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October 06, 2020

From the Vault: Shrines, Weirdoes, and Two-wheeled Americans

I started at General Motors in 1984 and it took me fully 14 years to figure out I was a square peg in a round hole. The stuffiness and constraints of the large corporate confines were nauseating and it took me that long to figure out the hot steamy turd sandwiches served up daily by GM were making me sick. We used to call it mission- of-the-month. Management would hand down an edict for
everyone to stand on their left foot and stick their right index finger in their right ear. And everyone would do it. The next month it was stand on your right foot and stick your left pinky finger in your left nostril and everyone would comply. It was dumb but thankfully I finally figured out I was a weirdo, a lone wolf, a sociopath, whatever you want to call it. This is not a slam to GM and corporate America; I simply lack the genetic programming to run with the corporate herd.
This is why I love the wacky world of American motorcycles, which celebrates weirdoes, freaks, and anti-establishment behavior. It’s the polar opposite of corporate America. Those who make a living from this scene are generally wacked, and wacky people intrigue me. I got a chance to travel around America in 2011 and there were a few visits worth mentioning.

Wheels Through Time Museum

Dale and Matt Walksler run this museum located near the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, in some of the most beautiful riding in the country. They are obsessed with old iron and riding old iron. In my book, there’s a close relationship between “being obsessed” and being a freak. I felt like a moron around these guys because they know so many details about very old American motorcycles. Their museum is the realest bike museum I’ve ever been to because you can fondle the bikes and parts, and most of the bikes on display actually run. No velvet ropes and rude security meatheads, just gobs and gobs of authentic American motorcycle history. But here’s the difference: We were walking through the museum with Matt and spied a 1928 Harley 8-valve alcohol hill climber. Matt said, “Wanna hear it run?” and I said, “Yeah, right.” He hopped on, gave it two pokes, and it came alive with blue alcohol flames shooting out the short head pipes. If you live anywhere within a 750-mile radius of this place you really need to see the museum and ride the scenic roads. Don’t forget: the Tail of the Dragon and all those groovy death roads are in their back yard, too. BAKER-Spedia travel agency rates this trip ten stars out of ten.

Rick Fairless’s Strokers Dallas

The front showroom in this place is a motorcycle-based interpretation of Madame Tussauds wax museum and Buffalo Bill’s parlor in the movie Silence of the Lambs. Don’t let his Thorazine-infused personality and Texas drawl fool you, Rick is a sharp businessman and a freak. But the threering circus showroom is just a front to pacify the proletariat masses. The parts department in the back is massive with really competent parts people and a large inventory. The service department is not just that; it is service, fab, and a dream works. Rick can manufacture anything he dreams up right there; he’s got talent on his staff. Then there’s the bar out back. They could have a Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones concert there; it’s massive and they fill that sucker up. The economic doldrums of the last few years have barely touched the Dallas area which means people there party, ride, and have a good time; good Americans in my book. That’s Mark P on the left in the picture; he works at the same sanitarium as I do.

Caesar’s Motorcycle Empire, Salt Lake City

This was my first time to SLC. I thought there would be a bunch of religious zealots running around waving the book of Mormon and snatching up spare wives; not so. I didn’t see a one. But I did see a lot of bikers, tweakers, and weirdoes: just my kind of place. And the undisputed heavy weight champion weirdo is Caesar. To quote a franchised H-D dealer in SLC, “In every major metropolitan area there is an ambassador of the bizarre. Our ambassador is Caesar.” His enthusiasm for life is infectious; he just made me feel good about life without weed or speed. If you’re lucky you’ll get a tour of his collection of old bikes, old cars, and Americana. Then there’s the camel. A real live one. He races camels overseas and is a card-carrying camel jockey, no lie; he will freely show you his card. He showed me documentation where he was turned down by the state of Utah by the license plate division for “CAMLTOE” and “CAMLJKY” vanity plates. The point of these loosely articulated ramblings is this. Most
who read this magazine are enthusiasts and/or work in businesses related to the American motorcycle industry. At some point we got sucked into the intoxicating vortex of the American motorcycle scene. We did this not because we were normal; we did this because we were slightly or even severely abnormal. If we were normal we would have gravitated to bird watching or gardening. The people detailed above got sucked into the American motorcycle vortex and never let off the gas. As a result, they’ve amassed these shrines that pay proper tribute to two-wheeled Americana; visiting their shrines is highly recommended.

Baker Drivetrain Team Illustration