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Book Review Biker's Handbook

Friday, October 26, 2007
Motorcycle USA recently got a request to peruse the pages of a new book written by American Thunder producer Jay Barbieri, the "Biker's Handbook." Turns out, Barbieri is more than just a masthead for a motorcycle TV show. He really is a biker. He's been making the rally circuit, building and breaking down bikes since his first Harley he bought when he was 19, which gives him more credibility in writing the book than solely as a Hollywood producer just trying to bank on his popularity. His stories and insight into the scene could only be attributed to living the lifestyle, 24/7, come hell or high water.

The  Biker s Handbook  is full of the wit and wisdom of American Thunder producer Jay Barbieri in an easy-to-read  attractive format and features lots of cool pics and hilarious cartoons.
The "Biker's Handbook" is full of the wit and wisdom of American Thunder producer Jay Barbieri in an easy-to-read, attractive format and features lots of cool pics and hilarious cartoons.
Barbieri's publisher, Motorbooks, touts the paperback as "providing a road map to biker culture for anyone new to the experience." His road map is filled with sage advice and helpful information, supported by humorous anecdotes and personal experience. Through Barbieri's willingness to expose his past trials and tribulations, people new to the scene can decide for themselves whether or not the two-wheeled way of life is for them.

Readers are provided a sound foundation of do's and don'ts between vignettes of moto history. When Barbieri states that first-time motorcycle buyers should hold off from buying a bunch of aftermarket parts right after they purchase their bike, people should listen. He's been there, done that. Just look at his pimped-out 1987 Softail on page 31 and you'll see that he knows what he's talking about.

Rally rookies can also learn from the "Biker's Handbook." He lists the big three - Daytona, Laconia, Sturgis, and provides a glimpse at what to expect from each. He lets riders know that it's OK to ship your bike to a rally, helping dispel the myth that if you don't ride you're a wuss. His advice to rent a house if you're going to be attending with a group of buddies also rings true. It's an economically sound decision if the expense is divided between friends and is much easier to come and go from. And if you plan on partying to the wee hours, you can do so at your discretion more so than at a hotel where the sounds of your revelry would easily travel through thin hotel walls and keep the family with kids next door who actually want to sleep up all night.

Barbieri's stories about Daytona and Bike Week are by far the best reading in the book. When his buddy Darryl busts his bike up and Barbieri and friends pull an all-nighter to piece his ride back together, the brotherhood of biking is demonstrated at its best. His Sturgis stories are almost as good, like the tale of Ralphie the transvestite, which I guarantee is good for a laugh. Barbieri's sense of humor is evident throughout the book.

What helps bring Barbieri's work to life are the abundant black and white photos. It was a smart move to give the reader a visual foundation of the friends and faces and places that have helped shape his past. They add validity to his stories. Toss in tons of cartoons and caricatures of him and his buddies in different predicaments and you've got a book that is visually entertaining and fun to read.

But I do have some points of contention. In the early chapters especially, Barbieri establishes an authoritative tone. In respect to that tone, it is imperative that you get your facts straights.

In Chapter 1, ironically entitled "Get it Right," the incident at Hollister wasn't solely a "bunch of hardened vets who lived in Hollister, California." There were a lot more than just locals that converged on Hollister that weekend. If so, then every person that lived in the town would have been considered a biker. The motorcyclists congregating for the annual Gypsy Tour motorcycle races and hill climbs at Veterans Memorial Park were from across California and neighboring states. Though Barbieri points out that it did start the rash of bad PR that bikers received after that, it would have been helpful to let people know more of the incident's history and how a San Francisco Chronicle reporter staged the infamous photo associated with the event and how the press helped over exaggerate the events of that day.

Another area of discrepancy is when he lists makers of American V-Twin bikes and Arlen Ness is incorrectly associated with Big Dog Motorcycles. While Arlen Ness does have his own production line, Big Dog was started by Sheldon Coleman, of Coleman camping equipment fame. The businesses are separate entities. It looks like they forget to put in a line break after listing Arlen Ness, and Big Dog should have fallen to the next sentence, which places some of the blame on the editors.

The back cover features Barbieri in the infamous leather jacket and includes a gratuitous shot of bodacious American Thunder hostess Michele Smith  who contributes a foreword to the book
The back cover features Barbieri in the infamous leather jacket and includes a gratuitous shot of bodacious American Thunder hostess Michele Smith, who contributes a foreword to the book
And while Barbieri warns against propagating the myth of the stereotypical biker, his repeated use of expletives and the abundance of pictures of him wearing his patch-laden leather jacket contradict his own advice. He recommends that newbies to the culture shouldn't walk into a restaurant "talking extra loud and using bad language to make everyone think you're a big bad biker" (page 91), but his repeated use of the f-word in the book makes him guilty of breaking his own rules. I'm not above letting the f-word fly out my own mouth on occasion, but in the book it should have been used more sparingly and only when it emphasized a point in the story.

As far as the jacket goes, he also advises that it's not necessary to wear your riding jacket to the local store (page 92) so that everyone knows you're a biker, but then the book is riddled with numerous shots of him wearing his leather everywhere. Granted, the editors most likely had the final say in most of the pictures that were selected for the book and probably steered his word choice toward the rough-edged prose, but it does nothing to contradict the tough guy biker fallacy.

Overall, the book was a light-hearted, humorous read. It has an attractive layout and Barbieri's immersion in the biker culture is evident. It is a good book for the audience it targets, the person who is new or curious about the whole aura that surrounds being a biker. Motorcyclists that have lived the lifestyle might not get as much out of it, but can definitely relate on a personal level to Barbieri's exploits. On a scale of one to ten, I'd rate the book a seven. But don't listen to me. Buy it for yourself and make your own conclusions. After reading his book, I'm sure Barbieri would want it that way.

"Biker's Handbook"by Jay Barbieri is available in bookstores everywhere or through www.motorbooks.com

Retail: $19.95 U.S., $23.95 Canada

Published by Motorbooks in October 2007

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