Dear Bart Part 1

Dear Bart,

It has been two years. I just took Adam for a ride, so I thought it was the right time to finish this letter. Adam is probably the person who needs you most, but we do the best we can.

Missing you is hard. We used to talk all day every day on the computer while we were both at work.

“How’s work today?”

“When are you leaving?”

“What are you doing tonight, can we ride after work?”

Losing my brother sucks, but losing my riding buddy sucks too. Losing my best friend is worse. You were all three. I’ll be sitting in my basement watching a movie and suddenly miss you being there. I randomly start crying at inconvenient times: not cool man. I’m fine 99% of the time, but then suddenly I’m a fucking wreck dude.

It still hurts a lot to not be able to ask what you think about the world as it changes. I’ve got an electric car, what would Bart think of that? Brooke is driving now, can you believe it?
I found some land in Northern Wisconsin that might be a serious hunting/fishing/cabin-building retreat for us. Something to have in the family long after we’re both gone. This is the kind of thing you would have flipped out over. More than 5000 feet of frontage on the Chippewa river. I won’t buy it, but if you’d been around…

I’ve taken over the website and technology for ABATE of Wisconsin. The more I’ve seen about what we do with legislation at the state level, the more I think you would have appreciated this. You were all about freedom in general and freedom of the road specifically. This would have been your cause.

People say there are phases of grief. In truth, they overlap. I’m mostly done with denial and anger. I mostly just miss you now; not in bad times, but in good times. When I’m doing something fun like planning a ride, I think about how much you would have enjoyed it.

What would you think about my new Indian Chieftain? Would you have come with me to the Tomahawk Rally last year?

You used to like Irish/Celtic stuff so much. I got some rings and I’m having them engraved with your name.

I’m planning a 4,000 mile trip right now, you would have loved this. Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa. I’m avoiding Devil’s Tower I think; this is the place I think of as the ride with you that we didn’t get to take.

Love you brother,

-D

Huh?

About once a year so far, I write a letter to my dead brother as a form of therapy.

I have known far too many men now who have taken their own lives. Every time a friend is going through a hard time that’s more than a parking ticket, I have a sudden panic that they are next. I recently got spooked and called a friend and pleaded with him:

Please, don’t make me give your eulogy. I will if that’s what it comes to, but don’t make me stand in front of your family and try to make sense of your life. There’s a fucked up sense of honor in it for me; it’s a really hard thing that no one wants to do and I force myself to do it. I’ve forced myself to do it too many times, though, and I need you to hang out for a while.

I guess this is my main point this year. Don’t be the next Bart. “Get help” is such a bullshit phrase, it has no meaning. Call a hotline? Talk to a friend? Who can appreciate the depth of what you’re feeling enough to really talk to you? Sometimes losing a job is just losing a job, and sometimes it’s the last thing a man can take. If you find yourself having thoughts of self harm, think about what you would be putting your friends and family through.

Brewtown Rumble 2019

Here I am at the 5th Annual Brewtown Rumble on June 2nd, 2019. What’s the Brewtown Rumble, you ask?

The Brewtown Rumble is a ride-in vintage motorcycle show. It doesn’t matter the make, model or condition of the bike. It just matters that you ride it! Everyone is welcome – riders and motorcycle enthusiasts alike.
The Rumble also features live music, a pin-up show, vendors and food from some of Milwaukee’s best cafes, restaurants and food trucks.

Proceeds from the Rumble support the BUILD Moto Mentor Program. Come see the BUILD bikes in person, and see which team wins the BUILD Cup.

The sun is shining, ABATE of Wisconsin has a booth, there’s bikes, beer, food, and music. This is my third time attending the Rumble, and I have to admit I was a bit concerned by the bikes this year. Between years of Momma Tried and the Brewtown Rumble, I’ve already got pics of a lot of the bikes within riding/trailering distance of these Milwaukee events. I tried to take pictures of bikes that I haven’t shown before, but I make no promises.

As I mentioned, my main reason for being here was to help set up and work the ABATE of Wisconsin booth.

AbateBooth.jpg

We had a lot of traffic and conversation, but something was missing. The same thing that’s always missing: people under 50 signing up to be members. I continue to marvel about the degree to which everyone involved in motorcycling at all is now grappling with the question of how to create the next generation of riders. More on that in a minute, first I had to stop next door and say hi to my Indian Motorcycle friends.

