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Motorcycle Culture in America

Motorcycle Culture in America

Motorcycle culture has become a significant part of American culture. It is now nearly impossible to imagine America without motorcycles in it. American motorcycle culture is diverse, with multiple groups having different interests, values, and activities.


Motorcycle culture began during the 19th century when the motorcycle was invented. Since then, various countries have used motorbikes for different purposes and incorporated motorcycling into their respective cultures. America was no different as it established its own unique motorcycle culture up to the modern day.

1. History of Motorcycle Culture

The earliest powered two-wheeler was built by Calixto Rada in 1867. He combined a bicycle with a steam cylinder engine.


The next innovation in motorcycle technology was made by Nikolaus Otto, a German engineer who invented the internal combustion engine. He connected an internal combustion engine with an early two-wheeler. Otto’s invention paved the way for the motorcycle industry.


The supposed first motorcycle was manufactured by another German named Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach named as ‘Daimler Reitwagen’ in 1885. This motorcycle consisted of a wooden frame, an engine vertically installed between two wheels, and a belt to transfer power to the wheels from the internal combustion engine. Two small wheels were also installed on both sides of the motorcycle to maintain balance. The frame was not very practical as the saddle was too high and a rider could not reach with their feet. Another issue that made this frame impractical was that the wheel spokes were also made of wood.


However, in Munich in 1894, the Wolfmüller and Hildebrand was presented as the first motorcycle with a practical frame.


Afterward, various motorcycle companies were established, including Norton in 1898, Matchless in 1899, Harley Davidson in 1903, and Indian in 1901.


As motorcycles became more advanced and motorcycle companies continued to develop, motorcycle culture started to become more diverse.


Major motorcycle companies like Harley Davidson manufactured motorcycles for the military during World War I and II. During this turbulent time, Americans began to value motorcycles more, a sentiment that remained even after World War II ended.


Today, various companies have launched several models to meet the needs and demands of riders. Motorcycle culture has significantly affected the psyche of Americans.

2. Most Important Factors of Motorcycle Culture in America

2.1 Motorcycle Clubs

Motorcycle clubs are organizations whose members consist of motorcycle owners and enthusiasts. Some promote and preserve motorcycle culture, while others break the law and engage in various criminal activities.

2.2 Motorcycle Rallies

Motorcycle rallies are festivals where hundreds of motorcyclists come to celebrate motorcycle culture with friends, family, and other riders from across the U.S. They enjoy riding and showing off their motorcycles, and also making new friends. Motorcycle rallies in America are usually held during spring, summer, and fall, with some rallies being more famous than others due to how often they are held and the large number of attendees.


For example, the Sturgis Rally is held in South Dakota and the Daytona Beach Rally is held in Florida. There are also several smaller less-known rallies held in each of the 50 states.

2.3 Fashion and Styles for Motorcyclists

As the motorcycle community became a bigger part of American culture, more motorcyclists wanted to have their own unique fashion and styles. In 1928, New Yorker Irvin Scohott manufactured the first leather motorcycle jacket called the Schott Perfecto. The black leather jacket has become a favorite among riders and non-riders alike.


Now, the fashion industry has designed various outfits for riders. Riding apparel is often constructed from high-quality synthetic fiber or leather that ensures comfort and safety.

3. Organizations Working to Promote Motorcycle Culture

As motorcycle culture continued growing in America, motorcyclists felt they needed an organization dedicated to promoting motorcycling throughout the country. The criteria for the organization were that it would have to be able to represent the motorcycle community to the government, make and enforce its own set of laws, and ensure the safety of motorcyclists. Listed below are organizations that have worked to promote motorcycling in America.

3.1 The Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM)

Founded in 1903, the Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) was formed by members of the New York Motorcycle Club. Its members felt they needed an official organization to govern and represent motorcyclists. On September 7, 1903, 93 enthusiasts met in a clubhouse to form a committee that would become the FAM. Notable members of the FAM were George M. Hendee, the co-founder of Indian Motorcycles, and George H. Perry, who served as the FAM”s chairperson.


The FAM operated for 16 years, working to classify riders, creating rules for competitions, enduring restrictive laws in cities like Washington and Chicago, and dealt with funding problems. In 1919, the FAM was disbanded during World War I.

3.2 The Motorcycle Scooter and Allied Trades Association (MS&ATA)

While FAM was performing efficiently, the motorcycle community felt they needed an organization that would represent motorcycle manufacturers and traders. In 1908, the Motorcycle Manufacturer Association was founded to regulate manufacturers, traders, and spare parts makers.


On November 15, 1916, another organization called the Motorcycle and Allied Trade Association (M&ATA) was created. The M&ATA later announced its involvement with the scooter trade and renamed it the MS&ATA. In 1969, the Motorcycle Industry Council was formed by merging the MS&ATA with the West Coast Motorcycle Safety Council. The Motorcycle Industry Council is still active today and serves the motorcycle community.

3.3 The American Motorcycle Association

The American Motorcycle Association was founded on May 15, 1924, under the MS&ATA. This association’s mission statement read as such:

“The mission of the American Motorcyclist Association is to promote the motorcycle lifestyle and protect the future of motorcycling.”

