Their image has become an icon of the American highway. They are both loved and hated. They are characters of both movies and literature. They are associated with rock music, late night parties, and beautiful women. But who are they, really? Where do the bikers of the USA come from? What is their point of origin and how did they ride through history up to this moment?
Motorcycles- On A Highway To… Success
Believe it or not, the first motorcycles appeared as early as the 19th century. As a matter of fact, in 1867, the first steam-powered bicycle (the great grandfather of today’s motorcycles) was produced by Michaux-Perreaux. Who would have thought a French invention would become, one hundred years later, an iconic image of the U.S?
As humanity was getting closer to the beginning of the 20th century, Michaux-Perreaux’s invention was going through drastic changes. Thus, in 1885, the German Reitwagen was to become the first light gasoline- powered bike in the world. Triumph began producing motorcycles in 1898 and in 1901 the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company came up with the first motorbikes produced in the USA. One year later, the famous Harley-Davidson bike was to be born.
The Post-World War II Bikes
The world simply stopped looking the same after the atrocities that the Second World War brought to humanity. The Holocaust, the Communist crimes, the Cold War, the Baby Boom- they all influenced the way people looked at life itself. And when it comes to motorcycles, things were no different.
The late 40s and the early 50s were the years when the iconic figure of the bikers started to take shape out of the small groups of veterans who got together to hit the road on their bikes. It is also the age when Europe started to think of bikes as practical means of transportation, while the USA was beginning to see it as a real lifestyle, whose adepts were a distinct category of the society: the biker “outlaws”. Sure, the cinema helped spread the “word” and soon actors such as Marlon Brando and James Dean were to become the new popular faces of the American biker.
Motorcycle Gangs- Outlaws Vs Non-Outlaws
In between legend and reality, they have made themselves so famous that it’s almost impossible to be a bike enthusiast and not have heard about them. Although they have been associated with various criminal activities, they claim that the only thing that makes them come together is their love for motorcycle riding. And, for the most part, we all know that nobody can blame an entire group for the acts of a couple of its members. While there are a lot of “outlaw” motorcycle gangs out there (of which Hell’s Angels, the Pagans, the Outlaws and the Bandidos are the most important ones), there are also “non-outlaw” ones such as Harley’s Owners Group.
Outlaws or not, the bikers have created such a strong portrait for themselves that, nowadays, everybody knows about them and the mystery surrounding their lives has inspired artists around the world, from fashion creators to writers. No wonder that in an age that looks back with both nostalgia and fear at its past, we are constantly mesmerized by such symbols of the American pop-culture and we try to bring at least a little of it into our own lives.