Hells Angels Meet Housewives on Harleys

How bikers turned into their parents and turned off their kids 


On a rainy night in 1974, Charles Umbenhauer pulled his Yamaha motorcycle into the parking lot of a hotel in New Jersey so that he and his wife could wait out the storm before finishing their ride from his hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to the Jersey shore. The front desk clerk would let them stay under one condition.

"If you push the motorcycle up the street there and it's not in the parking lot, I'll go ahead and rent you a room," Umbenhauer recounted in 2008 to American Motorcyclist, the membership magazine of the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA).

The request stung Umbenhauer, who had served two years in the Army and considered himself an upstanding citizen. He and his wife, Carol, said no thanks. Instead they found a "really crappy" hotel that allowed them to keep their bike in the lot. A couple of years later, when a friend invited the couple to attend a new motorcycling group's first rally for their rights at the Pennsylvania State Capitol, Charles and Carol hopped on the bike and went.

This was the '70s, and bikers faced discrimination not just from fearful business owners but also from state and federal governments. A group called MAUL—Motorcyclists Against Unfair Legislation—wanted to broker a truce with lawmakers to oppose helmet laws and other restrictions. The coalition drew motorcyclists of all kinds. In particular, the wrong kind.

"We went to the rally, and I knew it wasn't going to work," Umbenhauer says. For starters, the group had shown up to the state legislature on a Sunday. "People were streaking, there were beer kegs, but there was no legislative session. I gave it a 10 on having a great time but a zero on doing something to benefit bikers." The Associated Press reported the morning after that one motorcyclist rode around the rally naked "except for black socks" and that several riders had burned their helmets.

Umbenhauer voiced his concerns to other MAUL members, and they asked him to organize their next trip to the statehouse. His first act was to hold the event on a Monday. "I said we're gonna do it when the legislature is in session, and someone said, 'Half these people won't come.' And I said, 'Good. We don't need people drinking beer on the Capitol steps.'"

Over the next 40 years, Umbenhauer, now 74, and his fellow bikers organized, professionalized, and lobbied their way to legitimacy. But the victory has been bittersweet. Motorcyclists have more freedom than ever, but the gains they fought for are going to waste. Whether legitimacy has made motorcycling uncool or safety has simply become more of a priority, young people just aren't becoming bikers. "My grandson," Umbenhauer says, "doesn't ride."

Motorcycle interest groups are almost as old as motorcycles. Munich's Hildebrand & Wolfmüller began mass-producing motorrads in 1894. During the next 10 years, engineers in the United Kingdom and the United States followed suit, launching such iconic motorcycle brands as Triumph, Indian Motorcycles, and Harley-Davidson. These new machines—not as big or as fast as cars, far more powerful than bicycles—drew fans and haters alike.

"The peculiar character of the motor bicycle has left its status open to various definitions, and as a result in many states…the laws applying to big motor cars are brought to bear on motorcycles with oppressive force," reads a notice published in The New York Times on August 24, 1903. Authored by the leaders of the Alpha Motor Cycle Club and the New York Motor Cycle Club, the notice likely referred to the patchwork of road laws then governing gasoline-powered vehicles, which were considered a nuisance. Some cities required vehicles to have hand-operated noisemaking devices that drivers were supposed to honk and ring whenever they drew near pedestrians. Other cities weren't sure whether to treat motorcycles like pedal-powered bicycles (which they closely resembled) or like cars.

New York riders wanted to protect themselves as cities and states figured out new rules for the era of gasoline. "One cannot freely pass from one state into another without fear of arrest because of such laws," the notice continues. "To combat such measures, to insist that the highways are free to all alike, and that the right to use them is irrevocable, is one of the objects to be served by organization." They would go on to name the new group the Federation of American Motorcyclists.

By 1910, motorcycles were coming into their own as a feature of daily American life. Motorcycle cops chased down baddies, adrenaline junkies broke speed records, and the U.S. military learned biker messengers were twice as fast as riders on horseback. After visiting the 1910 motorcycle trade show in Madison Square Garden, the Times' C.F. Wyckoff declared that these "little distance annihilators" had graduated from the "poor man's automobile" to a "pleasure vehicle" and a "utility vehicle."

