Image courtesy of futuresite used under Creative Commons.
It’s Memorial Day, so take a look at these amazing paint jobs that pay tribute to our military and our country. Superb work from Crazy Horse Painting in Waxhaw, NC.
Image courtesy of Leslie Carty / Opal Auto Detailing used under Creative Commons.
Anyone can go to a dealer, buy a bike, and ride it. But if you really love your bike, that’s never enough. You need to make that bike unique, and make it unlike anything else on the road. You can easily slap a few decals on it, maybe change the bars or the pipes, perhaps add a few bolt-on extras. But for some, that’s not even a start. To really create something special, you’ve got to go all out.
This week, we’re looking at some of the best custom bikes in the world. We’ve focused – of course – on Harleys, but we’ve also found a few incredible European bikes that will appeal to anyone who can appreciate the engineering skill and build quality that goes into these amazing creations.
Throughout this week we’ve been paying tribute to veterans and to those serving today. We looked at organizations that bring vets together through their shared love of bikes, including the Combat Veterans MC, Military Bikers, and the Patriot Guard, who were set up to protect soldiers’ funerals from the protests of the Westboro Baptist Church. We also highlighted the Salute To American Veterans Rally taking place in Colorado in August. And, for those who love vintage bikes, we found some footage of recruits training as Army dispatch riders on Harley WLAs.
As an extra bonus, check out this amazing story from England about a biker who lost both legs in Afghanistan when his tank was blown up by an IED. On his return, 33 year old Murray Hambro got right back on a specially adapted Triumph and started riding again. Not just riding – but racing in the British Superbike Championship at speeds of up to 150mph with his True Heroes Racing team.
But now let’s look ahead to next week. On Monday May 27, Memorial Day, how will you mark the day? Will you see it as an excuse to stay off work, buy cut-price consumer goods, and watch TV? Or will you use the day to honor our military?
We call on you to spend some time on Memorial Day to thank those who bought our freedom. On Monday, visit the grave of a fallen soldier. They don’t have to be related to you, or even known to you. Every person who gave their lives gave them for you.
Better still, do something practical. Organize a yard sale or a charity ride, and donate the proceeds to a veteran’s charity. Clear out your garage and donate clothes and blankets to those in need, the homeless, the crippled or the unemployed, those who have been abandoned by those who will never know what it is to serve. Go and visit an elderly vet who needs your help – perhaps a neighbor or a relative. Spend time with them, and show them that you value what they did, and that they are not forgotten.
Be a true American. Help an American hero.
When motorcycles were still a novelty, back in the 1930s and 1940s, many young men got their first taste of biking in the Army, as a military dispatch rider. This short clip from Harley-Davidson shows riders on WLAs learning to cope with rough terrain – and not always staying on. A great piece of history to end the week!
Image courtesy of GlacierTim used under Creative Commons.
“Freedom is the life-blood of America. For many, the motorcycle is the embodiment of Freedom, giving the rider the ability to go where they want, when they want with few restrictions. Like an Eagle flying Free, the feeling is without compromise. Freedom is a precious gift to be cherished, honored, relished and respected. ”
That’s from the Mission Statement of the annual Salute to American Veterans Rally, and it perfectly embodies what every true biker knows in their heart and believes with every fiber of their being. We are born free, and we ride free, and if necessary, we’ll give our lives to stay free.
Even though bikers have a bad rep in many places, anybody who’s ever spent time around real bikers knows that they’re the most patriotic Americans around. Most bikers are proud to wear the flag, or patches honoring the military. Many of us have fought, and been injured in the line of duty. Many have served in other ways. Those of us who have remained behind have shown unwavering support for friends and family on active service and for returning veterans. Our slavish obedience to the law may sometimes be called into question, but our loyalty to our country – never!
The association between bikers and the military goes back a long time. For many, their first experience of motorcycles was in the army, where they were trained as despatch riders. Bikes were a rugged form of transport, more versatile than trucks or cars, and faster than horses. By the start of World War Two, Harley-Davidson were producing thousands of specialist military bikes, including the famous WLA and the less well known shaft-driven XA, based on the German BMW R75. Their main rival, Indian, developed the 741, and the variant 841, specifically for desert warfare.
After the war, many young men returned home from Europe and Asia, eager for excitement and adventure. Motorcycles were cheap, and they offered unprecedented mobility and freedom. Lured by the thrill of the open road, the 40s and 50s saw thousands of former military personnel turning to bikes for cheap transport, for a hobby, and as a way of bonding with other vets. The motorcycle clubs gave them the camaraderie they learned on the battlefields of North Africa, the Pacific, Germany, and Korea, and later in Vietnam, Somalia, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq, and many more places throughout the world. Clubs were about brotherhood, about mutual respect, about standing together, and about loyalty – qualities which still exist in motorcycle clubs throughout the world today. As battle-hardened soldiers, bikers valued personal bravery, fearlessness, and the willingness to get physical to defend the people they cared about and the things that mattered to them.
Right from the early days, bikers drew from their military experience when forming clubs. Much of the most famous biker insignia is taken straight from the armed forces – the famous HAMC Death’s Head logo is based on designs used by the 85th Fighter Squadron and the 552nd Medium Bomber Squadron in World War Two, and the name Hell’s Angels was used by several different Air Force units before being adopted by the bikers (who spelled it Hells Angels, without the apostrophe). Most clubs have officers that reflect some sort of military heritage, such as the Sergeant-at-Arms. To show their patriotism, wearing military patches commemorating former service units was actively encouraged.
