‘Art is eternal, for it reveals the inner landscape, which is the soul of man’ – – Martha Graham, Dancer and Choreographer – –
The very first article I ever published appeared in Easyriders, the groundbreaking magazine which was at once the LIFE, Saturday Evening Post and Reader’s Digest of the outlaw biker set. I wrote about tattoo removal – a topic I thought some readers might find interesting – after an encounter with a dermatologist at a Veteran’s Administration hospital in Hastings, Nebraska, who told me about a then-new technique for obliterating unwanted tattoos via laser. I won’t bore you with the details – the information is all woefully outdated anyway – but I ended my piece with the words
‘These days, even art is not eternal.’
However, barring catastrophic circumstances like the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, where – in addition to thousands of lives, including my cousin Eddie – an estimated $110 million worth of art was destroyed, or the Taliban’s deliberate destruction of The Buddhas of Bamiyan, art really is eternal….
….and even those pieces lost or destroyed live on in memory.
….and all this to say ‘Hey! I got some cool stuff to show ya!’
IN THE BEGINNING….
I don’t know who first attempted to paint or draw images of the biker life, but Dave Mann was certainly a pioneer. After selling some early paintings of biker life to Choppers magazine founder Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth (creator of the iconic ‘Rat Fink’ and a number of radically customized cars and motorcycles), Mann join the El Forastero Motorcycle Club (forastero is ‘stranger’ or ‘foreigner’ in Spanish) as a charter member of the club’s Kansas City MO chapter.
In 1971 Mann answered an advert for a ‘motorcycle artist’, discovered in the back pages of a new biker magazine called Easyriders, and spent the remainder of his working life as in-house artist for the publication. His first centerfold painting for Easyriders appeared in October, 1971, and Mann reportedly produced artwork – centerfold paintings, story illustrations and adverts – for every issue from that first to his retirement in 2003, shortly before he passed away. His final piece, Sunset, appeared in the May 2004 issue.
His earliest works were primitive – a cross between illustration and caricature – but as he gained experience Mann’s work took on a style reminiscent of the American painter Edward Hopper, who is best known for his iconic Nighthawks(1942). Look at the figures in Hopper’s work, and compare them to Mann’s. I certainly see the influence.
More than technique or style, however, Hopper and Mann shared the desire to illustrate and elevate the prosaic, the quotidian, the mundane everyday doings of regular people historically overlooked by representational artists. For Hopper it might be patrons seated in a late-night diner – an apparent oasis of light and warmth in an otherwise dreary cityscape – sharing space and yet isolated from one another, silent, bored. For Mann it could be the streetwalker ignoring her john to watch the more attractive, more enticing biker cruise by on his radical panhead chopper. Hopper might present a sweet moment between a young couple on a dark summer evening – you can almost hear the crickets singing – while Mann’s swain straddles a raked and stretched shovelhead as he chats up the object of his affections on a crisp autumn afternoon….
You get the point.
And by ‘centerfold’ I merely refer to the fact that Mann’s work appeared in the center pages of each issue, where it could be removed (as so many of us did) and turned into a poster. Although many of his paintings included idealized images of women, his purpose was to document our lives as bikers, not provide masturbation motivation for horny teenagers!
STRAIGHT ON FOR YOU!
One perspective Mann relied on was full frontal….
Here is another of my favorites, a classic piece by Dave Mann:
Mann returned to that theme many times in his career.
….as did Mann’s ‘Pacific Coast Highway Run’.
Another favorite was the reverse: the motorcycle moving in a straight line away from the viewer. He used both angles to great effect.
Mann’s follow-up to Coming at You appeared in a Jammers Handbook. Mann’s attention to detail extended even to the smallest things, like the oil spatter up this passenger’s left shoulder, excess lubricant slung off the rear drive chain at speed. You could always spot a biker chick by those chain tracks, and you could tell if she was packin’ on a Big Twin or Sporty by which shoulder was marked. I pissed off more than one woman passenger when their nicest tops ended up ruined that way! 🤷♀️
THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES
Mann’s technical abilities as an artist are undeniable but, as clearly demonstrated here, for those of us who ride it was Mann’s ability to illustrate the everyday aspects of our lives as bikers which so endeared him to us. He captured the emotional element – the ‘inner landscape’ Ms. Graham referenced in her quote – in painting after painting.. It might be two bikers blasting down an L.A. freeway, beards and club colors flapping in the wind, as one passes a joint to the other.
It might be a biker on his low, lean, radically stretched chopper, glaring balefully at the cop writing out a traffic ticket.