Through the '20s, '30s, and '40s, motorcycles made headlines for miraculous feats ("MOTORCYCLISTS ON WAY: Two Argentinians Reach Mexico City En Route to New York"), for upsetting the apple cart ("Town Hunts Motorcyclist; Broke 30-Year Sabbath Calm"), and for their role in daily life ("DOG TRAILS MOTORCYCLISTS; Hunts for Dead Owner, Killed in Crash"). Much ink was spilled on accidents, but the same was true for cars back then. All of which is to say that motorcycle culture was considered an anodyne subgenre of sporting and adventure.

That assessment began to change toward the end of World War II, when some American veterans started riding stateside for camaraderie and to escape the disorienting placidity of post-combat life. "Searching for relief from the residual effects of their wartime experiences, [veterans] started seeking out one another just to be around kindred spirits and perhaps relive some of the better, wilder social aspects of their times during the war," William Dulaney wrote in a 2005 issue of the International Journal of Motorcycle Studies. Former American airmen even brought their wartime style to motorcycling: leather jackets to protect them from the elements, goggles to protect their vision.

The nonrider view of bikers changed permanently for the worse when the Pissed Off Bastards of Bloomington and the Booze Fighters Motorcycle Club showed up at a hill-climbing event in California hosted by the AMA in 1947. Other rowdies showed up as well, and together the interlopers supposedly shocked the small town of Hollister and their more straight-laced fellow riders by drinking to excess and brawling. At least, that's how out-of-town media outlets portrayed the weekend. Aided by sensational coverage in the national media and The Wild One—Hollywood's gussied-up retelling of the incident—the "Hollister riot" introduced Americans to a new type of biker.

It turned out to be a prelude to a full-on P.R. nightmare. In 1950, several members of the Pissed Off Bastards broke away to form a new group, which they named for the planes some of them had flown in the war. They called themselves Hells Angels.

After Hollister, the American Motorcyclist Association declared rowdy bikers personae non gratae and barred them from joining AMA chapters. The national press had dragged the organization into new and unfamiliar territory. Founded in 1924—a descendant of the Federation of American Motorcyclists, which folded during World War I—the AMA's slogan at launch was "An organized minority can always defeat an unorganized majority." The group spent most of its time organizing competitions and helping riders start local AMA clubs, similar to chapters. It also advocated for motorcyclists' rights on the road. It was not prepared to take responsibility for supposedly traumatizing a small American town.

The troublemakers responded to their exclusion from the AMA by acting like an even smaller organized minority. They developed patches that mimicked those worn by AMA members, used military-style hierarchies to govern themselves, and set up clubs of their own. They took to calling themselves "one-percenters" and "outlaws," labels apocryphally coined by the AMA itself in a statement after Hollister.

Newspapers still wrote light stories about speed records, but by the late 1960s, they were obsessed with the Hells Angels, Pagans, Warlocks, and Banditos. The Angels became arguably the most famous gang in America in 1965 when California Attorney General Thomas C. Lynch released a six-month study focused on the group's activities in the state.

A new kind of headline began to appear in the same papers that had once celebrated the motorcycle: "Eight Are Arrested in the Torture of East Village Youth, 20, for Two Days"; "Hint of Summer Stirs Fears in Hells Angels' Neighbors"; "California Takes Steps to Curb Terrorism of Ruffian Cyclists"; "New Hampshire Town Cleans Up After Quelling Cyclists Riot."

Lawmakers and prosecutors went after the outlaw gangs, but that still left mainstream motorcyclists with the task of preserving their own reputation. The motorcycle industry and mainstream riders organized by the AMA collaborated to make a case for motorcycling as a wholesome American hobby, suitable for the whole family.

A magazine called Bike and Rider launched in 1971 with the motto "Motorcycle's New Image." An issue from August of that year features an ad discouraging bikers from cutting down their mufflers, a common practice that ratcheted up the decibel level of a motorcycle engine. "You see before you, death," the ad copy reads. "You see, this rider kills. His instrument is noise, his weapon—a bike with muffler sawed away." The ad, paid for by the Motorcycle Industry Council, concludes with the words "Noise kills."

The very next page features an ad for the publication itself featuring a white man in a light-colored suit sitting side-saddle on a parked Honda. The copy reads, "The image portrayed by the new motorcycle enthusiast is no longer that of the outlaw, but that of the people: the dentist, the electrician, even the housewife."

