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Writers on Riding

edited by Geno Zanetti

Pub Date: March 1st, 2001
ISBN: 1-56025-317-7

Journalist and motorcycle aficionado Zanetti has assembled a heady collection that strikes every imaginable pose in its celebration of the motorcycle, that transport to lawlessness and freewheeling.

Once the exhaust fumes of this collection have cleared, the motorcycle’s bad-boy reputation will remain intact. Some of the 29 contributors are bike fans pure and simple, like Fred Haefele and his Indians. A couple of others—Tom McGuane and his Matchless 500, Rachel Kushner and her maniac stem-to-stern Baha race—have brief flings. Robert Pirsig indulges in pre-Socratic ruminations over his beefy machine. But it is the outlaw—from Hell’s Angels, Satan’s Slaves, Coffin Cheaters, Pagans (“Hairy, bearded, swastika toting sixties style outlaws . . . hicksters and Southrons”)—who holds the spotlight here. He might be one of the boys himself, like Sonny Barger, Hell’s Angels’ leader, who notes that his first machine was a Cushman scooter—a disturbing image, though he probably wasn’t wearing a sawed-off denim jacket at 13—or the truly scary Frank Reynolds, who blithely goes on about raping women. Or he could be one of a number of writers, from Tom Wolfe, who describes a crazywild collision between the Merry Pranksters and the Hell’s Angels, to Hunter S. Thompson, who comes across in an excerpt from Life Styles (much of this material is culled from elsewhere) as badder than the bad guys, hungry for something sick and violent: “I wasn’t particularly opposed to the idea of a riot, but I didn’t want it to happen right then, and with my car in the middle.”

For all its ugly truths, a well-mulled compilation. Only born outlaws will be drawn to the motorcycle life by these writings; a brief sojourn among the bikers, and then only a careful selection of them, will be enough for most.