.

Photo by Genghis

OUTLAW MOTORCYCLE: A stripped Seventy-Four.

I often wonder whether this recent shift from the outlaw ethic in magazines is anything more than an attempt to broaden the appeal of the magazines beyond hardcore bikers on stripped Harleys. There is no question that when more than two-thirds of readers' rides in a magazine's letter section consist of hacked-up Yamahas and Hondas, that the borders of appeal have been expanded beyond outlaw motorcycle culture. If there has been a dilution of the biker subculture as we've known it, the only flimsy evidence of it that I can find, is in chop magazines. I believe these chop rags are out of touch with the culture. On the other hand, magazines like David Snow's Iron Horse were a direct conduit to the subculture. That's because Snow made it his business to feature the outlaw motorcycle culture accurately. Outlaw influence in IH was pervasive, and honest. What you read was what there was. Today's magazines as conduits, seem flawed, in that they draw on the very broadened audience, whose focus has been widened to the XS650 crowd.

All I know when I'm blasting down the road on my stroker shovel Mabel, is how alive and wonderful the subculture truly is, in the present day, magazine conduits aside. During those moments, all that exists as the culture, is what's happenin' with me and my Harley 74 as we hurtle down the highway. The world around us stops spinning, and we become the world. When the biker subculture is distilled down to the Harley one is on, and all that matters is the motor humming its harmonious burble and the front 21 is spinning its Avon on the tarmac, outlaw motorcycles live forever, because it's an outlaw motorcycle that I'm on. If websites like Going the Distance can be counted as viable media, then at least my writing can be counted on to be an accurate depiction of the biker subculture, outlaw influenced and outlaw-based, as it always has been.

The Outlaw Ethic lives.