The motorcycle industry did its part as well. A Honda ad in a March 1973 issue of Sports Illustrated depicts a woman in corduroy pants atop a small-engine ST-90—the attitudinal antithesis of a big-engine Harley hog. She appears to be getting a riding lesson from her husband while her teenage children watch from the side. The ad copy: "At Honda, we want everyone to discover just how much fun motorcycling can be. Mom. Pop. Even the grandparents." The family is standing in front of a suburban house with a green yard and a garage.

Speaking of Harley-Davidson: The company's mass-market print ads from this era are not exactly family-friendly, but they're not scandalous either. Spots featuring trim white men in stylish clothes, always wearing helmets when depicted in motion, conjure up Steve McQueen rather than Angels leader Sonny Barger or, well, a dentist. Harley sold craftsmanship, performance, and status to squares and the middle class. Bikers sold Harleys to each other in publications like Easyrider, the pioneering magazine by and for the bad boy set, which promised to publish "Entertainment for Adult Bikers."

The AMA was helped on the P.R. front by its membership rolls. Issues of American Motorcyclist from the early 1970s featured a recurring column by Lois Gutzwiller called "Motor Maids," featuring profiles of mild-mannered female AMA members. While the association began admitting people of color in the mid-1950s, the profile subjects are mostly middle-class white women with names like Norma and Mary Ann and Gerdi and Sue. The AMA's entire October 1971 issue is dedicated to wholesome women riders. Mayra, a New Jersey librarian and grandmother, started riding after an introduction from her daughter; Jeanette, meanwhile, prefers being a passenger on her husband's bike.

The public relations effort by motorcycling's most upstanding citizens worked, at least a little bit. In between horrifying tales of biker gangs, The New York Times in 1971 found space for a story about the rise of white-collar motorcycle commuters. "The 'cycle' has grown in popularity in recent years for recreation and pleasure trips among some middle-class nonrebels," the paper noted. "Motorcycle couriers delivering messages have been joined on the road by accountants, lawyers, stockbrokers, filmmakers, computer analysts, and letter carriers."

Perhaps motorcycling would survive the Hells Angels. But winning the P.R. war wouldn't matter if bikers couldn't figure out how to win at politics as well. And by the end of the Summer of Love, it was clear to motorcycle groups that they were losing with legislators even if they were holding their own in the marketplace.

As the 1960s drew to a close, motorcycling groups and their members watched in frustration as the federal government made a small portion of highway funding contingent on states' passing mandatory helmet and seat belt legislation. Pennsylvania's 1968 helmet law was what drew Charles Umbenhauer to the statehouse in '76. At the time, he didn't like wearing a helmet and thought the choice should be left to individuals. In 1980, he joined ABATE—A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments, started by Easyriders magazine—to push for legislative changes. That's when he saw how tough grassroots politics could be.

"We had to convince our members that ABATE needed to hire a lobbyist," Umbenhauer says. "Then our first lobbyist told us we needed a political action committee. The bikers wanted to know why we needed a PAC, and the lobbyist said, 'There's only two things you can do for a legislator. You can vote for them, and you can give them money.' The bikers were furious."

Biker rage at the pay-for-play nature of politics makes sense. These men and women, many of whom had served in Vietnam, just wanted to choose whether or not to wear helmets. Hadn't they and their loved ones paid enough for that right?

As it turns out, hiring a lobbyist and starting a PAC couldn't get Pennsylvania motorcyclists what they wanted overnight. The state's ABATE chapter reorganized in 1983 as the more mild-mannered Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education, but it didn't succeed at reforming Pennsylvania's mandatory helmet law until 2003. Getting it done required Congress to drop the highway funding threat, and it required bikers to synthesize the P.R. efforts of the late '60s and early '70s with a keen understanding of state politics.

ABATE did more to improve its image than change the group's name. In 1980, members began organizing an annual toy run for patients at the Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania. Motorcycle clubs around the country had been doing that kind of community volunteer work for decades, and bikers in the Keystone State knew it would draw media attention and build goodwill with their neighbors. The volunteerism paid off in a more concrete way when Umbenhauer, who became ABATE's lobbyist in 2000, ran into Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell at a toy run soon thereafter.

"Rendell said that if he ever became governor, he'd sign a helmet reform bill for us," Umbenhauer says. "He knew who ABATE was and that we were organized and doing good things." But first, Rendell needed bikers to vote for him in the statewide primary. Umbenhauer says he changed his registration from Republican to Democrat and encouraged his comrades to do the same.