 

Does Royal Enfield Get it and No One else Does?

Across the street was the Royal Enfield lot. The got themselves a lot of space this year and I had to go check it out.RoyalYard.jpg

I do not get Royal Enfield. They are 1-cylinder bikes that ride funky to me. Who’s their target demographic? Are these retro bikes? Hipster commuter bikes? Bikes for dedicated Anglophiles who can’t get behind Triumph? I walked over and talked to a young lady who turned out to be involved with brand management and marketing for Royal Enfield’s North American headquarters. Within moments it became clear that she could teach things to me and perhaps others in the ABATE of Wisconsin crew.

Since she’s awesome and willing to talk to us, I’m going out of my way not to out her. The bottom line is that Royal Enfield is killing it, growing sales year over year at a time when most brands are struggling to slow down the decline. What have they figured out?

Royal Enfield has a story to tell that’s different from Harley or Indian. I don’t want to fuck up paraphrasing it here, so I’ll save my interpretation of their story for another time after I’ve been able to do more research.

I asked my guide if there were… certain stereotypes that I could guess about RE buyers. Did they also have man-buns, anachronistic curly mustaches, and perhaps have an affinity for mechanical typewriters, Polaroid cameras, and bizarre IPAs? She cut me off “Yes, it’s OK to say it: hipster boys buy these bikes”. These are 1 cylinder bikes with plenty of space around the main components: you can learn to work on these bikes easily. Royal Enfield has “shop days” in dealerships where interested folks can show up on weekend mornings and learn how to wrench on their bikes from certified mechanics: more on this later.

Royal Enfields are also inexpensive: my guide claimed that every single RE bike was under $7,000 and here’s an additional kicker: she claimed the bikes are nearly always naked on the showroom floor. There is no bait-n-switch or upsell where you fall in love with a bike on the dealer floor only to find that the beauty you’ve been talking yourself into buying is sporting thousands of dollars of extra parts. What you see is what you get and they hand you a catalog to make it your own. My guide quoted figures that are all to familiar: Millenials and Gen Z have student loan debt and credit card debt. They are less likely to own homes and start families than their parents and grandparents; their economic outlook is decidedly pessimistic. Being able to get a new bike with a great warranty for under $7k? Royal Enfield may be exploiting a great market niche.

My guide seemed a little confused: maybe thought I was drunk, hitting on her, angling for a photo, or any of the other bullshit that women have to deal with at trade shows. I explained that I was with ABATE of Wisconsin and that the question of reaching younger riders was something of an existential issue for us. I said I would really appreciate it if she had any advice for us.

ABATE of Wisconsin marketing badass Doris was primarily responsible for our being at The Rumble this day, I went back to her and said “You need to meet this individual.” Doris talked to her and this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship: again, I don’t want to “out” anyone but this was a very productive day and I’m grateful.

So what?

When I come to events like this, I’m always energized. I try to figure out how to put into words whatever it is about this motorcycle culture that so captivates us. Those of us who are “into it” often wind up being really into it. It becomes less a thing we do and more who we are. I believe it’s less about the self reliance of wrenching on your own bike, and less about an excuse to drink beer and look at tatooed young people while a loud, obnoxious band plays.

I will talk more about this in the near future, but I believe the Fellowship of Those Who Balance on Two Wheels is simply a strong connection and shared experience, and we have reached a point in American history where those things are rare. No one at work understands why I’d want to ride from Milwaukee to Idaho – at the Brewtown Rumble I can talk to any random person in the crowd and they’ve either done a ride like that, plan to do a ride like that, or wish their knees were healthy enough to do a ride like that. If I talk about wanting to buy an offroad bike so that I can just leave the road, enter a national park, and truly disappear: every single person I talk to at least understands why even if it’s not “for them”.

