Photo Shoot: Bonneville Blue

Sometimes a color tells a story.

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The Sherwin-Williams automotive paint shop can get you pretty much any color you can imagine, which makes working on a color scheme harder than you had hoped.  I wanted something tough and cool, but elegant.  Something that would justify sanding off the perfectly good factory black paint.

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This first-world problem was processing in the background of my brain CPU one evening while drinking IPAs and talking about legendary bikes, when the topic of “Big Sid” and Matthew Biberman’s epic Vincati came up.  Apart from its historical and mechanical achievement, the Vincati is one of the most strictly beautiful bikes I’ve ever seen.  Should I copy that color?

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No, this isn’t about copying someone else’s color; it’s about finding my own statement.  Still, I loved the Bibermans’ story of father-son reconciliation through a mechanical adventure, something I wish I could have had with my own father.  As it happens, they talk about the color in their book, Big Sid’s Vincati (which you should get if you don’t already own.)

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The color they selected is “Lynndale Blue,” which was named after the Lynndale Farms Raceway in Wisconsin, and which adorned the 1966-67 Corvette Stingray.  This struck me like an omen:  My parents, both sports car & racing enthusiasts in the 1950s & 60s, both owned corvettes, and even met one another through the local SCCA.  It’s likely they even went to races at Lynndale: they went to Sebring, Watkin’s Glen, and lots of other tracks.

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The “stinger” on the ’67 Corvette hood was black, which inspired my diagonal matte black stripe on the tank.

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I also added a “smoking rabbit” Mad River canoe emblem on the side panel, an echo of memories paddling the Grand River with the family as a kid.  I still love taking out my Mad River Explorer 16 when I’m not riding.  I think the bike would look great with a canoe trailer attached.  Have to figure that one out.

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The bike has several other modifications.  Nothing visually radical — things replaced here, cut off there, holes drilled in baffles there, and so on.  It will continue to change, so this is just a portrait of how it happens to look right now.  It’s not and will never be a real custom build, but it is a kind of homage to the custom builders, and a nod to Mom and Dad and all the great things we can do outdoors.

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Stop Imitating Outlaw Biker Gangs

Since last week’s shoot-out between the Bandidos and the Cossacks in Waco, Texas, many bikers – or perhaps they’d rather be called motorcyclists – have been making protestations that the actions of these outlaw biker gangs do not represent the attitudes, lifestyles, and actions of most people who ride motorcycles. True enough.

They say that this incident puts us bikers (I’m just going to say “bikers”) in a bad light. That it casts a shadow over the rest of us. Well, I don’t think most civilians have any confusion between the typical biker dudes they see every day and outlaw gangs, any more than you might confuse, say, your neighbor’s basement home-brew set-up with an underground meth superlab. But I guess I could see the point.

They say that they want to distance themselves from this harmful image of outlaw culture. This is where I have to throw a bullshit flag.

If we’re so all-fired keen to distance ourselves from the stigma of outlaw biker gangs, why do so many bikers go to such lengths to imitate them? The hair, the vests, the chaps, the boots. Not the mention the type and style of motorcycle. The entire persona of many ordinary bikers is, intentionally or not, overtly derivative of the outlaw biker archetype. Even the loud pipes: most bikers who have drag pipes have them because they convey that dangerous, outlaw image. It’s not a performance thing, and it’s honestly not a safety thing.

The most blatant homage to the outlaw biker gangs are the club vests and patches that explicitly imitate the style of the gang, complete with club logo and chapter rocker. The most obvious example is the Harley Owners Group (HOG – one of the least clever backronyms of all time). HOG is a corporate-sponsored community branding and marketing effort, which is the polar opposite of an outlaw biker gang. HOG is to a biker gang what the “by Mennen” jingle is to Jimi Hendrix. Yet they, quite brilliantly, co-opted the exact iconography of the gangs, triggering the same psychological mechanisms of tribal loyalty and converting them into brand loyalty. To the untrained eye, a HOG chapter pulling into a Denny’s looks an awful lot like some bad shit is about to go down. At the Denny’s.

Even more bizarre are the riders who sport “Sons of Anarchy” gear. It’s not just a fantasy, it’s a fantasy of a fantasy. These really belong more at ComiCon than at a bike rally.*

There is nothing wrong with regular motorcycle clubs, but so many of them use these vests and patches it reinforces the unstated assumption that the only “real” bikers – the most legitmate bikers – are the outlaws, and that all the rest of us are just varying degrees away from that pure core. That’s what’s really wrong with this.

