Now, that’s a stupid question!

What’s the point of all this?

On a Q&A forum I found the following question: What is the point of riding on a motorcycle other than looking “cool.” Are there any physical advantages as compared to a car? I know the old adage says ‘the only stupid question is the one you didn’t ask,’ but the question that poster posed is dangerously close to a stupid question. I borrowed one reader’s answer as a starting point for my own rant.

The ‘point’ of riding a motorcycle is to ride the motorcycle. It is difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced it.  People bandy about words like ‘freedom’ and ‘exhilaration’ but they are weak sauce compared to the reality.  The reality is so, so much more.

Me and my ’74 shovel (aka ‘The Bitch’) in West Texas enroute to Alpine. Man, I just love West Texas!

Again: the ‘point’ of riding a motorcycle is to ride the motorcycle.

It is difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced it.  People bandy about words like ‘freedom’ and ‘exhilaration’ but they are weak sauce compared to the reality.  The reality is so, so much more.

Me and The Bitch riding through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, in the Colorado Rockies.

Seriously, how do you describe the challenge of leaning into a hard curve on a twisty mountain road in the Colorado Rockies, just a hair’s breadth from the high side that’s gonna hurt like hell if you don’t maintain your line?  What words can match balling through the New Mexican desert alone on a star-studded night, with ghost shadows marching across the sands as the chill night air seeps through the seams in your leather jacket?  Can language even begin to capture the feeling of blasting through the heart of Dallas on a Saturday evening, twenty or thirty of you in a pack, so there in that moment – so large and loud and alive – that the straights in their cars instinctively move aside to let you pass?  How do you tell someone who’s never been there about rocking through a mountain pass on a chilly autumn morning, sun at your back and your best road dog at your side as you crest the Continental Divide and rumble down into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison?  Can you make any sense at all of the delight you feel waking up in a rain-soaked tent in Rapid City, South Dakota, on your way to the annual rally at Sturgis, and laughing about it because Who fuckin’ cares? We’re at Sturgis, baby!  

Into every life a little rain must fall…

And if that’s hard, try explaining how even the ‘bad stuff’ gets good, later. Things like riding through the wake of a hurricane in downtown Houston, water so high on the road that it’s burbling and bubbling at the ends of your exhaust pipes and dousing your ignition system. Things like spending a sleepless night camped on the banks of the Rio Grande, kept awake by the bitter cold and the new traveling companion who neglected to mention that he snores like a fuckin’ buzzsaw.

This is me riding through the Black Hills of South Dakota, doing a little sightseeing during the annual Black Hills Classic Motorcycle Rally, a gathering of the tribe that’s been going on since 1938.

Things like kneeling in the mud in a pouring rainstorm to help a stranger get his motorcycle started, because the biker’s code says you never leave another rider behind. Things like facing off with a shotgun-wielding deputy sheriff who is screaming at you and your buddies to get those goddam bikes out of there before he arrests the lot of you, because one of your buddies can’t get his bike started and the biker’s code says you never leave another rider behind. Things like your buddy suddenly remembering, after twenty minutes of trying to kickstart his shovelhead, that he installed a hidden kill switch as a security device just last week, and Oh, yeah! That’s why my bike won’t start….

One of my favorite works by Dave Mann: a loving couple two-up on a nice Spring day. Dave Mann’s monthly centerfold paintings for Easyriders captured every aspect, from the quiet pleasure of a run up the Pacific Coast Highway….
….to the drag of getting beefed by some biker-hating cop. and everything in between.

….because every biker knows the best stories are the ones that really sucked in the moment.

Are there physical advantages? Well, let’s see…

Me and The Bitch and the Marlboro Man’s Softail on Skyline Drive, above Cañon City, CO.

There’s the fact that you’re out in nature, breathing fresh air, instead of being cooped up in a cage with the air conditioner on, guzzling fossil fuel and contributing to global warming. And let’s remember that motorcycling is not a sedentary activity the way driving a car is, either. The constant shifting of weight and the tensing and relaxing of different muscle groups actually burn calories, really, and help you maintain a healthier body. Add a kick-starter to your machine and you can just about sell your Nautilus!

Look at the grin on my face. I am on a motorcycle I just rebuilt from the ground up: new paint, polished aluminum, a few chrome touches like new exhaust pipes and handlebars…. There are few finer feelings in this world than what I was feeling in that moment. I wasn’t posing or profiling or showing off. I was just grooving on the feeling: my Harley, the wind, a bunch of good friends all riding together, heading for a party. I didn’t know someone was taking pictures, and didn’t even know the photographer, but sometime later he came into the motorcycle shop where I worked and gave me several excellent photos made that day. Wish I could remember his name (and if you see this, Mr. Photographer, shoot me a kite, eh?) but wherever he is, I bless him!