"A lot of our people did that," he says. "Ed won the primary and became the governor. The first two things he said he wanted to do after he was sworn in were bring gambling to Pennsylvania and change the helmet laws for bikers. And he did both of those things."

Pennsylvania still has a helmet law, but it applies only to riders under 21. People over that age can forgo a helmet after they've been licensed for two years, or forgo it immediately by taking a state-approved motorcycle safety course. All riders of every age and experience level must wear eye protection, a concession that makes bikers less of a liability to other people on the road. Umbenhauer and ABATE call the new law "helmet choice," which Umbenhauer sold with a nifty elevator pitch: "The only snappy one-liner I ever had was, 'Hey man, we live in Pennsylvania, the cradle of liberty. Let those who ride decide.'"

Diehards like Umbenhauer are still lobbying to protect biker rights, but their constituency is dwindling. His son rides occasionally; his grandson has no interest. The lack of appeal is a little disheartening for a man who loves motorcycles so much that he asked his daughter to schedule her wedding around ABATE's legislative calendar. Umbenhauer blames the internet and handheld devices, which provide young people with a different kind of thrill.

The reality is that the American motorcycle industry and the biker scene that supports it are both in a transition phase. Harley-Davidson, perhaps the most iconic motorcycle brand in the world, is relying on nostalgic boomers with deep pockets to keep it profitable while it tries to develop and market a bike that young Americans will buy and ride. And while outlaw biker gangs are still a thing here in the United States, Umbenhauer says, "they don't have the biker wars anymore, burning down each other's clubhouses and killing each other." Umbenhauer is glad that those conflicts are (mostly) over. But he seems wistful that young Americans don't see riding a motorcycle the way he did when he was their age.

In 1971, Easyriders columnist Don Pfeil wrote that "a chopper is just about the ultimate in 'look at me—I'm different and I'm proud of it.'" Perhaps no symbol can claim that title in the internet age, when there are almost as many ways to be "different and proud of it" as there are people who want to say that about themselves.

American domestic motorcycle sales now make up roughly 2 percent of the global total, and the most popular bikes outside the U.S. are actually more akin to scooters. Small engines and light frames make them more nimble and thus better suited than American hogs for navigating congested streets in the densely populated cities of Europe and the developing world.

It might also be the case that bikers are victims of their own success. They worked hard for decades to raise the social standing of motorcyclists, and now any and every kind of person can commute to work on a motorcycle or cruise on the weekends. Young people might see boomer enthusiasm as a turnoff—the biker lifestyle can read as dated, like steakhouses and big Cadillacs. Maybe, to love a chromed hog and ape-hanger handlebars and the sound of a V-Twin hitting its sweet spot, you had to be alive and young when riding that kind of motorcycle was synonymous with opting out of polite society or bucking the generation that preceded you. Young people today have safer ways to opt out; meanwhile, their parents have matching helmets.

Umbenhauer made peace with that possibility earlier this year when he rode his Harley to a movie theater near Harrisburg to catch a 50th anniversary rerelease of Easy Rider. The 1969 film spoke to and for bikers in a way that no film has before or since. Peter Fonda's character is neither a thug nor a square playing weekend warrior. He is instead the biker archetype—outside the system but also above it, neither itching for a fight nor scared of one. Umbenhauer was 24 when he first saw the movie. He worried the rerelease would sell out.

"I got there early," he says. But he could've taken his time. There were no motorcycles in the parking lot and only about 20 people in the theater. "Everybody was either in a wheelchair or walking with a cane."

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  1. Fantastic article! So much I didn’t know. I am a millennial and could’n’t live without my motorcycle. My bike is my daily commuter.

    I think a way to get new younger riders, at least the ones concerned about the environment, is to show how much better motorcycles are for the environment. Less pollution to operate/build, less damage to roads and I read soon by 40%.

    A problem with bikers right now is too many of them are simply jerks. They get hot headed or smash mirrors at other cars who either made a mistake or didn’t even do anything wrong. Just go look at any motorcycle dash cam video. Its embarrassing!

    1. Are motorcycles environmentally friendly? Perhaps a little one that can’t be used on the freeway is, but that means you’ll be making many trips by car because your putt-putt can’t get there in a reasonable time. But those big hogs spew a lot more pollution out the tailpipe than a car.

  2. I expected something different based on the headline and subheadline. There aren’t that many motorcycle mamas. And the only thing I saw referencing turning off kids was comparing the turnoff of boomer bikers to Cadillacs and steakhouses.

