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Rolling Thunder veterans change image of bikers

June 4, 2009 by  

On Memorial Day weekend in Washington, parents cheered and their babes waved little American flags at hundreds of bikers. What has happened in three decades to inspire this sea change in attitude toward bikers, a group that once was feared by average Americans?

In an event with the almost-menacing moniker Rolling Thunder, almost half a million motorcyclists rumbled across the Arlington Memorial Bridge, snaked around the Mall and dismounted en masse near the Lincoln Memorial. Most of the bikers were clad in black leather, many sported Visigothian manes and beards and almost all straddled brutish, black Harley-Davidsons or H-D clones.

The bad-boy biker image began decades ago. In Hollister, Calif., on the weekend of July Fourth, 1947, a motorcycle rally became rowdy. Some drunken participants (restless war veterans among them) were arrested, and Life magazine ran a story featuring a staged photograph from Hollister of a belching biker perched on his machine’s footpegs, surrounded by beer bottles. In 1953, Columbia Pictures projected a highly fictionalized and sensationalized version of the event on the silver screen in the Marlon Brando film “The Wild One.”

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