Carson City – The 22nd annual Street Vibrations Fall Rally attracted some 50,000 motorcycle enthusiasts to Reno and surrounding areas over the weekend.
The City of Reno closed six blocks of Virginia Street to accommodate the rally, and the litany of biker accessory retailer tents lined both sides of main street through downtown. There were custom sunglasses … black leather vest, boots, thongs … chromed engine parts … toob tops … velvet paintings … black leather chaps betassled and gilded in silver … patches and pins galore … cigars …
Walking progress was slow through the tight, meandering crowd. Bands, to include the female Led Zeppelin cover band Zepperella, played on three downtown stages. The rapid-fire sound of intentionally loud motorcycles, booze, and barbecued meat smoke were everywhere.
Inside the Reno Convention Center, tattoo guns buzzed. Vendors hawked skin care products and electronic pain relief machines, but variously arrayed around the big hall were hundreds of motorcycles. The rally is a vigorous marketplace for bikes and rare parts, and many of the bikes had price tags, but many were exotic works of mechanical art and look as if they are never ridden on the road.
The Chicano style bike competition occupied a fifth of the convention hall floor. Each dazzling bike was setup with descriptive signs with the bike’s name and broader technical details and who made it. Chicano Yank is from Sacramento and is one of the contest organizers. I asked him what defines a “Chicano style” bike?
Listen to an audio interview with Chicano Yank … (music credit – artist: Mexican Institute of Sound; song: Comite Culificador Part 2)
“There are a lot of different names for them. They call them low-rider bikes. They call them Harlistas. I call them Chicano style,” said Chicano Yank. “White-walls, ape-hangers or beech bars, fish-tails, kind of an old-school look, lots of chrome, and low, obviously low and spoke wheels.”
The low rider car is an indelible cultural icon, and Chicano Yank said low rider bikes have been around for as long as low rider cars but are gaining in popularity in recent years. A television program, Mayans M. C. has added to the mystique.
“Now it’s gaining real traction, so now its become more mainstream. I have followers who are from Australia, Russia, Brazil, from Japan, everywhere, and they all do their bikes like that. They submit pictures of their bikes. They’re very proud of them, and they want to show, ‘hey, we’re Chicano style and we are representing over here in this part of the world,’ so it’s really cool to get that kind of feedback from totally different cultures, and I think it’s really cool.”
The nature of the competition between the Chicano style bikes is particular in that, yes, the motorcycle makers are competitive, but the object of the competition is to encourage all participants with a positive focus on craft and culture.
“The owners are the ones who are doing all the work to the bikes. They’re the ones who are passionate about these vehicles, and they are the ones who like to see other people and other works, and then they like to compete against each other, but yet there’s this brotherhood, that respect, not trying to put anybody else down, but try to build everyone around them that is into that type of bike. It’s just like the biker mainstream, for the majority of bikers it’s a brotherhood, and its the same with this style of bike, both male and female. It’s not just male dominated.”
Chicano Yank smiled when he explained that the people who appreciate and own Chicano style bikes span cultural divides. He smiled again when he said there is a giant need for cultures to better understand each other.
“You can’t just narrow it down to just Spanish speaking … it’s across the whole country, around the world too. But the whole country, we have different cultures, different nationalities, everybody into the bike. They’re just into that style, and yeah they call it the low rider, the Chicano look, but it draws more than just the Mexicans or the Hispanic riders. You have everybody that just loves it and is involved with it, and it’s just growing.”
Chicano Yank said his dad had a chopper and was deep in lowrider culture, and Chicano Yank has been riding motorcycles since he was eight years old. When he became old enough to drive, his bent for low rider style expressed itself in the form of a 1969 Chevy Impala low rider complete with hydraulics, a distinctive lowrider modification designed to lift or drop any corner of the car with enough motive force to lift the wheels off the ground, so his mechanical and artistic passion naturally evelved to focus on motorcycles, and despite the bad boy reputation of bikers, Chicano Yank said the work of planning and customizing rolling machines in the Chicano style helped guide and center him when he was young.
“It kept me out of … it helped keep me focused,” Chicano Yank said with a broad smile. “It would be a great thing to share with the younger generation. I know a lot of the people who are into these bikes, their kids get into them as well. It’s like the cars. A lot of the people who are doing cars … it’s a family event, but motorcycles, not so much family but kind of like father/son, maybe father daughter. Because, you know, two up is the most you can have on a motorcycle, but there is that family aspect part of it as well.”
For more from Chicano Yank, listen to the audio interview embedded above …