CA. - Gone are the days when people gave motorcyclists a second look and got worried.
It's been a long time since gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson followed the marauding Hells Angels through California.
Motorcycles have become a hot item with widespread popularity, fetching high-dollar prices and turning the average Joe into a weekend warrior.
Yes, there is still an outlaw fringe, but by and large, motorcycle clubs attract a professional crowd, said Bill Martin, a Newhall resident and president of the local chapter of the American Cruisers motorcycle club.
The club rosters include doctors and lawyers, he said - people who work Monday through Friday jobs and hit the road on the weekends.
"They just want to get out there and enjoy (riding)," he said.
Martin said he works in communications - "nothing at all related to motorcycles."
Now 47, he started riding a motorcycle for transportation some 25 years ago. Four years ago, he got back into it for the sheer pleasure.
"The journey there is what you're riding for," he said in describing the enduring attraction of motorcycles.
These days, Martin cruises the road in a heavy-duty Yamaha road bike. In the last two years, he said he's logged almost 40,000 miles.
The world of motorcycling has seen a radical shift since the 1960s, when being a biker meant one bore the stigma of being an outlaw.
Forty years ago this month, local sheriff's officials were on high alert after getting word of a "booze run" organized by the San Fernando Valley-based Galloping Goose motorcycle club.
When the weekend of May 6, 1967, rolled around, sheriff's deputies were ready, with a checkpoint set up to stop every one of the Galloping Goose, Satan's Slaves and Hells Angels members that thundered into Agua Dulce.
According to a story in The Signal the following Monday, there were a few arrests and impounded bikes, but for the most part it was a weekend spent drinking "as if the breweries were about to shut down" and with Sunday motorcycle races.
In a piece shot through with opinion, reporter Bill Johnson concluded that, "the men ... were soft-spoken, well-educated and seemed to have an excellent grasp of the situation they find themselves in. But according to the social mores of today, they were poorly dressed and their language was sprinkled with four-letter words."
Martin said his club encourages good behavior. There have been some problems in the past with troublesome riders, but he said that "they find out that they're not welcome pretty soon on."
Trends he has observed include more women getting into riding, and more younger people making the shift from high-speed street bikes to touring and road bikes.
Courtney Garner, co-owner of Santa Clarita Choppers, agreed with Martin's estimation, and said not only is there a much younger group getting into riding, but "tons more women."
It's the freedom and relaxation of the activity that seems to be the attraction, she said.
The shop Garner and her husband own specializes in custom motorcycles that can range from $23,000 to $40,000 in price.
Overall, Martin said the world of motorcycling mostly attracts honest men and women.
"It's not just hoodlums and thugs," he said.
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