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Two-wheeled tribalism

The multiple manifestations of motorcycle culture

Homosapiens is a herd animal. Drive into any sparsely populated car park, settle on a remote space to then go about your business and upon your return your car will be surrounded by later-arriving vehicles within the otherwise vast emptiness. Put up your tent in a corner of a tranquil camping ground and the next to arrive will decide that the attraction of wide open spaces is best enjoyed from close proximity to you. OK, it's evolution; the herding instinct is in our species' DNA as a protective mechanism. Same as with sheep.

Well, some of us suffer from defective genes - we have the get-the-fuck-away-from-me genetic mutation. Call us Homofuckoffis. Hofo for short. Many Hofo were attracted to motorcycling for obvious reasons - it was an escape mechanism. Now while we Hofo liked to think of ourselves as individualistic and not of the general amorphous mass of humanity we were still largely human. So, we formed into tribes - sub-cultures within the sub-culture of motorcycling.

But, motorbiking has now become somewhat mainstream and acceptable over the last couple or three decades, much as the once counter-culture of surfing has become family-values acceptable. The iconic Captain Goodvibes, legendarily libidinous, reefer-toking, Aussie surfing pig of steel with lipstick on his dipstick has morphed into Captain Wholesome with 'appropriate behaviour' caveats in his sponsorship contract. Sigh! ...............

Where was I? ..... Oh - motorcycling sub-cultures. The descriptions here applied in the latter part of last century as multi-functional and cross-over bikes have since blurred the demarcations between once different tribes - the differences then being apparent to motorbikers if not to outsiders; when the aesthetics of motorcycledom were opaque to the uninitiated.

These days if you own a motorcycle you're likely to also have multiple other interests - mountain biking, skiing, boating, pilates, blogging. The motorbike is just another hobby whereas it was once more of a commitment; to a two-wheeled lifestyle and to the immediate tribe and hence there were attributes applicable to each of those tribes. Old motorbikers will remember them.

Beemer riders. A beard and a suit of saggy-crotched, waxed cotton weather-proofs was a characteristic they shared with their dirt-bike brethren from the enduro tribe. You could tell the difference, sans bike, by the bugs on the BMW rider's teeth and the stripe of cow shit up the back of the enduro rider.

These long distance haulers were commonly riding solo given their Teutonic personalities did not encourage intimacy. The Hofo was strong in the BMW riders.

Stoners. Not pot-smoking layabouts, but an Oz-specific group inspired by the 1974 movie Stone featuring bikini-faired Kawasaki Z900s. The short-lived phenomenon was somewhat reminiscent of the 50s British cafe racers of Mods and Rockers infamy.

Cafe racers. An enduring tribe that has evolved over time from British bikes, black studded leather adorned with chains to super-bike riding boy-racers in full, multicoloured GP-style leathers. The Brits back then also called themselves the ton-up boys - the ton being 100 mph, a challenging ambition 65 years ago. Now you can wander into a bike shop for an off-the-shelf product that is capable of almost twice that; public roads aside. The nanny-staters are not happy.

I will confess to being a recent member of this tribe, meeting up on a Saturday morning for a brisk run over a favourite route for a manly de-caf skinny latte. I didn't renew my membership after the coffee became more important to the group than the ride did.

Road racers. "Road" meaning an asphalt race track. This description applies to the aspirational, amateur week-end club racers who were subject to a strictly defined social hierarchy that came with official rankings - A, B &C status.

While their social standing was determined primarily by talent it was also subject to access to a reasonably high disposable income - "how fast can you afford to go?" At the time i didn't fully understand the road racers - the formality, the officialdom, the expense. Since the advent of the track day I now fully appreciate what went on in their heads and why they had a lump in the crotch of their leathers.

Harley riders. Image rules. Whether bikers or bankers they mostly were, and mostly remain - wankers.

Ducatisti. Ducatis were for the cognoscenti, the aesthetes and the discerning who appreciated style with substance. Ducati produced some crap, but their good bikes were fucking fabulous. If you wanted to be mobbed by nubile wenches desirous of a rogering from a man of taste and refinement then you got yourself a Ducati.

Moto Guzziliers. Wannabe Ducatisti.

Honda riders. Hondas were, in the 60s and 70s, the Toyota Camrys of the motorcycle world; white goods on wheels. 'Nuff said.

Yamaha riders. Yamahas were like Hondas with a bit more pizazz but less reliability. Yamaha riders could often be found at the spare parts counter.

Triumph riders. see Pedestrians.

1%ers. Bikie gang members who reveled in their dangerous reputations and, while purporting to be rugged individuals nevertheless applied strict rules of rank and a uniform dress code of filthy jeans, Johnny Reb boots, open-face matt black helmets, black leather and a permanent scowl. While probably not involved in highly developed criminal enterprises at that time they did indulge in anti-social public gun fights and the torching of other peoples' cars at the annual Bathurst motorcycle races.

In the days when passing motorcyclists acknowledged each other with a raised hand or a nod these reverse snobs would never, ever do so.

Scooter riders. I'm sorry - that thing is not a motorbike.

The dirt bike tribes

The enduro clans. Sleet, snow, torrential rain, mud, debilitating heat, dust, logs and bogs, steep hills, steeper hills, cliffs. Enduro is a contraction of endurance - a test of man and machine. Masochism was an asset. Only an enduro rider could doss down on the bare concrete floor of a corrugated iron footy shed in a small country town in the middle of a freezing winter with 100 farting strangers and call it fun.

The observed trials fraternity. The ballet dancers of motorised sport, and the flat-capped, Welly-wearing epitome of cool. The only sport apart from darts where you could compete with a fag hanging out of the corner of your mouth.

The Motocrosser. A surfer mentality on a dirt bike.

The speedway clique. Close formation, side-ways, full throttle and no brakes. A small sub-tribe with big cojones and under-developed self-preservation skills. The open-exhausts, rooster tails of dirt flung into the roaring crowd at a test match against the Poms at the 1960s-70s Sydney Show Ground - an atmosphere of noise, grit and ethanol that cannot be replicated.

The short circuit/dirt track faction. Like motocrossers without the attention span or tolerance of bumps; like speedway riders but without the commitment - their bikes were equipped with brakes.


These tribes are not what they once were; I'm now likely to get parked in even at the bike shop.

On Any Sunday, an emblematic movie from 1971 that captures the quintessential spirit of motor biking of the time. The lesser known classic Little Fauss and Big Halsy does the same. Steve McQueen starred in On Any Sunday, Robert Redford starred in Little Fauss and Big Halsy.

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