And perhaps unintentionally, an American company named Harley Davidson and an American singer/songwriter named George Thorogood were both forever changed.
Before a show in Phoenix, Arizona, George told me Bad To The Bone was the result of simply trying to come up with a cool guitar lick in the same style as Keith Richard’s Satisfaction or J.J. Cale’s Cocaine. When he finally landed on the opening riff to Bad To The Bone, he knew he had something big. But it wasn’t until ten years later that he would learn exactly how big it was.
In 1969 the Harley Davidson Motor Company was acquired by the American Machine & Foundry Company (AMF), the same company that makes bowling balls and tennis rackets. Quality control immediately suffered. Things became so bad that the Motor Company had to set up “hospitals,” way stations where bikes that had come off the assembly line incomplete were patched up and shipped off to dealers.
Harley Davidson also tried to distance itself from the biker world and especially the outlaw biker world. Harley never really acknowledged its dark side. The company, based in Milwaukee, was steeped in Midwestern values. In the 1970’s and 80’s, the Motor Company was more intent on competing with Honda, Yamaha, and Suzuki than they were in looking at themselves in the mirror and admitting what the Harley Davidson brand actually stood for - freedom, rebellion and the outlaw lifestyle.
A leveraged buyout by the founder’s grandson Willie G Davidson and a group of Harley executives got rid of AMF but not the company’s ongoing problems. Strapped with debt, the Motor Company came close to forced bankruptcy in 1986. But Harley survived and to celebrate its renaissance, the company on June 18, 1988, threw itself a huge eighty-fifth birthday party in Milwaukee, complete with a concert by the Charlie Daniels Band.
And at the same time, Harley stylists Willie G Davidson and Louie Netz were busy designing perhaps the most iconic and successful motorcycle Harley Davidson ever produced - the Fat Boy. By 1990, the Fat Boy was in dealers' showrooms. The Motor Company's turnaround was complete.
“I need your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle . . . “ is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first line of Terminator 2 - the famous opening “bar scene.” Arnold plays one of two different Terminators sent back in time to do battle over whether Sarah and John Connor survive into the future. But first, Arnold needs threads and wheels - quickly.
After laying waste to several bikers in the bar, a leather jacket clad Arnold steps outside looking for the bike he’s about to steal. As Arnold’s Terminator takes two steps down to where the bikes are parked, George’s opening guitar riff from Bad To The Bone wailed through theater speakers all across the world.
A bearded man (the bartender) wearing a denim vest and holding a sawed-off shotgun appears, blasts off a couple of shells, and tries to reason with Arnold - “can’t let you take the man’s wheels son. Now get off before I put you down . . . ” Upon which Arnold gets off the bike, grabs the shotgun, takes the man’s Ray Bans out of his pocket and cooly puts them on.
The song continues as Arnold crams the shotgun into a saddle bag, kick starts a Harley Davidson Fat Boy, and roars off into the night. The Terminator’s transformation to badass biker is complete.
If the folks watching Terminator 2 didn’t already know about Big-Twin-Harleys and a song called Bad To The Bone, they certainly knew about both when they walked out of the theater. To this day, never was a song and a movie scene so perfectly matched.
September 2011 - - “That bike is too big for you; you won’t be able to handle it! You have to throw the bike around. Now get off before I put you down . . . ” These words came out of the mouth of a Harley Davidson salesman (well, at least the first two sentences did) at an HD dealership that will remain unnamed. I happened to be sitting on a three-year old Fat Boy - the 2008 Anniversary Edition with special copper and black two-tone paint. The bike felt good under me; it fit me like a glove. I liked it. I wanted it.
But no, that didn’t matter to this know-it-all salesman. Never mind that Fat Boys have one of the lowest seat heights of any HD model. Never mind that Fat Boys have a low center of gravity. Never mind that Fat Boys are one of Harley Davidson’s easiest handling bikes. And especially never mind that Arnold Schwarzenegger rode one in Terminator 2. No, that's just not cool at all is it?
Nope, the idiot salesman said I wasn’t ready for a Fat Boy. I would have to start out on a Sportster. "Like everyone has to do," he smirked. When I asked him if my Sportster came with training wheels, he smirked some more and pointed me in the direction of the finance manager.
As I learned later (the hard way), Sportsters have a high center of gravity which makes them top heavy. Riding a Sportster felt like I was sitting on top of the bike, not part of the bike, just hanging on. Maybe this contributed to me dumping the Sportster on Spunky Canyon Road two months later. But I did make a mistake which also contributed to the crash.
May 2016 - - last weekend, I rode home on a new Fat Boy Lo. After the Sportster, I had a Road King touring bike for a year-and-a-half. My wife and I thought we wanted to hit the open highways and byways of America with her on the back. But then she ended up getting her own bike (a Softail Slim that she adores more than life itself). The touring thing went by the wayside.
So after flirting with a Softail Fat Boy several years ago, I finally tied the knot. It was love at second sight . . .
I broke a thousand hearts
Before I met you
I'll break a thousand more, baby
Before I am through
I wanna be yours pretty baby
Yours and yours alone
I'm here to tell ya honey
That I'm bad to the bone
Bad to the bone
Bad to the bone. . .
Lyrics by George Thorogood; copyright Del Sound Music /BMI
No biker deserves to be bored . . .