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FEATURE: The Golden Age of Biker Gangs

We wonder who is steering Danny's bike
We wonder who is steering Danny's bike
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Tuesday, 03, Jun 2014 11:48

by Damien Sharkov

Come 19 June, one of the most authentic collections of 60s biker photography opens at the Atlas Gallery. MotorbikeTimes takes a look at the images and the stories behind them. We can smell the steaming asphalt already

In 1963 Danny Lyons was a young photographer, obsessed and inspired by the castaways of an atomic age. His world was running out of next frontiers, as the paranoia of the times ran wild in every direction with his obsessive compulsion to dominate each last square mile of land, sea or space and dryly file them away. His world bred a new kind of explorer, which his lens would come to capture.

Half a decade before the release of Easy Rider, a generation of dissenters had already found their cure to the suffocation of the urban metropolis. Leaving behind their neatly parted hairlines and well pressed work clothes, the biker hippie came to life on the highways in between everyone else's day to day.

Riding from New York to New Orleans, Detroit, Milwaukee and across the American mid-west, the bike riders invented adventure in an age hell bent on stifling it all.

For five years Danny Lyons stalked the oil smothered, concrete shadows of café racers and low slung hogs, in the company of the so called American 'lowlife'. Now the Atlas Gallery brings a collection of his travels' most striking images to London. Being a 'lowlife' has never seemed so appealing.

"At the time, Danny's story made a huge impact and was largely a reaction against the rather cosy, almost propagandist format of LIFE magazine," gallery owner, Ben Burdett, tells MotorbikeTimes.

As a member of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club, Danny crossed the United States several times and collected the impressions of modern dissidence, the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and Peter Fonda would come to do much later. Danny's images show raw rebellion, before intellectuals decided to make it fashionable.

"There is a great irony that this biking counterculture, so deeply abhorrent to so much of 'polite' society at the time, is now displayed and praised in an art gallery by art connoisseurs," Ben laughs.

Today this golden age of biker gang lives on in the anniversary line ups of Harley and Triumph's modern classics. Look no further than the oversized Indian Chief classic for a feel of the time sans the rust on the chrome finish. But there is something fundamental about the images of the originals, in the habitat they were made for.

In 'The Bikeriders' we get to see just that. But if you look for authenticity in any generation, you will undoubtedly have to take the beauty with its blemishes.

"When you read about how inebriated these guys were it is a bit of a worry and many were clearly deeply unhappy with their lives and felt very alienated," Ben says. "Many certainly didn't end up having epic lives in later life, if they even made it that far."

So why is the Atlas Gallery bringing back the image of a flock of individuals, so reviled in their day and so committed to self-destruction?

"They symbolise freedom," Ben begins. "Particularly freedom of the road, but mostly, youthful rebellion, something which in today's obedient society we have almost forgotten about."

We would like to think there are one or two of us who still have that spirit of freedom in us, but, knowing we have a story to run, decide not to pick an argument with Ben.

Danny Lyons's collection captures a handful of faces who needed a bike to remind them, who they were was not just their day job, their hometown or even their given names.

On the road, on their rides, in their road stained leather and denims, the bikeriders' became larger than life.

Not bad for a bunch of 'low lives'.

Find more photos like this on MotorbikeTimes

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