My friend Jim visited a Harley shop recently and wrote me later in an e-mail "There were some rough looking bikers in there. Beer bellies, lots of black leather, tattoos, beards. And the men looked pretty tough too!"
Mr. Motorcycle blog there's some good thoughts on the subject and with which I am in general agreement.
I've never considered myself a real biker though, hence my unwillingness in the previous blog entry to post a picture of me standing next to a new Harley Crossbones. I am not much into playing pretend and I'd prefer to make fun of myself than be mistaken a poseur.
Rather than a biker I have always thought of myself as a through and through motorcycle enthusiast. I'm not an expert about anything in particular in the motorcycle world but I love almost all of it. I've spent most of my life around and riding motorcycles, made my living from them sometimes, and spent what some would say was foolish amounts of money on motorcycles. I have no regrets. As for the biker label, there is a reason why I never wanted to be a biker in the sense that I know the term and reason for that pre-dates the not only the riding experience of a lot of people but even pre-dates their existence and mine.
When I first became interested in motorcycles I was about 12 years old. As with anything that catches my interest I wanted to learn about motorcycles, poke at them, understand them, and ultimately own and ride one. They scared me a little but rather than scare me away the feeling pulled me closer for some reason. That period of time when I got hooked on bikes was the early 1960s so my ideas about what motorcycles and motorcycle riders are had their formation in a time when motorcycling was in many respects extremely different than it is now. Honda was just starting to run about telling everyone that you meet the nicest people on their bikes.
No one considered Hondas real motorcycles. Real motorcycles were ridden usually by ruffians -- bikers. The upright and virtuous American Motorcycle Association with their white pants wearing officials at races and sanctioned, uniform wearing road clubs or well organized racing clubs was quick to point out that their crowd were the good guys and only one percent of all riders were the bad guys. You see, those one percent folks were...bikers! Some bikers still wear a "1%" patch proudly. It has a much deeper meaning than just a jacket decoration.
Many years back my younger brother bought himself a Yamaha 400. Might have been his first bike, I'm not sure. He called me and told about his "bad" black bike and his "bad" black jacket and his "bad" boots, sunglasses, etc. etc. etc. I replied. "One day you're going to be sitting at a stop light on your bad black Yamaha, wearing your bad black jacket and your bad mirror sunglasses and some biker who really is a bad guy is going to ride up, hock a big one on your boot and then we'll see how bad you really are." Darrel grew up in time, went through a fair number of bikes himself, and currently rides a black Suzuki VStrom 1000. I don't know that he thinks the VStrom is "bad" but he seems to like it a lot. No, that's not my brother on the left, that's "Psycho" on his KLR650.
In 1963 or so to be a biker was not seen a positive thing in any way by anyone outside of those who made up that group. To be a biker was a genuine anti-social thing. Forty or fifty years ago a biker was a rough character, an untrustworthy person (except to other bikers). A biker was someone who smoked unfiltered cigarettes, had a tattoo, rode a loud motorsickle down your street late at night, shot pool in smoky bar rooms, consorted with women of easy virtue, and settled his arguments with his fists or a length of drive chain.
"Biker" and "hoodlum" were pretty much interchangeable words. Mr. 1960 Biker probably didn't have a job or if he did it was something no decent person would aspire to as a career. Nice girls did not hang around with bikers, decent people would not associate with bikers, and young men of promise were inculcated with the idea that "You are known by the company you keep." Wally and The Beaver would have understood it was certainly not good to be known as a biker. It all sounds like a silly stereotype now, doesn't it? But there was a time when it was reality. For a few, it still is.
Note also in "The Wild One" how many bikers rode something other than a Harley. In fact if you look through custom bike magazines from the late '60s or '70s you'll see that a fair number of customs were based on British bikes, not American bikes. Bikers rode anything and everything (except "ring ding Jap bikes").
The term "biker" has evolved quite a lot in the last 50 years and that is for the good. For many riders now, regardless of their positive demeanor, grooming habits, employment, or lack of a rap sheet, to be called a biker is a badge of honor. We take some of the patina of the original biker, the spirit of rebelliousness, and call it our own even while we know it's at best only partly true of a modern biker. Calling yourself a biker now is more a statement of the importance of motorcycles and motorcycle riding in your life.
Those that I, being an old fahrt, would refer to as "real bikers" still exist. If you've been around motorcycles very long you know who they are and they pretty much fit the old stereotype before it was a stereotype. It's their life though, it's who they are. They didn't borrow their lifestyle from anyone else. As one told me recently "I didn't choose this life it chose me. I tried to get away but I always came back." Being a real biker isn't necessarily and easy ride.
If you think of yourself as a biker in the modern sense of the term then more power to you as long as you're serious about bikes and riding. If you're just playing the biker game though, remember that someday you're liable to run into a real, old style biker who just might call your bluff and hock a big one on your boot. Then we'll see if you settle the argument with your fists, a length of drive chain, or a weak smile.
As for me, I'm just an motorcycle guy, a guy who got bit by the motorcycle bug a long time ago and never found or even wanted a cure. If that makes me a biker by the modern definition then that's OK.