Bike Lust: Women, Harleys, and American Society / Edition 1

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Bike Lust roars straight into the world of women bikers and offers us a ride. In this adventure story that is also an insider's study of an American subculture, Barbara Joans enters as a passenger on the back of a bike, but soon learns to ride her own. As an anthropologist she untangles the rules, rituals, and rites of passage of the biker culture. As a new member of that culture, she struggles to overcome fear, physical weakness, and a tendency to shoot her mouth off-a tendency that very nearly gets her killed.

Bike Lust travels a landscape of contradictions. Outlaws still chase freedom on the highway, but so do thousands of riders of all classes, races, and colors. Joans introduces us to the women who ride the rear-the biker chick, the calendar slut straddling the hot engine, the back-seat Betty at the latest rally, or the underage groupie at the local run. But she also gives us the first close look at women who ride in their own right, on their own bikes, as well as a new understanding of the changing world of male bikers. These are ordinary women's lives made extraordinary, adding a dimension of courage to the sport not experienced by males, risking life and limb for a glimpse of the very edge of existence. This community of riders exists as a primal tribute to humanity's lust for freedom.

"Joans takes the reader inside the minds and hearts of an emergent, important, and underreported American subculture."-Allucquere Rosanne Stone, author of The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age

"Move over, Robert Pirsig and Hunter Thompson! Women are bikers, too, and Barbara Joans is one of them. Bike Lust shatters myths and introduces us to a new generation of 'gender traitor' bikers, many of whom are wives, mothers, lesbians, feminists, and anti-feminists. Barbara Joans has found her tribe and she loves them."-Phyllis Chesler, cofounder of the National Women's Health Network and author of Women and Madness

Author Biography: Barbara Joans is director of the Merritt Museum of Anthropology and chair of the Department of Anthropology at Merritt College in Oakland, California. She rides a Harley-Davidson Low Rider.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
It's hard to be in love when your friends don't quite approve. That's the fix in which anthropologist Joans (director of the Merritt Museum of Anthropology at Merritt College, in California) finds herself in this mix of memoir, anthropological study and apologia for the love of "hogs." The apologia is weakest: "Harley riders, as a group, are racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and misogynistic," she admits, but so is "most of America." The anthropology here is accessible, despite occasional academic terminology; for example, she divides bikers into seven overlapping groups of men: Old Timers, One Percenters (outlaws), Ten Percenters, Old Bikers, New Bikers, Rich Urban Bikers, and Occasional Bikers." The two major female categories (passengers and riders) further subdivide: Biker Chick, Lady Passenger, Passionate Passenger; and Lady Biker, Woman Biker, Woman Rider. But Joans's passion for the Harley and its riders is evident in affectionate, respectful profiles and interviews. Joans, who rides a Harley-Davidson Low Rider, is most engaging as a memoirist. Her accounts of bikers training their kids to ride and a wedding attended by 3,000 bikers with "the bride and groom, leather-dressed to kill" successfully convey "the glory and godawfulness of riding the wind." Photos. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Move over, Robert Pirsig and Hunter Thompson! Women are bikers, too, and Barbara Joans is one of them. Bike Lust shatters myths and introduces us to a new generation of ‘gender traitor’ bikers, many of whom are wives, mothers, lesbians, feminists, and anti-feminists. Barbara Joans has found her tribe and she loves them."—Phyllis Chesler, cofounder of the National Women’s Health Network and author of Women and Madness

"Joans takes the reader inside the minds and hearts of an emergent, important, and underreported American subculture."—Allucquere Rosanne Stone, author of The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299173548
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Read an Excerpt


Harleys, Women, and American Society
By Barbara Joans


Copyright © 2001 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System
All right reserved.

ISBN: 029917350X


The Love Run

"Hey asshole," shouts one of the 17,000 riders on the Love Run. "Hey asshole," he shouts again, and everyone there turns around. Us Harley riders, we know when our name is being called.

Six a.m. and the dense LA fog is thick enough to fondle. Six a.m. and I am already fortified with enough coffee and Bailey's to burst. Six a.m. and I am riding on the back of a bike, while the rider is tearing up the road at warp speed trying to catch up with our friends who left five minutes before we did. Six a.m. and I am already pissed enough at the rider to bitch.

Barreling down the highway at ninety miles an hour, trying to catch our friends, who themselves are all traveling at warp speed, is an almost impossible task. The fog muffles the world speeding by and casts an eerie silence around us. For once the roar of the motor is silenced by the thick, deep, early morning fog. The frigid wind bites right through our riding clothes, through our bodies, and into our bones. Freezing tears run down my face and burn into my neck, my fingers are numb to the point of pain, my body is pressed hard between the sissy bar and the rider's back as he races, in fog blindness, downthe endless LA freeway.

Somewhere just ahead and out of reach, our friends are already pulling into the destination. We would have been riding with them instead of playing catch-up if the rider had gassed the bike the night before. He is now determined, deep in biker machismo, not to be left behind. We will catch up. We will ride with our group.

And ultimately we do, though we jam the wind on a shuddering bike, pass other riding groups with only inches to spare on this highway of fog, jump two curbs, and ride part of the way on city sidewalks to do it. Not a time to show how really pissed I feel. For this trip, I am a passenger, and I know that it is not a good idea to upset the rider.

"Hey asshole," shouts the anonymous rider, and I too turn around.

Seventeen thousand bikers have gathered in front of the LA-Glendale Harley-Davidson dealership to start the ritualized run up the Grapevine. The run raises money for research on muscular dystrophy. Bikers go to help and to party. We have traveled from Frisco, a fair distance, but there are bikers here from all over the country.

