Sooner or later, outside forces will knock a motorcycle club down to the mat. How a club deals with adversity determines the quality of that club. A strong, well organized one will rise from the mat. Many times, the club will become more powerful than before. Why? Their internal structure with membership values of brotherhood placing the club’s interests above their own will bring the spirit to lift themselves up to rebuild. Internal value systems determine the strength or weakness of a club much the same as with the individual.If there is weakness on the inside a different scenario will certainly ensue unless the cancer is cut out. Weakness may derive from letting wrong people join. A member or members may come to feel they are more deserving than their fellow members. Jealousy may sow it’s divisive seeds. Greed is what drives many of these faults. Greed causes one to bend or break long established rules. It causes one to put himself above the rest. It destroys the concept of brotherhood. Further, it gives those on the outside the lever they need to hurt the room. Like a rear drive chain, a club is only as strong as it’s weakest link.
Bikerdom has changed much over the years. The short answer for this is money. Money and greed fucks everything up and erodes the old values. The old days were the best days. We flew under the radar. Yeah, we got nickel-and-dime hassled, sometime brutally but not on the level of today where massive organized resources launch repeatedly against us. No longer do the huge ex-footballer cops attempt to regulate us with the blunt instruments of intimidation, fists, and phony charges. The new controllers have college degrees and use their brains applying complex laws to insidiously manage the biker threat (whatever that is).
The new truth is that a bike club or a biker for that matter cannot survive today without money. When I started riding in the late sixties; most of us had no money nor did we care about it. As long as we had rent for our flophouse rooms, a case of beer, our bikes, and three-dollar club dues, we were happy as can be.
Communication has altered the world of the biker. No matter the time of the day, a click of the mouse lets me know what is going on in the 1% world anywhere and everywhere on the planet. The Internet has turned the slow, orderly, and careful growth of bike clubs into rapid expansionary efforts. The teachings and sometimes the bastardization of biker core values can occur at light speed. Motorcycle clubs of every flavor proliferate. Expansion can take on a life of its own, becoming the sole reason for existence.
There is not the necessary time to absorb and internalize the values required for enduring success. Some clubs, parts of clubs, or groups of members fall victim to the devastating sins of bikerdom, which are misused power driven by greed. These aberrations reflect little on the basic original values.
There are thousands of motorcycle clubs emulating homogenised versions of the outlaw lifestyle. H.O.G. became an instant success and becomes the largest bike club in the world. However, One Percent (1%) outlaw bikers reacted in disgust at the theft of their lifestyle by Harley-Davidson. I am not criticising H.O.G. members or any other biker since I welcome all those on two wheels into the fold.
However, as far as the original clubbers are concerned, Harley-Davidson has turned their back on the core group that supported the Motor Company through thick and thin. They feel that H-D steals their colours, insignia, and way of life. Worse, the clubbers think Harley-Davidson pasteurises their lifestyle to allow a safe walk on the wild side for the mainstream Harley enthusiasts.
Nevertheless, Harley-Davidson must move forward with the majority conformist population to survive. Small core groups of loyalists cannot adequately support H-D survival; for Harley-Davidson also craves and seeks expansion. Furthermore, the image problem of outlaw clubs is troubling for mass marketing mainstream appeal. Yet, the outlaw clubs of the day personified freedom, old-west ruggedness, and individualism.
H.O.G. seeks this image to market and quite effectively so. Despite the differing points-of-view, H.O.G. is the most brilliant marketing tactic by Harley-Davidson in a sea of dazzling strategies that obscures the one chink in H-D’s armour.
There are a myriad of other types of bike clubs that would twist Freud’s analytic brain. I welcome them all to the mix. I respect their right to be free and nonconformist to explore their individuality and freedom. With this said, I ask the rhetorical questions of why law enforcement groups form their own outlaw type clubs basing on the gangs they love to hate? Do the Jesus clubs relate to the outlaw lifestyle because their salvation also based in rebellion against the establishment Roman Empire? Females entering the fold on Sportsters was one thing but what would Freud think about them graduating to the Big Twins, growing balls, and forming their own clubs with no men allowed in this previous male only haven? Perhaps, he would not view this in a testicular way but as simple vibratory gratification. I prefer a simpler answer that the reason-to-be is there is no other feeling quite like riding in the wind.
Today, Harley-Davidson’s are reliable. Many forget or ignore checking their oil, which was a religious rite in days past. In the Knuckle, Pan, and Shovelhead days, even a guy like me with no technical background whatsoever was forced joyfully into mechanics. Why? If you were broken down and didn’t know how to string broken chain onto the sprockets with a clothes hanger lying on the side of the road; set a points ignition with a cigarette paper, or rifle a good used set from a rusting derelict car, or a magneto from a tractor sitting idle in a nearby field you weren’t going anywhere until you fixed the problem.
You always had help because bikers would stop to lend assistance and wouldn’t leave until you were okay. There was nobody riding by pretending they didn’t see you. In fact, riding by without offering help was the ultimate sin for which, they would be cast from the fold.
