The Birth of Bikers, Part Five

December 24, 2022 6 min read

The Birth of Bikers, Part Five

“This used to be a helluva great country. I wonder what happened to it?”

—Jack Nicholson, Easy Rider

The effects of the movie Easy Rider caused more than a few teenagers to turn to motorcycles as a way of working out some of their lonely, post-pubescent angst. The early ’70’s have become known as the flower power years of sex, drugs, rock n' roll, custom choppers, hot rods, disillusioned youth and rebellion. In 1971, the two-wheeled world was primed and ready for Easyriders magazine.

A lot was going on in the motorcycle world at about this time. On a cool, dry day in October 1970, Harley-Davidson and racer Cal Rayborn went to the salt flats of Bonneville near Wendover, Utah to prove that a single-engine Harley could break the absolute land speed record held previously by twin-engine machines. With a suped-up Sportster engine positioned right behind his head, Rayborn piloted the H-D streamliner down the salt setting a two-way record of 265.492 miles per hour. It was the fastest speed any motorcycle-powered machine had ever attained up to that time.

The 1971 Harley-Davidson models were pretty much the same as they were in 1970 save for the new Baja 100 trail bike and the FX Super Glide with its 74 cubic inch motor. Designer Willie G. Davidson married a Sportster front end to an FL frame and designed a fiberglass rear “boat-tail” fender. The bike was painted “Sparkling America” red, white and blue (perhaps as a tip of the hat to Easy Rider). The Super Glide marked the beginning of factory custom motorcycles by Harley and shows that the Motor Company was watching what custom bike builders were up to and trying to give consumers what they wanted. At the same time the Super Glide hit the streets, two biking friends from Minnesota that moved to southern California were poised to change two-wheeled history.

Gearheads Mil Blair and Joe Teresi teamed up with magazine editor Lou Kimzey to produce a lifestyle-driven magazine that would appeal to bikers. Lou had been riding choppers since they were called bobbers and motorcycle clubs had names like the 13 Rebels, Galloping Gooses, and Deuces Wild. Lou had been an editor of drag racing and men's magazines, creating such titles as Drag Racing, Drag Strip, and Big Bike. The two-wheeled-trio wanted their new magazine to be completely different than any motorcycle magazine on the planet and succeeded with the irreverent and madcap format which became Easyriders magazine. In the early ‘70’s, Joe Teresi had already logged over 100,000 miles on choppers and was known as a custom bike builder in his own right. Joe was the technical editor on Big Bike and along with bike builder and parts fabricator Mil Blair, designed many aftermarket parts for people who wanted to build a chopper of their own. Mil was also into cameras and acted as Easyriders first photo editor.  Along with these three Paisanos (hence the company's name Paisano Publications), Don Pfeil signed on as editor-at-large and produced editorials capturing the passion of the chopper experience. Other early staff members included copy editor Frank Harding, and Louis Bosque along with assorted office cats and dogs.

Joe Teresi told me that motorcycle magazines of that time showcased bikes but not the people who built or rode them. His idea was to do a magazine that captured the people behind the custom bikes as well as the wild lifestyle that surrounded them. It would turn out to be a winning combination of custom motorcycles and real bikers, seen by the public for the first time in a magazine devoted to the biker lifestyle.

In June of 1971, Easyriders magazine was unleashed on an unsuspecting public. Just as Fonda and Hopper's film Easy Rider acted as a microcosm of the hippie and biker culture, so Easyriders focused this crazy and rebellious lifestyle and defined it. The first issue didn’t offer a biker chick on the cover, just a wild chop job. Soon, the team figured out that sex sells and made sure there was always a pretty girl seen with a custom motorcycle on the cover.

Easyriders had a definite and tweaked point of view, from the wonky “Takin’ It Easy” column of bizarre news stories and weird tid-bits, to mind-bending art direction and quirky cartoons. They even invented odd-ball characters like Miraculous Mutha who was the embodiment of the whore with a heart of gold. The first issue jumped off the shelves and soon, the magazine had a life of it's own.

Early issues of Easyriders featured the tag line, “for the swinging biker” (though this soon changed to “Entertainment for Adult Bikers”) and conjured images of wild parties and fast rides on unimaginably customized machines. The magazine created an image of hard partyin’ bikers and a life where beautiful women were plentiful and begging to go for a ride on a chopped Hog or between the sheets. The first issues were published bi-monthly with the very first David Mann centerspread appearing in issue three.

David created his very first painting of the motorcycle culture back in 1963. That painting “Hollywood Run”, and his customized 1948 Panhead accompanies him to the Kansas City Custom Car Show. There, he met “Tiny”, an outlaw motorcycle club member and a close friendship that would last a lifetime was born.

Tiny sent a photograph of David's painting to Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, a famous car customizer and the publisher of Chopper magazine. Ed bought the painting for 85 dollars and David’s career as “the Norman Rockwell of the biker world” began. He went on to do ten more paintings for Roth, who published them in his magazines and offered them as posters.

In 1971, David Mann saw his first issue of Easyriders magazine and an ad for artists, cartoonists and illustrators caught his eye. The publisher and editor liked his work and he was hired. His centerspread art capturing the biker lifestyle illuminated the magazine for over 30 years.

David Mann’s art is still loved by bikers everywhere because of his uncanny knack for finding the essence of the lifestyle he loved. His work derived from personal experiences and David’s honesty showed in every painting. Many of the wild custom designs seen on the motorcycles in David's paintings actually inspired fabricators to create more extreme choppers. He would exaggerate the rake and stretch of a frame, extend a Springer front end much longer than was popular, or make apehangers and sissybars reach the sky. Soon, builders would replicate David’s designs, making custom bikes that were wilder and wilder.

David always said that his outlook on life was one of having fun, enjoying life and freedom and not letting the bastards get you down. He passed away on September 11 th , 2004, but his art lives on and will inspire riders forever.

Another artist to join the staff early on was Hal Robinson whose party hearty cartoons only served to further create the image of what Easyriders was all about. But the magazine wasn’t just about wild times, very early on Easyriders established ABATE which at the time stood for A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments. Today the organization stands for A Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education and promotes rider education over governmental legislation. The idea was to create a body that policed governmental policies regarding custom motorcycles and acted as a watch dog for new laws that restrict biker’s rights and freedom. At present, ABATE has chapters all over the country with membership in the tens of thousands.

Always vowing to give readers what they want, Easyriders magazine went monthly with the November 1976 issue. The rag went from 68 pages to 94 and would soon jump to over 100. Loyal readers had gotten into the act of preserving their biker lifestyle and were sending in artwork, photographs, poems, fiction, true road tales, jokes and cartoons that exemplified the Easyriders way of life. In fact, by 1978 there was so much good scooter photography coming in that we gave birth to another magazine, In The Wind.  Both publications continued to feature the coolest custom bikes and hottest Harley honeys around.

Easyriders was about reflecting the biker lifestyle and as the custom bike scene changed and evolved, so did Easyriders magazine. Sadly, Joe Teresi sold Paisano Publications to a Canadian clothing company in 2019 that wanted the brand to produce fashion blue jeans. After 50 years of publication, Easyriders magazine was no more and as the editor-in-chief of that proud biker’s bible, I found myself out of a job. Luckily, I found a home here at Steel Horse Audio, helping to bring riders the best sound around!

To be continued…

—Dave Nichols