Islander finds perfect fit in ’96 Fat Boy
California, Labor Day weekend … early, with ocean fog still in the streets, outlaw motorcyclists wearing chains, shades and greasy Levis roll out from damp garages, all-night diners and cast-off one-night pads in Frisco, Hollywood, Berdoo and East Oakland, heading for the Monterey peninsula, north of Big Sur … The Menace is loose again.
Thus begins Hunter S. Thompson’s 1966 book “Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.” The book launched Thompson’s career as the leading practitioner of Gonzo Journalism, helped to spawn a whole film genre — the murder-cycle movie — and to inject the image of the outlaw biker into the American psyche, where it rattled around with other archetypes of free-living ruggedness for half a century.
And there it has stewed and evolved, fueling the rise of a subculture and the sale of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The bikers who drove Harley sales from about 300,000 in 1990 to almost 1.2 million by 2006 aren’t the bikers of Thompson’s book, of course. Those real outlaws always have been the minority — 1 percent, a past president of the American Motorcycle Association famously estimated decades ago.
The vast majority of bikers who roar into Galveston each year for the Lone Star Rally, for example, share little with the modern Visigoths of Thompson’s book, other than a taste for leather, V-twin rumble and the open road.
Mark Metzger pretty well personifies those 99-percenters, although he cuts a fairly imposing figure dressed in full biker garb, which one recent day included several large knives, one just shy of sword length.
But while Metzger, 38, shares blue-collar beginnings similar to those West Coast Okies and Arkies who started it all a long time ago, he apparently was not born to lose.
Metzger, who has lived in Galveston for about three years, is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, a graduate of Texas A&M University and a card-carrying member of the State Bar of Texas.
Another thing Metzger has in common with even the outlaws, however, is membership in a motorcycle club, although it differs in important ways from the outlaw clubs.
“It’s a group of like-minded gentlemen,” Metzger said.
Bitter End MC, like a lot of law-abiding clubs, is composed mostly of military veterans, he said.
“For this club and for me, it’s about a feeling of camaraderie and brotherhood that we had in the military,” Metzger said. “When you get out of the military, you miss that. This club is an extension of that; it brings that back to our lives.”
Metzger, a native of Missouri City, was, for practical purposes, born into the motorcycle culture, he said.
“My stepdad is a welder by trade and got into Harleys in the military,” he said. “He’s been riding for 45 or 50 years.”
Like a lot of successful young professionals with disposable income, Metzger enjoys collecting cool things. And for him, it’s not watches or sports cars, but motorcycles.
“I have seven motorcycles,” he said. “Two are Harleys; one’s a Big Dog; one’s a Redneck; two are one-off custom choppers and I have a Yamaha that I putt around on.”
Big Dog Motorcycles is a Wichita, Kansas-based manufacturing company specializing in high-performance, on-road cruisers, according to its webpage. Redneck Engineering Custom Motorcycles is based in Liberty, South Carolina, and builds radically customized machines.
“Some of these are not even practical for riding,” Metzger said of his fleet. “They’re works of art that serve no practical propose.”
Metzger built his everyday bike himself. It’s a 1996 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy frame and motor outfitted with wheels from a Heritage Classic Softail and a Road King gas tank.
“I made the fenders and handlebars myself,” he said. “This is the daily rider, the one I ride all the time. It’s built to my specs. The handlebars, the pegs, the seat; they’re in just the right places to fit me.”
Like all bikers, he rides because he can, he said.
“Number one, is the freedom it provides; the feeling you get when you’re out there all alone just riding” he said.
“You either get it, or you don’t.”