It might be a woman frustrated and angry because her old man, the insensitive prick, just passed a beer joint when she desperately needed a potty break….
….or another one of my favorites. showing a woman curled up against her man’s back, safe and secure and sleepy after a weekend of riding and camping out under the stars, while he steers his radical chopper back to the brightly-lit city in the distance.
One of Dave Mann’s most iconic images has been stolen and reproduced on everything from t-shirts and coffee mugs to wall tapestries, area rugs and more. In ‘Ghost Rider’ Mann equates the hard-riding biker at the foreground to the hard-riding ghostly cowboy keeping pace with him. Some of the later reproductions went the politically correct route of erasing the SS lightning bolts Mann’s biker has on his fuel tank….
….and that’s a topic for a whole ‘nother post! 😎
Mann covered breakdowns and break-ups, club life and solo riders, sleek choppers and road-warrior rat bikes, and brought to each painting the same skill and dedication to detail. He was our Frederic Remington, and we loved him for it.
Another favorite. Anyone who rides very long at all has been in a similar situation….
….but try to make the best of it! 😆
BREAKING DOWN AND CRACKING UP!
Paul Simon once sang ‘Everything put together sooner or later falls apart,’ and that’s as true of motorcycles as anything else. In numerous paintings, Dave Mann captured the frustration and helplessness of that instant when your machine fails, and you realize there’s nothing you can do about it except sit and wait, or go for help.
In the early ’80s, on a ride through the Central Texas Hill Country southwest of Austin, I stripped the teeth off my primary drive belt while pulling up a steep hill. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone. It grieved me to interrupt my friends’ ride that way, but I was stuck.
BTW, that was one of the very few times my shovelhead rode home in the back of a truck.
One of the reasons I have always been psychotic about building my bikes to be bulletproof, and making sure I can fix all but the worst breakdowns with tools and spare parts in my road kit is because I cannot stand to be that helpless, hapless rider stranded beside the road. I’d rather have people depend on me than have to impose on friends or, worse still, depend on the kindness of strangers.
In this instance, when I got the bike home and went to replace the wasted primary belt, I learned that I couldn’t have replaced the belt by the side of the road even if I’d had a spare belt with me; that the inner primary cover (which can’t be removed without an impact wrench and clutch-hub puller) wouldn’t let me take the belt off the engine pulley! Since I had the inner primary cover off anyway, I took the opportunity to grind down the bosses on the inner primary so that I couldtake the belt off without removing the inner primary. That’s just how I roll! 😁
As an aside: I will never understand why some riders get angrywhen I mention tool kits and roadside repairs in that context. Seems to me everyone is better off if I can fix the problem by the side of the road and get on with the ride, rather than be forced to wait for a wrecker or a buddy with a trailer to come fetch me. Still, I’ve had riders – every one of them the sort I call ‘Born Again Bikers’ – get absolutely incensed at the notion that I am capable in that regard, as if my competence was – dare I say it? – a challenge to their manhood…. 🙄
And that’s a whole ‘nother post, too! 😏
Of course, it could be worse. You could be well and truly fucked, like this poor couple….
However, if you’re lucky enough to break down while riding with others, the Biker’s Code says ‘No biker left behind.’ By hook or crook or boot or rope, you’re both getting home.
And if all else fails….
Another scene most riders will recognize (or cringe from): the bike that just…. Will. Not. Start! I’ve never owned a Sportster, but I started my share during my years of working at Bud’s. I’ve also been that pissed at my shovel, when it’s been particularly coldblooded and cantankerous. Fortunately for me, those instances have been few and far between….
….and the next sound you hear will be me knockin’ on wood! 😱
Sadly, our machines aren’t the only things that betray us.
Bikers are all too familiar with the cager who seems to have it in for us. Popular wisdom advises riders Don’t ride as if they can’t see you; ride as if they’re aiming for you! Unfortunately, I know from bitter experience that sometimes they actually are aiming for us!
But if one of the bastards gets you, what can you do but heal as best you can, and dream of getting back in the wind where you belong.
If you’ve ever built a motorcycle, you’ll recognize the anguished look on this fellow’s face, as he watches his freshly painted fuel tank head for a collision with the garage floor.
Mayhaps he needs a helper. Maybe a curvaceous blonde? Someone half-naked, perhaps? Yeah, that’ll do the trick! 😆
In Mann’s art, women are primarily placed in secondary roles as backrests, bike washers, beer fetchers and sexual conquests. In Mann’s world, women rarely ride their own. In fact, of the hundreds of paintings Mann produced, I’ve only found a baker’s dozen thus far depicting women riders. However, to his credit, man or woman, when he painted them he brought the same skills, artistic integrity and vision to bear.
