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Born to Be Wild

Born to Be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist

Randy D. McBee
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    Born to Be Wild
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-2332-0
    Subjects: Transportation Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION Don’t Shoot the Easy Rider,
    (pp. 1-16)

    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, theNational 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.

    TheNational Reviewtitled the article “Don’t Shoot the Easy Rider,” in reference to the iconic 1969 film starring...

    (pp. 17-60)

    On March 26, 1971, at the Juilliard Theater in New York City, Harold Farberman debutedThe Losers, his new opera about a young woman who meets and falls in love with a motorcyclist. At the time, the country was in the midst of a motorcycle craze, and ten times more registered bikes were on the road nationwide than there had been in 1947, when the Hollister motorcyclists first attracted attention. But at the Julliard Theater in 1971, the media’s focus was less on the popularity of motorcycling and more on the fear that the night might turn violent. As a...

  6. 2 HOW TO KILL A BIKER, Small-Town Invasions and the Postindustrial City
    (pp. 61-90)

    The United States has experienced riots and other forms of civil unrest throughout its history, but few decades compare to the 1960s. Civil rights demonstrations spread beyond the South, and riots also erupted in cities across the country, especially in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Far deadlier were the riots in Los Angeles (Watts, 1965), Detroit (1967), and Newark (1967). More than 100 fatalities were recorded in these three cities alone, along with millions of dollars in property damage. By the end of the decade, opposition to the war in Vietnam also led to demonstrations that...

  7. 3 YOU AIN’T SHIT IF YOU DON’T RIDE A HARLEY, The Middle-Class Motorcyclist and the Japanese Honda
    (pp. 91-126)

    “Vroom-vroom is now an established middle-class noise,” claimed a 1965Esquirearticle about the Madison Avenue Motorcycle Club (MAMC). The author described the club as one “peopled by respectable professional men who prefer two wheels to four, and it is just one manifestation of a growing sophistication of the motorcycle.” The club was initially established in 1960, a year in which only 45,000 motorcycles were sold nationwide, by a group of “serious” bike-riding New York executives and professional men. Five years later, Americans were expected to purchase as many as 450,000 cycles by the year’s end. Most of these new...

  8. 4 THE VALUE OF A SLOW BREAK-IN CANNOT BE OVEREMPHASIZED, The Highway Safety Act of 1966 and the End of the Golden Age of Motorcycling
    (pp. 127-152)

    Through the 1940s and 1950s motorcycle safety attracted little attention beyond the motorcycling community, which itself focused overwhelmingly on the need for improved driver’s education and on drawing attention to the incompetent automobile drivers, who were the single most significant danger facing motorcyclists. When the mainstream press focused on roadway safety, the inclusion of motorcyclists was rarely meant to draw attention to the particular experience of motorcycling so much as it was to highlight the general dangers of roadway travel or to single out the motorcycle cowboy who was often blamed for the safety problems facing automobilists. Other examples focused...

  9. 5 LET THOSE WHO RIDE DECIDE, The Right and Age-Old Biker Values, 1940s–1990s
    (pp. 153-192)

    In the mid-1960s, artist Bob Dara produced two posters in which he imagined Lyndon Baines Johnson and Bobby Kennedy as bikers. Both were seated on custom bikes. Johnson had a stockier body than Kennedy, beer belly, and pumped up arms. The word “BULL” was tattooed across the knuckles of his left hand, and he wore a chain belt and a jacket with the sleeves torn off. Kennedy was riding a dragster with two v-twin engines, and he wore jeans and a black T-shirt. Both of their bikes had the names of their wives painted on the gas tank—“Harley Bird”...

  10. 6 THE LAST MALE REFUGE, Women Riders, the Counterculture, and the Struggle over Gender
    (pp. 193-226)

    In October 1965 members of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels disrupted a peace march to protest U.S. policy in Vietnam. The Vietnam Day Committee sponsored the march that started in Berkeley and ended at the Oakland boundary some two miles away. The city of Oakland had refused the permit needed for the march, and organizers had agreed to stop the march before it crossed into Oakland. According to theLos Angeles Times, eighteen members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, whom the paper described as “unkempt and husky,” had gathered at the Oakland-Berkeley boundary as the march began....

  11. 7 IT’S A BLACK THANG, Law and (Dis)order and the African American Freedom Struggle
    (pp. 227-288)

    In the late 1960s and early 1970s, two images that were captured on film effectively highlighted the very complicated ways in which race intersected with motorcycling and the larger political drama surrounding the white motorcyclist. The first isSweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, which debuted in 1971 and captivated the attention of fans and critics alike. The film, which Melvin Van Peebles wrote, directed, produced, and starred in, revolves around the life of Sweetback, a young black man who finds himself on the run from the law after rescuing a black revolutionary from a beating at the hands of the police....

    (pp. 289-302)

    Every president from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush and numerous other national political candidates have visited a Harley-Davidson manufacturing plant, made an appearance with motorcyclists at some other public gathering, or claimed some affinity or allegiance to the company and its workers. Many of them have used that visit to highlight trade issues and the possibility of American success in an increasingly global market. President Bill Clinton, for example, visited a Harley-Davidson plant in York, Pennsylvania, in 1999 just before he was scheduled to meet with the Chinese about trade negotiations. Like other presidents, he donned a leather jacket...

  13. NOTES,
    (pp. 303-340)
    (pp. 341-352)
  15. INDEX,
    (pp. 353-359)