It’s good to be among one’s people. It’s good to have people, to have a tribe. I used to have trouble making friends, and by most practical definitions I still do. But I do have people. Thanks to technology, I can enter the Internet and come out the other end with a group of fun bikers at a bizarre alien-themed bar in Campbellsport, WI 120 miles from home where the locals at the bar just down the road warned us to only drink from bottles and cans because “Those alien weirdos don’t do their dishes very well”. Me, a guy with all the social skills of a potted plant, could have burgers with Good People™ every single day of the week both during and after riding season. All because there’s something special about this motorcycle culture. Going to an event like the Brewtown Rumble is like a more intense version of “the wave” you get from another biker rolling past you. You are surrounded by your people, and that’s a good thing.

Maybe I’m full of shit. As the creator of This Motorcycle Life points out, there’s a would-be philosopher underneath nearly every motorcycle helmet. Maybe someone else has already said it better.

Of course, it’s a ride-in show and it’s always about the bikes. I don’t think I have taken pics of any of these bikes before, but I also didn’t go back and check.

 

The Road Won’t Leave Without You

I had the joy of traveling for work recently: Milwaukee, WI to San Jose, CA. It had been a while, and I forgot how much I hated air travel.

It’s not that flying bothers me: it’s amazing to travel thousands of miles in a few hours. It’s not that packing bothers me: indeed I rather like planning and compressing my needs for a week down into what I can carry. Rather, I hate the ceremony and the complete loss of control that comes with modern air travel.

“The Ceremony” is simple: if you fly in America today you have a taste of what it’s like to live in a police state. You need various identifiers and identification; if your name does not appear exactly on your driver’s license as you booked your flight, you may not get to fly. The US Government can put you on a “no fly list” without telling you, and without giving you any due process of law that would allow you to see why you are on the do-not-fly list, and without a clear legal path to getting off of it. Furthermore, in the United States you will soon need a “Real ID”, much closer to- or equivalent-to a Passport in order to fly.
All this to fly domestically. In the “land of the free”.

So you need “your papers” in order to fly: something the average middle-class traveler in Soviet Russia would certainly understand. But wait, that’s not where your privacy violations end. You are going to get SCANNED.

Consider first the “millimeter wave” scanners deployed at almost every US airport now. Depending on which article you read, this may or may not present TSA officers with a high resolution contour of exactly what you look like naked. The thing that people forget about TSA officers is that they are just like all other officers: they are just people. That means they are no better or worse than the average American. Some of them will be ethical and honest, with their mission in the forefront of their minds as they do their jobs. Others will behave as though they were a 14 year old boy who suddenly had X-ray vision into the girls’ locker room.

The TSA can also simply embarrass you. Suppose you, like my father, have various iron and titanium pins in your legs due to severe injuries from motorcycle accidents. The metal detectors are going to alarm as you walk through. You’re going to have to explain yourself at the very least. Maybe you’ll get “extra screening”.

Finally, the TSA can search your luggage at any time and for any reason. If you have a diver’s computer, a special piece of hardware for work, or maybe a particularly flashy pack of condoms in your luggage: someone with close to zero training is going to be flagged that they should look through your luggage. Did you bring a pair of fuzzy handcuffs on your vacation with your wife, or did you bring something to clean your CPAP, or are you traveling with a few things to spice of the bedroom while you vacation in the Caribbean? The TSA can poke, prod, and confiscate any of that.

Here’s the thing: once you reach a certain age, a doctor is going to poke around your most private parts and ask you uncomfortable questions. This is a part of getting older: we get pap smears, testicular cancer checks, breast cancer scans, prostate checks, and so on. But being a doctor is not easy: when you drop your pants for a doctor you are doing so for someone who has gone through 8-12+ years of school and has seen it all before and has everything to lose from being accused of sticking their finger in the wrong place. A TSA agent is different from a doctor in all the wrong ways.

Once you are physically on your flight, you lose even more freedom. You must obey a US Air Marshal or any random Southwest employee or face felony charges. Sure, nearly every flight goes well, but how do you feel about the idea of being beholden to someone who didn’t like the political message on your jacket? Remember, people are just people

If, by Odin’s grace, you don’t make your flight, you are likely fucked. Did you get trip insurance, or did you get the kind of tickets that will not be refunded? You see, Americans have decided over the past 25+ years that all they care about is the cost of a flight. It doesn’t matter if they are sitting literally on top of someone who is hand-pumping their colostomy bag out into their neighbor’s coffee, if they can get to Vegas for $50 less they’ll deal with it. They will not remember this experience and vote with their dollars to have a more dignified flight next time. So, you are likely missing a day or more of your vacation if you miss that flight. Does it matter that it’s Spring Break and Airline X didn’t staff their counters enough? Nope, go back home loser.