    It was interesting to see what Umbenhauer went through to change the law, but I hope that was the only use he had for Ed Rendell.

    Also the last paragraph was interesting. My godmother is 88. She and her friends for the most part are still walking. A couple use a cane. But I wondered if the reasons for all the canes and wheelchairs at the movies were because of injuries due to accidents. Also, how many couldn’t make it because they were killed. I had a buddy who retired, bought a motorcycle and within a couple of years was killed in an accident.

    1. ..I am making a good salary from home $1200-$2500/week , which is amazing, under a year back I was jobless in a horrible economy. I thank God every day I was blessed with these instructions and now it’s my duty to pay it forward and share it with Everyone, Here is what I do……….. >

  3. While dirt biking was fun, street riding seems to me less so. Fair weather transportation of limited utility, the rider is isolated on the road until he and his companion(s) make a stop. And wearing shorts and a t-shirt in hot weather might be more comfortable but is ill-advised. Buying a street bike would be like buying a boat: the best day with it would be the day you got it and the day you got rid of it.

    And that was me doing donuts all over Hot Take City, baby.

    1. Speaking of hot weather, there was a day when it was around 90 degrees and a guy on a cycle pulls up next to me in jeans and a leather jacket. I understood why he dressed that way but damn, I’d have been sweating my ass off waiting for the light to change.

      1. As an avid motorcyclist living in a desert I can tell you that the trick is to keep moving.

        While riding the clothing is nothing. Its being stopped at the stoplights where you overheat.

        Oh, and I don’t wear leather – textile mesh armor.

        1. Also, its funny that he’s wearing leather and *jeans*. So, basically his jacket will ride up his torso, leaving his midriff bare and all the jeans do is ensure that whatever skin is left on his legs and arse will be filled with teeny little cotton threads that will take painful hours for the ER nurse to scrub out.

      2. I’m wondering if the heat in general isn’t a big reason. In general people are moving towards warmer climates, but who wants to show up to work or to a movie covered in sweat with your hair plastered to your head. I’ve thought about getting a bike, but where I live it is just too hot for 40-50% of the year.

    2. You touched on something there with the dirt bikes – I know several people that cycle and every one of them is old and every one of them rides something that’s 1200 cc’s and up that cost as much as a car. When I was a kid and all the older kids had bikes, they all had 350’s and 500’s, 750’s were out of their price range and that’s as big a bike as you could get. And they were all two-stroke engines. Nobody had ever heard of, or even though of, a water-cooled engine on a bike, that was just silly. My brother-in-law rides, he’s got a bike that when he occasionally dumps it in the driveway, he has to call a neighbor to help him pick it back up again because the thing weighs 800 pounds.

      Not much of a puzzle why the kids don’t ride like their grandparents do, they can’t afford the toys their grandparents can. Like you say, it’s about like a boat, it’s not an everyday mode of transportation.

      1. Pretty much this. And it doesn’t help that those huge engines are about as old-fashioned as it gets. HD’s pulling every trick they can to squeeze more power out of a huge twin without (gasp) spoiling their old-fashioned hogs’ looks with something as garish as a radiator for proper engine cooling.
        Meanwhile, for under $3000 used and under $10000 new you can get a 600-1000cc four-cylinder Japanese bike from Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki or Suzuki that’ll outperform a lot of supercars while getting better mileage than the Harleys, and that’s for the more comfortable, less sporty ones.
        I have to admit I love the new Indians, though. And Japanese cruisers are a great, better made, more reliable less-expensive ‘hog’ for the people who want a good bike and aren’t fooled by Harley’s PR and ad teams.

        1. Wait til the Chinese come out with a 5cc bike that gets 200 mpg and then you can drive one up your ass. Nobody cares and are tired of people that go on about this bike that bike, fuck Harley and I say FUCK YOU, spare us… I have always been friendly and helpful to anyone on two wheels but I am re-thinking that position due to you, you who represents a lot of fucking guys on two wheels who will break down, run out of fuel or lay it down and watch us just ride on by you as you rot away.
          And this article is crap as well.

      2. 800 pounds? Try again Tammy.

    3. I bought a slightly used year old XT 250 dirt bike a few years ago for less than 2 grand and I hit the trails all over the state and federal lands where I live. A couple hours here and there when I get a chance. No ostentatious chrome, shitty components, $30,000 price tag, ridiculous saddle bags or boring rides on the interstate going 10mph below the speed with a large pack of geriatrics. I get 10X more enjoyment trail riding on this cheap dirt bike than any of these rich, suburbanite boomers on their hogs ever will.

