What gets people into riding? Is it the feeling of wind in your face, a bike beneath you, and the freedom that comes with it?
For us, part of that feeling is the sounds of a motorcycle. Of starting a bike, and feeling its engine purr to life. Of revving it, and hearing its full power at your fingertips. Your bike roars down the freeway, in a tunnel, or pulling into town announcing your presence. (Or even hearing your garage door magically open, triggered by a flick of your high-beams?)
That may not be your day-to-day ride, but that’s the mystique of the sound of a motorcycle. People know what a bike sounds like, and it may scare, inspire, or even annoy them, but they recognize it.
And, since the early days of riding, musicians have tried to capture the feeling and sound of motorcycles in their music. To some, music and motorcycles are inseparable. We want to dive into some of the more notable songs inspired by and about motorcycles.
Steppenwolf – “Born To Be Wild”
It’s not tough to argue Easy Rider is in the pantheon of great motorcycle movies. Especially after the early 60s success of Honda and songs like “Little Honda", Easy Rider pushed the image of the motorcyclist back to the outlaw fringes of society.
What better anthem for Easy Rider than “Born to be Wild?” Originally a stand-in as Peter Fonda wanted Crosby, Stills, and Nash to record the soundtrack, “Born to be Wild stuck around because it fit so darn well with the movie.
The song itself doesn’t have any lyrics about riding, and the original single and album versions have no reference to motorcycles at all. In fact, the only reference to bikes comes when the soundtrack version of the song opens with motorcycle revving. Interestingly, “Born to be Wild” does make the first use of the term ‘heavy metal’ ever in rock music.
Most of the association with riding comes from Easy Rider, yet the hard driving guitars and chorus…you can’t help but feel a little wild listening to “Born to be Wild,” kind of like you just can’t help but feel a little wild riding a motorcycle.
But, what about the bikes in Easy Rider? The ones that we associate with this song?
The bikes were hardtail Harleys with panhead engines – all-American, hardcore, suspension-less bikes. As George Hanson said, “I think I'll order kidneys, 'cause I left mine out there on the road somewhere.”
Ironically, though Harley-Davidson now displays the bikes proudly as part of their heritage, they originally would not create custom bikes for the film. Instead, bike builders Cliff Vaughs and Ben Hardy build them from old police bikes. Four bikes were used for the film, and only the whereabouts of one are known.
“Born to be Wild” is an incredible hard-rocking song. It perfectly captures the rugged, rough-around-the-edges late 60s aura around bikes. And even if rigid, hardtail Harleys aren’t your kind of ride, you gotta pay your respects to the early heroes of biker culture. Especially because after riding those Harleys, they probably can’t walk anymore.