4. Positive Aspects of American Motorcycle Culture

American motorcycle culture has the following positive aspects:


Motorcycle culture is more popular with and inspires the younger generation. Many younger individuals aspire to become racers to earn fame and money. Many clubs organize races to give opportunities for motorcycles to compete while promoting motorcycling.


Motorcycling can be relaxing since riders often feel free and less stressed. Motorcycle riding also gives them a chance to explore and enjoy nature.


Various motorcycle clubs also help with social projects or contribute to charities. For example, a motorcycle organization in Utah called Biker Against Child Abuse works to help children suffering from physical or emotional abuse.

5. Negative Aspects of American Motorcycle Culture

American motorcycle culture has the following negative aspects:

5.1 Motorcycle Clubs and Crimes

Various motorcycle clubs are involved in criminal activities, including drug selling, sex trafficking, rape, murder, and theft. The Bandidos MC, Hell Angels MC, and Mongold MC are famous American motorcycle clubs with long histories of involvement in criminal activities.

5.2 Motorcyclists Vs. Local People

It started in 1960 when the clubs had a smaller number of motorcyclists, almost 10 to 20. In western and southern states of America, they held rallies, spent some time outside the cities and towns, drank alcohol, had sex, and did motorcycle racing. They just visited a nearby town to buy some necessary goods or alcohol. But when these clubs changed into 40 to 60 members, they started spreading violence, did robberies, and murdered various police officers. They steal in the nearby towns. For this reason, American civilization and motorcycle culture became opponents of each other.


It started in 1960 when the clubs had a smaller number of motorcyclists, almost 10 to 20. In western and southern states of America, they held rallies, spent some time outside the cities and towns, drank alcohol, had sex, and did motorcycle racing. They just visited a nearby town to buy some necessary goods or alcohol. But when these clubs changed into 40 to 60 members, they started spreading violence, did robberies, and murdered various police officers. They steal in the nearby towns. For this reason, American civilization and motorcycle culture became opponents of each other.

5.3 Sexual Stereotypes in American Motorcycle Culture

There are stereotypes in motorcycle culture that sexualize portrayals of women riding as passengers behind male riders. Many motorcycle advertisement companies show women in revealing outfits.


Sexual Stereotype culture among motorcyclists in America is now challenged by rider women who liked to ride their own motorcycles instead of sitting behind the riders as passengers. Now various companies introduced special motorcycle models for females. Various female clubs also emphasize female riders and oppose this stereotype culture.


In recent years, American motorcycle culture has become less male-centric as there have been more female motorcycle riders hitting the road. This is due to various women-only clubs, like the Motor Maids, forming and companies like Harley Davidson releasing newer models with designs suited for female riders. Due to the growing presence of women motorcyclists in American motorcycle culture, there has been less depiction of sexual stereotypes in media, including YouTube videos, podcasts, etc.

6. Difference Between Motorcycle Culture in America and Other Countries

In America, motorcycling is favored more as a hobby rather than a means of transportation. Meanwhile, in countries like Mexico, motorcycles are primarily used as means of transportation or delivery services. 


In European countries, riders seldom travel without wearing safety gear like a helmet. Europeans use motorcycles in much more reserved manners than Americans. They prefer protective apparel for riding over showing off apparel.


This is the reason they use their motorcycle for transportation in any weather condition. In Europe, motorcycles are very commonly used for transporting goods and delivery purposes. Motorcycles are also used as a hobby in Europe and motorcycle racing is also conducted but in a more safe manner than in America.


Motorcycling is also very popular in Australia just like in America but with precautions and rules. For example in Australia, traffic rules are strict for motorcyclists.


Lane-changing rules are also very different for Australians. If a motorcyclist wants to turn and change lanes, he has to explain this thing by turning on his signal, and the car driver will give him the way by slowing down their car. This system is very different from the American culture where fast-moving motorcycles overcome cars because cars do not let them pass and fill the space at a fast speed. This persuades motorcyclists to move fast and aggressively and not turn on their turn signal.

7. Final Thoughts

After the first motorcycle was invented in 1885, motorcycle culture flourished in America. Since then, various organizations have been formed with the assistance of motorcycle manufacturers. The FAM, MS&ATA, and AMA are the most well-known organizations, responsible for promoting motorcycles, motorcycle racing, and the motorcycle lifestyle.


American motorcycle culture has a lot of positive and negative impacts in it. Various motorcycle organizations are working to help the motorcycling community while on the other side, various motorcycle clubs are also involved in crimes like drug selling and provoking violence.


American motorcycle culture also has female riders who deserve the same place in the motorcycle community as males. Various motorcycle manufacturers have helped these lady motorbikers to take this activity as a hobby or as a passion.


From the manufacturer of motorcycles till today, motorcycle culture in America has seen a lot of changes. With time, motorcyclists are getting their rights and becoming more advanced. Now almost 1% of motorcycle clubs promote violence. Other motorcycle clubs are now working for motorcyclists and use motorcycles for the well-being of society. 


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