Exhaust fumes overwhelm the morning, mixing with the fog to make the air turn stiff. Frozen faces peer from beneath small, barely legal helmets while frigid fingers hold coffee mugs and light cigarettes. The moment of calm gathering is brief. The fog-muffled silence is broken by the sound of ear-splitting, soul-satisfying roars. Even the fog gives way as group after group revs their engines.

To the Harley rider, there are two kinds of bikes. There are Harleys, and there are all other kinds of motorcycles. The Harley world, as a separate American subculture, has been growing at a phenomenal rate. It started in a number of places, among very different kinds of people, and it is emerging as one of the more important social phenomena of the times. The Harley world. A new face on America.

Once, it seemed to be the private landscape of the One Percenters, members of the outlaw clubs so outrageously chronicled by Hunter Thompson (1967) and brilliantly documented by Daniel Wolf (1991). Once, it was the private preserve of the rebel, the social outcast, and the movie villain. From outlaw, working-class origins, the Harley world has grown to include people from a variety of classes and social statuses. Once, it was a male sanctuary; now it is shared by women. Men and women two-up, in partnership as passengers, or travel side by side as riding buddies. Women, who used to be excluded from any position except that of back-seat Betty or the bitch on the back, now ride the roads alone or travel in all-women riding clubs.

The old Harley world was a world in which membership meant belonging to the same race. Now there are numerous clubs that welcome racial diversity. The old world still exists, of course-indeed it is frequently fundamental in the organization of outlaw clubs-but it is no longer the only Harley world around. It is no longer the only game in town.

The new Harley world includes riding groups that are racially mixed. The new Harley world includes women who ride, as well as those who passenger. The new Harley world is filled with the affluent and the upwardly mobile, as well as the poor, the outlaw, and the working class. The socially successful snob rides carb to cam with the working-class stiff. The lady lawyer trades hand signals with the macho housepainter. The local plumber yells directions to the regional stockbroker as they share the road. The politically conservative, American flag-waving, small-town factory worker frequently parties at runs with the urban, rainbow flag-waving cynic whose politics veer to the left of liberalism.

This is the new Harley world in the process of being born. A world emerging from alternative culture and becoming mainstream. A Harley culture which, while denying it, is still rooted in the antique myth of the One Percenters, a legacy from which it draws its strength and from which it would like to disassociate. As middle America rides and parties with the urban middle class, neither discusses the skeleton in the closet. Neither draws attention to the fact that much of the Harley mystique, most of the unwritten rules of the road, and many of the values and ideals come from its unruly and bastard parent, the outlaw club.

The outlaw groups, quintessentially American, stand united, predictably, in their contempt for the new Harley culture. Within this mix of three cultural groups-the outlaw ancestors, the urban middle class, and the small-town working class-I ride with the only group that lane-splits between them all. I ride with women bikers.

Thus begins some really hot fieldwork. As a working anthropologist, as opposed to just an academic one, I am never without a people to study, a community to investigate, a subculture to join, or a counterculture to play in. The first rule is pretty simple: "when in Rome...." If I don't like what Rome does, I don't study that culture. The methods are simple too: participant observation, fieldnote-taking, and analysis. And so are the ethical rules: love, respect, and appreciate the people you hang with. Identify with them for the duration of the work and never, never betray their confidences. If that requires keeping three sets of notebooks, keep them. If that means burning your notes, bring marshmallows. If you ever stop really liking and respecting the folk, leave.

Sometimes I get so close that I have difficulty telling where my skin stops and the cultural skin starts. When this happens, I write the work up fast because I know that soon I won't be able to write it up at all. Once identification is complete, analysis becomes impossible and even reportage feels like betrayal. Since I am on that verge with bikers, I am writing in furious haste.

This is about Harley culture. The one I have been riding with for the past seven years. I entered this world on the back of my husband's bike, moved to the front, and remained in the culture. I make no claims for any other groups. This work is about the Harley-riding men and women of California. Some are in HOG (Harley Owners' Groups) chapters, others belong to MCs (motorcycle clubs) of long standing. Some Harley folk travel solo and ride only occasionally with others. But we all meet up at runs, rallies, swap meets, biker rodeos, and gathering places. We read the same biker rags and buy from the same dealers. We acknowledge each other on the road.

Whoever you are out there, I invite you to come along for the ride.

Excerpted from BIKE LUST by Barbara Joans Copyright © 2001 by The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 History and Structure
Introduction: The Love Run 3
1 "Teach the Children Well ..." 7
2 Harley Culture: An Emerging Community 13
3 The Early Years 19
4 Movers and Shakers: Some Key Players 34
Pt. 2 Cultural Analysis
5 Enter the Culture 61
6 Women Jamming the Wind 88
7 Sex and Gender 134
8 Rites of Passage 151
9 Family Portraits in Duplicate 167
10 Hanging with the Clubs 179
11 Bike Lust 192
12 NFGs: The New and the Old 202
Pt. 3 Jamming the Wind
13 An Intimate Account of the Redwood Run: Our First Year 211
14 The Pit: Layered and Loud 221
15 The "Wetwood" Run: Frigid and Freezing 226
16 Redwood Run Rerun: Heat, Harleys, and Havoc 231
Pt. 4 Polemics and Philosophy
17 Bikers' Dirty Little Open Secret: The Racism Rap 241
Glossary 259
References 263
Index 265
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2002

    Wander Lust

    A very insightful look into one person's motorcycle lust. All bike lovers (those who read for pleasure)will enjoy this book. Bike lovers who are looking for Hog fiction will love 'THE SECOND COMING OF AGE' by: Vedrine

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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