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GOING THE DISTANCE
PHOTO BY GENGHIS
You know the legends. Bikers going back as far as 70 years ago wanted to make their accessory-laden motorcycles faster, so they stripped them down to make 'em lighter. Same horsepower and torque plus lighter vehicle weight equals increased speed. Hey man, get outta the way with your 800 pound garbage barges, we're comin' through with our chopped-down bikes! For fat garbage wagons, the fat lady was singin' her Slimfast Song. The era of the bobjob was born.
You know how it works. Bikers took garbage off of their garbage wagons, instantly transforming them from slow, waddling ducklings into screaming, eyeball-blasting, hair-raising swans. They didn't just improve performance. It's always the law of unintended consequences, isn't it? Guess what the secondary byproduct of stripping-down bikes was?
Wait for it---stripping garbage off of your typical Harley FL made the motorcycle look cooler, more pure, if you will. There was a purity of beauty about a stripped-down-to-the-basics motorcycle that gave it greater presence, in an inverse ratio to its lost weight. Somehow, less was more, both functionally and aesthetically.
Somewhere along the way, a few bikers decided that radically minimizing the motorcycle, would not only lose more weight, it might shock the squares and gain said customizers more peer approval for their innovativeness. One gallon gas tanks made their appearance. Those cluttery front brakes had to go. Eventually though, this motivation for super-minimizing morphed into something entirely different: the need to be different, even if function suffered. Extreme rakes with 2 feet over forks made their appearance. The graceful swan was making yet another transformation, this one not so pure or beautiful, in my humble opinion. The swan became a circus freak, completely at the mercy of its wildly innovative ringmaster.
I started riding in the 1960s, which was at this critical juncture in the biker subculture's history, when the popular whims of the biker public was making its fickle swing from stripped-down motorcycles to full-on customs replete with stereotypical neck rakes and long front ends. To me, this change seemed like a corruption of the original intent that drove the bikers of the 30s, 40s, and 50s to chop their bikes. The aesthetic byproduct of their stripping-down of their motorcycles, which resulted in genuinely great looking bikes, had an innate beauty that was borne of pure intentions. These beautiful bikes had none of the phoniness that customs reeked of. Bikes that are made to look different for differences sake, don't possess the same functional beauty. These customs by comparison, look effete and fussy to my eye. Take a look at the rubber grips on the handelbars in the above picture. They are unpretentious and beautiful, compared with expensive metal grips. This represents a microcosm of the different-for-different sake, that somehow makes a more expensive bike---ironically look cheaper. Those rubber grips are real, they serve a purpose. How does a billet grip improve the intended function of this component? There is a functional beauty about rubber grips, for example, that make them seem more organic, in line with original intent. Handlebar grips were intended to provide the rider with a sticky and comfortable surface to grip. To state the obvious, a billet grip is more slick and uncomfortable. Dig it, man. Our biker forefathers did something right, when they stripped their bikes to make 'em lighter, faster and more pleasing to the eye. Creations by customizers veered off from this original intent---not so much. Later