    4. Isolation? We have Sena and Cardo intercom communication now-a-days. The future is now, you Luddite. We can tell our riding buddies to look out for that pothole, or that he looks like a pussy taking that corner at Harley speed.

      I have an “adventure” bike for doing unpaved back roads. Sadly most of my mates don’t like the dirt or gravel so pavement it is if I want company. I commute most days if it isn’t raining when I leave for work, and ride a ton on the weekends. Planning to go camping in Big Bend this winter riding the bike down there, fart around on the back roads, and ride home after a few day. It will be a sad day if/when I ever sell her.

      1. You are riding down to Big Bend this winter and you are not taking your “mates”? Sounds like you are going to have a long ride across the Atlantic you lying sack of shit.

  4. Really fun article! I quit riding when I was about 50, but had ridden for over thirty years prior to that, and it was nice to be “taken back.” I can relate to the OP about bikes being more like boats these days — fair-weather weekend toys, and it’s actually been that way for a long time, at least in CA: I could commute for days, sometimes, in the winter, in the 90’s, and not encounter another bike.

    During most of the 90’s, as well as some other periods during the 70’s and 80’s, a motorcycle was my primary transportation: rain, wind, snow, no matter, I got into my leathers and went. I never did get my “iron butt” award for a thousand-mile day, but I did get 973 of them on the first day of a trip from CA to Yellowstone. Great memories.

    1. The first three years we were married (1980-83) we only had a Honda CB360. It never dawned on us that we couldn’t ride it in 100* weather, rain or snow. The worst was the Houston heat especially at red lights where it felt like the souls of your shoes were melting. Maybe we were just naive but we only had two incidences and we were never hurt.

      1. I was pretty lucky. On the other hand, I learned a lot about “traffic safety for bikers” early on, since my very first experience was commuting between SF and Oakland across the bay bridge, during rush hour. I am happy to report than in the decades of street-biking, I never once laid any of them down, though I did have a some very close calls. My favorite bike, overall? Moto Guzzi 1000. The bike I rode the most? Honda 750 Sabre.

  5. Motorcycles in the 60s were smaller, less expensive, and driven by bad boys, or young people without much money who couldn’t afford a car.

    Motorcycles now are big, expensive, and driven by middle-aged dentists and retired accountants. You have GoldWings where grandma & grandpa where matching jogging suits. Or Harleys where Dr. Dan has spent more on black leather than an entire BDSM club. On the accessories rack of motorcycle shops, there are attachments you can buy to store your cane while you drive.

    Why would anyone under 50 want to drive a motorcycle?

    1. Because of the J4, Triumph, Ducati, Moto Guzzi, KTM, Aprillia, BMW, . . .

      Cruisers are only one segment of motorcycles. Tons of us ride other stuff. Heck, I’m 48 and I ride a Speed Triple.

  6. More bad economic news.

    Only 45 of the top 50 richest people on the planet have seen their wealth increase this year.

    From a Koch / Reason libertarian perspective, this is simply unacceptable. I guarantee a Hillary Clinton Presidency would have boosted the net worths of all 50.


    1. OBL, you’re sorely mistaken. The wealth of the top 50 people is – by definition – stolen.

      Hillary would have ensured that those people paid their fair share.

      I swear, you are ever more entangled in the Kochtopus’ tentacles every day.

  7. This is a good article; I’m going to assume the talented writer didn’t write the asinine title.

  8. “Harley-Davidson, perhaps the most iconic motorcycle brand in the world, is relying on nostalgic boomers with deep pockets to keep it profitable while it tries to develop and market a bike that young Americans will buy and ride.”

    There are a number of problems.

    There are a number of American made products that weren’t really improved upon for a long time after they were introduced to the public. Oftentimes, the original company has stopped making the product because the design is so old, they can’t stop other people from using the same design anymore. Moreover, the simplicity of the design becomes part of the attraction. I can think of a number of examples of these kinds of American products.