Maybe you get bumped from an overbooked flight. Maybe you have to hand over a prized pocketknife you had in your jeans out of pure habit. Maybe the counter was too busy and they leave without you…

But the Road Won’t Leave Without You

Now, suppose you are instead packing for a motorcycle trip. Assuming that everything you’re packing is legal, you have nearly zero concern for anyone looking at it. The chances of you getting pulled over and searched are, anyway, incredibly small.

Suppose it’s spring break for some local schools and you start out a little late?

Oh well, you sit in traffic a little bit. You don’t miss your flight, you don’t lose a whole day of your vacation.

Suppose a tornado tears across the road a few miles in front of you? OK, you wait, and you move on when it’s safe.

Suppose the thunderstorm of the century tears across the state you’re riding through and you find yourself stuck in a rest area in Knoxville?

Fine, that’s great. Survive. There is no large insurance company who will not let your bike take off without considering a billion variables: you can leave whenever you feel like you can ride. If you take off and discover that the roads are really terrible, you can pull off on the side of the road and sleep anywhere you’re equipped to sleep. Sure you shouldn’t build campfires on someone’s private property but you can judge for yourself. You are in control. Maybe you do pull off the highway and park your bike in a ditch and throw your bivy over yourself. Rain pours, lightning strikes. Thunder follows. A man who is shurely Clint Eastwood reincarnated rides a horse near the tree you’re camped under and politely but firmly asks what the hell you’re doing on his property. Flustered, you explain how you’re on a motorcycle trip and you pulled over to escape the storm and you meant no disrespect to his property rights…

There was a time when he might have said at best “Why don’t y’all come up to our cabin” and at worst “Y’all take care, feel free to camp on my land, but ride up and tell me if you’re staying past tomorrow.” The way we treat each other today, that’s a topic for another day…

You see, the Road won’t leave without you, and the Earth won’t refuse to let you sleep there. When you are traveling on your own steed, you have so much more freedom. An airplane cannot decide to camp underneath an overpass. An airplane cannot ask the bar owner if you can pitch a tent out back. Your saddlebags know that anything packed in there is not for anyone else to know about. You can pull over to the side of the road and wait out traffic if that’s what makes sense. If not, you roll on by in your rain gear.

If you make a mistake, you leave a little late. If the road is unsafe, you choose another road. You decide how much risk to take, you decide how long the “layover” is. You travel with your rights and dignity intact. You can even carry a bottle of water if that suits you.

The airlines will leave without you, they’ve already got your money and quite frankly you dropping dead in the check in line or not is all the same to them. Out on the road, though, you’re in control. There may be challenges and decisions to make, but the road won’t leave without you.

 

Another New Indian Rider

In A Tale of Two Test Rides, I talked about riding two 2019 baggers back to back and riding one home. What I didn’t mention is that my buddy Spaz (formerly known as Corvus) came with me because he had never ridden an Indian before and was curious. I’ll let him tell his whole story when he gets his act together and gets his own blog, but to cut to the chase he bought a bronze 2019 Chieftain Dark Horse a few days later. I asked him if he’d submit to a brief interview here.

You rode Harleys for a lot of years. How did you land on Harley? Did you start there or did you ride other bikes first? Did you grow up in a Harley household?

I landed on Harley primarily due to my father. He rode Harley’s when I was young and before he married my mother. He rode a lot with the Hell’s Angels when he lived in California as well. After hearing story after story over the years I think it just set me in a place where I had to eventually land on a Harley. The first bike I owned though was a Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Cruiser. Close to a Harley look wise but not what I wanted to land on. It also was the first bike I dumped. I didn’t even make it 24 hours and I crashed the bike.
How important is “Made in America” for you when it comes to motorcycles? How important has it been to you that Harley is a big employer and local icon in the Milwaukee area?

Being a Military Veteran I want to continue to fuel American jobs as best I can. This of course is becoming harder and harder today as more and more manufacturing goes over seas. Being from Wisconsin Harley is sort of part of our culture too so I sort of felt I had to support the home team. I feel the same about Indian which is also manufactured in the US. I do have to say though as of late I am looking more broadly at other manufactures as well.

