Whose Angels?

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Culture Appropriation


| June 29, 2006


Move over, Hells Angels. A new breed of biker is taking to the road, and they don't always fit the stereotypes perpetuated in films like Easy Rider. Take Ken Shapiro, the 'self-proclaimed king' of the Jewish-themed motorcycle crew SOBs, short for Semites on Bikes. As Steve Fink of Dragonfire reports, Shapiro isn't your typical biker. He's a 53-year-old kindergarten teacher with a penchant for telling Jewish jokes. But Shapiro hints at the wild streak that led him to found his own motorcycle gang: 'I think all stereotypes come from some basis in fact.'

The SOBs are one of a handful of biker gangs who have taken the motorcycle culture and appropriated it as their own. One such group has turned the open highway into the path for spreading the word of Jesus. Cathy Resmer of Seven Days, a Vermont alt-weekly, reports on Motorcyclists for Jesus Ministries, a group whose purpose, according to its website, 'is to lead and guide motorcyclists in the personal relationship with Jesus Christ.' The group is split up into TEAMs (Telling Everyone About the Messiah) who troll the country, preaching to those who will listen.

Bikers also have been showing up to combat religious fundamentalism. According to Kara Platoni of Mother Jones, when Topeka Pastor Fred Phelps and his followers, who view US soldiers' deaths as rightful punishment for the country's purported tolerance of homosexuality, began picketing military funerals with signs reading 'Thank God for Dead Soldiers' and 'God Hates America,' a biker gang called the Patriot Guard Riders was born. The Riders form convoys at military funerals, shielding mourners from the onslaughts of hateful protests. Said the group's spokesman, Kurt Mayer, 'There is something bigger going on here.'

And it's bigger than macho bikes and wrap-around sunglasses. There's also a group proving that women on motorcycles don't need to be relegated to the back seat. Barbara Raab of In These Times reports on the recent legal troubles of the San Francisco Women's Motorcycle Club, also known as the Dykes on Bikes. When the group applied for a federal trademark on the catchier version of the name, the application ran into a wall of legal problems. Most recently, a man challenged the application claiming that the word 'dyke' is a 'symbol of hate' toward men. But the group insists that the movement is about pride, not hate, and members say they're near victory. As their president, Vick Germany, signs an open letter on the group's website, 'Ride safe. Ride Proud.'

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Semites on Bikes

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