And for most riders there is also an emotional benefit to being in the wind. You see it in the slogans on biker t-shirts: Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul; Sometimes it takes a whole tank of gas before I can think straight; and You never see a motorcycle parked outside a psychiatrist’s office. I know that, for myself, nothing can clear the cobwebs and help me forget about a crappy day like some time in the saddle. It’s two-cylinder meditation. My mind is focused on the ride – the shifting of gears, the changes in pavement texture and potential hazards, traffic patterns, the weather, et cetera – and tending to all that frees your mind from the weight you carry.

To quote Jackson Browne: ‘It’s a peaceful, easy feeling…’

There are also the benefits of being a smaller vehicle in traffic, in those enlightened states that permit motorcycle ‘filtering’. This is the low-speed lane splitting which allows motorcyclists to work their way through stopped traffic. It gets them where they’re going faster and reduces carbon emissions. It also eases overall traffic congestion, which helps get everyone moving faster, further reducing emissions, et cetera. A real win-win. I just wish the Texas legislature would get on that bandwagon, rather than all the horrid, hateful ones they have seen fit to climb on lately.

I was in a pack of thirty or so motorcycles when we stopped for lunch at a roadhouse. Before we could get back on the road, we were surrounded by heavily-armed law enforcement officers, who drew down on us with AR-15s. They proceeded to run every one of us through the mill – driver’s license, tag number, VIN – just because they could; just to inconvenience us, just because that many bikers in one place absolutely must mean something criminal was going on. They did get one guy, who had an outstanding warrant, but had to let the rest of us go.

Finally, in cities where land is at a premium, and motorists are desperate for parking spaces, motorcyclists require much less space than cars and trucks. If office buildings, colleges and malls would provide secure parking for motorcyclists, they could reduce the demand for parking by the drivers of full-sized vehicles, and again, contribute to lessening carbon emissions, fuel consumption, global warming, and so on.

So, it’s all that and more, and you notice that none of that has sweet fuck-all to do with being ‘cool.’  We ride because we’re riders.  We don’t know any other way to be.

Your mother did warn you about me, right?

Bobby Zimmerman 1941-1961

As a longtime biker, any mention of motorcycles, riders, clubs, etcetera, intrigues me, so when Bob Dylan mentioned late Hells Angel Berdoo President Bobby Zimmerman (Chronicle: Volume One, 2004, pg. 79), while explaining his own renaming, I went looking for more info.  First, I located a photo of the deceased, posted on the Berdoo chapter’s Memorial page:

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Dylan apparently had the date of death wrong: He said Zimmerman died in 1964, but Zimmerman’s *Angel brothers have him dying three years earlier.

Then I dug a little further, and found this article, a human-interest item by John Weeks of the San Bernardino Sun, published last fall, in which Dylan claims a spiritual bond with the soul of the dead Angel:                                                                                   

A surprise addition to the local family

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s put our hands together and give a warm hometown welcome to a local boy who has made good, who has distinguished himself as one of the most influential singers and songwriters of all time, a living legend, a Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree, a recipient of multiple Grammy, Oscar and People’s Choice awards, the one and only, the Inland Empire’s own … Bob Dylan!

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Whoa, hold on here. Let’s check our notes.

Says here that Bob Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman in 1941 in Duluth, Minn., that he grew up in Hibbing, Minn., that he went to college in Minneapolis, that he moved to New York and became famous, that he later lived in both New York and Minnesota, and that for the last couple of decades he has made his home in Malibu. There’s no mention here at all of the Inland Empire.

Oh, wait, there’s more. Wow, this is new. Says here that Bob Dylan had a bonding experience with the soul of a dead San Bernardino biker, also named Robert Zimmerman, in the 1960s, and that he was transformed into a different person at that time.

An Inland Empire person, evidently.

Is this a joke?

If it is, it’s Bob Dylan himself who is telling it. In public.

Here are his own words, in an interview with Mikal Gilmore that appears in a recent cover story in Rolling Stone magazine:

“When you ask some of your questions, you’re asking them to a person who’s long dead. You’re asking them to a person that doesn’t exist. But people make that mistake about me all the time. … Transfiguration is what allows you to crawl out from under the chaos and fly above it. That’s how I can still do what I do and write the songs I sing and just keep on moving.”

That Bob Dylan! What a card! What a kidder!