The appeal of the outlaw is very real, powerful, and completely understandable. For most of us, that’s part of what got us into motorcycling in the first place. There is a genuine delight in terrifying soccer moms. It’s the cowboy, it’s Johnny Strabler, it’s Han Solo. Every romantic hero plays by his own rules, right?

Well, we are undercutting that independence instinct when we spend so much effort imitating members of some other group. We have to acknowledge that what biker gangs are doing and what the rest of us are doing are completely different things. We don’t have to emulate them because we really share nothing in common with them.

Many ordinary bikers already feel that in some ways they’re on the fringe. There’s something in us that is not like our peers. We are doing something not that many people do, something that our friends or family may not understand or approve of. We invest time and money in something that is dangerous and impractical. This, too, is part of the appeal. For much of life, we have to fit in, but as a biker we can be comfortable as an outsider. But again, being an outsider is a completely different thing from human trafficking and running guns and drugs.

If you truly want to be in an outlaw biker gang, then that’s what you should do, but recognize that it is not a life of freedom: it will take a tremendous commitment and sacrifice, including possibly losing the relationships of the people you care about most. I doubt most of us are willing to do that.

If you don’t want to be in an outlaw biker gang, then drop the affectations and stop whining about getting a bad rep from the outlaws.

You have to pick one or the other: you cannot both have and reject the outlaw biker fantasy. This is like someone who dresses as a knight at a Renaissance fair complaining that they don’t want to be associated with the negative stereotypes of European nobility.**

The world of bikers is one of amazing biodiversity. So many types of people and machines, different backgrounds and reasons. A lot of histories and stories. And for the most part, we’re all cool with each other. Even people from backgrounds who would otherwise not interact are generally decent and accepting in the context of bikes. There really are not a lot of rules to “how to be a biker,” and that’s part of what’s so great about it. Maybe the one universal tenet is that you need to be yourself. Be your damn self. You don’t need anybody else’s approval to be a biker, and you certainly don’t need to emulate a group you don’t actually want to join. It’s so much easier to just be yourself.

*I don’t mean to dis on the ComiCon folks. They at least are generally aware of what is and is not a fantasy, and they’re usually pretty cool.

**Again, nothing against the Ren Fair guys. Joust on!

Fuel Cleveland: The Details

Admiral Rickover, the ‘Father of the Nuclear Navy,’ liked to say, “The devil is in the details.”

Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said, “God is in the details.”

Both were right.  These were difficult, demanding men who did incredible things because of their passion for details.

In design, including custom bikes, the details make all the difference.  Great ideas are a dime-a-dozen.  It’s the execution and the detail that makes a great design.  Unlike, say, custom cars, on a bike there is nowhere to hide.  Everything is exposed — that’s part of what draws us to motorcycles: their unavoidable honesty.

Details tell the story.  Some tell of age, or of hours spent at the polishing wheel.  You see the laborious application of layer upon layer of paint.  Some bikes are so iconic that they are recognizable from one detail.  The details are the ineluctable expression of the bike’s inheritance.  They are the final interface of maker and materials.

Here are a few of the great details from Fuel Cleveland.  Every picture here has something to tell you:

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Fuel Cleveland 2015: Photos

Fuel Cleveland is the latest convergence of motorcycles, art, food, music, and humans of every genus and species.  It is the barbaric Yawp of every type of chopper, bobber, bar hopper, rat, classic, cafe racer, primo custom, junker, screamer, and even stocker.  Everything from FTW to WTF.  It is a biker haven with a Big Welcome vibe. 

It was in a grit-encrusted warehouse on Cleveland’s Lakeside Ave., where a couple dozen invited bikes sat on thrones of old radiators, surrounded by great biker photography, and a couple hundred others filled the streets.  Everything was artfully done, but not snobby or exclusive — quite the opposite.  This is a place where a kid can be a kid.  Weirdos welcome.  This is culture, man.

Enough words.  Here are some pics.

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Says it all.

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Wall of artists’ helmets

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“I want that one!”

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Lakeside and E. 23

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Kafe Korner

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Officer Krupke

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See ya next year.

Stay tuned: In a few days, we’ll post a series of photos of just details, because the craftsmanship on some of these bikes deserves to be seen.