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Old School – Toying with our emotions | Columns | Gassit Garage

In 1973 motorcycling was being torn in two. On one side were the mainstream protagonists, as portrayed in the documentary On Any Sunday. On the other side was a typical seventies alternative

Those few short weeks before Christmas bring back faded memories for us former seventies longhairs. Then we think a bit deeper and they become vivid. Almost like they happened yesterday. We may be hardened by life’s experiences but we are still yearning the innocence of our Seventies youth.

The air right now has the dryness that promises us a long hot summer, like it did all those decades ago. Warm days, chilly evenings. The smell of damp eucalyptus mixed with a flowering vine like jasmine or bougainvillea. It used to be an almost primeval signal to ride home to the family for Christmas.

We’d get a few days off work. Tie a sleeping bag to the pillion seat in case the bike didn’t make it and we had to ‘crash out’ somewhere.

Extra cash was stashed away under the seat because the notes you took had to last until you got your next pay packet. Those were the days when your wage came in a small yellow envelope in big notes and small coins. No bank transactions, no cash-out at supermarkets and definitely no hole-in-the-wall dispensers to fuel your daily life.

You had to be self-sufficient to get home. But you were homing in on your family. Yup, for sure getting home was an adventure for us long-haired, underfunded seventies bikers.

 Now Christmas for most bikers is put in focus by the local Toy Run. This is one of motorcycling’s most positive experiences. The more bikes on the road in a Toy Run, the more people watch them ride by. It’s mainstream, baby. But it has its origins in the seventies and those strange old days us former longhairs inhabited.

In 1973 motorcycling was being torn in two. On one side were the mainstream protagonists, as portrayed in the documentary On Any Sunday. On the other side was a typical seventies alternative. Fuelled by that radical 1969 movie Easy Rider, long-haired suburban youth were roaring out of garages on choppers, lowriders and any bike with ape hangers. The smell of rebellion was in the air. And it wasn’t just fuelled by movies. America’s Vietnam War was at its height and spilling out of our television screens, along with racial tension, African famine and all the worldwide nastiness that mass media still feeds on. Meanwhile, another smaller issue was unfolding in the US. And it started the world’s first Toy Run.

In the early 1970s American niche magazine Easyriders became an influential player in alternative motorcycling. It walked a fine line between the patched clubs on custom Harleys and the newer hippy-type riders turning Triumphs and BSAs into choppers.

The everyday harassment all these bikers faced had to be confronted. The most important issue? The mandatory wearing of helmets. How uncool to get away with no front brake on your chopper (yes, Google ‘spool wheel, chopper’ if you don’t believe me) but be required to wear a helmet.

And so Easyriders formed the biker’s rights organisation ABATE in 1972. A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments soon morphed into a worldwide youth movement. Around the same time Hells Angels boss Ralph ‘Sonny’ Barger was being banged up in jail on a 10-years-to-life rap.

By late 1973 alternative bikers around the world, including Australia and New Zealand, knew what both ABATE and the Free Sonny Barger stickers meant. We’d been reading Easyriders magazines for years and seen the movie Hells Angels ’69, starring Ralph and his mates. Our bosses and parents had no idea about any of this.

So how do you turn a confrontation into a feelgood, peacenik experience?

In 1973 the world’s first Toy Run, soon followed by the world’s first biker Blood Run, was held in California. Both were organised by the Hells Angels and local charities. Both are now enduring motorcycling traditions.

By the way, as governor of California, Ronald Reagan refused to comply with the federal helmet law. And he became US President in 1981.

And people think Donald Trump is ‘left field’. Ride on, bro.