Present day, the cell phone calls a tow truck, and a pizza to go while waiting for someone else to fix your problem as you relax by the pool in a local motel with your credit card at the ready.
The Party is on the Road
There were no credit cards because we had no credit. It didn’t matter; motels wouldn’t rent a room to us anyway. We slept outside wherever we felt. The party was wherever we were. The destination wasn’t where we were headed; it was only the reason to be on the road. The road was the destination. It was the party, the brotherhood, and the reason to be.
The Way it Was
I remember one time my engine blew. I was riding about 1300 miles to Canada’s east coast with a riding partner appropriately nicknamed Harley from Toronto on our chopped Shovelheads.
Two hundred miles into the trip, the return-oil-pump key sheared in my oil pump. I diagnosed this at 60 mph fairly quickly because the engine was filling with too much oil causing oil blowby past the rings into the combustion chamber. Resultant billowing blue smoke out my drag pipes and oil forcing out of the bottom engine casing vent splattering all over the rear of my chopper were the symptoms of too much oil in the bottom end of my engine. Sluggish performance is also a result of too much oil-drag on the churning flywheels.
As I gingerly slowed to a stop on my oil-soaked rear tire, the engine quit because of oil-fouled spark plugs. Harley and I pushed my Shovel into a deserted shed behind a weed-strewn gas station. We spent the next three days rebuilding the engine with tools we always carried and some Harley rode many miles to borrow. We did not really need to rebuild the engine as rebuilding the oil pump would have sufficed but that was the mantra in those days.
Harley rode off with my heads 50-miles in one direction to re-cut the valve seats at some old automotive machine shop in some no name town. Then he rode 75-miles in another direction to the closest H-D dealer to buy piston rings, gaskets and the all-important oil pump keyway.
At night, we would ride two-up to the nearest and only bar in Nowhere-ville to shoot some pool and drink beer. We were dirty and skuzzy with greasy long hair and beards wearing the dirt and oil from rebuilding and sleeping on the asphalt. There were no showers so there was no need for soap.
The locals did not like us.
As we left the bar, the second night, Harley’s Shovel would not fire. Someone had stolen his spark plug wires. I knew what was about to happen. I had to back his play in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night without means of getting away. Oh, did I forget to mention the local-yokels outnumbered us big-time?
It was on; the ferocity of Harley’s temper kept them at bay with me as his backup shadow as he crudely but effectively determined who had his plug wires. Plug wires in hand we made a hasty retreat before the crowd could regroup.
We blasted into the darkness, the straight pipes shattering the nighttime air.
We slept on the asphalt another night until the hot sun woke us with our usual and quite normal hangovers.
I dumped a half-quart of oil into the bottom end over the bearings before installing the top-end. We greased or oiled all internal parts during assembly. Finally, my 66-Shovel was purring like a kitten. Unbeknownst to us, the oil-pump-feed key broke on initial startup.
I did not ride the bike hard because of the necessary break-in procedure.So how far will a Harley engine run in very hot summer temperatures in this condition? At about 200-miles the bike began to feel sluggish. Heat was wafting off the engine…but the day was hot. Around 225-miles, my bike began to labor. At about 240-miles, my bike began to slow as I gave her more gas. The poor old girl slowed to a seized stop. Harley hung tough. I made a pay phone collect call back to Toronto and some brothers hopped into an old pickup to bring the parts I needed and made the long trip to lend assistance. Helping me out was more important than anything else including work.
Ahh, the life of a biker was not always easy. Looking for adventure and whatever came our way was not always fun. Yet, I remember this experience with fondness 30-years later. Well, let us get back to the subject at hand.
Bike Maintenance was Half the Fun
Half the trip was working on your bike. There was nothing better than sitting down with a case of beer on a Saturday afternoon and twisting wrenches with your bros…and we learned our lessons hard. Take the beginnings of my first bike shop in the wrong side of Toronto, a place where only bikers were happy.
In the hardcore machismo days of the early seventies where bikers were men and women were double breasted there was no room for sensitivity. Me and my bro Tramp were working on a 1947 Knucklehead chopper. The bike was a beauty with a raked frame, a real long front end with a skinny spool wheel without a brakes or front fender. This was in a dirt floor garage in the city’s seedy tenderloin where if you weren’t strong you were a victim. Our dogs were big and mean as we could be. Me and Tramp lazily drank our beer on a hot Saturday afternoon while taking turns kick starting the radical beast that refused to start.
Tramp took the breather off the brass plumbing also known as a Linkert carburettor and held his hand over the open throat while I kicked away. This was done for what reason I do not know today, to choke the carburettor and put extra fuel into the lungs for the spark plugs to ignite. Of course, we could have just flipped the choke lever so the butterfly plate at the carburettor mount would block air to accomplish the same thing. This is just the way things were done back then. I guess if I bared my soul I would have to say that we really didn’t have a clue but a real man could not admit that. Instead, we authoritatively fiddled with stuff like taking the breather off so we could convince ourselves and anyone else, particularly a woman looking on that we were on top of our game.
