The Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club rides again

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 ~~Documentary photographer Danny Lyon's 1968 chronicle of a Chicago biker gang helped inspire Easy Rider. Now The Bikeriders revs up for a long-overdue reissue.~~

Danny Lyon, Route 12, Wisconsin from The<br />
Bikeriders (Aperture, 2014)

Danny Lyon, Route 12, Wisconsin from The Bikeriders (Aperture, 2014)

© Danny Lyon, Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery

Danny Lyon doesn't want to talk about the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club. The legendary documentary photographer won't say much about riding alongside Cal, Funny Sonny, Johnny, and the rest of the leather-clad gang in the 1960s, on an old Triumph cobbled together in a Hyde Park garage out of parts kept in coffee cans. He won't go into great detail about the photos he took with his trusty Nikon: Benny, leaning back in the saddle, a silhouette lit up from streetlights and neon signs at Grand and Division; Big Barbara, with eyes you could get lost in, staring into a jukebox; or Andy, drinking Hamm's longnecks off a pool table at the Stoplight bar in Cicero.

Lyon, now 72, doesn't want the gang in which he embedded himself sensationalized the way he feels "the straight press" of his day did with headlines such as "Cycle Hoods Watched by Cops 2 Years." Ever an iconoclast when it comes to the media, Lyon once wrote that his goal was to "create photographs that would be stronger, more truthful, and more powerful than LIFE magazine," so that "LIFE magazine would be destroyed." A 1966 Chicago Tribune article set the scene at the Cork—an Outlaws clubhouse in suburban Lyons that the cops sought to close—in strangely detached, almost anthropological terms: "As Cousin Joe told a brief history of the Cork, a tall, Beatle-haired waitress wearing a large 'I Like Sex' button served drinks to some of the pierced-eared outlaws who were 'cooling their pipes.' That means resting their 'wheels' or 'getting a drink.'"

Lyon doesn't feel the need to say much in part because he already said enough in The Bikeriders, a raw, compelling touchstone of New Journalism and Chicago counterculture history that documents four years spent with the Chicago Outlaws at races, runs, club meetings, loose social gatherings, and even a funeral. First published in 1968 and set for a long-overdue reissue by Aperture Press in June, the book reportedly served as inspiration for Easy Rider, with Lyon's black-and-white photos and candid interviews painting an unvarnished portrait of the fast, furious, and sometimes fatal biker lifestyle. In a shot of a member's scrapbook that shows a clip from a newspaper ad plugging the CBS Two premiere of Marlon Brando in The Wild One, Lyon slyly points out the difference between the idealized vision of biker culture and the reality he believed he was capturing.

When Lyon began to conceive the project that would become The Bikeriders, he wrote seeking advice from Hunter S. Thompson, who spent a year with the Hell's Angels for his own book. (The two New Journalism figures never met, but their correspondence is reproduced in The Seventh Dog, a chronicle of Lyon's 50-year career released by Phaidon Press earlier this month.) Lyon didn't like the response he received from Thompson: "He advised me not to join the Outlaws and to wear a helmet," he says. "I joined the club and seldom wore a helmet."
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