BIKER BRAD YODER When I was a little boy in NE Ohio, my family had a vacation home in Southern Vermont. My parents loved VT but they lived & worked in NE Ohio. So, many a Friday afternoon, my family would pile into the Dodge van & drive 525 miles from Ohio to VT arriving late at night. We would return back to Ohio on Sunday afternoons- always arriving home in the darkness. Most of the miles on this trip were across the New York State Thruway on Sunday afternoons. This was in the days when you got a toll card (paper) and they had “tolltakers” at every exit along the tollway. I’ll always remember that it was $5.20 to drive from Erie, PA all the way to Albany, NY. Probably a tidy sum in 1978 dollars! The Federal government had reduced the highway speed limits to 55 mph for Americans to conserve fuel. My mom had her own business and so we had the largest 15 passenger van that Dodge made with windows along both sides and “barn doors” at the rear also with windows. Great for a kid to look out of as we rode down the interstate.
No one in my family had a motorcycle. Not even Uncles or grandfathers or even Cousins. Yet, when we would travel across the New York State Thruway on Fridays and Sundays I would see Harley-Davidsons. Late 1970’s AMF ones. They were always the FLH Harley-Davidsons, no sportsters or dynas. The softail bikes hadn’t even been conceived of yet. FLH Electra glides and they were always in large groups riding in a tight formation. You knew they were ahead because I would hear their rumble as we came up behind them on the highway. The bikes always seemed to be motoring along right at 55 mph and we were not going much faster. Gasoline had just been made unleaded and it seemed like no cars or vans had any “get up and go” in them. So, we would close in ever so slowly and my dad would gently pull into the left lane to pass these Harley-Davidsons. I would always press my head to the window on the right side and watch the bikes as we slowly passed. Sometimes I counted 30 or even 40 motorcycles! They were all baggers and always in large groups riding in a tight formation. No bright colors or even the two-tone painted cycles like we see today.
Then, as we passed the lead bike, I would shuffle to the back of the van and peer out the back windows as they faded into the distance. I always marveled at their precision and their discipline to stay in a tight group. They were organized- they were united behind a singular purpose. They were RIDING TOGETHER. Where were they coming from? Where were they going? How long will they ride for? I never saw bikes like this near my parents home in Ohio and certainly not in Vermont. Only on the New York State Thruway. They were loud and proud and faceless. In all kinds of weather on the New York State Thruway.
As I grew older and the 1980’s rolled past and all throughout the 1990’s, I didn’t yet have a Harley-Davidson motorcycle of my own. I would sometimes hear people talk badly of Harley-Davidson motorcycles or the people who owned them. I kept quiet- I knew better because I had witnessed these bikes and these riders firsthand- they were powerful and they rumbled down the road- not at 80 mph, but at a steady 55 mph. The men were disciplined in their riding formations, they had a leader, a body of riders and a sweep rider. They weren’t speeding. They shared the road- they were respectful. Across the New York State Thruway from Buffalo to Albany was where I saw these Harley riders. These were my earliest memories of motorcycles in the USA and of Harley-Davidson owners.
- BIKER BRAD YODER