    If you’re hunting deer in a heavily wooded area, where your shot will likely be from less than 100 yards away, a Winchester Model 94 might still be an excellent choice–and that rifle was designed 135 years ago. The M1911 pistol is another example. Once Glocks became reliable, they could carry more rounds in a smaller package and were lighter, but 108 years after that design became available, people are still manufacturing, buying, carrying, shooting, and loving M1911s today. Another example might be the Piper Cub, a single engine airplane that was introduced in the 1930s. It’s the prototypical bush plane, and if you want a small plane that can take off and land out in the wilderness, to go hunting or fishign in the wilderness, a Piper Cub derivative may still be your best bet–and they’re still building new ones today.

    You know what doesn’t belong on this list?

    Harley Davidson.

    1) Harleys are not reliable.

    Harley Rider: “90% of the Harleys that there were ever produced are still on the road”.

    Ken Shultz: “Did the other 10% finally make it home?”

    I ride thousands of miles through empty roads in the mountains every summer. I sometimes don’t see anybody for hours at a time. The bike has got to be reliable. Harley riders might make up for this if they did their own work, but they don’t.

    I gave a broken down rider one of my Allen wrenches on one trip. Later that day, cruising down the highway in southern Utah, I broke down–and what did I need? Sure enough, my Allen wrench. No problem. I saw a huge Harley dealership a few miles down the highway. I’ll just hike down there and buy myself another one!

    Huge Harley dealerships don’t sell tools. They sell apparel and Harley branded dinnerware, and they do maintenance for Harley riders–most of whom couldn’t do an oil change properly to save their lives. If you can’t fix your bike yourself, you shouldn’t ride outside the city limits. If you can’t do your own maintenance, you’re putting your life in the hands of someone you don’t even know.

    2) Harleys are expensive

    I had the following conversation last week:

    Ken Shultz: “That’s one of the great things about buying a motorcycle. You can get Ferrari level performance for $8,000”.

    Third Party who Overheard Me: “I paid $29,000 for my Harley”.

    He said this like I was supposed to be ashamed of myself for paying a third of the price for a brand new bike that outperforms his Harley in every single way. They’re priced like luxury goods, where buyers become proud of having paid more for it than others did.

    3) Harley performance sucks.

    Every other year or so, I do a trip where I crisscross the Sierras from Southern California all the way up to Ashland Oregon, where they do the Shakespeare festival. Then I’ll ride south on the freezing coast all the way down to Morro Bay or so and then hit the mountains again down to San Diego. Harleys can’t do thousands of miles of mountain twisties like that. I’ve seen people on bicycles pass Harleys on twisty mountain roads because the handling on a Harley is so bad.

    4) And Harley riders still won’t buy Harleys that improve on their ancient technology–because they think they’re one of those iconic brands!

    Classic rock FM radio stations didn’t just disappear from the landscape because of new technology. It’s also because they played the same songs over and over into the ground. There was a time when I didn’t think you could take something as cool as Stairway to Heaven or Free Bird and make people hate it, but that’s exactly what happened. Want to blame someone for the death of classic rock radio, blame the people out there who really do want to hear Stairway to Heaven one more time.

    I’ve lived the biker dream for weeks at a time. I’ve ridden across Death Valley when the stars were so bright, it looked like the surface of the moon. I’ve slept by waterfalls in the Sierras. I lived wild and free and by my own rules and didn’t take any shit and met local girls and started trouble and kept moving and . . . some of it may have had to do with rock and roll but none of it ever had anything to do with a Harley.

    1. 1. HD’s aren’t unreliable. But you’re right that their owners won’t do maintenance themselves. But that’s because they’re all old rich dudes finally wealthy enough to afford their dream bike – but too old to ride it. IME (here in Yuma where we have a lot of old rich dudes) the bike is bought, *trailered* home, cleaned up (again), put in the garage ‘for the weekend’. The weekend comes, its wheeled out to the driveway, cleaned (again), and then a couple hours are spent polishing it in the heat, the owner (who’s 65+) goes inside to cool off and have a beer, now its 4 in the afternoon and the wife doesn’t want to go out in the heat – so its wheeled back into the garage ‘for next Saturday’. Ten years later he decides (or, rather *she* decides) he’s finally too old to ride anymore and the wife forces him to sell it. So he puts out a Craigslist add asking for 2x the original price because ‘its one of HD-s 5 bajillion ‘limited editions’ they put out’ – every year. ‘Its the 113 and a half year anniversery edition!

      2. Yes they goddamn are. But you’re buying a ‘lifestyle’ brand. And those are expensive.

      3. Not really. For their type and class they do fine. They’re not sportbikes. Unless you get a stripped down bike like the 883, they have all the comfort stuff a 65 year old retiree wants in his cruising bagger. Strip ’em down and they’re fine.

