Outside The Law

Photography and Words By Mike O’Meally

So what do skateboarding and motorbikes have in common? More than you might think. The machines themselves aren’t so similar, but it’s their spirited riders that share an uncommon bond. When outlaw motorbike gangs first revved onto the scene, they were considered outsiders because they didn’t follow the rules of the racing clubs at the time. It wasn’t until some time later that they forged a reputation for boozing, fighting, and lawlessness.

Skateboarding has also struggled with the idea of organized competitions and teams since its beginning. Skaters today are up against the police, security guards, lawsuits, and perhaps the worst of all: mainstream corporations. The main threat for both is the loss of freedom—freedom to ride wherever you want and whenever you want. For each group, stereotypes have given them a bad wrap. While 50 bikers thundering through town sure makes a hell of a racket, it doesn’t necessarily mean they intend to burn the place down—just as eight teenagers out late skating in the parking lot of a bank, grocery store, or school doesn’t guarantee they seek to rape, pillage, or plunder. In their own way, skateboarders and bikers are both outside the law and usually due to a similar misunderstanding. Their thirst for thrills, on their own time, and unobstructed by The Man is what ties these two clans together in spirit. It’s also what gets them into trouble.

While most skaters may never ride a motorbike and even fewer bikers will ride a skateboard, skaters can learn a lot about what is important to them by taking a look at the biker lifestyle—cruising with your friends, heading for nowhere in particular, and enjoying what is often overlooked in these days of tricks and videos: the simple act of riding, just because you can, because it feels good, and because you are free.

After a few handshakes and smiles at the Harley factory in Milwaukee, four Emerica teamriders were blessed with beautiful discount bikes. Some of them had never ridden before, and only a few of them were seasoned road dogs, but as the pack roared out of the lot and the throttles opened up, there wasn’t anyone who wasn’t ready for the ride ahead. A few nervous turns and a few envious glares from the mid-life crisis yuppies milling around the factory, and the trip began. From Milwaukee down to Chicago, through the cornfields of Indiana and Ohio, and finishing up in Philadelphia with no schedule and only one demo, this was a skate tour with a difference—a different way to see the country instead of through the window of a tour van or from the carpet of a cheap motel.

CAMPING OUT

“Nobody gives a shit if we’re out here or not! was Spanky’s claim upon surveying the empty soccer field. The night before, after a long day’s ride, the search was on for a good campsite to bed down under the stars. Rolling through the outer suburbs of Indianapolis, the group tried several campsites, but they all had more restrictions than a country club. No loud music after 10:00 p.m., no open fires, no bikes—no fun! When it got to midnight, the call was made to barge it in a local soccer field behind a big dirt mound. With caution on the wind, they threw caution to the wind and set up camp complete with mini barbecue, guitars, tents, and a lookout for every car that rolled by to make sure it wasn’t the cops. The bikes were parked single file while marshmallows glowed and beers were cracked until the wee hours of morning. The general feeling was that the first night of camping had been such a success (even though we completely winged it at the last minute under threat of trespass and arrest) that we should keep this up for the rest of the journey.

Most of the camping went great until a late night in Ohio when all campgrounds were full for a skeet-shooting convention. We decided to barge it again, this time on the woods behind a vet’s hospital in a one-horse town. All the tents were set and a few beers were poppinghen the doc pulled up in his truck. Ready for a scene from Deliverance, we prepared for the worst, but the vet turned out to be cool and let us stay. Ten minutes after he left, two cop cars and a state trooper surrounded us. Turns out someone had accidentally set off the alarm, and the cops put us through a full-scale investigation. It all worked out in the end, but the initial look of disgust mixed with fear on the trooper’s face said a lot about what life must be like for bikers. He eased up when he realized we weren’t a gang, but he could have been forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Camping overall was a great experience, and most people seemed excited to see the bikes and were happy to share info on swimming holes, other campgrounds, and where to get beer late at night. Once they realized we weren’t trying to raise hell, the bikes seemed to extract a new level of hospitality from the folks of the Midwest.

OUT ON THE ROAD

One of the main things you notice when traveling by motorbike is that they draw a lot of attention, especially when in pack formation. From construction workers nodding their heads in approval and truck drivers blasting their horns to kids waving and frightened old ladies in small towns, the bikes, by sight and sound, seem to create a spectacle wherever they go. People, too, seem to revere and admire those who have chosen the open road. The looks of bystanders in small towns and big cities alike were undeniably curious. Whether they were reliving their younger days or dreaming of a life outside the nine to five, the sight of a swarm of windswept bikers stirred emotions everywhere we went.