Finally, what could be finer than doing something you love, like riding, and looking over to see the person you most love in this world enjoying the same thing?
I FOUGHT THE LAW AND THE LAW WON!
One of the downsides of biker life is the occasional brush with the law.
I’ve gotten a couple of these over the years. One was right after I’d installed brand new mufflers on my bike! Turns out I was riding my motorcycle in that trooper’s personal ‘No Biker Zone’. I’ve learned there are a lot of those in this state. 🙄 I’ve come to see ‘too loud’ tickets as a sort of ‘road-use tax’; nothing to do but pay the piper.
My best road dog learned that the hard way. We were jamming through West Texas enroute to the Four Corners region when we were tagged by a state trooper near Sweetwater, Texas. On a busy Interstate Highway packed full of noisy highballing tractor-trailers and speeding cagers, he spotted us coming the opposite direction, doubled back and pulled us over. He actually claimed he could hear our exhausts over the noise of the semis and pickup trucks, despite the fact that my exhaust system was in excellent condition, and my partner’s was almost new. The trooper ignored the modified pickup that blasted past us as we stood there (leaving us all with tinnitus) and wrote us both tickets for ‘exhaust too loud.’
The first time I received a ‘too loud’ ticket, over a decade earlier, I was incensed because, as it happened, my mufflers were brand-new at the time. How could this asshole write me a ticket? I went so far as to call the Attorney General’s office, to see if this was even legal, and was told the law leaves ‘too loud’ to the discretion of the officer making the traffic stop. How can you argue against that in a court of law? You can’t, so I paid up, and gained the ‘road-use tax’ perspective.
In the Sweetwater incident, I paid my fine before we left the jurisdiction. I am scrupulous about such things, because I never want to give a cop an excuse, like an unpaid traffic ticket, to pull me off my bike. If they want me they’re gonna have to make something up!
However, my partner, who had never been through this, was overcome with righteous indignation, and swore he’d fight this outrage. Sure enough, when we got back from our week on the road, he had his motorcycle inspected, gathered all pertinent documentation, closed his clinic for two days and hied himself out to Sweetwater to wage war against injustice.
The upshot? He lost two days out of his practice, the cost of travel to Sweetwater and overnight accommodations, and had to pay a fine and ‘court costs’ amounting to more than three times what I’d paid the day I got the ticket. I refrained from saying ‘I told you so,‘ but I did tell him so! 😆 As I said: nothing to do but pay the piper and get on down the road.
A final note: I mentioned the Sweetwater stop to my attorney at the time, who specialized in motorcycle-related law, and he said ‘Oh, that was Trooper _______.’ Apparently, the fellow who stopped us was renowned statewide for his hatred of bikers. 🤷♀️ Whatcha gonna do?
We’ve all had close calls like this one, too.
But sometimes the heat is more than just an inconvenient traffic stop or speeding ticket. Too many bikers have wasted years inside prison walls, and Mann showed their lives, as well.
On a brighter note, here Mann captures the joy on a rider’s face as he clears those gates. The first things he sees are his girl, a bottle of Jack, and his prized shovelhead chop. As an added bonus: Dave Mann and Jacquie stand at far right, ready to welcome him back to the world.
Mann knew the history of our tribe, too, from the streets of Hollister, where it all began….
….through the early days of the custom bike scene.
A RABBIT HOLE:
If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go down a rabbit hole for just a moment, to show you another painstaking replica: the late tattoo artist Richiepan’s reproduction of Dave Mann’s own red rigid-framed shovelhead, as pictured below.
So many incredible paintings, but one of the images that most touches me is this, depicting a rider on his rigid shovelhead; the rider and bike from Ghost Rider, sans SS lightning bolts and cowboy. This time, the biker is alone in the desert hills, but the shadow behind him tells us he’s missing his woman, wishing she were still packing behind him for the long ride, tucked in behind him where she belongs. The tattoo on his arm and the title – In Memory Of… – suggest that she’s not just out of his life, but altogether gone from this world. So much emotion and history packed into one small frame!
Thankfully, I’ve never lost a lover to death, but I do know the ache of yearning for something you once possessed, and will never have again.
Finally, another appearance by the artist himself.
DAVID WILLIAM MANN, September 10th, 1940 to September 11th, 2004. R.I.P.