Talk a little bit about your riding style. Mostly 1up or 2up? Poker runs and bar hopping? Camping? Commuting? Cross-country touring?

I am a bit of a mixed bag as far as riding styles. I used to do a lot of 2up riding until my wife got her license. After that it is mostly 1up unless I put a kid or one of my wife’s friends on the back of the bike. I’ve done a bunch of Poker runs as well as bar hopping. I’ve only really camped once from the motorcycle although I’m yearning to do this a lot more now. I commute as much as I can depending on the weather in Wisconsin. As for Cross Country touring I’ve made several 1000+ trips on my dressers over the years. Primarily only to the East Coast and the South. I’m looking forward to a West Coast trip in the future.

I’ve noticed you do a lot of performance tuning work, what’s the allure of fast cruisers for you? Do you have a similar obsession with fast custom cars?

I am an adrenaline junky in general. I’ve had tuner cars and performance vehicles a lot throughout my life. Once I got into bikes I started messing with them from intake to exhaust to now engine work. My ideal world is to have a bagger that can blow the doors off most crotch rockets. It will take time to get the right setup. Not sure if I’m going super charger or turbo yet :).

Comparing an Indian Chieftain to your batwing-style fairing Harley is a much better comparison than the Road Glide I rode. What differences stood out to you right away between the Chieftain you rode and your Ultra classic when it comes to the ride, handling, power, Infotainment, and engine/exhaust sound?

My first impressions of the Chieftain was that is was more agile right out of the gate. In my stable at home we have not only my Ultra Limited but my wife’s Street Glide as well. We actually swapped bikes a week or so ago so she could try mine. The big difference to me is the leg space and agility. Stock the Indian sounds better than any of the Milwaukee Eight bikes I’ve heard. My wife’s comment when she heard it was “do you even need to put exhaust on it.” My answer of course is yes though… Handling wise as I said earlier the Indian is more agile out of the box. On the Harley navigating a round a bout at speed I tend to scrape my foot boards. I have yet to hit them on the Indian and I take a much faster and tighter turn. On the power front the Indian is not much behind the 114ci motor I have in the Ultra limited. I am about to get my bike back from the 116 upgrade so we will have to see what I think after that. As for the infotainment side the fact that bluetooth works out of the box including when you introduce a bluetooth helmet to the mix is awesome. My Harley you have to spend $300 on a WHIM Module and then buy a HD stamped Sena helmet or headset as you will not get stereo without it. I just found that out and the more I get into this chapter of my riding life the more the HD logo is starting to wear off from me.

You’re jumping right in to customizing your Dark Horse. How has your experience so far been with Indian aftermarket vs. Harley aftermarket.

Right now my primary upgrades I’m doing to the Dark Horse have been Indian certified components. As I’ve started to look for more aftermarket parts it is evident that industry isn’t supplying much still. I hope that changes over time but I can understand why vendors may be reluctant still. Harley Davidson on the other hand has a very large aftermarket industry. There are just so many things you can do to your Harley without needing to by Harley direct parts. I am hoping that the market changes though as I do love this new bike.

What on earth possessed you to add a Chieftain Dark Horse to your garage?

I’m a bit of a spontaneous person. There was something about the feel of the Dark Horse that called to me. The other problem was I couldn’t get the dang Bronze color out of my head. I then thought I could convince myself not to get it by bringing my wife to the dealer to see it. Her comment after seeing the bike was “Well it does look like you…”. That sold it for me. It wasn’t just me but my wife also saw something about that bike. At that point it was just how much stuff can I buy. I do have to give credit to Metro Milwaukee Indian for putting up with me. I came near close and they stuck around to finish off financing and answer all of my questions. I’ve been very pleased with their service so far.

What are your motorcycling plans for the future?

My wife and I are now talking about our new house and how we need a larger stable. We are actually talking about a real stable now so each bike gets it’s own stall. Motorcycles are part of our family. My oldest daughter is now looking to get something soon as well. The big things for me is my boys are big enough to ride on the back so we will be setting out to do some riding and camping with them this summer. I plan to make my first trip to Sturgis as well this year. I’m looking for more adventures and different styles of riding to look into so we will see how that goes.

