Sonny Barger uses the knowledge he’s acquired over the course of six decades of motorcycle riding to pen his latest book, Let’s Ride Sonny Barger’s Guide to Motorcycling.
Mention Sonny Barger’s name and a few things come to mind. Former leader of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels is one. “Baddest man on two wheels” is another. One-percenter is yet another. Absent from that list is accomplished author, an accolade Barger has achieved in the latter part of his life. He’s penned four books and recently released a fifth entitled Let’s Ride Sonny Barger’s Guide to Motorcycling which he corroborated on with Motorbooks editor and author, Darwin Holdstrom. Being the first tome written by Barger that I had read, like most people, I cracked the book open with preconceived notions but walked away with a deeper appreciation for the man.
What gives an outlaw biker the credentials to write a motorcycling guide? For starters, try six decades of riding motorcycles and over a million miles logged on two wheels where he’s suffered only one serious accident. Add in the fact that Barger has been riding since the days when being a roadside motorcycle mechanic was a necessity if you wanted to stay in the saddle. Top that off with the fact that he’s a true one-percenter, not just a fair-weather rider and at 71 years-old, he still logs an average of 25,000 miles-per-year on his Victory Motorcycle. He puts riders half his age to shame and lives by the creed he espouses.
Let’s Ride Sonny Barger’s Guide to Motorcycling is just that – a guide. It provides helpful insight into all aspects of motorcycling, from making the initial decision to become a motorcyclist to sage advice when purchasing a bike to basic maintenance tips. Barger’s text is written in a frank, conversational tone that is easily interpreted by even novice and newbie riders. He doesn’t try to talk over reader’s heads in a jumble of technical jargon. He’s a no-nonsense, straight-shooting type of person. When Barger advises against buying a custom chopper or bobber as a first bike on page 61, you should listen to him. He’s lived through the chopper/bobber movement of American motorcycling history and knows first-hand “they are complete pains in the ass to own and ride.” Newbies definitely don’t need a first bike that could easily leave them stranded on the side of the road regardless of how many Biker Build-Offs their favorite custom builder has won.
Barger’s Chapter 1: Dissecting the Beast starts with a nuts-and-bolts explanation of the various components that make
Soon Barger proves there’s a lot more to the man than meets the eye in his book Let’s Ride which is both comprehensive and at times humorous.
up a motorcycle and runs down the essential parts of the engine to readers in laymen terms. By the end of the chapter, readers should be able to distinguish the difference between a single-cylinder engine and a V-Twin and to know the differences in the four strokes of a four-stroke engine. And while I had always perceived Barger as solely a cruiser or bobber motorcycle rider, his knowledge about a broad range of motorcycles is impressive. He discusses German Boxers and British Triples with the same aplomb he uses while conveying the merits of a Freedom 106 V-Twin.
In the chapter called The Fundamentals of Riding readers find out that “the baddest man on two wheels” lobbies for everyone to take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course. This from a man who you would think is anti-establishment. On the contrary, Barger claims “the single most important piece of advice in this entire book” is completing an MSF RiderCourse. He says even seasoned riders can benefit from their advanced training course. He even admits that he took the course himself and was the only person to drop his bike in the class despite easily being the one with the most miles logged on a motorcycle. Barger also outlines the MSF’s pre-ride inspection technique called T-CLOCK for readers on page 100 and reinforces how important it is for riders to check tires, wheels, fluid levels and chain tightness almost every time before they hop on their motorcycle.
One of the other facts that contradict people’s perception of the long-time Hells Angel is his insistence that riders wear the proper gear and helmet. Barger has gotten wiser with age because most of the pictures of him in his early years show him riding without a lid. But cancer of the larynx and a hole in his throat helped change his attitude and now he not only wears a full-face helmet, he conveys its importance to readers.
Anybody thinking about buying a used bike could benefit from Chapter 4: Evaluating a Used Motorcycle. It could be used as an itemized checklist for points to address when buying a used motorcycle and proffers some of the best advice around – if something doesn’t check out, move on and find another bike. Barger then runs readers through the process of inspecting a used motorcycle, from checking the battery to get an idea of the state of the bike’s electrical system to inspecting steering head bearings.
In Let’s Ride, Sonny Barger’s Guide to Motorcycling, two things are apparent. Barger is a funny guy. His wry wit is interspersed throughout the book and can be found as early as the first two sentences when he ridicules the 1970s saying “Ride hard, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse,” by stating “People said a lot of stupid things back then.” His twisted sense of humor is displayed again when talking about the troubles that followed the first Harley Evolution V-Twin which led to t-shirts being printed with the humorous quip “See no Evo. Hear no Evo. Speak no Evo.”
He’s also a man who’s passionate about riding motorcycles. It’s evident in his writing, both in tone and subject matter. He likens the act of riding motorcycles to religion, stating “Most religions have ways to help you focus your thoughts – meditation, prayer, ceremonies – and in this way riding a motorcycle is a lot like a religion…For me, riding a motorcycle is like being part of a ceremony; it’s a transcendent experience some would call holy (page17).”
Barger’s Let’s Ride provides a solid, practical foundation for anyone who is contemplating becoming a motorcyclist. But it also has bits of advice that could aid the seasoned rider as well. It’s written in easy-to-understand prose, his wit weaves its way into the story and it provides plenty of practical advice. At times, the book can be a bit slanted like when he rails on Ducati engineering and Harley-Davidson engines, but again he draws his conclusions from past experiences. Barger’s intelligence is evident though, as is his passion, a passion he extends to the next generation of riders with this book.
Let’s Ride Sonny Barger’s Guide to Motorcycling
Published by Harper Collins – $23.99