SCANDINAVIAN countries are known for their long dark winters. Causing those Viking knights to take refuge in their homes, only to come back out again in Spring. As a Head of Design at a Norwegian distillery, Swedish born (but 1/4th Norwegian..) David Höök is dealing with liquor all day long, so rather than drinking those dark freezing nights away, he was looking for another way to get through the winter period.
Only a couple of years ago he took up the art of customizing when he suddenly had space available after buying a new house.
Softie for Softails
David is a softie for Harley softails and he decided to use this frame for his winter project. The combination with a late generation Evo 1340cc engine felt like the right choice for him. Upon making his mind up he locked himself up in his shed only to reappear in Spring with this ‘Dull Boy’! (see video)
The nickname got us wondering where he got the inspiration from. Looking at the way the bike came out, we would have expected stuff like ‘mean machine’ or ‘nasty nailer’.
David explains: “At first I considered to make it look like a newer H-D Breakout, but then I saw a late night re-run of the 1980’s movie “The Shining” with Jack Nicholson and it has one of my favourite movie scenes of all time where the proverb “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is central.”
“I decided there and then to build the bike based on that and it felt natural to make it look like it had been through a lot. I always plan my builds thoroughly in advance to the smallest of details so I had the everything pretty much worked out to before I started on the bike.”
Whilst on the subject of sources of inspiration, Bikebrewers team decide to pry a little bit deeper. On our query where his vision for this build originated the Viking builder retorted:
“Being the bike nerd I am, I spend a lot of time looking at bikes on Instagram, Pinterest, etc., picking up ideas here and there. Last year I came upon the work of Joe Morris (Jmoto Speedshop and Gallery) and something clicked.
His work really opened my eyes to drawing and painting on bikes, instead of just painting everything black as I had done on my previous builds. As a kid, I used to spend a lot of time drawing and worked as an illustrator for quite some time, but lost interest in this art along the way.
Thinking of bikes as a “canvas” provided me with at creative outlet that I didn’t know I had missed.”
“Gentlemen, roll up your sleeves and light those torches”
With the creative part in place, it was time to get dirty and dive into the technical stuff. According to David he did not meet too many serious challenges working this project. The only minor obstacle was fitting the Road King rear wheel into the frame. It took him a lot of lathing and grinding to get the job done, but other than that things went fairly easy.
Meeting hurdles during a build often requires outside insights before being able to take the next step. “So David, when was the moment you needed an extra hand? “ we asked him.
“My brother, who has a lathe, helped me turn down the rear pulley to fit the 20mm belt and I left the seat to an upholsterer to cover it in leather. I’ve started to learn to do this kind of work myself now though. I like to be able to do everything on my builds, and I really enjoy working with leather.”
Final words • What do you like the most? o “The spare fuel bottle” • Anything particular we need to know about this project? o “It has “All work and no play makes make Jack a dull boy” written in places you would never think of…” • Last but not least, how does it ride? o “Like a dream”
Details of the build
• Estimated budget: € 13-14K • 1998 Harley Davidson FXSTC, nicknamed “Dull Boy” • Stock Evo 1340 with S&S Super E carb, Andrews EV-27 cam, adjustable pushrods and Crane Cams single fire ignition • Cycle Shack drag pipes • Lowered 1.5-2″ front and rear. Progressive shocks and springs • Wheels are from 2009+ Road King. 17×3 with 130×80 in the front and 16×5 with 200×60 in the rear. • Pulley is modified to fit a 20mm belt. • Lower fork legs and brake calipers are also from 2009+ Touring models • Handlebar is a 40″ Highway Hawk Fat Flyer bar. • Headlight a 6.5″ housing modified to house the stock H-D 5.75” headlight. • Mirrors are Arlen Ness mini ovals. • Extended forward controls • Braided brake lines from HEL Performance • Kellermann Atto DF tail/indicator lights • Front indicators are small LED’s from Dock66.de • Custom made seat • Custom made rear fender • Left swingarm bag is from bikebeauty (I’ve added the wear and the lettering). • The right one is from bikersgearaustralia
IMO, rat bikes are organic creatures that evolve over time. They slowly accumulate a patina of baked-on oil, mud and rust. They rack up dings and tweaks and cracks, and develop quirks that render the bike virtually unrideable to anyone but its owner. Maybe a part replaced on the fly doesn’t match the rest of the bike. Maybe something off a Honda or Hodaka was jiggered to fit your Harley, or vice-versa. Maybe it’s a Sportster tank on a Knucklehead, an Evo engine stuffed in a Panhead frame, or the forks off a ’66 cop bike bolted to an AMF-era Shovelhead. Maybe a good road dog gifts you a sticker, a bandana or some other memento, so you slap it on there, somewhere, and it gives you an excuse to tell everyone who asks about the great partner who gave it to you….
