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Girls on Motorcycles: Retro photos of pioneering biker chicks
01.31.2017
11:03 am
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It really all began with the bicycle in the 1890s when wheelmen clubs across America started promoting the bicycle as a new sport—an enjoyable way to travel, exercise and spend free time. Similar clubs opened up in various parts of Europe, but while these were mainly the preserve of the wealthy and leisured class, Americans had the greater opportunity through the cheap mass production of bicycles, the space, the inclination, the time and the desire to get about on two wheels.

There were literally millions of bikes in the US by end of the 19th century. Very soon women were taking to the road and cycling their way across town and city and into history. The women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony said something to the effect that the bicycle did “more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world.” Women she said were “riding into suffrage on the bicycle.”

Not everyone agreed or was even happy with this. One crotchety dinosaur at the Washington Sunday Herald newspaper in 1891 described “a woman on a bicycle” as “the most vicious thing” he had ever seen. But like the dinosaur such attitudes soon extinct as once women were off on their bikes, there was no just stopping ‘em.

In parallel with the rise of the bicycle was the development of the motorcycle which was originally just a bike with an engine—though some had four wheels for balance instead of two. By 1903, Harley-Davidson sold their first motorcycles. The demand was soon fierce and companies popped up across the States producing motorbikes with thrilling names like the Marvel, the Indian and the Excelsior.

When the Indian motorcycle company added front and back shock absorbers to their motorbikes in 1915, the once far-fetched notion of long distance travel on two wheels quickly became a reality. That same year mother and daughter Avis and Effie Hotchkiss completed a 9,000 mile roundtrip by motorcycle from New York to San Francisco. In 1916, Adeline and Augusta Van Buren traveled across country on their motorbikes.

Now let’s just stop and think about these two long grueling incredible journeys. At the time there were no proper freeways. Most roads were dirt and dust. And women traveling on their own a century ago would have had to fend off unwanted advances and the unwarranted censure of every hick town they visited. Also, these women had to know how to fix their bikes when things went wrong.

By the 1920s a new generation of pioneering women bikers were taking to the road and traveling across continent. One such woman was Vivian Bales who became the first female biker to appear on the cover of Harley-Davidson’s Enthusiast magazine. Vivian was a little over five feet tall and and lacked the physical strength to kickstart her own bike but she still made a 5,000 mile trip across country on her flathead engine D-series Harley-Davidson in 1929.

Vivian wasn’t the only pioneering woman who rode into history on her motorbike during the 1920s. These photos of women bikers in America and Europe—mainly from around this decade—document the two-wheeled revolution that brought a new kind of freedom for women.
 
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Avis and Effie Hotchkiss, 1915.
 
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The Van Buren sisters.
 
More pioneering biker chicks, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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01.31.2017
11:03 am
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The wild wild world of Japanese rebel biker culture
05.28.2015
02:50 pm
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Former bosozuku leader, Kazuhiro Hazuki
 

“I was interested in them because they were punks and they were against society.”—Kazuhiro Hazuki, Narushino Specter gang

 
Back in the 1970s the term bōsōzoku (or “speed tribes”) was first used to describe Japanese biker gangs that routinely fought in the streets with rival gangs and the police. Often dressed like Kamikaze pilots, the bōsōzoku wreaked havoc speeding through the streets on their illegally modified bikes, blowing through red lights, and smashing the car windows of any motorist that dared defy them with baseball bats. Foreigners were an especially favorite target of the bōsōzoku’s aggression.
 
Bosozuku photo from a Japanese biker magazine with modified bike and helmet
Bōsōzoku biker with illegally modified bike and helmet (taken from a Japanese biker magazine)
 
Bosozuku bikers, 1970's
Bōsōzoku bikers, 1970’s
 
Bosozuku biker with his bike and bat, 1980's
Bōsōzoku biker, 1980’s
 
Bosozuku biker with bike and bat
 
The earliest incarnation of the bōsōzoku, the kaminari zoku, appeared in the 1950’s. Not unlike their idols from the films, The Wild Ones or Rebel Without a Cause, the group was formed by the youthful and disenchanted members of Japan’s proletariat, and the gang provided a place for the emerging delinquents to call their own. A fiercely disciplined and rebellious group, the bōsōzoku once boasted more than 40,000 members. By 2003 the bōsōzoku’s numbers had dwindled to just over 7000. According to first-hand accounts from former senior members, the modern version of the bōsōzoku (known as Kyushakai) no longer embody the rebel spirit of their predecessors. In fact, some have returned to homaging their rockabilly idols by donning elaborate Riizentos, a style of pompadour synonymous with disobedience. These days many ex-bōsōzoku parade around on their bikes in non-disruptive groups and enjoy dancing, performing music and socializing in groups in Harajuku, an area well known for its outrageous fashion.
 