No, wait. Later in the interview, he starts talking about transfiguration again, and he presses the point. He brandishes a dog-eared copy of the book Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club. He cites a chapter in the book that recounts how Robert Zimmerman, the 21-year-old president of the San Bernardino chapter of the Hells Angels, who lived on Walnut Street in San Bernardino, was killed in a 1961 motorcycle accident in Madera County. That accident was a precursor, Dylan believes, to his own motorcycle accident in 1966 near Woodstock, N.Y. The two events were directly related and they completed Dylan’s transformation into a new person, he says.

He can’t be serious about this, right?

Wait, he really is. He goes off on it for a third time during the course of the interview. “I’m showing you a book that’s been written and published. I mean, look at all the connecting things: motorcycles, Bobby Zimmerman. … And there’s more to it than even that. … I’d always been different than other people, but this book told me why. … I didn’t know who I was before I read the Barger book.”

Well, if he really means it, we should start now to prepare for that hometown concert in the Inland Empire that now seems inevitable. We’ll put up banners. “Welcome home, Bob!”

He can perform in the giant San Manuel Amphitheater in Devore, or perhaps he would prefer a smaller arena show, at the Epicenter, say, in Rancho Cucamonga, or the San Manuel Stadium in downtown San Bernardino, or Coussoulis Arena at Cal State San Bernardino. Or, he could do a series of small, intimate shows in theater settings, such as the Glass House in Pomona, or the Fox Riverside, or the historic California Theatre in San Bernardino.

Many towering figures in the music industry do have strong roots in the Inland Empire. The list includes Tennessee Ernie Ford of San Bernardino, Kris Kristofferson of Claremont, Frank Zappa of Rancho Cucamonga, Jimmy Webb and Jim Messina of Colton, Sammy Hagar and Travis Barker of Fontana, and Liberace, Dick Clark and Herb Alpert, all of whom had homes in Lake Arrowhead.

Jazz legend Pearl Bailey, in her retirement, ran a popular guest ranch in Apple Valley.

Singers Bonnie Raitt and Joan Baez both have University of Redlands connections, thanks to their fathers. Raitt’s father, the Broadway star John Raitt, was a University of Redlands graduate. Baez, whose father taught there, writes about living in Redlands in her autobiography, “Daybreak.”

Now, it appears, we must add a new name to the list of musical hometown heroes.

Bob Dylan.

Of course, unlike the others, Dylan neither was born nor raised here, nor did he ever work or go to school here. No, he’s here only in spirit, as the result of transfiguration.

That means he is in a category of his own.

But we knew that already, didn’t we?

http://www.sbsun.com/johnweeks/ci_21766920/surprise-addition-local-family

The story is addressed in greater detail by author Grant Maxwell, in a post he describes as “a (slightly modified) excerpt from my forthcoming book, How Does It Feel?: Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Meaning of Rock and Roll,” which may be seen here:

http://rockandrollphilosopher.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/bob-dylans-transfiguration/

In that post Maxwell delves deep into the chronology of events, and how Zimmerman’s death ties in not only with Dylan’s own motorcycle crash, but with the entirety of Dylan’s professional career!  So, I guess that would make Zimmerman Dylan’s “guardian angel,” right?

Food for thought, if you’re inclined to think along those lines.

* NOTE: In the book Dylan mentions in his interview – Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club – Hells Angel Sonny Barger relates the story of Zimmerman’s death on the ride home from the Bass Lake Run, an annual Angel event immortalized in Hunter S. Thompson’s book on the Angels.  However, while on page 70 he gives the same 1964 date that Dylan used, on page 130, again recounting Zimmerman’s death, he writes that Zimmerman died in1962.  I can’t explain the discrepancies between Barger’s recollections and the chapter’s official website.

Bob Dylan and motorcycles

I’ve been doing a little research on songwriter Bob Dylan.  Like most riders, I already knew about his mysterious wreck near Woodstock, New York, in 1966, where he dumped his Triumph, injured himself to an unknown degree, and went into seclusion for a while.

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However, in reading through books about Dylan, interviews with people who knew him prior to his arrival in Greenwich Village, and his own Chronicles: Volume One (2004) I turned up a few references to Harleys, time spent running with the biker boys in his hometown, even being a bit of a “rough, tough” character.  I don’t know how true any of that is, but he apparently did spend some time around riders, as seen in the photos below.

1956:

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1966, on the Triumph he later wrecked:

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I always cringe at this one, because for some reason he’s dangling his feet – not a smart thing to do and goofy-lookin’ to boot!

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The passenger below is identified as “Sebastian,” but I don’t who Sebastian is:

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I’m not sure of the year – probably mid-’60s – but he appears to be riding a Japanese bike; maybe a Honda:

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and in 2004, back on a Harley-Davidson!

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One more, of the man on an entirely different kind of bike…

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…but wearing a motorcycle club jacket.  Go figure!

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