….and so it goes. The end product (if a rat bike can ever truly be an ‘end product’) is a machine of unquestionable authenticity and experience, skillfully crafted by mileage and time.
Buildinga ‘rat bike’ is, conversely, the ultimate in poseur pretense and inauthenticity: far worse than throwing mud on the bike you trailered to Sturgis to make it look like you rode the entire way, or taking sandpaper to a new pair of boots to make them look scuffed and well-worn. People who don’t know any better might think your fresh-from-the-workshop ‘rat bike’ is all kinds of nifty, but you will always know in your heart of hearts that it’s just a facsimile, a knockoff, a cheap shortcut to the real deal.
None of this is intended to take away from David Höök’s abilities as a builder of motorcycles. He can obviously be thorough, thoughtful and attentive to detail. Were he to turn his talents to building a proper chopper, or a new twist on the café or bobber or street pro, or even a straight-up custom Softail a la the Fat Boy, I feel certain Mr. Höök could create something more worthy of his talents. If this ‘Dull Boy’ is actually, honestly, the very best he can do, then I fear Mr. Höök truly is a dull boy, and no amount of beer will fix that.
I was eager to see if Mr. Betist might share my critique with his readers. 🤷♀️ Instead, he deleted the entire article! 🤣🤣🤣
Forty years ago I attended an antique motorcycle show here in Austin, and came across two Famous James motorcycles. I’m a Harley guy, and I knew something about Harleys, but aside from that? Not so much. I kinda sorta knew of Indian and some of the better known metric brands – the Triumphs, Nortons and B.S.A.s friends rode when I was a teen, and the Italians and Japanese makes I’d see in motorcycling magazines – but I knew nothing about the hundreds of marques that rose and fell before and during Harley-Davidson’s tenure, and had never heard of my namesake motorcycle company.
The James Cycle Company Ltd. began manufacturing bicycles in 1897, and produced their first engine-powered cycle in 1902. After a short residence in Sampson Road, Birmingham, the works were moved to Greet, Birmingham, and from that locale the company produced a number of popular motorcycles, all the way up to 750cc, in solo and sidecar configurations. They put out some good-looking machines with a reputation for reliability.
They also produced some innovations that didn’t quite fly – a hub-centered steering system is one such – and even teamed up with an outfit called Samson to create a three-wheeled ‘Handyvan’, complete with enclosed cab.
James earned a name for itself in TT races, which helped sales, and its economy models like the Comet proved popular in a Britain still reeling from the aftereffects of World War Two. However, as automobiles became more affordable in post-war Britain, and Japanese motorcycles later began eating up remaining market shares, sales of British motorcycles fell. A number of marques were either discontinued or swallowed up by the conglomerate Associated Motor Cycles (AMC), including Francis-Barnett in 1947, and James in 1951.
Production continued, but little innovation was ventured – on occasion the only difference between a James and a Frances-Barnett was the tank badge and paint scheme! – and sales continued to plummet. A scooter, released in 1960, might have helped save the marque had it been released earlier. However, it was a case of too little too late, and AMC (and James) died in 1966.
Standing there in that exhibition hall, I had no way of knowing all that. I just saw my family name on a pretty sweet-looking motorcycle and thought I ought to have me one of those! However, I had not a clue where to begin looking for one.
Then, just a few months later, a co-worker who was desperate to get himself a Harley picked up one of the freebie advertising magazines that were popular in the days before craig’s list – this one geared to motor vehicles – and sure enough, there was an advert for a James!
I made arrangements to meet the seller at his shop in a small town north of San Antonio, where he had the bike suspended from the ceiling by a come-along. I bought the thing, hauled it home in the back of my work van, and started researching.
This was pre-internet days (for me, anyway) and ‘researching’ involved chatting up anyone who might know anything about vintage machines, scouring magazines for any mention of the James, writing letters that were often ignored, calling long-distance (remember those days?) and running up my telephone bill, et cetera. I even got up early one Sunday morning and rode my motorcycle halfway across Texas to attend an antique motorcycle show, on the off chance someone there might know something.
Someone steered me to a company called Meeten & Ward, Ltd. of Surrey, England, and they identified the bike as a Comet, powered by a Villiers 98cc 1F engine. They thought it was made somewhere between 1949 and 1953, and assured me they could provide engine spares as needed.
