Band of Bikers captures the East Coast gay biker scene of yesteryear

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Perusing the selection at the bookstore, nothing’s really different or odd about it. A smallish green square book with a yellowed old color photo of some drunk bikers back in the day. You see shots like that in the online LIFE archive and Max Schaaf’s blog all the time. Walking closer, you read the hand-written title Band of Bikers in the lower left corner of the photo’s border. Cool, a new biker book! Just above the title, that’s when, wait. Is that? Is he? Yep, sure is. That fella’s wearing a shiny G-string right there.
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Scott Zieher found a file box filled with photos in the garbage room floor of his Manhattan apartment building in 1999. Another tenant had died and the remains of dead man’s estate had been discarded for trash.  Those photos are now collected in powerHouse Books’ Band of Bikers, an incredibly intimate collection of images documenting the life of a gay biker during 3 weekends in the summer months of 1972.

While we’ve heard stories of gay biker gangs and the birth of the macho leather fetish, we’ve never met anyone who was either involved in a gay bike gang or who directly knew someone who was. For that matter, we still don’t. There was no reference for what the dead man looked like or what his name was. None of the photos have names attached.

What we’re left with is multi-faceted visual narrative at it’s barest and most approachable. The men and events are, to passing outsiders, no different than other biker gangs of the time. The clothing, patches and posturing are virtually identical. The majority of photos give nothing away to the sexual subtext of this group.

The general normalcy of the shots is what reveals the most poignant element of the series, and that’s the comradery that all bikers share. Running to the store for food and booze. Cooking eggs for everyone’s breakfast or taking turns over the stove for dinner. Chapter meetings and awards. Riding out en mass with their buddies. Keeping the fire going. Drinking beer, chain smoking and goofing off on their bikes.

Sure, doing coke off another man’s belt buckle or posing on a Guzzi Ambassador in nothing but a leather G-string, boots and cap may not have been the norm at the time for the Hell’s Angels or Outlaws, but it definitely was for the Unicorns, Druids, Vikings and Praetorians.

As biker books go, Band of Bikers is ultimately no equal to Danny Lyon’s monumental photo essay, The Bikeriders. Zieher’s found photos are simply the remnants of a guy taking snaps with his Kodachrome during some weekend trips in 1972 with his buddies and their lovers who all happen to be in gay biker gangs. There is no evidence of an aesthetic eye or a master printer here. That said, Band of Bikers gives a startlingly frank glimpse into a subset within a sub-culture that was likely never witnessed by outsiders. And for that, it absolutely belongs on the shelf.

Band of Bikers by Powerhouse Books

  • http://www.homoto.us Jay

    This subculture has always existed, and gay bike gangs are still flourishing. My ‘gang’ is going strong, and we’re a sportbike group. There are also a lot of cruiser-based gay groups out there as well.

    Thanks for this great article.

  • judas

    So gay! oh, wait…

    Anyone into motorcycles is cool in my book.

  • robotribe

    Grant, why do you support such improper and abhorrent behavior by showcasing this kind of disgusting content on your blog? A decent, good-natured individual such as myself shouldn’t have to tolerate such blatant examples of irresponsibility and social disfunction.

    So, I stand by my beliefs: this exhibit showcasing a lack of proper safety helmets and use of motorcycles without proper crash protection clothing is irresponsible and morally offensive.

    Other than that, hey boys, have at it!

  • Cameron Baum

    I think that one guy hiding in the corner was merely bike-curious…

  • Papasan in AZ

    In memory of my friend “Biker Bobby,” Hope you are have’n the time of your after-life, and the roads are paved with leather!

    Judas Priest

    Living after midnight, rockin’ to the dawn
    Lovin’ ’til the morning, then I’m gone, I’m gone
    I took the city ’bout one A.M, loaded, loaded
    I’m all geared up to score again, loaded, loaded
    I come alive in the neon light
    That’s when I make my moves right
    Living after midnight, rockin’ to the dawn
    Lovin’ ’til the morning, then I’m gone, I’m gone
    Got gleaming chrome, reflecting steel, loaded, loaded
    Ready to take on every deal, loaded, loaded
    My pulse is racing, I’m hot to take
    This motor’s revved up, fit to break
    Living after midnight, rockin’ to the dawn
    Lovin’ ’til the morning, then I’m gone, I’m gone
    I’m aiming for ya
    I’m gonna floor ya
    My body’s coming
    All night long
    The air’s electric, sparkin’ power, loaded, loaded
    I’m getting hotter by the hour, loaded, loaded
    I set my sights and then home in
    The joint starts flying when I begin
    Living after midnight, rockin’ to the dawn
    Lovin’ ’til the morning, then I’m gone, I’m gone

  • Sean Smith

    I came after I clicked through to Max Shaaf’s blog and got hooked. Then I stayed for the Judas Priest.

