A Few More Notes on the Hobby Lobby Business
52 Guitars: Week 27

Bikers on the Day Before Independence Day

Yesterday on the way to work I merged onto Interstate 10 at the same time that a long line of bikers was passing through the interchange heading west, as I was. There were forty or fifty of them, I guess, all but a few of them single-file, so the line stretched out for more than a hundred yards. They all courteously moved over into the left lane as the local traffic entered the right, and moved back over after they'd passed the exit. I started gaining on them and moved over to pass them, but then found that I wanted to go more or less the same speed they did, and so stayed abreast of some part of the line all the way across the bay and through the tunnel. 

I have a bit of a thing for motorcycles, even though I haven't owned one since I was thirty, and never one of any respectable size. I'm about as far from what you think of when you hear the word "biker" as you can get. But I never see one on the road, except perhaps in winter or rain, without wishing I was riding it. And seeing and hearing that number together gives me a thrill. They sounded great in the tunnel, and I was kicking myself mentally when I came out the other end and realized they'd have sounded much better if I'd thought to open a window.

It was a beautiful day, not yet miserably hot as it would be later, and I really wished I was riding with them. They seemed to be what I think of as in-between bikers--a little rough, but not mean-looking. And definitely not the staid Honda Gold Wing types. They were middle-aged and older and seemed like the sort who might be a little rowdy among themselves, maybe drink too much, but who organize rides to raise money for sick children. Most of the bikes sported American flags, and more than a few the black-and-white POW-MIA flags that have been common since the Vietnam War. 

They seemed emblematic of a certain American strain--independent, individualistic, patriotic to the point of truculence, not always well-behaved but basically decent. It's a strain I'm fond of, and which seems to be passing. The sight of all those flags flapping from motorcycles made me feel both patriotic and nostalgic, bringing to mind the days when America, for all its sins and problems, seemed a hopeful place. 

Those are also, of course, the days when I was young, so maybe that's all I'm missing, and maybe things haven't really changed that much. I don't believe that, but it could be true.

All this makes me think of a Fourth of July piece I wrote some years ago: Independence Day and Indian Larry. I hope all of you in the U.S.A. are enjoying the Fourth.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I like Bikers. They seem to be good eggs.

Curate's eggs, in my experience. Hard to generalise, and hard to predict.

There are definitely some that are just criminal gangs.

But this sounds like a good group and I enjoyed the anecdote. Maybe you should just go and get yourself a bike, Maclin :)

It would be fun, but...those things cost as much as a car these days. Also, I've ridden Harleys a couple of times and, um, actually I didn't like them that much.

Harleys look good, IMO, but also look rather uncomfortable to ride. Not that I've ever tried it.

when I was 16 I had a 50cc Scooter and yearned for a Harley. It was fun driving around London on that. Years later, in my second job, in Plymouth, which is on the seaside, I bought another Scooter and hated it so much I kind of passively let it be stolen. I kept being blown over by strong winds off the cliffs.

I had something similar as a teenager--it was styled to look like a motorcycle but had a 50cc engine. I loved it. Years later, worked up to a 400cc bike that could at least hold its own in traffic.

You were literally blown over? I mean, not over the cliffs, but overturned?

I thought Harleys were in fact uncomfortable, too, the couple of times I had a chance to ride one.

turned over on to the side by the wind off the cliffs repeatedly and gave up because it hurt a lot.

always wanted a 400 cc but too heavy for me to handle!

That must have been some pretty strong wind.

When I was growing up my father owned a motorcycle shop, so we always had a half-dozen or so around our house, and I rode quite a bit as a kid and teenager. My biggest bike was an 80cc dirt bike. But when I was in high school I traded it for a stereo, my dad soon sold the shop, and I haven't ridden much since. I do remember that my parents used to take a motorcycle and go on weekend trips together when I was young.

Like you I would love to get my license and ride. But my wife says that at the hospital they call them "donorcycles", and there's an end on it.

When I was in Indiana last year my eyes nearly popped from my head when I was passed on the highway by a father and a young boy riding together on a bike with no helmets. In Canada one never sees that. (Maybe that's why you have an independence day and we don't?)

