Born to Be Wild: A History of the American Biker and Bikes 1947-2002

Born to Be Wild: A History of the American Biker and Bikes 1947-2002


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416575238
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 08/24/2007
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 475,130
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Paul Garson is a twenty-year veteran of motorcycle journalism. The author of over a thousand articles on biking, he has published work in more than fifty magazines, including Easyriders. The first editor of Hot Bike, Garson is the former Editor-in-Chief of VQ. In partnership with Jim Lensveld, he published Harley-Davidson: Factory and Custom Dream Machines. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

Read an Excerpt



The concept of the motorcycle outlaw was as uniquely American as jazz. Nothing like them had ever existed. In some ways, they appeared to be a kind of half-breed anachronism, a human hangover from the era of the Wild West.

-- Hunter S. Thompson, gonzo journalist

We were depicted as Vikings on acid, raping our way across sunny California on motorcycles forged in the furnaces of Hell.

-- Sonny Barger, former leader of the Hells Angels

Which came first, the bike or the biker? Or, for that matter, the biker lifestyle or Easyriders magazine, founded in 1971? Or was it the 1969 film Easy Rider that gave it all a focus and the biker culture its raison d'etre. Or did it stretch back even further to dapper dudes thumping around in bow ties and spats when motorcycle sidecars and not SUVs carried whole families around America?

The answers are both simple and complex, colorful and controversial, but above all else they constitute one hell of a story.

The story of the American biker is as multifaceted and unique as each individual and his or her motorcycle. In the year 2002, Bro is a transgender concept. Some things change, some things don't. With a million U.S.-registered Harley-Davidsons on the official books, there're at least a million different stories traceable to that one motorcycle icon alone. So the best way to get to know what we're calling the Bro is to mingle.

Motorcyclists, a.k.a. bikers, like to mingle; we're social animals. That's a given, despite the lone wolf stereotype fostered by the media, as in Then Came Bronson and similar TV and film variations. We're talking Bro as a term applying to anyone who spends significant time riding a motorcycle, any motorcycle, without any mandatory Milwaukee brand identification, although arguably the two are synonymous.

The Story of the Bro is woven from myth and legend and from the metal marvels created by hundreds of manufacturers, most who've been long consigned to the history books but all who have contributed their well-wrought measure of blood, sweat, and tears, chrome and leather to the threading of that biker cloth indelibly scented over the many decades with burning rubber, nitromethane, Jack Daniel's and, more recently, Chanel No. 5.

The common denominator that eliminates all restrictions of age, sex, politics, ethnicity, nationality, blood type, gene pool membership, polyester vs. 100-percent-cotton preferences, Neil Diamond vs. Smashing Pumpkins fans, and any other of the infinite them-us dichotomies that plague humankind is, at the end of a long, convoluted sentence, the motorcycle/motorcyclist. At one with each other, an androidal fusion of man and machine.

There's a popular biker mantra, "Live to ride, ride to live." Six words easy to print on a T-shirt or ink on an arm. But for all the complex formulas the experts try to use to explain the magic and mystery of the biker experience, those six words sum up the essence. Now we're writing a book, and essence is something best found in concentrated doses within poetry and perfume, but we're giving it our best shot. No doubt you, the reader, have a story that would fit right into these pages. Hell, maybe you're already in here somewhere. In any case, the idea of this book is to give you an inside look at the Bro's world as seen by the people who live it, letting each tell his or her story.

News Flash! Bike Sales Wheelie-ing to New Heights

The year 2000 was a great one for the motorcycle industry, with a sales increase of 27.3 percent. Honda Motor Co. has reported a 34.5 percent sales increase for the last year, selling about 45,000 more motorcycles than the previous year. Honda total unit sales were inching toward 175,000 bikes. Meanwhile Milwaukee, which makes fewer bikes per annum (but all great ones!), announced record sales and earnings (again, of course). The final figure was $2.91 billion, calculating out to a nice 18.5 percent increase for the year. Because of the good news, the Factory is increasing production to 229,000 units. By the way, we call "units" bikes. And how many shares in H-D do you own?

From Russia with Gloves et cetera

There is now a motorcycle club in Moscow that has about fifty members...and only one bike to share amongst them all, a Harley, of course. Things are tough in the ex-USSR. Maybe they can melt down all those old Lenin statues into motorcycle parts. In addition, a Los Angeles area bike builder has established an unusual relationship with the Russian military. He got in touch with a tank manufacturer in Kiev who had expertise in the fabrication of titanium, a supertough, superlightweight material good for all kinds of advanced applications. In this case, he had the tank designers create an all-titanium V-twin motorcycle engine, and they did just that, building what is perhaps the most beautiful motor you'll ever see. The new motors are already being bolted in good old Amerikanski frames.

Warning! The Globalization of the Motorcycle May Be at Hand!

That means homogenization, the ultimate threat to all things Bro. Bland, gray, all-the-sameness, anathema to the whole meaning behind motorcycling. In 1999 the United States, Japan, and fifteen member countries of the European Union signed an agreement in Geneva that would standardize safety regulations for motor vehicles. For motorcycles, this might mean leg protectors, air bags, noise limits (well, we got those already), horsepower restrictions, antitampering measures (no customizing!), banning of air-cooled engines (allowing only water-cooled, like with radiators), banning of open chain drives, and even banning of performance tuning. For more news on these gloomy tidings, check out, a website run by the Law Offices of Richard M. Lester.

Copyright © 2003 by Paisano Publications, Inc.

Table of Contents



Welcome to the Brotherhood

Chapter One

The Prehistoric Biker: 1895-1946

Chapter Two

Hollister, Roswell, and a Brave New Bro's World: 1947

Chapter Three

Don't Bogart That Bike: The Late 1940s and On into the Eisenhower Years

Chapter Four

One-Percenters vs. the "Nicest People": The 1950s

Chapter Five

Dressers vs. Choppers: The 1960s

Chapter Six

Tora! Tora! Tora! The 1970s

Chapter Seven

Harley-Davidson Reclaimed: The 1980s

Chapter Eight

Harley Rules (and the Ruler Ain't Metric): The 1990s

Chapter Nine

"We Saw the Future, and It Was Ours"


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