YOU REMEMBER THE SCENE FROM THE movie The Wild One, the scene where Marlon Brando, playing the cocksure outlaw biker Johnny, is asked by a virginal Mary Murphy just what it is he’s rebelling against.
“Whatta ya got,” comes the glacially smooth reply from the man in the black leather jacket.
The Wild One, released in 1954, was a Hollywood reenactment, albeit embellished, of an actual event that happened in the northern California town of Hollister in the summer of 1947. There, on the Fourth of July, the story goes, a group of motorcyclists led by a club appropriately named The Booze Fighters got a little carried away and trashed Main Street.
From that incident came The Wild One, which was followed by a slew of outlaw biker films stereotyping motorcyclists as oversexed heathens on the prowl for fisticuffs and fornication. And just like that, the sport of motorcycling had an image problem.
The trouble with stereotypes is that there’s almost always some truth in them. And so it was with the rebellious men drawn to motorcycling after World War II. Bored with life in peacetime America, many ex-GIs jumped on bikes and roared off looking for good times. As author Mick Farren put it in his book The Black Leather Jacket, “It’s hard to settle to bagging in a supermarket after you’ve been the waist gunner in a B-17.”
These days, not many of us have crewed in a Flying Fortress, but motorcycles are still an excellent way of escaping the humdrum of an increasingly more-structured everyday life. We like the fact that riding a bike is a non-conformist act, that we are doing something that most of the people in the country can’t—or won’t— do. There are a lot of reasons why motorcycling seduces us, but face it, 35 years after Brando gunned his Triumph across the silver screen, we still like being rebels.
Thankfully, the black-leather, hide-the-women, Hell’s-Angels image of motorcycling hasn’t made the transition into the ’Eighties, despite some unimaginative movies and TV shows which rely on the stereotype to camouflage poor plots and worse acting.
But our sport still has problems.
Recently, I sat down with representatives from other cycle magazines to talk about some of the hurdles facing motorcycling. We were there at Suzuki’s behest, the roundtable discussion being held in conjunction with the press introduction of that company’s new GS500 (see “Quick Ride,’’ in this issue’s Roundup).
Looking back at my notes from the conference, I see we covered quite a few subjects: how a headlong rush toward technology has alienated some potential riders; how the trend of enclosing motorcycles in plastic bodywork has raised their purchase price and insurance premiums; how dollaryen fluctuations have caused even what few entry-level bikes there are to be shockingly high-priced.
Conversation ran to stepped licensing and rider education, and to the intimidation factor many people encounter when going into some lessthan-hospitable dealerships. Helmet laws were discussed and the fact that the insurance industry, the government and the general news media seem to be loading up to take potshots at our sport.
Obviously, in the three hours the meeting went on, we weren’t going to solve all of motorcycling’s plights, but leafing through my notes, I see that while many problems were identified, few solutions were offered.
I’d like to do something about that now. You see, there were maybe 15 people at the Suzuki meeting, hardly a fair representation of America’s eight million motorcyclists. But there’s a group of people I know, a quarter-of-a-million strong, a group made up of the most knowledgable, most enthusiastic motorcycle riders in the world. In fact, one of them is reading these very words. That’s right, you, the subscriber or newsstand buyer of Cycle World magazine.
To those of you on the front lines of motorcycling, here’s what I propose. Take a moment and jot down some of the obstacles that you see facing our sport. And then write down what you think should be done to clear those obstacles. Send the list to Cycle World. We'll compile the results and I’ll personally make sure that the top men at the world’s motorcycle manufacturers—the men who’ll build your next bike—are made aware of the information.
I know that sounds rather simplistic, but the fact is only a small percentage of readers ever write letters to magazines. For this ersatz survey to work, I’m asking that you buck the trend, get involved and invest the time and the 25 cents it’ll take to send a letter. In exchange, you’ll be involved in what promises to be the largest, motorcycle-related survey ever conducted, a survey that could shape the future of motorcycling. If that sounds like something you want to be in on, send your recommendations to:
Cycle World Magazine,
853 W. 17th Street,
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
So, come on, write a letter, join the movement. I promise it won’t revoke your non-conformist status. In fact, it might help guarantee that in the future, motorcycle riders won't be rebels without a cause. 0