 

Am I a Real Biker? Are You? Does it Matter?

I’ve seen so many Facebook threads, internet memes, and satirical Youtube videos lately focused on one question: What makes someone a Real Biker­™?

Why does it matter, because it apparently matters a lot? Let’s unpack this idea in a few stages.

Why does anyone care what a real biker is?

Firstly, it’s nearly universal that when people attempt to define what “A Real XXX” is, there is high perceived value in being A Real XXX. Real social status, deserved fear, privileged access to resources, or unassailable authority is attributed to members of that in-group. There are no arguments about who is “A real serial killer” because it’s not considered desirable to be in that group and it confers no advantages. A “real biker” has an opinion that matters more than a fake biker, is assumed to have more and better stories and more and “more real” experience than the RUBs. Real Bikers are true and Original, possessed of motives as pure as the driven snow, modern day cowboys or desperados. Modern day Pirates, banditos and gangsters on two wheels. Guys want to be them and women want to be with them, and even when the cops are busting them they are thinking: god dammit they sure are cool though.

Side note on RUBs: if doctors, lawyers, and investment bankers hadn’t bought a lot of Harley’s in the ’90s would American motorcycling have been decimated? Should we thank the RUBs for their investment dollars but not let them play in our reindeer games?

In any community where you can be considered either a piece of shit or a god and everything in between, there’s a notion of “paying your dues”. Did you grind for years on the stand-up comedy circuit or play every shithole bar and birthday party with your band? Did you work as a waiter and do unspeakable things to gain your first big acting break? Congratulations, you’ve Paid Your Dues. Paying Your Dues is a common value in Honor Cultures. Another common requirement is a Rite of Passage or Initiation. Boot camp is a rite of passage any US Marine has in common with every other Marine. The “Rush” in fraternities. Residency for doctors. The bar exam for lawyers. These shared experiences knit a group together: it’s completely reasonable for a group to be suspicious of those who did not pay their dues and go through the initiation rites. The rich would-be politician who uses wealth and celebrity to instantly “make it” is reviled by all the others who worked their way up from Town Alderman to State Senator to US Congress.

Those who view themselves to be in a good place and they got there the “right” way will naturally revile those who took a different path.

Secondly, the inverse of the “Really belonging” idea is the notion of being a tourist, a fake, a poser. These are clearly undesirable labels.

What’s a tourist? Well, the dictionary says “A person traveling, especially for pleasure.” That’s fine, but I prefer my friend Chris A’s definition, a definition with a lot more negative connotation: “A person who travels to observe a radically different way of life, but they see it as one would see an animal in a zoo and don’t allow themselves to be changed by it.” A great example of this is a huge influx of people visiting Woodstock, Alabama after the hit podcast S-Town. People showed up to (Steve Irwin voice) See the wild US Redneck in his native habitat. No one wants to hang out with someone who’s going to go back to work Monday and say “Oh man, you would not believe what these bikers actually say!”

Fake should be self explanatory.

What about a poser? Well when I was a kid this meant people who wore Vans and carried around a skateboard but basically couldn’t skate. It implies that the thing that makes you a part of the community is hard or dangerous but you want that social status without putting in the work, so you pretend.

Side note on posers: a lot of people hate on those who trailer their bikes, especially to big events like Sturgis. While I’m generally not a big fan of “purity tests”, I tend to agree that if the baseline assumption is that you rode there, you’re riding on stolen valor if you rolled your bike off a truck 10 miles out. This is not meant to disrespect folks who can’t do that for health reasons.

Side note on danger & difficulty: I will wave to any biker on the road, but I am torn about things like Can-Am riders. Traveling balanced on two-wheels is just harder and more dangerous and it seems like that’s table-stakes in our community; when I see an old-timer on a trike I wave my respect, assuming he’s one knee-replacement too far to trust his balance anymore but still wants the wind in his face, but a lot of people I suspect should just buy convertibles instead. That’s my bias, peace.

In any culture where there’s any kind of purity test or acceptance test, you will face arguments and standards that evolve over time. This results in a no true Scotsman kind of attitude, where the criteria for being a “real biker” evolve over time to be more exclusive as more people fit the old criteria. I am told, by someone who would know, that in the ’70s you were either in a club or you were a fake. I’ll bet there are a lot of independants out there today that would pass absolutely anyone’s smell test for being a real biker.