I later discovered an Ohio-based company called Accessory Mart (aka DomiRacer), and from them I purchased a copy of Roy Bacon’s Villiers Singles & Twins. It was from Mr. Bacon that I learned mine was a 1949 model.
Sadly, both Meeten & Ward and Accessory Mart have since gone out of business, but my quest went on.
Over the years I acquired a branded James shock absorber spanner and footpeg rubber, a large advertising poster and a 1956 parts manual, but never got anywhere on the actual restoration.
The James made a lovely telephone stand in my bachelor pad, and I lugged it with me wherever I went, until I married and settled back in Austin. There it was consigned to a backyard shed, dry and safe but utterly neglected for the next eight years.
I had a fun experience one evening, while on a ride with some friends. We had stopped for supper, and when we came out an older gentleman was looking at our bikes. Now, anyone who has ridden for any length of time has encountered the fellow who comes up and says, wistfully, ‘I used to have one of those, but…,’ followed by the explanation that it was sold to pay for school, or because the kids needed new shoes, or some such thing. However, this old boy shocked the hell out of me when he said ‘Have you ever heard of a James motorcycle?’ I shocked him right back when I told him ‘I have one in my living room!’
What are the odds of us running into each other like that? Two strangers, bonding over an obscure motorcycle brand very few Americans have ever heard of! Like I said, fun!
My disabling work injuries made the dreamt-of restoration even less likely, and finally led me to sell the James in early 2008 – a decision I have questioned ever since – but I’ve not lost my fascination with the history. In fact, I was doodling around on the ‘net when I discovered Sheldon’s EMU. If you’re into motorcycling history, that site will keep you busy for a good long while!
So, that’s my history lesson for the day.
NOTE: after publishing this, I came across a Facebook group for James enthusiasts. I wanted to note it here in case anyone is interested in learning more about the marque, or seeing photos of some beautifully-restored James motorcycles dating back to the earliest days of the marque’s (and motorcycling’s) history. Visit: https://www.facebook.com/groups/106226192748844/about
A FOLLOW-UP, 5 November 2022: just last night, I learned that a Brit who claims to own the James trademarks is attempting to revive the marque. Amanda Quick wrote about it here: https://www.webbikeworld.com/the-famous-james-iso-brand-investor-not-picky-must-love-brit-bikes/ (she used one of my images for her article, with appropriate credit, and thank you, Amanda!) and MCN mentioned it here: https://www.motorcyclenews.com/news/2022/october/james-motorcycle-brand-returns/ but I admit to some doubts. As noted in my reply to Ms. Quick’s article, John Oakley’s windmill is a wondrous thing, but it’s still a windmill. If Indian – a much better-known brand – has struggled so to arise from the trash-heap of history, what chance has an obscure, much-loved-but-little-remembered British marque that quietly petered out of existence almost sixty years ago? If Mr. Oakley is serious about reinventing the Famous James, and not just hustling investors in an attempt to cash in on an otherwise useless intellectual property, I wish him all the luck in the world, but (much as a stock certificate from the James Motorcycle Company might be a fun thing to own, framed on my wall) I will probably not be investing in his venture. The next sound you hear will be me, waiting and watching.
Four years ago today we lost one of the best men I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.
ABOVE: Bud Reveile on 7 January 2015, a couple of months before he passed away.
Bud Reveile was a Vietnam veteran; a U.S.M.C. tanker whose story was included in Oscar E. Gilbert’s Marine Corps Tank Battles in Vietnam. He was a devout Christian and family man, and a lifelong and benevolent member of the East Austin community.
Bud was also a dyed-in-the-wool Harley man, a walking encyclopedia of all things Harley-Davidson, and a natural-born good guy. He could talk to anyone – Bud maintained friendships with outlaw bikers and cops, Christians and atheists, bankers and b-girls and bums – and he did his level best to treat everyone with respect. He had very few enemies, and the only ones I ever met were only enemies because Bud wouldn’t give them something for nothing. He was a businessman – a true old-school horse-trader who worked hard to make a buck – but Bud was honest, and in all my years of knowing him I never saw him take advantage of anyone.
Bud built his business the old-fashioned way, beginning (just like Harley and the Davidsons themselves) in a backyard shed behind his North Austin home with some tools, a small collection of used motorcycle parts, and his experience working at Harley dealerships in California and Austin.
In April of 1979 Bud moved his operations to the grounds of a defunct lumberyard in East Austin. There a Spartan tin shack – unheated in winter, un-air-conditioned in summer, noisy and dusty all year ‘round – served as mechanic’s bay, showroom and office, while erstwhile lumber bins held his burgeoning parts inventory.