  • The Grudz

    Just imagine how many HFL first-time lurkers will happen upon this article and get the wrong impression…”Yeah man, it’s a site dedicated to gay bikers!” Hilarious. Fascinating to think that all these great photos came from a relatively unknown source and have now made it into a book. Wild.

    • Cameron Baum

      “Just imagine how many HFL first-time lurkers will happen upon this article and get the wrong impression…”Yeah man, it’s a site dedicated to gay bikers!”

      Wait…What, It isn’t?

  • Steve F

    Great story! I think the gay biker subculture is probably the most rebellious lifestyle because not only is motorcycling a bad boy sport, being gay is definitely taboo even as recently as the 70′s.

  • modelasian

    Once again, another great reason for a non-techie biker to check out HFL.
    Nice work

  • boystown

    All those Har…. er Triumph and Honda riders with the ass-less chaps and improper riding gear. What a bunch of wanna be pirates….

    The South Park jokes would have been much easier had there been at least one bike from the MoCo.

    Anyway…looks like they were all on a poker run to the Blue Oyster.

  • Hypocracy

    Fags….oh wait there are no Harleys present….my mistake.

  • CafeRacer1200

    Think what you want, they all look pretty happy. Between the bikes and having a good time with your friends, we should all consider ourselves that lucky. Good for them!

  • Woody

    My dad owns the same Guzzi as the guy in the leather banana hammock. I should send it to him to use when he sells the bike.

  • Live and let live

    Has anyone spotted Paul Teutel Sr. in any of those photos?

    Mmmmm…Praetorians….Et tu, Brute?

  • amsterdam

    What a week at HFL, now Jay is out of the closet.
    ( I salute that.) Old geezers who wrote some pretty funny stuff and Girls posting!
    Can’t wait for an HFL block party.
    Would love to see all these people together.
    Even though I sometimes think we are all alterego’s of Wes an Grant.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Well don’t miss our next party! I hear the next one might include motorcycle races…

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

        Shut it, flabbermouth.

  • http://www.JackFritscher.com Jack

    For eyewitness written and photographic history of 1960s and 1970s gay bikers and gay leather riders as documented in the legendary “Drummer” magazine, see the book titled “Gay San Francisco: Eyewitness Drummer — A Memoir of the Sex, Art, Salon around Drummer Magazine from the Titanic 1970s to 1999.” This book won the gay National Leather Association award for “Best Book of the Year 2009.” The trade paperback is available at amazon.com and the author has posted the entire text of this gay leather-biker book as a FREE leather community service at http://www.JackFritscher.com.

  • http://www.moonlakevintage.com james

    I don’t see much difference between a “gay bikers” gathering and a”straight bikers” gathering. The only thing missing is the rough looking women showing their what-nots for 2 cents worth of beads or a PBR. Aren’t most bikers, straight or gay, trying to look like the lead singer of Judas Priest?

  • Inspirator

    If you want to go further back and see how gay MC’s influenced the whole Marlon Brando / “outlaw” and related biker-mystique, check out the Satyrs MC (of Los Angeles) at SatyrsMC.org .

    Many are or have been employed by the film-industry out of Hollywood, and we’re surely biking around LA long before the club came to be.

    They’ve been around continuously as a club for about 55 years (I believe that they are the oldest), and have been documenting much of it on video, some of which is viewable on their website.

    This fall, they will be doing their 50th run. Runs in the late eighties / early nineties had upwards of 400 riders, including entire bike clubs coming all the way from Australia, along with a scattering of riders from many parts of the world.

  • Howard Carter

    So glad I found your site. Just what I’ve been looking for

  • http://rubberbands.ohlog.com/ Animal Gummy Bracelets

    Thank you for a great post