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Photo by Genghis

FORTY YEARS AGO IN QUEENS: My finest hour as a biker?


I'm going to be a better biker this year.

This is the 47th time that I've made this resolution. Yup, you do the math. I've made this resolution on every New Years Day since 1968. 1968 is when I bought my '68 Harley-Davidson XLCH, from Harley-Davidson of Manhattan. I've always had the niggling feeling, that I wasn't doing enough, not being pure enough, to meet the lofty goal of being The Ideal Biker. What does that mean? That means that I have an idealized view, an almost romantic perception of what and who a Biker should be. I never had this problem being a Corvette Driver. Hey, as a Vette Driver, ya just drove this magnificent Chevy, period. Aside from being a Chevy Loyalist as a Sting Ray (then, now it's "Stingray") owner, there was never any matter of identity to deal with. It's different when you're a Biker. Look at the list of possible prerequisites, for being The Ideal Biker:

(1) Bike must be a Harley.

(2) Must ride constantly, even if one is going to the corner store for milk. Walking is for non-bikers. Cars or mass transit? Fuggedabowdit. Too mudane for Purists. I recall reading in Hunter S. Thompson's book on the Hell's Angels, that an Angel would take his Harley to the corner store for groceries, instead of using his pedestrian tools (if Thompson ever believed this, than he was more of an asshole than I thought). Could I do any less?

(3) Must do one's own mechanical work, necessitating a garage and shop.

(4) All customizing must involve making one-off parts, made by oneself, in aforementioned garage and shop. It goes without saying, that one must make his own nuts and bolts, too.

Photo by Genghis

REQUIREMENT NUMBER THREE: Worked on Sally in a Chinese laundry in the '60s & '70s.

Hey, no problem. I meet at least Requirement Number One. There was a time however, when I fulfilled Requirement Number Three, as well. Actually, before I got married and had kids, I even fulfilled Requirement Number Two. At that time, I had three outta four, man. The only requirement that I never fulfilled, was Requirement Number Four. All the parts I had on my Harleys, were either OEM or aftermarket parts. Can't win 'em all, man. Still, as I said, I've always had the feeling that I wasn't doing or being enough, to be The Ideal Biker.

I'm even less of An Ideal Biker than I was, 40 years ago. Forty years ago, I had the use of my parents' Chinese laundry in Queens, to dismantle and work on my Harleys. That's where I took my '68 Sportster down to nuts and bolts, molded her frame and then painted her frame and tin to perfection, using spray cans of Kalifornia Kustom candy apple red, that I bought from the local Auto Aid store. Actually, I did the molding work on the frame (I molded the frame using fiberglass) at my East Third Street apartment in The City, and at my job at Beth Israel Medical Center, but the disassembly and assembly took place at the laundry.

Since the passing of my parents, I lost the use of the laundry to work on my bikes. So, here I am in The City, with no place to work on my '71 Super Glide, Mabel. You can imagine why I feel like less of An Ideal Biker, than I used to. That's why on every successive New Year's Day, I vow to be a better biker. The realities of the world do intrude on romantic idealism!

In the 1990s, I began writing about the Biker Subculture in Iron Horse magazine. I felt that in some small way, I was contributing to The Cause, and was therefore somewhat of a better biker than before. That continues. I can't make my own parts. I can't even do any real work on my Harley, because of the constraints of city life. But I can write about the culture, and perhaps bring some entertainment, and even some enlightenment to other Bikers.

Forty years ago, I and a couple of neighborhood friends hefted Sally The Bitch's (my 1968 Sportster's name) motor into her newly molded and freshly painted, candy apple red frame. I enlisted the help of others, so I wouldn't scratch Sally's frame's new paint, with the motor. Easy does it! After we got Sally's motor in, one of my friends said to me, "This is your finest hour as a biker." Since then, I've changed my standard as to what The Ideal Biker is. I've come to realize that in today's world, being The Ideal BIker, is merely an ideal---not an attainable reality. But still, I continue to make the same New Year's resolution, every year.

The moral of this New Year's Message 2015 is, keep your ideals but deal with the Real World in a sensible way. Keep your Harley and continue to make her the centerpiece of your identity, even if you can't meet all the requirements for being The Ideal Biker. Later.