Back in those days, we didn’t like the black gas line hose that also happened to be fire resistant because we could not see if there was gas in the line going into the carburettor. Yes, we had to be able to observe if the dreaded and omnipresent vapour lock was preventing gas flow. The automotive shops sold this line we all used that was clear hose that yellowed with use. It never occurred to us that the yellowing meant that it was not for use with gasoline. Details, we had no time for insignificant details. We were into big picture stuff; the stuff that really mattered, we were men of action who took bold steps especially into the unknown. You know, I can make a lot of fun of myself and the other hardcore riders of the day but to put this all into perspective, it would have been very poor judgment to question us or dare laugh at us back then…after all we were men of action. We knew only one direction and that was forward.
Anyway, Tramp removes his hand and there is lots of gas in the carburettor throat. As I continued to kick, there was air forcing back out of the carburettor throat mixing with the liquid gas. Today, I would kick once, see this and proceed to check ignition timing. Bikes used distributors with points and condensers back then. It was very easy to install the distributor so that the timing was 180-degrees out. When this happens, the bike can sometimes start and run with great difficulty but there is lots of backfiring especially back out the carburettor because the piston movement and valves are sort-of going in the wrong direction when the spark plug fires. If the plug is not firing at the appropriate time, only a vapour backfires out through the throat.
However, if the spark plug is firing with vapour present, sometimes the backfire would contain a temporary ball of fire that most times goes out because the evaporate gas in the air depletes.
I finished a kick, with my leg still on the kicker pedal as I looked down at the carburettor. A ball of fire accompanied a backfire. This time it didn’t go out as it found a fresh source of fuel. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The momentary ball of fire burned through the clear hose substituting as a proper gas line in a fraction of a second. Gas poured out all over the side of the poor old Knucklehead feeding the rapidly spreading fire.
Where was the fire extinguisher? What fire extinguisher? We never took precautions. I grabbed a shop smock and tried to beat out the flames. I was pretty good at spreading a fire and not so good at putting one out. Tramp threw a bucket of water on the flames. The fire was now raging. I ran out of the shop and down the street to a local car garage, raced in, demanded where their fire extinguisher was and proceeded to rip it off the wall. I ran out without explanation, none was needed since it was sensible to sidestep a near-hysterical 275 pound biker with greasy hair half way down his back and a full beard obviously on a mission. By the time I raced back into the garage, the fire was still raging as black smoke from the burning tires choked me back. I fired off the extinguisher and got the flames out. The bike was burned to the ground. Nowadays, it would be a write-off but everything was rebuildable back then.
Tramp and I popped open a couple of more beers and surveyed the damages. Ahh well, luck was partially with us as my garage had cement block walls and a very high roof not the old dried out and termite infested, rotting wood found in most garages in the area. Stoically, Tramp took a swig of beer and remarked the Knuckle needed a new paint job anyway. The good news was that we now had a major project to complete. We were progressively becoming more excited as we realised that we would be taking apart and rebuilding our first Knuckle engine. Our old ladies (wives) had now shown up. Tramp and I did not notice the successive eye rolls they were subjecting us to. We didn’t care anyway. This was in an era where your bike and brotherhood was way more important than a girlfriend or wife. Half the trip back then was working on your scoot. It was as much fun as riding.
The old days are just that, the old days. They will not repeat. Young bikers have trouble with the old guys that have the power. They feel repressed for they have so much to offer. The old guys strain to accept and bring the youngsters along. The young bikers are busy reinventing the wheel. I wish I knew as much as these new young guys. The old guys marvel at their stupidity and cockiness. Most times they fail to remember they were exactly the same.
Original bike clubs had a young membership demographic but that has changed big time. I once felt the greatest challenge to bike clubs was the generation gap and for some it was. Bike clubs may never change but they sure can adapt to and deal with what threatens them. This generational membership problem resolved itself as successful bike clubs recognised three generations of members that coexist and learn from each other. These are the keys to regeneration.
Patience on all sides is key and is arguably the most difficult part of the process. The old ones are like grandparents (mostly advisers and sometimes officers); the middle aged are like the parents (active officers), and the young (members) are the salvation for the future. However, I watch some clubs or club charters where the youngest member is secretary. In this case, the young are likely more qualified than their elders. Why? They are usually the most tech savvy with computers.
For a bunch of supposedly ignorant neanderthal clubbers, their core values and ability to survive can surpass the legendary brilliance of others. Look at the modern manufacturing and marketing marvel, Harley-Davidson. H-D now suffers much economic malaise because it catered to only one age grouping, the post WWII baby boom. Harley never welcomed nor garnered the next generation of youth into the fold. It failed to ensure its own salvation. Harley could have learned much from the outlaws they eschewed. H.O.G will face the same multi-generational situation. We shall see if the good guys and gals can fare as well as the bad guys.
The old biker club lifestyle is the template for the new one. However, the past is the past and those who will not or cannot adapt fall by the wayside. The new bikers are well aware that greed is the real enemy that will eat them from the inside out. The cancer of greed is always lurking in the background waiting to ensnare the weak.
Successful bikers may be dinosaurs but they are one particular breed dinosaur, the Adaptosaurous.