King of the Road: What Outlaws Ride
Harley Davidson (HD) is as synonymous with outlaw motorcycle clubs (OMC) as hot dog, baseball and apple pie.
It’s American made.
Long before the wildly popular Sons of Anarchy television series, the biker allure began after the return of World War II military veterans.
They bonded together on the civilian side of life and shared common interests as most groups do. Motorcycles provided that common passion and their desires for freedom from the postwar doldrums brought them together.
In that era, most veterans lived modestly, and the HD was a cheap bike. Most supplies of HD were surplus military motorcycles decommissioned after the war.
The other bikes available at that time were British, but cost much more than the local HD. The other countries that eventually entered the motorcycle import business were still recovering from the war.
By the time the Japanese began manufacturing and importing motorcycles, the American outlaw bikers resisted anything associated with their former enemy. Most important, veterans who fought for this country, still felt strongly about it. As they still do today.
Japan’s motorcycles quickly became associated with mainstream biking. This flew in stark contrast to the outlaw lifestyle that objected to anything about average society. Outlaws existed in society’s fringe, and took pride in their counter-cultural stance.
On a practical note, the Japanese flood of bikes also killed most of the American motorcycle companies. HD was the main manufacturer remaining.
HD became a cultural image associated with the badboy lifestyle. Even during the 1980-90’s when HD’s were parked in every doctor, dentist and lawyer’s driveway, the chance to play American rebel still held a strong appeal in the nation’s psyche.
But bikers who love bikes, say, “It’s not what you ride, it’s that you ride.”
Sonny Barger, an original Hells Angels said:
Hell’s Angels started riding Harley-Davidsons mostly because, unlike today, they didn’t have much choice. In 1957, it was either ride a Harley or settle for a Triumph or BSA. They’d already stopped building Indians.
It’s always been important for Hell’s Angels to ride American-made machines. In terms of pure workmanship, personally I don’t like Harleys. I ride them because I’m in the club, and that’s the image, but if I could I would seriously consider riding a Honda ST1100 or a BMW.
We really missed the boat not switching over to the Japanese models when they began building bigger bikes. I’ll usually say, “Fuck Harley-Davidson. You can buy an ST1100 and the motherfucker will do 110 miles per hour right from the factory all day long.”