Born to Be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist

Born to Be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist

Born to Be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist

Born to Be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist

Synopsis

In 1947, 4,000 motorcycle hobbyists converged on Hollister, California. As images of dissolute bikers graced the pages of newspapers and magazines, the three-day gathering sparked the growth of a new subculture while also touching off national alarm. In the years that followed, the stereotypical leather-clad biker emerged in the American consciousness as a menace to law-abiding motorists and small towns. Yet a few short decades later, the motorcyclist, once menacing, became mainstream. To understand this shift, Randy D. McBee narrates the evolution of motorcycle culture since World War II. Along the way he examines the rebelliousness of early riders of the 1940s and 1950s, riders' increasing connection to violence and the counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s, the rich urban bikers of the 1990s and 2000s, and the factors that gave rise to a motorcycle rights movement. McBee's fascinating narrative of motorcycling's past and present reveals the biker as a crucial character in twentieth-century American life.

Excerpt

For conservatives in America, 1980 represented a moment of enormous enthusiasm and optimism. They were gearing up for Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory, just as traditional political constituencies were beginning to unravel to their benefit. the leading voice of the Right, the National Review, actually made the case just months before the election that it was time for conservatives to make a space among their ranks for a new interest group that up until then was the most unlikely of Republicans: motorcyclists.

The National Review titled the article “Don’t Shoot the Easy Rider,” in reference to the iconic 1969 film starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson. By referring to Easy Rider the author highlighted not only the extent to which the film had shaped Americans’ perceptions of motorcycling but also the degree to which the motorcyclist had long stood in sharp contrast to the Right. Easy Rider portrayed motorcyclists as hippies, and their deaths represented a deliberate consequence of a backlash politics that was gaining ground across the country in opposition to the liberation struggles of the preceding decades and a growing antiwar movement. Motorcyclists, the National Review made clear, were transforming, shedding the left-leaning, hippie-inspired liberalism of the 1960s to become potential constituents of the Right. a recent survey of American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) members had revealed that motorcyclists were split when it came to party affiliation, with Democrats slightly edging out their Republican counterparts 29.6 percent to 24.8 percent. But the National Review writer made it clear that “party politics” was no longer a “working mechanism.” in the survey, about 80 percent of ama members favored Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter by what the author described . . .

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