Over the following 36 years, Bud created a sprawling compound that eventually covered more than a quarter of a city block. In a ramshackle series of structures – some built, others acquired or repurposed and all interconnected – Bud kept aisles and aisles (and piles and piles) of old and odd motorcycle parts jumbled up in glorious disarray. There were tons of new old stock; OEM and aftermarket pieces painstakingly gathered from shops that were going out of business or dealerships purging their parts departments, stacked right alongside all the bent, broken, rusted, oil-soaked parts salvaged from a thousand different spent and clapped-out motorcycles. There was everything a rider might need to repair an old machine, customize a new one or, for that matter, build herself one from the ground up. Visiting Bud’s shop was like stepping back in time to those halcyon days when Harley shops were unique, one from another, instead of the prefabricated corporate clones they have become. For those of us who care about such things, Bud’s was Disneyland! 🙂
I first met Bud in the summer of 1979, when another biker gave me one of Bud’s cards. I had just gotten my first Harley, and wanted to learn everything I could about them. When I saw that Bud was the real deal I quickly asked if I could become a shop hang-around. I would come in after work and on weekends, exchanging free labor for the occasional discount motorcycle part and a far more valuable education in Harley-Davidsons. By the fall of that year I was working there full time, and in one way or another I kept working there for the next 36 years.
ABOVE: My shovelhead outside Bud’s perimeter fence, fall of 1980. Over the fence are the lumber stalls, now enclosed to create mechanics’ bays downstairs and parts storage upstairs.
Jack-of-all-trades what I was, I helped build various add-ons to the shop, including closing in the old lumber stalls to create additional mechanics’ bays, and reinforcing the second story so parts could be stored there. I ran electrical systems throughout as the business sprawled across first one, then two, and finally three separate lots known to all and sundry as 2612 East First Street. I worked as a shop grunt, with my elbows deep in the muck of the parts washer, became a parts man and mechanic, and even lived on-site for a while during one of my periods of homelessness, doubling as night watchman while hiding my as-yet-unpaid-for shovel from the repo man. I served as publicist, writing articles about Bud and the shop for national magazines, and provided backup on the rare occasion when a situation so demanded.
ABOVE: Bud’s logo, created and reproduced here by the artist, MAG. The same design also graced Bud’s t-shirts, business cards, bumper stickers…
I also traveled with Bud to swap meets all over hell and gone, driving his rattletrap old school bus gutted of seats and packed full of the infamously “new, used and abused” parts that were Bud’s specialty: everything from trendy chrome gewgaws and one-off chopper parts to hard-to-find transmissions, carburetors, flywheels and cylinder heads. Sometimes it seemed as if we were carrying half of Bud’s inventory with us when we set out and, because Bud shopped even as he sold, frequently carried even more inventory back to Austin!
ABOVE: My shovelhead right after I switched to a rigid frame, late 1980 or early ’81, in front of the tin shed that held Bud’s original “showroom” and mechanic’s bay. The notorious school bus is visible at top left.
All those parts, BTW, were haphazardly stacked in rectangular metal trays, and part of my job as grunt was to hump the damn things in and out of the bus at every stop. Bud was a “recycler” before recycling was trendy – those metal trays were actually old medicine chests salvaged from a downtown hotel slated for demolition – and when filled with panhead four-speed gears, ironhead cylinders, shovelhead connecting rods and the like they were heavy and sharp-edged enough to take off fingers! I hated them with a passion, but even those trays couldn’t diminish the joy of traveling in Bud’s circle, meeting bikers and shop owners from around the world, learning the ins and outs of doing business the East Austin Way.
ABOVE: A profile I wrote about Bud, back in the summer of 1991.
Of course, Bud also became one of my best, most reliable friends. He always seemed glad to see me, to step out and share a meal or just hole up in his cramped little office and visit for a while. There wasn’t much we couldn’t discuss, either, from faith and fear to family and friends, flatheads to Twin Cams, the war, the rallies at Sturgis and Daytona, the swap meet circuit, the biker books we both enjoyed and exchanged, and, naturally, the latest gossip from the motorcycling scene. Toward the end, we talked about what was happening to him, and steps he needed to take to be at peace as he crossed that final bridge. Like everyone who loved him, I did what I could to help, but it wasn’t enough. If it could have done any good I’d have cheerfully given up blood, sweat and body parts to help him recover, or at least not suffer quite so much.