Image courtesy of futuresite used under Creative Commons.
As the number of clubs expanded, particularly in the wake of the Vietnam war, there began to be a distinction between genuine veterans and those who just loved motorcycles and the biker lifestyle. Returning vets were experiencing a lot of issues readjusting to civilian life, more so than in any previous wars. They didn’t have the support of the American population, and the government seemed unconcerned with the plight of veterans.
As a result, bikers felt they had nowhere to turn but to each other. More and more clubs grew up that restricted their membership to veterans and their families. Their mission was to look out for each other, to help each other in practical ways, and to help other vets going through tough times. When a member was killed or injured, they were there for the grieving families, to provide emotional support as well as day to day assistance. For bikers, loyalty is everything. Even when everyone else has abandoned someone who needs help, a biker will always be there, giving his last dollar and, if necessary, his last breath.
Image courtesy of The U.S. Army used under Creative Commons.
Bikers have been at the forefront of charity and fundraising for vets for many years. Far from being the villains, bikers do a lot for their community that often goes unrecognized. As the Hells Angels motto puts it, “When we do right, nobody remembers. When we do wrong, nobody forgets.”
Image courtesy of dalechumbley used under Creative Commons.
With Memorial Day coming close, our thoughts are with those who died, those who came back, and those who are still serving. Many of us will be taking part in events to mark the day, or spending time in quiet personal reflection and remembrance. Many of us have lost loved ones, or have friends and family members overseas. Many of us have our own stories to tell, of the struggles we have faced in combat and the battles we have fought at home to adjust. For some, our bikes and the unwavering loyalty and support of our fellow bikers are the only things that have helped us through the most traumatic events imaginable.
When we saddle up, we represent a tradition that goes back to the day America was founded. When we ride, we are free of mindless TV commercials and inane radio. We are free to think as we please, to go where we please, and to escape the pressures of everyday life and of our past. Others will never know that freedom.
Let’s close with another piece from the Veterans Rally. “The gift of freedom comes with a very high price: It is paid for with the blood of hundreds of thousands of United States Veterans, and with the tears and anguish of their families. So precious is the gift of freedom that taking it for granted is unthinkable, outrageous, and nearly a sin. So we gather here, to honor, remember and respect those who pay the price for OUR FREEDOM, but also, to CELEBRATE that freedom. Celebrating our freedom: This is our mission.”
As bikers, we understand the importance of freedom, and we know the price that must be paid. When we ride, alone or with others, we celebrate our own freedom, and we pay honor to those who bought it for us with their service and with their lives. With the deepest pride, we stand for all those who value freedom as we do, and we stand for America.
The Combat Veterans M is another non-profit organization dedicated to the care of vets throughout the country. Their mission is to help veteran care facilities provide former military personnel with the basics of life – food, shelter, warmth and clothing. They have chapters throughout the country, and participate in charity events all year round to raise funds. Those with combat experience are welcomed as Full Members; others with military experience who have not seen combat are welcome to join as Supporter Members.
Military Bikers is an organization that brings together motorcycle enthusiasts who are serving or have served in the military. It’s not a motorcycle club – it’s a free online forum for riders to chat, swap ideas, and assist each other. It includes bikers of all persuasions – Harley owners, street bike lovers, and race enthusiasts. For personnel serving overseas, it’s a way to stay in touch with others who share their interests. It’s a small community at present, but we think it’s a great initiative to reach out to those who are away from home serving their country and could use all the support they can get from other bikers who have shared or are sharing their experiences.
Nothing is more offensive to someone who’s served their country than to see a soldier’s funeral picketed by protestors like the Westboro Baptist Church. It’s an insult to those who gave their lives, to their families, to their unit, and to our country. One group of bikers, The Patriot Guard, have taken a stand against the WBC and their bigoted message of unpatriotic hate. They organize groups of riders who will peacefully offer protection to the families and keep the protestors away from the funeral. Fallen heroes deserve to be laid to rest in a dignified manner. This video shows hundreds of Patriot Guard bikers sending a clear message to the WBC: show honor and respect to those who served, those who have suffered loss, and your country.
The 21st annual Salute To American Veterans Rally takes place in Cripple Creek, Colorado, from 16-18 August. Thousands of bikers will show up for this event. It’s not a typical bike rally – it’s all about honoring those who served, especially the POW-MIAs. There’s a POW-MIA remembrance ride, a Vietnam memorial wall, and VIP speakers will talk about their experiences.
In the twelve years we’ve been in business, we’ve been proud to serve tens of thousands of people who’ve served our country fearlessly throughout the world. Our customers have served everywhere from Korea and Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of them returned injured, or made the ultimate sacrifice.
Bikers are some of the most patriotic people in the United States. You wear our flag with pride, you support American businesses, and you embody the spirit of independence and freedom that has made America great. Many veterans have found their home among bikers, and many bikers work tirelessly to help veterans and the families of the fallen.
This week, we pay tribute to those who have served, who are serving, and to those who support them when they return. We thank you and we honor you for buying our freedom at the risk of your lives.
For vets and those who want to show respect, we offer a range of military themed patches and other apparel.