Out on the open road, it makes a lot of sense to ride as a pack. Cars, whether through neglect or just lack of courtesy, have trouble seeing individual motorbikes. A pack of eight or so riders, tightly formed, takes up about the same space as a semi-trailer and commands far more respect simply for it’s size than one lone biker ever could. While this trip was relatively drama-free, the crew did experience one incident of road rage in the suburbs of Chicago.

Afternoon traffic is a drag, and no one likes to be stuck in gridlock. The beauty of a motorbike is that you can squeeze between the cars, thereby avoiding the standstill, which is exactly what the boys did on this hot summer afternoon. They were making great headway, when one pissed-off commuter decided that if he had to sit in traffic, then so did they. He began to cut a few of the guys off, nearly knocking them over so they could not gain extra yards in the line. A yelling match began, and the angry guy swerved again, at which point five or six bikes surrounded him, and he realized that he couldn’t move one way or another. Fortunately, nothing came of it, and the guy realized he was outnumbered and veered off onto a side road. This was the only report of road rage in two weeks, and it was easily outweighed by the positive reactions the bikes usually evoked. Honked horns, thumbs up, and even a few flashed knockers signaled that people generally get a kick out of the bikes and their riders.

Two of the smaller guys on the trip were also two of the most fearless riders. Spanky and Herman had both ridden trail bikes before but never ridden on the open highway. After the first few days of nerves, they gained a new confidence and were always at the front of the pack. Herman in particular had no problem slicing in between cars and trucks, often at or above 90 miles an hour. Spanky had a riding style that was all his own. With his neck buried deep in his shoulders, he always stayed low on the bike, and despite the watery eyes, frozen knuckles, and chapped skin, he hunkered down, often at 100 miles an hour for long stretches of the road. They were never far apart, though, and pushed each other to ride—the same way they push each other to skate.

TRUCKS, TRICKS AND WIND

Coming out of the Windy City was no joke. Big trucks and big winds made the riding conditions leaving Chicago really challenging. The flag on the back of Heath’s bike was acting like a sail and would tilt and drag him from side to side. On an empty road, this would be fine, even a laugh, but when you have huge cattle trucks on either side, things can get a bit hairy. Heath seemed to enjoy the sketchiness, and in the worst of the winds, he had a grin from ear to ear.

GEAR & STYLE

In the same way that different skaters have different styles (which can include anything from the tricks they do to the shoes they wear—even haircuts and the size of their wheels), each of these guys rocked their own style on the bikes. The bikes themselves showed great diversity and seemed to be a fairly accurate reflection of each one’s personality and style. Heath’s bike was stripped down of most of the chrome, painted matte black, and basically looked pretty mean—like a demon’s workhorse. The chopped handlebars and his Mohawk added to an already commanding presence, and it was usually him at the front of the pack. Spanky and Herman had smaller, shinier bikes. Being smaller dudes, this worked in their favor to be easily seen. They topped this off with colorful bandannas and sleek leather jackets. Gilley, Rogers, and Young were so far gone that they could’ve passed for real Angels or Outlaws. Long hair, handlebar mustaches, denim jackets, whitewall tires, and bikes with spikes coming out of the wheels set their style as more biker than skater.

Perhaps the most serene individual on the trip was Austin Stephens. His bike was a 400-plus-pound Road King, considered by many as the big boat of motorbikes. What it lacks in speed and maneuverability, it makes up for in smoothness of the ride. Big and wide, this bike is made for cruising, which is just what Austin did. He maintained his own pace and seemed just as content to enjoy the scenery as the others did to enjoy the speed and thrills. His gear was a throwback to the classic days of Marlin Brando and James Dean—white T-shirts, aviator shades, leather boots, and his paperboy hat gave him such a timeless look that you could be forgiven for thinking he was from another era.

The only time Austin’s feathers were ruffled was at a tollbooth outside Chicago. At the tolls, the easiest way to go is by having one guy pay first for the whole group, then the boom gate stays up and they all ride through at once. This time the collector must’ve made a mistake in the count, and when Austin was the last to go through, the boom gate came right down on his chin, splitting it open and knocking the huge bike to the ground. Luckily, both he and the bike escaped with only minor scratches, but the boom gate snapped clean in half.

THE FLAG

If anything got more of a reaction than the pack of bikes, it was the flag. Through big cities and small towns, people would honk their horns and wave their approval. Everywhere we went it would catch the attention of onlookers who seemed compelled to say or do something in response to it passing. While the general reactions were mostly lighthearted, there were two incidents that stood out for their extreme opposition in emotion.

