Source – Briebart
As many as one million bikers rode into the nation’s capital on Memorial Day weekend during the annual Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally to honor the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice so that Americans can enjoy the freedoms we have today.
It is the 31st year that bikers from across the country have joined the Rolling Thunder annual trek that started as a campaign to increase awareness about prisoners of war in Vietnam and has grown to a movement that is not only an iconic ritual but a force that has led to legislation to honor the U.S. military 365 days a year.
Kirt Olson rode in the crowd of bikes that traveled from the Pentagon to downtown D.C., forming a wave of bikers for as long as the eye could see. He is stationed at the U.S. Army base in Watertown, New York.
Breitbart News asked Olson why he decided to take part in Rolling Thunder.
“Just the amazement of it all,” Olson told Breitbart News. “It’s just such a powerful thing and I wanted to be a part of it.”
“It means everything because it’s a remembrance of all our fallen heroes,” Olson said. “It’s remembrance of everyone we’ve lost — everyone who hasn’t come home — and to see 1.3 million people all rally together for the same thing with our world as bad as it is, sometimes it’s a powerful thing. It really is.”
Many of the bikers who took part in the annual Rolling Thunder ride into the nation’s capital are in all branches of the U.S. military. (Penny Starr/Breitbart News)
As baby-boomers get older the US motorcycle industry is desperate to capture the younger demographic, or see its own death.
The median age of motorcycle owners has increased from 32 to 47 since 1990, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), and Harley-Davidson, America’s biggest motorcycle manufacturer, announced in March that it will close its Kansas City plant, laying off more than 800 people by the end of 2019.
What was once the baby-boomer symbol of freedom and rebellion has become the mascot of the weekend warrior.
Wealthy suburbanites in ‘ride to live, live to ride’ t-shirts are still loyal to the brand associated with Easy Rider and Marlon Brando’s The Wild One.
But the boomers are now in their sixties and seventies and their most recently purchased bike may possibly be their last.
Desperate to capture the younger demographic, Harley-Davidson has launched initiatives such as the “Find Your Freedom”, a paid internship seeking young people willing to spend their summers riding around on motorcycles and chronicling the experience on social media.
The company is also planning to win over environmentally conscious millennials with an electric motorcycle which it plans to launch in 2019.
The figures provided by MIC are a reflection of new motorcycle sales. Someone looking to buy their first ride will be looking at a minimum of $7,000 (£5,000) for the most basic Harley-Davidson model.
However, vintage motorcycle can be bought for as little as $1,000, and some work and modifications can turn it from a ride to work to an extension of the rider’s personality.
In home garages all around Kansas City the skeletons of abandoned Harley’s – Shovelheads and Panheads – are being resurrected, but it’s community hubs like Blip Roasters and co-op workshops, Hickory Union Moto (HUM), in the old warehouse district of West Bottoms, that have sprung up organically to help a new generation climb on to motorcycles for the first time.
Cousins Spencer Bink, who works at Harley-Davidson, and Mike Ashpaugh, a lorry driver by profession, are building a chopper from old parts in Ashpaugh’s garage.
“Younger guys are buying old bikes, they’re not built to be comfortable, old bikes are cool,” he told The Telegraph.
“You kinda want to make it your own, it’s fun to work on bikes yourself, everything’s like a bird nest of wiring on the new bikes with their computers and that,” said Bink.
“I bought my first bike for $800, rode it around found out I liked it. New bikes are inaccessible if you’re trying to decide if want to ride a bike – you can’t exactly go to Enterprise and check out if you want to ride. Old bikes have more style,” Tom Pulliam, an architectural intern, said referring to the rent-a-car business.
Jesse Clay, a 34-year-old engineer believes Harley priced themselves out of the market. “They used to be designed as a working man’s bike that anyone could afford. I don’t like having a payment on a bike. That’s the reason I build bikes – I like to own my motorcycle.”
As Harley-Davidson prepare to pack up and leave Kansas City, Missouri, you don’t have to look far to see motorcycling is as popular as ever.
Until 1991, West Bottoms’ stockyards and cattle markets, was the centre of the cattle trade in the mid-west. The area, plagued by flooding, fell into disuse. Now mostly empty, warehouses have been converted into antique shops and mechanics’ workshops.
Blip Roasters sits above the abandoned loading lock of one such warehouse. The buildings’ exterior still wears the original brickwork, and large retro-fitted windows look out onto the rough, unpaved empty lots with a patchwork of puddles and bricks.
Inside, a hipster Brooklyn coffee shop and a mid-western community centre for bikers blend into one. Racks of motorcycle gear and helmets, rebuilt motorcycles, restored by local ‘builders’ sit alongside comfortable couches, where patrons can watch repeats of the latest Motorcycle Grand Prix race.
‘Sunday Church’ is a weekly meet-up of Motorcyclists at Blip. People gather and exchange tips about building and repairing bikes, many of them classic Harleys from the 80’s and 90’s but also Japanese and European motorcycles.
“Blip is a good example of how motorcycle culture has changed”, owner Ian Davis said. “All I remember was biker bars, and we might not want to get drunk in a smelly bar, now there’s new places to hang out.”
“We started out just as a coffee roasters and I’d used to leave my first bike – a 1976 [Honda] CB50 – up on the dock,” the 32-year-old said.
“People would come by and ask about the bike, and people started dropping by on other motorcycles to say hi. Gradually it became a thing, to hang out on Sundays, drink coffee and talk about bikes.
“We open at 8am and usually by 9:30pm there are 10 or 20 bikes parked out front, then it’s just a free for all! Hundreds of people sometimes. Men, women, young or old on [new and old] Harleys, Hondas, Ducatis, even mopeds.”
Just around the corner, in an old fire station, Hickory Union Moto (HUM) provides space and education for people new to the motorcycle world.
In the big empty room that once housed fire engines and their crews, motorcycles sit in various states of repair. Some stripped down to their bare bones, some looking like Mad Max bikes, with distressed petrol tanks, and hand stitched seats.
John Iiames, 36, an architect and a partner at HUM says his love of old bikes came from frustration of living in a condo:
“I was living in downtown Kansas City, with nowhere to work on a bike. There’s not the same sense of ownership with a new bike as there is with getting an old bike from the seventies and bringing it back to life, and not have a $300 payment on it every month.”
As Harley Davidson prepare to pack up and leave Kansas City, Missouri, you don’t have to look far to see motorcycling is as popular as ever and ironically, it’s the Baby Boomers’ discarded machines that’s kick-starting a new generation of bikers and gear heads. For Millennials, riding motorcycles is cool again.