“Arguably, establishing a base line would take one back to an era when motorcycles became a consumer commodity. Anything earlier should be relegated to “motorcycle pioneering,” a time when the machines were more powered bicycles than motorcycle. Total loss oil systems, gas lamps, and peddle-power assist were the hallmarks of a curiosity rather than a transportation staple. However, with reliability came marketability and with marketability the motorcycle developed into a consumer commodity. And so an industry began to grow up around the “early adopters,” the consumers who were rugged enough to apply motorcycles to their daily lives.
But the issue at hand isn’t the product. It’s about the End-user. Whether you choose to call yourself a “motorcyclist” or “biker”. In doing so you are claiming the heritage of those hardy folks who were central to the growth of the industry. Originally “bikers” were truly a hardy bunch. Self sufficiency and competent, they were the embodiment of the “rugged individual.” These were people who rode everywhere they needed to go. They used their bikes for work and play. They pushed the envelope of the “sport.”
Let’s look at an American Bikers who transcended the industry from these early times through to contemporary motorcycling in California: Armando Magri was the epitome of the “American Biker.” A rugged individual who lived, loved, and breathed motorcycles. He was a force to be reckoned with on the late 1930s and early 1940s racing circuits. From 1950, he was the Sacramento Harley-Davidson dealer (at 815 12th Street) for more than 30 years. As both an industry leader and a biker, Armando established a reputation for fairness and honesty. Although he was not always the fastest competitor, he just kept coming. When the others broke or dropped out, he was often there to take the checkered flag. He was a committed biker. In 1938 he rode his scooter 2,800 miles (5 days) from Sacramento to Marion, Indiana to compete in the miniature TT National Championship motorcycle race. He raced that very same bike to first place in his heat race and third place in the main. Then he rode the bike home.
“… Once, on the way to Saugus to compete in the Southern California TT on a brand new 1937 Harley-Davidson, he hit a patch of oil on the freeway near Fresno, spun-out and crashed. Badly bruised, Armando located the local Harley dealer, repaired the motorcycle, then continued on to Saugus. A tough track, it pounded more than one rider into a DNF. Armando passed Hap Jones on the final laps to take the victory. The next day in the papers, they were calling him ‘Sacramento’s Iron Man’….” He and brother Ernie spent most of their lives around motorcycles, any motorcycles, regardless of brand. Armando chained up the rear wheel of his panhead and road it over a snowed in Donnor Summit to retrieve film of the 60 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics for a Sacramento TV station. Not that long ago, at age 86 Armando Magri and Ernie Magri (age 88) still rode their Harley Sportsters to lunch. These are some of the people that founded the sport. And this is how they earned their “street cred”. OK, so with Armando establishing the base line, the question each of us should be asking ourselves is: “How do I measure up to the heritage I claim by calling myself a biker”??? Nicker.