Million Dollar Bikes

January 22, 2009

All Posts, News

Choppers are turning to stone.

Yeah, yeah. What a strange lead sentence. You could do better.

But, wouldn’t you agree that already choppers are hardly supposed to roll. You have probably already been or are planning to go to one of the six bike shows Easyriders is running this month and next, or to the big bike show in New York, or some bike show somewhere this winter.

You may have some thoughts about what you see -some observations you think the rest of the world might have missed but still should know.

So, if tomorrow morning you wake up and you decide you are going to start writing about motorcycles -because, hell, anybody can write that crap-you need to know going in that, first thing, you are going to have to look at about a thousand photographs of Victory Motorcycles’ new “concept” bike.

They call it the Victory Core and it is a solo bar hopper with an “African Mahogany seat with integrated LED tail/turn/brake lights.” Nobody has ever actually ridden it and it is not really for sale. Because, you know, it is a concept. Like cubism. Like trickle down economics.

“Concept” choppers are everywhere. Even the Clinton Library in Arkansas had a display of choppers. The Clinton Library. Let that one sink in. The Bill Clinton Library.

Symbolic Bikes

It is mildly surprising that Clinton has not yet bought himself a motorcycle. Reportedly, he has made something north of a $100 million dollars since leaving office so he can probably afford one. And, he fits the ideal chopper demographic. He is a middle-aged, goody two shoes who likes to be photographed while doing something dramatic-like saluting a marine or laying a wreath or hugging a victim. So why not set up a photo opportunity of this guy on a chopper?

Right. Right, it is a rhetorical question.

The de-evolution of America from something real into something symbolic has coincided with an identical de-evolution of the American chopper. A very short time ago a chopper was a simple, practical, machine that you, yourself, maintained and tinkered with and improved and made your own and rode. Now the very best and most expensive bikes hardly get ridden at all.

You are not really supposed to ride them. You are supposed to sit on them and smile like a beauty queen. And other people are supposed to admire the way you sit there. Sitting on a chopper has become a kind of a symbolic mating display like a peacock’s tail feathers or a pimp’s hat or a baboon’s ass.

Art Bikes

Fifteen years ago or so, old timers complained that the whole Harley scene had turned into a “fashion show.” Today it has turned into a television show. But wait. It does not stop there. There is more. Now this thing of ours is turning into a gallery exhibit.

The whole art/motorcycle thing has already been done. Two decades ago the Guggenheim Museum in New York had an exhibition called “The Art of the Motorcycle.” What is different now is that the idea of motorcycles as objects of art has been refined to its logical absurdity.

You probably did not get your invitation yet because you are not actually going to start writing about motorcycles until tomorrow, but there is a place in Chelsea, on West 26th Street in Manhattan called the Ippodo Gallery. And they are “exhibiting” four choppers through the end of this month. The exhibit is called “Chicara Liquid Chrome.”

Million Dollar Moped

The bikes include a 1939 Harley U Flathead, a 1942 WLA Flathead, a 1950 Japanese Magura-whatever the hell that is-and a 1966 Honda Moped. They were all meticulously chopped by a Japanese bike builder named Chicara Nagata and, you guessed it, all the bikes are very heavily chromed. Chicara, 46, started as a graphic artist but drifted into the custom chopper hustle in the early 90s.

Ippodo Gallery describes the bikes as “functional.” Functional means that they can be made to start, shift into gear and go. Supposedly. They are theoretically functional but they are not made to work. They are art. They are made to just sit there like a beauty queen without you sitting on them because you might mar them. They are made to sit alone and unused in some rich guy’s living room. Or, maybe in his bullet proof front window.

They are not concept bikes. They are art so they are for sale. And as is usually the case in the fine art world, they do not come with a price tag. But they are sitting where they are because they are for sale. You have to ask how much.

But be warned, if you wander into this place -in your new capacity as a motorcycle writer-do not bother to ask their cost. You cannot afford them anyway. They are not for you. They are made for important people. They are not even made for people important enough to write for Vanity Fair. They are made for people who get written about in Vanity Fair.

The Honda Moped for example, which the gallery calls Art IV and is pictured above, is for sale for $1 million.

Do you see now? Choppers must be turning to stone. They have already turned to gold.

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One Response to “Million Dollar Bikes”

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