Harajuku Black Shadow dancers (ex-bosozuku), 2008
Harajuku Black Shadow dancers (ex-bōsōzoku), hanging out in Harajuku, 2008
 
Ex-Bosozuku hanging out in Harajuku, 2008
 
Many factors are to blame for the demise of the traditional bosozuku. A former leader of from the Narushino Specter gang in the 90s (and one time Yakuza loan shark), Kazuhiro Hazuki recalls that the police were once content to allow the bōsōzoku to run riot and no matter how many times they were arrested, a gang member never had their license revoked. Over the years, revised traffic laws have led to a rise in the arrest and prosecution of the bōsōzoku. Some also point to the inclusion of women as bōsōzoku riders, now a common sight in Japan, and a less than robust economy (many bōsōzoku bikes can cost as much as ten grand) for the drastic reduction in the gang’s numbers.
 
Modern day Bosozuku
Modern-day bōsōzoku
 
Bosozuku biker girl
 
Modern Kyushakai bikers
Modern Kyushakai bikers
 
If this post has piqued your interest of vintage Japanese biker culture, there are several documentaries and films based on the bōsōzoku and other speed tribes in Japan, such as 1976’s God Speed You! Black Emperor, 2012’s Sayonara Speed Tribes, a short documentary that features historical perspective from the aforementioned Kazuhiro Hazuki, or the series of films from director Teruo Ishii based on the bōsōzoku that began in 1975 with, Detonation! Violent Riders. If you are a fan of Japanese anime, the story told in the cult film Akira deeply parallels the real world of the bōsōzoku in their heyday. Many images of the bōsōzoku of the past and their mind-boggling motorcycles follow.
 
Bosozuku biker, early 1970's
Bōsōzoku biker, early 1970’s
 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Cherrybomb
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05.28.2015
02:50 pm
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Outlaw Biker: The photography of Danny Lyon
11.14.2014
05:33 pm
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Clubhouse during the Columbus run. Dayton, Ohio (1966)
 
In Danny Lyon’s career as a photographer, he has documented civil rights activism in the south, Texas prisons, Colombian bordellos and more, but his most famous subjects are the outlaw bikers of the mid-1960s midwest. Lyon rode with The Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club himself and was able to capture incredibly intimate moments for his seminal collection, The Bikeriders. The shots are obviously gorgeous, but if you feel they look a little staged, you’re probably picking up on Lyon’s own infatuation and idealization of biker culture—the man was admittedly romantic in his portrayal.

During his biker years, Lyon actually maintained correspondence with Hunter S. Thompson, who was writing Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga at the time. Lyon (an upper middle-class, privately educated Brooklyn Jew) recounts being told by Thompson (a Kentuckian and self-proclaimed “hillbilly” of troubled and impoverished youth) to wear a helmet—instructions Lyon never took. Unlike Thompson (who was later greatly disillusioned with biker culture), Lyon acknowledged that his work was “an attempt to record and glorify the life of the American bikerider,” and glorify it he did.
 

Corky and Funny Sonny. Chicago, Illinois (1965)
 

Joey and his girl. Chicago, Illinois (1965)
 

Big Barbara. Chicago, Illinois (1965)
 

Renegade’s funeral.Detroit, Michigan (1965)
 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Amber Frost
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11.14.2014
05:33 pm
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Out with the Outcasts: Meet the biker gang from ‘Alan Partridge’ country
09.17.2014
12:40 pm
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Bobby is a biker with the Outcasts—a motorcycle club based in Norfolk, England. Bobby has three kids, and his daughter thinks he’s a Hell’s Angel. But the Outcasts are a small club, an average of 33 members—small enough for the members to know each other, to help each other out. Bobby thinks it’s a good club. “We do our own thing,” he’ll tell you.

That’s what the Outcasts are about—it’s about biking. We just live how we want to live—regardless of government or police. We just do what we want to do.

Norfolk is now better known as Alan Partridge country—“A-ha!”, where Stephen Fry surfs the web and counts his millions. For Bobby and the other members of the Outcasts in the 1980s, Norfolk was their patch, their turf, that they ran and protected from other gangs.
 
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Once, the Outcasts liked to ride into town and cause a bit of mayhem. Now they just live a quiet life and have a bit of fun. Other biker clubs want to wipe them out, but the Outcasts want to be left alone, and Bobby would prefer it if all the biker clubs partied with each other, instead of cutting each other up.
 
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The Outcasts make their money from odd jobs or collecting social security checks. It’s 1985, the middle of Margaret Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister and there’s not much work to be found.

Bobby’s mom might not like the way he lives, but she knows he will always be there for her, she says:

All young men like bikes, but they mostly grow out of it. It’s running around with knives and all these medals that I don’t like.

Bobby bought his first bike after his father died. He inherited some money, and his mom thought it better he buy a bike rather than steal one. But then Bobby just drifted into the Outcast life.
 
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Made in 1985, this fascinating portrait of the Outcasts motorcycle club is a must-see documentary. Though at times it edges towards Spinal Tap territory, the film is a beautiful crafted and vivid portrait of a group of young men seeking purpose and fulfillment in their lives.
 

 
H/T Voices of East Anglia

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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09.17.2014
12:40 pm
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