ARLEN NESS’ SECRET WEAPON DURING THE ’70s CHOPPER BOOM | JEFF McCANN

Jeff McCann, who discreetly signs his works with his hidden signature “Motorcycles Forever” got his first bike back in ’65, at the age of 20.  An accomplished artist, McCann began customizing motorcycles a few years later, and soon found himself with a steady side-gig of painting and customizing friend’s bikes.

By the 1970s, with his incredible skills and the Easy Rider chopper boom in full force, McCann was in hot demand.   He opened his own custom bike shop in the San Francisco Bay area – as did Arlen Ness. Arlen, a master builder, was also a good painter– but nothing like McCann. McCann also brought serious design, photography, and printing skills to the table–  contibuting heavily to the first Ness catalog and logo.  It was a partnership that benefitted both sides, and that lasted for years.  McCann’s saved personal images and memories of that time are truly priceless–

Catalog Cover Shoot. Jeff McCann ~ This is a full view of the setup in my garage for the cover shoot for the second edition of our parts catalog. That’s me waiting to see if the photographer needs the bike moved, which is also why I am in my stocking feet so as not to mar the paper drape. I purchased two white paper background drapes and taped them together to get a wide enough “infinite” background for the bikes and models.  After advertising in the local newspaper want ads we hired two women who were inexperienced models but eager to work with the local “chopper guys”.  Scanned from a 37 year old 35mm negative shot by John Reddick in September 1972.  You can see the calendar this session produced here.

Theme Girl Julie. Jeff McCann ~ In the fall of 1969 my friend Chris and I decided to open a retail store selling “Chopper parts”. We had built and sold 4 custom bikes that year and all our friends were asking how to buy the parts mail order. Ed Roth published “Choppers” magazine which contained ads including one for AEE Choppers of southern California. We had purchased parts from them for my first panhead chopper that same year. Deciding on the name ” CJ custom cycle parts” we made a business plan and went to the bank for a start up loan. To say the bankers laughed at us would be exaggeration but they declined our request. I complained of their shortsightedness to my co-workers at the newspaper and Fran Walling, a fellow artist in the display advertising department, offered to loan me the money from part of her husbands life insurance settlement. We agreed to pay her 1% more than bank rate on a two year repayment plan.

And so with $5,000 in the bank we rented a small store front and made plans for a January 1970 opening.  The plan was for Chris to man the retail store on the weekdays while I worked full time at the newspaper, then on Saturdays I would be behind the counter. We really had no clue how the profit margin of a retail parts business should have worked, both of us had only high school educations and in 1969 I was 23, married with an infant daughter and Chris was 19 and two years out of school. To say we were more lucky than smart is an understatement.  This photograph of Julie, our theme girl, wearing our logo t-shirt was taken on January 10,1974 by John Reddick.  Exactly four years to the day after we had opened our first store and at the height of our business success. Scanned from a 35 year old 35mm negative.

Wheel Truing Shop. Jeff McCann ~ Work area in our first Stockton store, note the vise holding a threat rolling machine attached to a reversible drill. We cut the blank spoke to length with a small bolt cutter, ground the end round on the small grinder next to the vise, and then inserted the blank into the roller. The sign says we charged $28.88 for a set of spokes custom made and chromed to fit your application. Hundreds of wheels were laced and trued each year by either Chris or Kurt Bacon, a highschool kid who hung around my garage paintshop at home. He worked after school at the store and got school credits for “work experience” on his report card. After graduation he came to work for us full time and was a valuable employee and friend. Scanned from a 1971 b/w print.

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THE OAKLAND MOTORCYCLE CLUB | HILL-CLIMB HELLCATS & DIRT DEVILS

EXCELSIOR MOTORCYCLES

The Oakland Motorcycle Club group photo in front of W.P. Williams Excelsior Motorcycles, circa 1910s

Founded in 1907, the Oakland Motorcycle Club has a long history & heritage of turning out hellacious old school hill-climbers, modern-day enduro jockeys, and all-around raucous riders. Checkout the tonnage of awe-inspiring vintage photos documenting their historical group shots, outdoor motor-sports, and runs galore on good ol’classic American iron– Indian & Harley Davidson motorcycles. And if the bike action doesn’t get ya’, their gear-head meets The Great Gatsby style certainly will. Bow ties,  shawl collars & jodphurs– oh my.

Oakland Motorcycle Club 1920s

Oakland Motorcycle Club members, circa 1920s – nice Harley Davidson jersey

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SOUL ON BIKES & BLACK CHROME | THE HISTORY OF BLACK AMERICA’S MOTORCYCLE CULTURE

Growing-up in and around Harley biker culture, there was never any talk of African American riders– let alone that may actually have a part in contributing to American motorcycling culture. It was like Black riders flat-out didn’t exist. Now finally, their incredible story is starting to emerge through books like Soul On Bikes and the Black Chrome exhibit at California African American Museum. The images and accounts are not just amazing to look at and enjoy– they are also incredibly inspiring.  Many thanks to The Vintagent (one of my favorite blogs) and The Onyx Rider from which many of the pics & stories came.

East Bay Dragons Motorcycle Club

East Bay Dragons Motorcycle Club– circa 1960s.

When Sonny Barger formed the Oakland Hells Angels in 1957, a few miles up East 14th Street in East Oakland, a young black bike rider from Louisiana named Tobie Gene Levingston was soon to follow in his footsteps. The two knew and respected each other, and had ridden their Harleys together in the same East Bay neighborhood.

In 1959, Tobie Gene organized the Dragons, a loosely knit, all-black men’s club, one of the first of its kind. The dragon’s earliest incarnation began as an all-black car club and originally stemmed from Tobie Gene’s big brother role to keep his younger brothers and friends occupied and out of trouble. The Dragons became ten strong, including members like MacArthur, Hooker, Tobie’s brothers Joe Louis and Jonas, Baby Joe, Sam and Cousin Rabbit. Tobie Gene became the East Bay Dragons MCs first and only president, still reigning and riding after forty-four years.

soul on bikes the east bay dragons and the black biker set book

 

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