Motorcycles are an image. Their rumbling engines and relatively unprotected drivers evoke the risk, freedom and power we Americans see in the open road. Leather, steel, grinning skulls, bare arms and flaming pinstripes are all part of the package, and they were all on display during Fayetteville’s 15th Bikes, Blues & BBQ rally this past week.
It’s an image full of history and light-hearted contradiction.
Motorcycle clubs as they’re known today began after World War II, when many returning GIs yearned for the camaraderie of wartime and the independence of peacetime. Now there are hundreds, maybe thousands of clubs. Some, such as the Outlaws and Hell’s Angels, declare themselves under their own law and begot the motorcycle gang stereotype. Others are based on religion, fighting against child abuse or for other causes or simply having the time and money to own a Harley.
This diversity means evangelists, middle-class mothers and fraternity brothers are all jumping into the leather-and-steel-stud scene. Nearly all of the bikers wore the same stoic, self-assured facial expression, but it broke often into smiles and laughs with the addition of beer, food or a nearby photographer. Grizzled and tan loners rode among sleek, primary-color scooters and racing bikes. The motorcycle conveys ties to nowhere, but many of the club members are retired from comfortable jobs or soon will be.
It’s no coincidence that the image codes as masculine in our society; rare was the woman who rode alone or with a man sitting behind her instead of the other way around.
In the end, the image seems at least partly to be an excuse to see the scenery with the wind in your face and to have one hell of a party. I don’t think I had seen so many motorcycles in my life, and most of them were ridden by friendly people. The noise stretched to every corner of town and the bars were open into the morning hours. The BBQ of the name was pretty good, too.