The entire first season of the country music podcast, Cocaine and Rhinestones, has many examples of this kind of thinking. Throughout the 19th century the definition of “real country music” was always basically one generation behind what was going on in the country music scene. The lesson is one of dictionary conservatism: if you are not exactly like the status quo, you are fake.

So then, what is a real biker?

For some background I think it’s good to go all the way back to Hunter S. Thompson’s 1967 book on the hell’s angels. There may be more and better sources, but this is a pretty good one. A lot of what’s taken for granted in biker culture today comes out of this place and time, and I do not mean any special favor to the Hell’s Angels here as a modern club. People do things because they’ve seen others doing them, and have no idea why.

Wearing leather. Wearing a German Iron Cross. Being tough. Patches. Choppers. Racing. Being outside of society, misunderstood by the law. Being A Proud Outlaw. Codes of respect. So much of what we know as biker culture has its beginnings with men who came back from World War II and Vietnam. They found that the country they loved and fought for did not offer them the same opportunities for close brotherhood that the military had (see the links on honor culture above). The safe streets of America seemed boring to their heightened tolerance for danger. They brought together the danger, exclusivity, initiation rituals, ranks and titles, logos, and much more from their former military lives and created motorcycle clubs. These men were rebels. So bikers were originally:

  • Blue collar
  • Believed in some kind of Honor Culture, has a code of mutual respect
  • Tough, manly men
  • Outlaws and rebels
  • Misunderstood Outsiders
  • Risk takers, thrill seekers
  • Rode motorcycles everywhere
  • Wrenched on their own bikes

I am the first person in my entire extended family tree to go to college, so I’ll never be a  Real Biker. No woman can ever be a Real Biker. No weekend warrior who doesn’t ride his bobber to a factory job every day can ever be a Real Biker. No one who voted Democrat, or is gay, wears safety gear, or has a white collar job can ever be a Real Biker. So on, and so forth.

except

Except that, as Cocaine and Rhinestones illustrates better than I ever could, the distance between the “Real OG Old-skoolers who truly get it” and the “Upstart pretenders who are ruining everything”, in any human subculture, is always nearly exactly one half of a human generation. Country music? Check. Hip-hop? Check. Muscle cars? Check.
Guns? Politics? Sex? Bikes? Check, check, check, check. Everyone is watching the next generation destroy their pure faith and their perfect culture. If I had studied Latin in college I could bust out something profound sounding like a priori ergo melior. Before is better.
Every American generation is more or less convinced they’ve got it all figured out, while they watch their kids and grandkids send the world directly to hell in the most efficient manner possible. Motorcycling is no different.

Can ladies be badass bikers? That seems clear to me. Can even rich Hollywood types be bikers when they slept by their steeds in the wilderness for over a year? Seems reasonable. Can a lawyer be a biker when he’s got half a dozen Iron Butt Extreme rides under his belt? Why not? No matter what the price of belonging is, some will still find reason to shun the newcomers.

Obviously it’s not up to me to say who is and isn’t a “real biker”. I’m not one, and no amount of three-thousand mile trips and rugged two-wheeled camping will make me one. I can claim that it’s a continuum: be more biker-y and not less biker-y.  We used to be a nation of individuals. Don’t let a Facebook thread or a motorcycle commercial tell you what you are. A motorcycle dealership can’t make you a rebel. Wearing the same thing as everyone else doesn’t make you an individual. Get out, ride, camp with nothing more than you can carry, ride through the rain and cold, stop and help someone on two wheels stuck on the side of the road, stop at a dive bar you’ve never been in before, show respect, be real, be judged by your actions.

The world could use more bikers.

 

 

A Tale of Two Test Rides

I’ve been wanting a new bike since Victory was killed. I’ve come up with tons of reasonable-sounding justifications, like parts getting scarce and so forth. The reality is: who doesn’t want a new bike if they can swing it? There’s shiny new things like touch screen nav systems and loud new stereos. Bigger engines with more torque. I was determined to swing it this year.

I wound up riding Victory for the past four years for a few  reasons: I really liked how they were styled, they were extremely good values, and here around Milwaukee there are so many Street Glides I couldn’t bring myself to join that crowd: yes I wanted something different and as long as you’re not buying garbage or spending a fortune to prove a point that’s fine.