Traveling through one of Cincinnati’s poorer neighborhoods, Heath got lost and became separated from the pack. He eventually caught up again but reported some rowdy teenagers yelling “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! while pumping their fists at him and pointing at the flag. The tone was not so much patriotic as an excuse to run riot. Being that he was alone, he noticed a distinct mob forming and was glad to get moving before it turned.

The other time was at traffic light in a small town near Indiana. The pack pulled up next to a man who was stirred up and clearly trying to say something. After an awkward silence and some direct eye contact, the old guy eventually blurted out that he was a Vietnam veteran, and that he was proud to see the young guys flying the Stars And Stripes in such a manner. He was choking back tears the whole time and was obvioitions leaving Chicago really challenging. The flag on the back of Heath’s bike was acting like a sail and would tilt and drag him from side to side. On an empty road, this would be fine, even a laugh, but when you have huge cattle trucks on either side, things can get a bit hairy. Heath seemed to enjoy the sketchiness, and in the worst of the winds, he had a grin from ear to ear.

GEAR & STYLE

In the same way that different skaters have different styles (which can include anything from the tricks they do to the shoes they wear—even haircuts and the size of their wheels), each of these guys rocked their own style on the bikes. The bikes themselves showed great diversity and seemed to be a fairly accurate reflection of each one’s personality and style. Heath’s bike was stripped down of most of the chrome, painted matte black, and basically looked pretty mean—like a demon’s workhorse. The chopped handlebars and his Mohawk added to an already commanding presence, and it was usually him at the front of the pack. Spanky and Herman had smaller, shinier bikes. Being smaller dudes, this worked in their favor to be easily seen. They topped this off with colorful bandannas and sleek leather jackets. Gilley, Rogers, and Young were so far gone that they could’ve passed for real Angels or Outlaws. Long hair, handlebar mustaches, denim jackets, whitewall tires, and bikes with spikes coming out of the wheels set their style as more biker than skater.

Perhaps the most serene individual on the trip was Austin Stephens. His bike was a 400-plus-pound Road King, considered by many as the big boat of motorbikes. What it lacks in speed and maneuverability, it makes up for in smoothness of the ride. Big and wide, this bike is made for cruising, which is just what Austin did. He maintained his own pace and seemed just as content to enjoy the scenery as the others did to enjoy the speed and thrills. His gear was a throwback to the classic days of Marlin Brando and James Dean—white T-shirts, aviator shades, leather boots, and his paperboy hat gave him such a timeless look that you could be forgiven for thinking he was from another era.

The only time Austin’s feathers were ruffled was at a tollbooth outside Chicago. At the tolls, the easiest way to go is by having one guy pay first for the whole group, then the boom gate stays up and they all ride through at once. This time the collector must’ve made a mistake in the count, and when Austin was the last to go through, the boom gate came right down on his chin, splitting it open and knocking the huge bike to the ground. Luckily, both he and the bike escaped with only minor scratches, but the boom gate snapped clean in half.

THE FLAG

If anything got more of a reaction than the pack of bikes, it was the flag. Through big cities and small towns, people would honk their horns and wave their approval. Everywhere we went it would catch the attention of onlookers who seemed compelled to say or do something in response to it passing. While the general reactions were mostly lighthearted, there were two incidents that stood out for their extreme opposition in emotion.

Traveling through one of Cincinnati’s poorer neighborhoods, Heath got lost and became separated from the pack. He eventually caught up again but reported some rowdy teenagers yelling “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! while pumping their fists at him and pointing at the flag. The tone was not so much patriotic as an excuse to run riot. Being that he was alone, he noticed a distinct mob forming and was glad to get moving before it turned.

The other time was at traffic light in a small town near Indiana. The pack pulled up next to a man who was stirred up and clearly trying to say something. After an awkward silence and some direct eye contact, the old guy eventually blurted out that he was a Vietnam veteran, and that he was proud to see the young guys flying the Stars And Stripes in such a manner. He was choking back tears the whole time and was obviously emotional at the sight of the raggedy flag.

On the back of a bike proved to be an eye-opening way to see the heartland of America. Not just for the scenery and towns, but for the people who make up this country, their reactions, their beliefs, and their way of life. bviously emotional at the sight of the raggedy flag.

On the back of a bike proved to be an eye-opening way to see the heartland of America. Not just for the scenery and towns, but for the people who make up this country, their reactions, their beliefs, and their way of life.