      What they really do is VIBRATE. IMO annoyingly. You can get similar power levels from other cruisers of similar sizes *and* you can still see out of your mirrors.

    2. Not the experienced rider like you are, but I enjoy the heck out of my Suzuki Boulevard. Mostly commute and take short jaunts on the weekend. Love every minute of it.

  9. Motorcyclists have more freedom than ever

    About those helmet laws…

  10. I remember wandering into a Harley dealership a few years ago. It was incredibly busy and I honestly felt like the most dangerous person there (I was carrying concealed). That’s when I knew the ride was over. You’re next, Burning Man.

  11. Bikers always enjoy more than anyone else

  12. Really, no one is going to bring up Harley riders being FAGS?

    1. Looks like we have a lot of regulars here who enjoy that type of thing, if you know what I mean.

  13. I admire motorcyclists but am too chicken to ride myself, having lost a cousin in a motorcycle crash and seen several gory wrecks myself. While I think it is beyond dumb to ride without a helmet, it is an adult right just like smoking, drugs, or booze. There were lots of motorcycles when I was a kid in the 70s and 80s but I rarely see them nowadays. I think you can thank the safety culture raising a generation that is too scared of its own shadow to take such risks.

  14. Paying $10,000+ for a bike that you can only ride in the summer when it isn’t raining doesn’t much sense. Factor in the additional danger of being hurt in an accident and it just isn’t that appealing.

    1. I’ve seen dudes on motorcycles doing 90 weaving around cars on the interstate in the pouring rain. YOLO (not for much longer)

    2. If you look at the motorcycle statistics something like 50% of all accidents don’t even involve another vehicle and are rider error. Rider errors are mostly from DUI and speeding.

      Personally I think motorcycles are only marginally more dangerous than cars. Especially if you wear all your gear. You are way smaller and more agile, plus the ability to quickly de/accelerate out of danger is much better.

      I love riding in the rain. You have much more traction then people think. 🙂

  15. I taught myself to ride about 5+ years ago in my mid 30’s. Now I own a half dozen bikes and ride to work every day. I taught my girlfriend to ride and she also rides to work most days. Lane splitting in San Diego gets us to work in about half the time as with the car and I’m way more relaxed. I will usually see a few other motorcycles on the way since many people in the military ride around here. Weather is usually nice so we can ride year round.

    Younger kids are not into big bikes anymore. My supermoto definitely gets noticed by kids and gets them to want to learn to ride. My sport bikes or classic bikes not so much. This is why the Honda Grom was so popular. It’s not that younger kids don’t want to ride, it’s that the market needs to shift to smaller bikes for them to be interested.

    1. The sheriff’s office closed the case administratively without filing any charges.

      Could probably do the same with a 100 cc scooter though.

  16. H-D is the first major motorcycle maker to put out an electric bike.

    But MSRP is $29k, because they are insane or something.

  17. I’m not a biker.

    90% of the bikers I encounter have made their exhaust systems so loud that they drown out my car’s sound system and hurt my ears. I refer to those riders as overgrown 3-year-olds: “Look at me! Look at me! I’m making noise; you have to look at me!”

    Exposure to that noise is easily enough to damage the victims’ hearing.

    Until they all have proper mufflers, I’ll keep my motto “So many loud motorcycles, so few trees and utility poles to be wrapped around.” And I’ll continue cheering whenever I read or hear that another one wrecked.

    Oh, and that old bromide about the noise being a safety feature? Tee-hee. That must explain why quiet bikes get collided with at a so much higher rate than do loud ones. Wait, what? They don’t?

    1. I consider myself an avid biker. Personally I really hate loud pipes. The people that want to argue “Loud pipes save lives!” are also the ones drive recklessly, don’t wear all there gear or just completely oblivious to their surroundings. They give the motorcycle community a bad perception.

  18. I’m on my second Zero motorcycles electric motorcycle. It’s perfect for the daily work commute (about 20 minute drive, lane splitting) and can even make it over the SF Bay Area hills and back for a Sunday ride. No clutch, heat, or noise. It has a Bluetooth app to let you configure the acceleration and regenerative braking parameters. Super fun!

  19. This is a good article; I’m going to assume the talented writer didn’t write the asinine title.
    Bill William.

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