Good Shop Practice #11: Focus

Distraction has become our normal psychological state. Focusing attention on one thing for more than a few minutes is now the exception, and this has interfered with our enjoyment of activities, our ability to see things to completion, the quality of our work, and our sense of peace and happiness. Distraction breeds anxiety and poor workmanship. Focus when you work, and prepare to focus for the duration of the work. If you need to gather information, such as, say, finding a video to walk you through a task, gather it all beforehand so you’re not searching at the same time you’re trying to work. Do one task at a time; if another task occurs to you, write it down and set it aside. Avoid the manic temptation to jump from one to the other. You can only do one thing well at a time.

Why the Feds Should Lay Off the Mongols’ Colors

Donning your motorcycle gear does not mean renouncing your constitutional rights, even if – and pay attention here – that gear includes motorcycle club patches.*

While most of our readers probably agree with that statement, the Department of Justice apparently does not. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the federal government is seeking authority to seize the patches and logos of the Mongols Nation Motorcycle Club. This literally means the power to stop on sight anyone wearing a Mongols cut, or anything with a Mongols logo, and confiscate it on the spot.

The mechanism for doing this would be the federal government legally taking over the trademark of the Mongols’ emblem, which is the intellectual property of the Mongols Nation Motorcycle Club. The justification, in simple terms, is that the logo amounts to a “license to commit crime.”

Many people have correctly asserted that the wearing of colors is a type of speech that should be protected under the First Amendment. However, it is another clause of the First Amendment that is more directly under assault here: the right of assembly. A motorcycle club’s colors are a statement of association with a group. This is penalizing individuals not for any acts but for their identity and associations.

Of course, the First Amendment protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” It doesn’t protect, for example, riots or criminal conspiracies. The problem is, the government has not shown that the Mongols as an organization are a criminal syndicate. While some individual members have been convicted of crimes, that does not indict other members nor the organization per se. The DoJ just finds guilt by association much more convenient than the long way around. Unfortunately, this handy shortcut goes right though the First Amendment.

I am not saying that the Mongols are or are not a criminal syndicate. That is for the federal government to prove, and unless they successfully do that the rights of expression and free assembly of the Mongols’ membership should remain intact.

By all means, we should vigorously prosecute violent and criminal activity, regardless of what badges, pins, patches, logos, jackets, vests, or – ahem – uniforms the perpetrators are wearing, but it is difficult to imagine any way whatsoever in which the power to seize the clothing of bikers would serve the public interest or public safety. On the contrary, it is likely to be a distraction from the actual investigation of criminal acts. It would surely be very satisfying for the federal officers, but merely antagonizing people who are perceived as low-lifes and outsiders is not a compelling government interest.

Cuts are deeply valued, highly personal possessions and statements of identity. Taking a biker’s cut is much more than confiscating some piece of paraphernalia – it is akin to stripping their identity. It is a humiliation.

And let’s be totally honest here: the Justice Department is not starting a collection of patches. The effect of this policy is to give them carte blanche to stop, harass, and search bikers without a warrant or probable cause. It gives them an excuse to get in the door and under the sofa cushions. It’s not really the bikers’ First Amendment rights they’re after, it’s their Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The fundamental premise the government is working on here is that wearing the colors constitutes a presumption of guilt. The unspoken intent is criminalizing identity, and it sets a dangerous precedent for stop and seizure on sight.

We have stated before that there is a huge difference between the lives, lifestyles, and culture of outsider motorcycle clubs – the so-called 1%ers – and most regular bikers you see every day at the bar. That is true. However, there really is no legal distinction between the Mongols and the Christian Joyriders of Kenosha. Neither the Mongols as a club nor a majority of its members have been convicted of a crime. This is an attempt to short-circuit the hard, important work of prosecuting criminal activity.

The ACLU is supporting the Mongols, and so should the AMA. Not that AMA funds should to toward the Mongols’ legal defense, but the AMA should take the official position that motorcycle club insignia are the intellectual property of the club and not subject to seizure, and that bikers should not be stopped on sight.

*In this essay, we will use the terms “club” or “motorcycle club” and not the terms “outlaw” or “gang,” because part of the question at issue is precisely whether the club is legally defined as a criminal organization. In other contexts, we use terms such as “outlaw” or “gang” to indicate cultural or aesthetic distinctions, not legal ones.

Photo Shoot: Bonneville Blue

Sometimes a color tells a story.


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.


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?


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.)


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.


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


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.


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.


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:















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.

DSC_0172 Welcome


Says it all.


DSC_0107 DSC_0108 DSC_0112 DSC_0114 DSC_0121 DSC_0136

Wall of artists’ helmets


“I want that one!”


DSC_0153  DSC_0158

Lakeside and E. 23


Kafe Korner

DSC_0167  DSC_0173 DSC_0179

Officer Krupke

DSC_0183  DSC_0195DSC_0193

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.

Good Shop Practice #10: Make a Mess

Spread out, make some room. Get out everything you think you’ll need. You are in your space, so make yourself comfortable. Have plenty of rags handy. It’s OK to have crap all over the place when you’re working. When you’re in the middle of a task, you grab things, put things down, and your focus tends to me more on the problem than the organization of the space around you. As you develop a style and pace of movement, you’ll find your natural level of mess while working. Some people are more comfortable in the immediacy of clutter, with everything close to hand. If that’s you, let it work for you. Don’t assume a messy workspace equates to careless craftsmanship.

Good Shop Practice #9: Listen to That Voice

Mechanical instinct: it seems like some people have it and others don’t, but the truth is that while it does come easier for some, it must be cultivated and consciously developed. The way to do that is to listen to the inner voice and reward it when it is right. The most common thing your inner voice says is, “something’s not right here.” At first that voice may be too cautious or too reckless. You need to calibrate it by paying attention and checking it. The more you calibrate that voice, the more you can rely on it and the better your instincts become. Why do I feel like I’m forgetting something? Why is this panel cover not sliding on easily? What’s wrong with this picture? The voice can’t explain; it can only sound the alarm. By practicing, you will learn to tell the false alarms from the real ones and develop a keen mechanical instinct.

Good Shop Practice #8: Push Your Limits.

Something you’ve never done before can be daunting. You should consciously seek tasks that challenge you. Skill is an ascending helix that requires energy and a little daring, without which it flattens into a circle of boredom. This doesn’t mean you should completely disregard your skill level. You don’t want to take on too-difficult problems that will lead to inevitable failure. This takes judgment and self-awareness. Push your limits – don’t burst through them full-speed like Wile E. Coyote. Go bravely but with care. It’s not just learning new tasks: push yourself to perform everything a little better. Even routine tasks might be done with more precision or efficiency. It is up to you to escape the circle of boredom. Be undaunted.

Good Shop Practice #7: Stop.

Sometimes you get frustrated. Some part is really hard to access, or the instructions weren’t clear, or it just isn’t going right. Maybe you can see yourself getting careless, tossing tools around, skipping steps. Maybe you’re trying to hold too much in your head at once and forgetting details. Sometimes you get that feeling that the ground is rocky, so you just have to plow deeper. Force your way through. That’s the feeling you get right before you break something. So stop. Just stop and stare for a few minutes. Maintenance is a game of mental strategy, rarely a game of force. If it feels off, if you’re confused, if you feel like you just want to get through it, just stop.