The day Bud died I exchanged texts with another longtime friend who had known Bud in the days when he worked at the old Harley-Davidson dealership in town. I wrote that our world just became a much smaller place. He agreed, writing “Smaller, sadder, and much more lonely.”
I miss my friend every day, but I remain grateful that he was my friend. Through Bud I got to be part of a grand tradition in American motorcycling – the small independent shop that is the backbone of the bikers’ world. Bud’s was a near-mystical place packed full of history disguised as scrap metal – a funky, messy mélange of mechanic and machinist’s shop, motorcycle museum and meeting hall – and it was a BLAST! Man, I’m glad I got to be there!
ABOVE: Bud’s Motorcycle Shop circa early 2000s, photographer unknown.
Greetings, y’all. You might say I’ve been busy lately – flooded home, reconstruction, dealing with ongoing pain and disability from my catastrophic work accident in 2004 – but I haven’t forgotten this site, or the things I still hope I might accomplish here. Anyhoo…
There’s a fellow who does some really fun stuff with what he calls “Rejected Princesses”: strong, often rebellious and even violent women who violate the gender norms of their day and challenge the male-dominated societies in which they lived; wild women who blaze their own paths and fight their own battles; women that Walt Disney and company would never consider for cutesy movies, clothing lines and toy tie-ins a la Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel, Pocahontas and Mulan. His name is Jason Porath, he hangs out over at Rejected Princesses, and as a son, brother, husband and erstwhile stepfather to some pretty amazing women, I really, really enjoy his work.
Jason has honored women like baseball pitcher Jackie Mitchell, the seventeen year old woman who, in 1931, struck out New York Yankees hitters Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, back to back, before being pulled from the game, quite possibly for embarrassing the two stars. Then there’s Lyudmila Pavlichenko, the young Russian woman who, in World War Two, energized by the Germans’ destruction of her University, became the deadliest female sniper in history (in a cadre of deadly women snipers that Russia fielded to fend off the Nazis, Lyudmila took out 309 of the bastards) and later became friends with American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Or howzabout Rosalind Franklin, who made the discovery of DNA possible with her pioneering work in X-Ray diffraction (whatever the devil that is!) and was promptly ignored and even posthumously insulted by the pompous asses who claimed the resulting Nobel Prize for themselves.
Jason even delves into ancient history, with women like Hypatia, the first female mathematician in recorded history, and mythology, with women like Iara, the Brazilian warrior woman who was murdered by her own father – tossed in a river to drown – and subsequently turned into a mermaid by sympathetic fish, so she could sing a siren song that drove men mad with desire. The entire site is chock-a-block with stories like these, and pretty cool Disney-styled portraits of the women in question. Jason’s also published a book, Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions and Heretics, and is working on a second volume.
So, what does all this have to do with motorcycling?
Not a damned thing, except that, just today, I took a moment to suggest two new heroines for Jason’s files; two women well-known to those of us who read the history of motorcycling. My entry is reproduced below, and if Jason should opt to honor one or more of the women I mention, I’ll be back here ASAP to announce it. Meanwhile, take a stroll over to Rejected Princesses and poke around a bit. As internet time-sucks go, it’s one of the more entertaining and enlightening sites out there.
There are two women who loom large in the world of motorcycling – the world I’ve lived in since I was seven years old (55 years ago) and got my first ride on the back of a neighbor boy’s bike.
Dot was NOT the first lady of motorcycling, despite the title – by the end of the 20th Century’s first decade women were already making their mark in the world of motorcycling by taking cross-country trips (well before the advent of the Lincoln Highway, Route 66, the Interstate System, or even “luxuries” like motels and motorcycle repair shops every 10th of a mile along the way) and acting as ambassadors for the sport and lifestyle of motorcycling – but Dot DID do a lot to further women’s participation.
Bessie was an African-American woman who took numerous solo motorcycle trips across America during the Jim Crow era, when “uppity” blacks were getting lynched and jailed at an appalling rate. She apparently never lost her joyful approach to life and motorcycling.
There are other women, like Effie and Avis Hotchkiss, Adeline and Augusta Van Buren and Della Crewe – some of those early pioneers cited above – who are also worthy of mention, but Bessie and Dot are two of better-known women ‘cyclists.
Anyhoo, I love the work you do. I was one of the folks who pre-ordered the first RP book, and am looking forward to the second. I hope you’ll consider honoring one, both or ALL of these fantastic women. If I may be of assistance in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Bill J. from Austin
UPDATE: I’m a little slow getting this posted here (what else is new?) but I promised an update when I heard back from Jason Porath, and here ’tis. I actually heard back from Jason almost immediately, and he told me:
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