Someday I’ll think about why it is that I’ve never “gotten” Harley people, it’s just not a community that’s ever called out to me (I realize how loaded that statement is). They are expensive, and at least when I started riding in the ’90s, there was no dealing: this is the price, fuck you, there’s 11 guys behind you if you don’t like it. The Motor Company, however, has been doing a lot of good work. First, they are focused on building riders in addition to motorcycles and this is huge. They upgraded their infotainment; they engineered some of the vibration out of their new bikes. The Motor Company is moving forward, but are they competitive with folks who didn’t grow up lusting for the shield and bar their whole lives?

I decided to ride two bikes back-to-back. I cannot stand the “batwing” fairing on the Harley Street Glide, it’s too retro, it’s too much like a C5 Corvette. However the “Shark nose” fairing on the Road Glide is unique and excellent. If I was to get a Harley, it would be a Road Glide.

As for Indian, I recognize that I was giving Polaris another chance to screw me over. Still, when they started offering bikes without the front fender sweep and came out with their new Ride Command system, I had to try one.

2019 Road Glide Special

First I headed to Milwaukee Harley Davidson to ride a 2019 Road Glide Special in Denim Red. If possible, I would get the burnt orange color shown at the top of this post.

Image result for 2019 road glide red denim

The last Harley I rode was the 103 engine, and it shook, a lot. I know this is part of the appeal for a lot of people but it just wasn’t for me. I’ve also long preferred the blacked out look to the chrome look; I could say I liked this “before it was on-trend” as Harley marketing says, but the reality is the first blacked out bike I ever saw was the now-extinct V-rod Night Rod. Not good for long trips, but this bike forever changed my mind on how a motorcycle should look.

Image result for v-rod night rod

The 2019 is a much more refined experience, very little vibration. While it took me a minute to get used to drive-by-wire, I found this bike to be powerful and enjoyable despite what felt like a lot of weight compared to my Victory. It was easy to pair my phone with the Boom system so I could hear some familiar tunes on the new radio.

Given what I had heard about the 114, I expected the engine to tear my head off with power, but it didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it was very powerful with low end torque and plenty of get up and go all the way through the RPM range. I think word-of-mouth had just left me with expectations that couldn’t be met. Still, a great bike anyone would be happy to own.

I got a number for my trade in and discovered that it would only take them two weeks to get the burnt orange color in.

2019 Chieftain Dark Horse

Next I headed to Indian Motorcycles of Metro Milwaukee to ride a 2019 Chieftain Dark Horse. My buddy Corvus came with me since he’d never ridden an Indian before.

Image result for indian chieftain dark horse

Fixed fairing vs. fork mounted fairing. Harley vs. Indian. How were they different?

Firstly, despite tipping the scales at very similar running weights, the Chieftain is a little lower and it makes it feel lighter than the Road Glide. I’m 5’9″ and this bike felt more maneuverable to me.

Secondly, in “standard” ride mode the ride by wire on the Chieftain feels even more twitchy than the Road Glide and I never got quite used to it.

The Thunderstroke 111 feels more torquey than the Milwaukee Eight 114 through the lower 75% of the RPM range. The Milwaukee Eight has more room to run through the top end of the range and particularly in 6th gear.

From the handling perspective, the Chieftain felt much more nimble. It corners like a cloud, and felt natural and controlled through roundabouts. The suspension was also fantastic: Wisconsin roads are generally terrible but even going over railroad tracks was very easy going.

Finally, I do think the RideCommand is a little bit better, and the 100watt stereo has power power than I’ll ever need even at 80mph in the rain: most songs are too loud at 3/10 on the volume dial.

So what did I decide?

In the end, the feel and the ride of the Chieftain Dark Horse was clearly the right ride for me, and I rode it home. My 2015 Victory Cross Country, whom I affectionately called Red Sonya, is no more. Say hello to Black Sunshine.

She’s totally stock for now, as I fight a cold Wisconsin “spring” for break-in miles. The exhaust and engine sound so good stock I don’t think I’ll be messing with it for a while, but a bigger windshield, back rest, highway pegs, etc. will be on the way soon.