Favorite driver's magazines

"Baggers", June 1, 2012



WORDS: J. Joshua Placa

PHOTO: J. Joshua Placa

In our eternal quest for a particular place to go, most motorcyclists have sought mountain, beach, and desert destinations near and far. Any before unseen back road or boulevard, no matter how distant or bumpy, will get our throttle wrist twitching. Some brave the abominable wilds of the Yukon, the Amazon’s sweltering jungles, or the lonely, ceaseless Texas prairie in pursuit of fresh adventure. But as far as anyone here would admit, none of the staff has been to another planet. Until now.

If you like biking in a weird world of mean man-eating monsters, psycho scoundrels, and the super-duper daring do-gooders who so valiantly dispatch them to the horrible hell they came from, then San Diego during Comic Con is a putt to put on your bucket list. For four freakish days in July, the city is transformed into a celebration of all things out of this world, the diabolical best our nation’s finest nerd-minds can devise.

This film, TV, and print mega-convention featuring horror and sci-fi’s most celebrated creators, creatures, and their certifiably fanatic followers is an unearthly phenomenon. Teeming masses of wannabe heroes, vile villains, merciless monsters, and other dark denizens of graphic novel and twisted imagination are drawn to the historic Gaslamp Quarter like zombies to free government brains.

Wandering herds of costumed characters and caped crusaders spilled out of the San Diego Convention Center, parading, primping, pimping, growling, posing, and becoming the hero or mad monster they adore most. Film premiers are everywhere, the action blockbuster, Captain America: The First Avenger, made its U.S. debut just as Comic Con reached its peak, surely no coincidence.

Our all-American hero rides a circa 1942 olive drab Liberator. Clandestine sources tell us the film bike was based on a heavily modified Cross Bones, bringing modern performance cloaked in retro skins to a new level, even for the reigning king of nostalgia. The original was a 750cc V-twin made to military spec and used mostly for messenger duty. Not exactly the boulevard blaster a superhero might straddle to spread his secret powers in the name of mom and apple pie, but enough for a weird dude in tights to get the job done.

After several days of negotiation with Harley’s high command to secure a reborn Liberator, complete with gun scabbard (we supply the gun), none were street ready, but H-D loaned us a 2011 Road Glide Custom to complete our mission. Flying the color of Superman’s cape, we rumbled around downtown and coastal communities, up suspicious boulevards and down scary alleys, ready to rescue damsels in undress. We eyeballed many specimens in skintight latex, or wearing high heels, lipstick, and little else, but none, sadly, needed our capable assistance.

Reality kind of sucks these days, so an escape into an adrenalin-wired make-believe feels just like what the witch doctor ordered. Having a hero or two, or even an angry super villain with serious childhood issues, on our side doesn’t hurt. The Harley ran about town, its fairing puffed out like Superman’s chest, with menacing grace and storage space enough to carry all the garlic, wooden stakes, silver bullets, and anti-zombie juice we would need.

Modified motorcycles have become curious inventions of vivid imagination in recent years. Artful metal fabrication has reached unprecedented heights, drawing on surreal dreams, childhood toys, comic book heroes, and the depths of our own oddness. None of this was more evident, or appropriate, than at this out-of-this-world fantasy fest. Rolling amid the trikes built to look like starships, “flying” cars, and the walking comic book characters dressed to die for, the Harley took its rightful role as magic carpet, albeit bound to an earthly street, a minor inconvenience to a leathered crusader.

Hero machines past and present have headlined Comic Con, such at the Bat Bike from Batman: The Dark Knight, Ghost Rider’s smoking V-Max, as well as otherworldly two-wheeled contraptions from Men In Black III, Tron, some kind of sidecar rig for something called The Adventures of Tintin, a rocket ride for Priest, the Green Hornet V-Rod, and, of course, where would we be without the TV rebels from the Sons of Anarchy? It’s all enough to make a sci-fi geek’s rubber Klingon head explode.

Other bikes best not left to the hands of mere mortals could be seen stationed around town. These machines are suited for super villains, state troopers from outer space, super heroes, anti heroes, and the odd speeding werewolf or blood-drunk vampire. Aside from admiring the crime fighting and intergalactic extreme machines on display, motorcycling is a great way to get around a dense Earth city.

Riding around the Gaslamp, congested with thousands of event goers, was a breeze aboard the Road Glide. While civilians in overcompensating trucks, big-ass SUVs, and clumsy automobiles had to park as much as 20 or 30 blocks from the action and pay $25 and up for the privilege, sitting the Harley down on its kickstand was never inconvenient, and even better — free.

The city buzzed with adventure. Star-studded premiers, public parties, underground parties, a Super Hero Pub Crawl complete with secret locations, and a massive Zombie Walk where hundreds of weirdoes marched in full makeup and red corn syrup through the city, turned this mild metropolis into a dystopia of nerds gone wild and unreal, yet somehow still smelly, undead. Some women’s costumes were so “pre-decayed,” as one zombie put it, shredded to near nudity, that being a member of the walking, mumbling, flesh-eating dead didn’t seem so bad, once you get past devouring the same old thing day in and night out.

Comic Con, it seems, captures that certain sexy something, a heady mix of carnal posturing, sweaty sex pheromones, animal hides, bare skin, high heels, and a playful, irresistible call to adventure, be it on the naked road or a galaxy far, far away. Perhaps a common thread runs through bikers, princesses, vampires, the super good, the super bad, and the even the ravenous, rotting dead. We are all menacing creatures of peril, addicted to adrenalin and a weird, unspoken primal urge to break free of reality. Nothing wrong with wanting to fly half-naked into the wind, or occasionally munch a few measly brains, is there?

A Harley-Davdison touring bike is an empowering ride, the kind of bike that can turn the average, mild-mannered motorcyclist into a street hero. Returning it made the fantasy do a deflating poof, sort of what Superman must feel when he stuffs his cape back in his gray suit, throws on the goofy glasses, and anonymously goes back to the grind at the Daily Planet, waiting for next year’s Comic Con.



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