Motorcycle culture has always held a place in American society and—thanks to iconic films like “The Wild Ones,” “Stone” and “Easy Rider”—the concept of the outlaw biker has continued to intrigue those with wayward inclinations. With one hand on the throttle and the other gripping a camera, legendary documentary photographer Danny Lyon captured the life and times of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club from 1963 to 1967, a period when he himself was a member. Lyon’s resulting work formed “The Bikeriders,” an immersive book initially published in 1968 thanks to America’s new-found taste in subcultures spurred by ’60s era New Journalism—led by the likes of Hunter S. Thompson. After 10 years of being out of print, the seminal book is being re-released in its original journal-sized format with transportive photography and transcribed interviews from the period.
Lyon’s black-and-white images depict a pre-Williamsburg era when leather, tattoos and motorcycles pointed toward a rough-and-tumble lifestyle, not just an aesthetic. At this point in time, all motorcyclists who wished to race were required to belong to an American Motorcycle Association registered club. Needless to say, many clubs wanted to avoid such societal rules and regulations, and thus became “outlaws.” Lyon photographed both sides of the line, though understandably leaning toward his own club’s inclinations. The intimate look at both outlaw club members’ lives and families and the dirt track scramble races is entertaining and insightful, to say the least.
A range of transcribed stories and interviews from fellow Outlaws gang members and their significant others offers a chance to dig deeper into what this life and these people were like. From getting dishonorably discharged to trying to outrun police, the stories are well worth a read. “The Bikeriders” by Danny Lyon is set to publish this month, so keep an eye on Aperture where the book will sell for $35.
Studio photos by Graham Hiemstra, portrait by Danny Lyon