What makes a biker cool?
Hair slick with Brylcreem, his black leather jacket snug around his youthful torso, cigarette dangling loosely from his lips and a cap worn at a jaunty angle. Johnny Strabler and his casually arrogant swagger (swag for you Millennials) when he leans against his Triumph Bonneville with a trophy nonchalantly strapped to it, is the ultimate biker poster boy.
Portrayed on screen brilliantly by the legendary Marlon Brando in the 1953 Hollywood flick The Wild One, Johnny was the very personification of the free spirit in a post war America. The older suit and hat wearing generation who wanted order after the chaos of the war hated him, but for the youth of the world, he was just too cool.
Sixty-six years later, Johnny still defines why a biker is cool. While many would vehemently shake their heads and disagree loudly with my next statement, fact is, I believe a majority of the world’s bikers want to ride motorcycles not solely because of their love for the machines but also because they are in love with the biker lifestyle. Sure, you love the motorcycle you ride but that too is part of the whole lifestyle gig because the bike isn’t just a machine to you. It is so much more. For some it symbolises the pinnacle of technology. I mean c’mon these were essentially bicycles with a motor strapped on when they started life and now you can almost kiss the sound barrier astride one of these.
If you don’t believe me, ask Sirish what it’s like when you crack open the throttle on his ZX-14R. For others it’s a symbol of belonging. Any self- respecting H O G member or 59 Club member or Royal Enfield loyalist will tell you that. And for the vast lot of people who head out each weekend in search of that knee-down and now the elbow-down, they too are trying to emulate a lifestyle. One that’s centred around speed and the high-octane world of the race circuit. Then there is the solo touring enthusiast who relentlessly chases the notion of the free spirit as he, or she (remember Maral?), traverses vast distances and geographies.
What is interesting is that each of these seemingly very different kind of motorcyclist seems to be bound by one common factor. They are all undeniably cool people. They symbolise the breaking away from the norm, a desire to do things differently from the rest of society. So they dress differently, of course dictated largely by the needs of their specific form of motorcycling, speak in a language that others outside their world will seldom understand and carry with them the notion of the free spirit that Johnny first etched out for them back in ‘53.
What is even more interesting is the further devolution of this biker lifestyle to give rise to motorcycling sub-cultures around the world. Take Hell’s Angels for instance. Everyone in the biking world knows about these Harley-riding, leather-wrapped burlies who are seen as totally disruptive to normal society. Or the Rockers of Britain in the Swinging Sixties who were eventually shepherded into the 59 Club by the brave vicar Bill Shergold. Although different in thought processes and philosophy, the formation of these sub-cultures was led by two things. One, the idea of being able to let one’s hair down and do things beyond the mandate of normal social convention. Two, the desire to find others who would do the same, kindred souls in a sense.
The irony of this entire ‘living the cool biker life’ is that much as Johnny would have hated being integrated into the mainstream, manufacturers realised the power of catering to these individual identities soon enough and turned them into business targets.
The result is the vast array of machines of different kinds that you will see in any bike showroom today. Be that as it may, there is no denying however that once you’ve donned your blue jeans, booted up and strapped on your leathers, gloves and of course that helmet, it’s Johnny come alive all over again. You feel that swagger coursing through your veins, that air of casually arrogant nonchalance pops out from behind the wings and you become the undeniably cool biker.