Brock Yates is a name most often associated with his remarkable writing in automotive magazines. But it is in his assessment of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, the company, and the image of who rides Harleys that Yates dabbles in motorcycles and the paranormal psychology of the most famous American brand.
His book “Outlaw Machine-Harley-Davidson and the Search for the American Soul” starts out conventionally enough, with a recitation of the Motor Company’s early history, complete with some historical images from the H-D archives.
From there, he takes the reader inside the development of the brand and the product with insights into early competition model development, as well as development and refinement on the street product and business side.
Notwithstanding the book’s title, Yates doesn’t devote the narrative to the seamier side of the Harley-Davidson saga by focusing on outlaw gangs, one-percenters and so on.
Those topics find their way into the book’s 249 pages, but they are not the predominant theme. They are mentioned more in the sense of their societal causes and how they relate to the part of their persona that is so closely linked to chopped Harleys and loud pipes.
Before he’s through, Yates takes us much deeper, into the more contemporary issues of modern-day angst and the loss of privacy and individuality in the data-driven day of the computer.
Published on the eve of the 21st century, Yates’ book takes the H-D rebellion theme right up to the present day of cloud computing, metadata and the loss of identity as a consequence of the disappearance of individuality.
In his assessment of the situation, Harley-Davidson motorcycles fulfill our psychological need for a simpler time, when steel gears and chains slopped with oil moved the world; something physical and elemental that is missing in all digital contraptions. His analysis concludes:
“This loss of feel, sound, touch, and smell—the tactile evidence of living—is in part due to the rise of the computer, an utterly soulless machine with no response mechanism other than its graphic screen presentation and artificial sound reproduction.
“So too for much of modern living that, save for the ever-present din of background music or the chatter of television, people live in an increasingly nonmechanical world. The great factories of yore, with their grinding, clanking machinery and their noontime steam whistles, are gone, as is the sound of clanking typewriters in offices, replaced by the inert, essentially silent operation of the computer.
“This nostalgia for things that can be felt and heard relates to the appeal of the vibrating, wobbly, deafening Harley-Davidson, which transmits so many appealing tactile messages.”
Whether you feed these needs when you gaze upon or ride upon a Harley-Davidson, or you do it just for fun, Yates’ book is an intriguing and enlightening read.
- Title: Outlaw Machine – Harley-Davidson and the Search for the American Soul
- Author: Brock Yates
- Published: 1999
- Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
- ISBN: 0-316-96718-1
Note to readers: many of the books that we’ll feature in Rider’s Library may be out of print and some may be difficult to find. That could be half the fun. The Internet should make the search relatively easy but ironically, none of the books currently scheduled for eventual retro-review for the Rider’s Library section were found with the help of the Internet. They all were found at book stores, used book stores, antique shops, motorcycle shops, yard sales and so on.