Monday, July 20, 1998

The Retro-Apocalypse

Why are so many motorcyclists caught in a whirling mass of nostalgia? The nostalgia tornado is so pervasive that we might be headed for a "retro-apocalypse" in which we are so nostalgic for nostalgia that the biker culture, as we know it, collapses.

Perhaps we are so ravenous for the retro-cycling experience because we're frustrated living in a society that moves faster than Bill Clinton on a first date. The vast majority of our culture evolves so rapidly that we need to look back. Baby boomers pine for black-light posters and sit-ins, Jimi Hendrix and motorcycles that barely existed back then.

Manufacturers that formerly made us miserable by pushing new culture at breakneck intervals are now feeding us benign, sanitized, old culture. Instead of inventing a new culture, they are redesigning the past - giving us a new package and watching us gobble it up like bar peanuts. And there's something more perverse going on. Corporations are using nostalgia to depict American culture and society as something that it isn't - altering time-lines and blurring reality.

The Harley Davidson Heritage Softail Classic is an example of a 1950s fictional resurrection sold to the public in much the same way that "Leave it to Beaver" appears to be a documentary depicting family values in a utopian society. There's something about a bike made to recreate the 50's that you just can't accomplish with something state of the art. The Heritage Softail Classic fits the bill in this respect.

In reality, it was the Bristish motorcycles that dominated the 50s, not Harleys. Americans were exposed to bikes that could actually make it around the bend as well as go fast while they were on their tours of duty. They lost interest in the fat, sluggish Arkansas Travelers of the time. Only the '57 Sportster had the looks and balls to fill a few blood sinuses and that was at the end of the decade.

The Heritage Softail Classic is marketed to Boomers so that they can experience an unrealistically idyllic 1950s - so they can feel young again by riding the bikes they wouldn't have been old enough even to reach the handle bars on. A symbiotic relationship exists between the boomers who want to mix nostalgia with their stool softener and the manufacturers who are selling distorted historical representations as a means to curb the aging process or re-live the an illusionary past.

Nostalgia anchors us to our past, and it also anchors technological development in a retro-crazed market. If this retro-overdose continues at its current velocity - if manufacturers have to reach further and further into the past for design inspiration - we'll likely see the Steam Velocipede resurface. This will signal the end... the retro-apocalypse.

Tuesday, June 16, 1998

If someone parks too close to my Triumph, I’ll strap on a bomb and head for Quincy Market!

The heedless and palpable disregard for the safety of others, in most places on this Earth, is the definition of gross negligence. In Boston, it is the definition of the way the majority of people handle their automobiles.

There are plenty of Bostonians out there who think that this reprehensible behavior adds to the charm of the colonial armpit. These are the same people who are willing to sue a car manufacturer for not being able to turn off the airbag. But hell, if they can’t read road signs, why should anyone expect that they’d be able to read an instruction manual, a warning, or exercise the most minute amount of common sense.

If you have any doubts about these claims, stand at the corner of Commercial and Washington Streets at 8:30 in the morning. You could finance the booze bill for an Irish wedding in a three-hour ticket-writing spree.

The ultimate driving experience in this fair city is to be on a motorcycle surrounded by steel-encased psychopaths in New England’s equivalent to the movie Thunderdome. A short cruise around town would even turn Mother Theresa into a punk-ass bitch.

So, the Transmetropolitan Biker’s new coping mechanism is unconditional rage. Lock and load baby, and let the craziest motherfucker rule.

I am not endorsing road rage, the acting out of anger from behind the wheel of the family station wagon. Nope. I am suggesting that after you have put me in the zone of danger by cutting me off, tailgating, or pulling one of those famous left hand turns from the right hand lanes, I’m going to park an enormous fertilizer bomb under a nursery! Hell, if someone parks too close to my Triumph, I’ll strap on a bomb and head for Quincy Market!

When you read about the suicide bomber, the clock-tower sniper, or a gunman on the subway in next week’s Boston Globe, you will know that they were all bikers mowing disrespectful drivers down like so many slats in a picket fence. We tried to influence the collective conscious with smart little slogans such as "Motorcycles are Everywhere." We tried old-fashioned consideration too. It was a flop. And when you fail to win with reason and common sense, Transmetropolitan Bikers will simply resort to ultra-violence. After all, an affirmative defense to murder is self preservation.


The failure of motorists to detect and recognize motorcycles in traffic is the predominating cause of motorcycle accidents. The driver of the other vehicle involved in collision with the motorcycle did not see the motorcycle before the collision, or did not see the motorcycle until too late to avoid the collision.

The most frequent accident configuration is the motorcycle proceeding straight then the automobile makes a left turn in front of the oncoming motorcycle.

Intersections are the most likely place for the motorcycle accident, with the other vehicle violating the motorcycle right-of-way, and often violating traffic controls.

Monday, May 25, 1998

Boomer Bikes

In the good old days, American males in black leather jackets tooled around on hefty Harley-Davidsons and roaring Nortons, Triumphs and BMWs. They ate meatloaf and mashed potatoes, drank whiskey from a bag and fornicated on the merry-go-round at the local picnic area.

Then, during the summer of love, some jackass convinced the Rolling Stones to use the Hells Angels as stage security at the ill-fated Altamont concert in California. The Hell's Angels terrorized the audience and knifed an innocent spectator to death as the Stones performed Sympathy for the Devil. It has been rumored that the poor bastard that wound up dead came to the concert on one of those little Honda 50-cc motorbikes that the Beach Boys sang about in 1964. The Hell’s Angels, in a brutal demonstration of savage nationalism, ended the summer of love on a violent note and defiled a whole genre of American-built motorcycles.

Regardless of what you believe, anyone associated with huge cruisers got a bad wrap. In response, everyone went out and bought those cute little Japanese bikes that appeared in Honda shops around the country. America was crawling with lightweight and mid-weight dirt bike-derivatives with names like Ninja. A revolution was born. The net effect was that dope-smoking country bands like the Eagles became popular, Harley-Davidson nearly went bankrupt and the European bikes all but disappeared.

That's changing now as America rediscovers its manliness: thick-tired, high-powered bikes with chrome engines, metal-flake teardrop gas tanks and high-rise handlebars.

The rebirth of the heavy cruiser is a direct response to the aging baby boom generation. As they've gotten older and wealthier, many boomers are indulging in things that were familiar when they were younger...or when their fathers were younger. They're rediscovering icons like the convertible sports car, dry martinis, vintage cigars, huge slabs of red meat and anything that pre-dates Don Henley. A big-ass bike is the next logical forbearance.