But long gone are the days of Thompson’s Angels; sure, bikers are still judged by the Gonzo journalist’s depiction of them as dangerous, violent and remorseless criminals who resorted to drug running, dumpster diving, and strong-arm robberies to maintain their “live to ride, ride to live” lifestyles.
Doubtless some still resort to such activities, but since the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local law enforcement officials began treating those roving hordes of vagabonds as a unit of organized crime rather than just a greasy sect of ne’er-do-wells, their shenanigans have been severely curtailed as the nearly-infinite powers of the justice system were brought to bear.
However, their unique culture still maintains elements of those wide-open days and retains the cowboy ethos of the lonesome wayfarer with none but the wind and the road as companions, but nowadays it’s probably more show than go. Perhaps what would have been most unimaginable to Thompson, Brando and Dean is that the anti-establishmentarianism bikers once held so close to their ornately patched black leather vests has subsided in favor of vigorous political participation.
And participation coupled with the “lone wolf” philosophy of many bikers leads most of them to support conservative and Republican causes.
“We’re lost if Hillary gets in,” said Bill Bush, who was visiting Maggie Valley from Edgar, Nebraska last weekend. “She’s not a very trustworthy person, putting it mildly.”
Bush has been riding for more than 50 years, and in that time, he’s seen the changes in the type of people who ride and the activities in which they partake.
“I think it’s improved — it ain’t the old dirty fightin’ drinkin’ person,” he said. “It’s family people, their kids. It’s improved a lot, the appearance I guess.”
Waynesville resident Paul Arrington has been riding almost as long as Bush, and he backed up Bush’s account of the biker community.
“I think a lot of people used to think that nobody rides excepts bums or something,” Arrington said. “But now, the riding community is a very upstanding community. There’s people that ride these things that are lawyers and doctors.”
The “biker vote” is an overlooked but important demographic in an electoral puzzle that is far more inclusive of groups once considered “fringe,” like the National Rifle Association, which now boasts 5 million members.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were more than 8.4 million registered motorcycles in the U.S. in 2011.
Certainly not every motorcycle owner fits the stereotype, but many do, and if anecdotes were evidence, Clinton supporters in the riding community are as few and far between as Death Valley gas stations.
Where this becomes important is in both the quantity and the geographic distribution thereof; with more than 8 million bikes on those same roads used by more than 300 million Americans, their owners may constitute up to 2.7 percent of the U.S. population.
And that biker population is, interestingly, overwhelmingly located in key battleground states.
As of early September, Politico considers Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin battleground states in this year’s presidential election.
Of those, Florida has the second-most registered bikes in the country — behind only California — with more than 550,000 gracing the highways of the Sunshine State. Ohio comes in fourth with more than 400,000, Pennsylvania fifth with almost 400,000, Wisconsin eighth at 280,000 and Michigan ninth at around 260,000.
North Carolina’s 193,000 bikes put the state at 15th in the country.
Robert Immerman — who like Bush and Arrington visited Maggie Valley to attend events surrounding the Geico Hot Bike Tour Sept. 8 — was perhaps the embodiment of the “biker vote.”
A plumber from Lionel Lakes, Minnesota, Immerman drove to the event in his RV, which sports a huge “Trump 2016” sticker on the front windshield.
“I’ve probably gotten 500 compliments on that in the last couple months, versus I’ve had three people flip me off,” he said.
Earlier this year, Immerman took the same RV to the legendary biker bash that takes place in Sturgis, South Dakota, each year and received similar accolades.
“I was in Sturgis, and I probably had about a hundred people compliment me on my Trump 2016 sticker,” he said. “Everybody I’ve talked to is voting for Trump — not one biker said they would vote for Hillary Clinton.”
But has he seen any Clinton stickers or paraphernalia during his bike-related voyages?
“None,” he said.
Like many, his reasons for supporting Trump seem to stem partly from his admiration for Trump, and partly from his dislike of Clinton.
“She did so many crooked things, and so many bad things have happened, people just don’t believe anything she says,” Immerman said. “And we need somebody that’s going to do something about some things. She doesn’t want to do anything — she wants to bring another 200,000 refugees into our country so she can get the democratic vote out of them. Trump, he’s got plans — the wall, the IRS, a lot of things, you know? So I just think he’s got more issues that he’s willing to do, that he wants to do, and she’s not.”