I hate to disappoint you, but we have helmet laws here, too. I guess they're state laws, and maybe Indiana doesn't have one, but most places do. Many years ago when I occasionally read motorcycling magazines those laws were still the subject of furious denunciations. I don't know if they still are.

Wives are notoriously unsympathetic to the motorcycling impulse. And I guess wives in the medical profession are hopeless. I think I've heard "donorcycles" before, possibly from my daughter who's an ER nurse.

Wives are notoriously unsympathetic to this impulse.

Yes, in Indiana I regularly see people on Bikes without helmits. Not all bikers by any means, but its common. Not on the motorway, but around town.

In Wisconsin, home of the Harley, no helmet law.

We live a block away from what used to be a biker bar. Lots of noise. Now that the bikers are gone, a lot more quiet. They were never a real nuisance to the neighborhood, though.

When Harley had their hundredth in 2003 there were 100,000 Harleys in town. My daughter looked out of the window of her 13th story dorm room at Marquette and saw them all go by.

The whole city roared for a week.

The CEO of Harley made the stupidest decision in history when he had a surprise featured musician at the Harleyfest. They kept it secret until he got on stage. It was Elton John. The Hawg riders were visibly non-enthusiastic.

I've never ridden a motorcycle as driver or passenger, unless a minibike counts!

Grumpy, it must be an Indiana (and Wisconsin) thing. I was in the southern part of the state during my visit, where fathers must be unusually irresponsible. I had actually planned to drive up to South Bend to visit a friend who is allegedly nearing completion of his theology studies there, but unfortunately I didn't have the time. I wonder how many helmetless wonders I'd have seen if I'd have made the drive?

Elton John at Harleyfest! That's hilarious.

I'm quite surprised that Alabama, home of so many "ain't nobody gon' tell me what to do" types, has a helmet law, and Indiana and Wisconsin, home of law-abiding Midwesterners, do not. They do require one if you're under 18, though. Naturally, there is a web resource:


"I bought another Scooter and hated it so much I kind of passively let it be stolen."

That's very funny!

Here in Texas, most motorcyclists do not wear helmets (I've seen one or two that did) or any kind of protective clothing. In Oz, all motorcyclists wear helmets and most wear leathers. I think they look cool. And if my figure was what it was when I was 16 (Ha ha) I would be more than happy to walk around in Uma Thurman's yellow bike gear (preferably with the sword, but I think that would be a bit tricky, legally).

"Elton John at Harleyfest! That's hilarious."


I bet you could get away with the sword. Surely in Texas...

I thought of this post on Sunday as I was driving through South Bend on quite a typical, as it seems, late July day, where it goes up into the 90s and then pours with rain, then back into the 90s and pours with rain again. More the weather I, as an English person, associate with India then the USA.

So it was in the hot part of the day, and I see a troop of bikers, and thinking of Mac's post I wanted to raise a glass to the women folk. These gals on the back, behind their guys, were wearing sleeveless tee shirts with low necklines at the back, exposing all their arms and a good deal of their backs.

Imagine coming off a bike with bare arms and a bare back! I'd be imagining it all the way down Grape Road if I was one of those ladies. But they did not look as if they gave it a thought.

I write as an English person who still puts on a light jacket to go out of doors in July, in Indiana.

I think first of the sunburn. Ouch. But yeah, a wreck would be...there's a reason why bikers traditionally wore leather jackets, and even full leather suits. Still, it sounds like fun to me.

I remember (I think I've mentioned this before) one of my children finding it hilarious that in one of the Sherlock Holmes stories Watson sort of brags about being able to handle a temperature of 80F, because he had been in India. Of course we're all spoiled by air conditioning now.

Do you put the jacket on just out of habit? Surely you don't need it? Or can't get used to the fact that you won't need it, even after the sun goes down?

I cant get used to the fact that I dont need it. In Aberdeen, a sunny day often turned cold and the temerature control system in my office consisted of opening or shutting your window

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)