I don’t really know what to call them. The postmodernists, perhaps? The baroque classicists? The custom culturists?
The Old and Boring of motorcycle culture tend to call them hipsters; I’m never really sure.
First off, from an aesthetic point of view I love what the neo-classicists are doing. They have scaled back from the Baroque excess nonsense of the Orange County Choppers crowd and helped return the motorcycle to its rightful place as a useable everyman machine. The bikes favoured by the neo-classicists look like they actually can and should be ridden. In some situations that may not be the case in practice (I am sure there are many a rebuilt Honda CB350 cafe racer that is as much a piece of expensive butt jewellery (1) as an overchromed Paul Jr monstrosity), but at least they look right. Neo-classical bikes look like motorcycles.
Criticism of the neo-classicists is pretty generic, similar to the tired and borne-of-envy laments I used to wage against over-privileged Volvo-driving Bard College students almost 20 years ago (2). It is catch-all and changes easily to suit the situation at hand. But the most standard complaint about “hipsters” is that they are a wealthy and, by extension, disingenuous breed who waste undeserved money on the beautification of outdated technology that was never really the top of its game. I mean, all that money on a CB350? It’s like a movement to lovingly restore Dodge Neons.
And those hipsters who are riding Harleys? And, by extension, Harley-Davidson’s (wise) decision to pursue them as a demographic? Why, that’s just as bad. Because, well, uhm, just because.
For me, though, I’m all for it. The superbike movement of the 1990s drove a stake into the soul of motorcycling (does anyone pine for the bike Rob van Winkle rode in Cool As Ice? No. No they do not). The glamour chopper movement of the early 2000s served as life support but still missed the point: the simple independence offered by a motorcycle. Independence that is gained affordably and instantly, regardless of whether your setting is urban, rural, or somewhere in between.
As I’ve said many times, I got my motorcycle license in the mid 90s, but then did nothing with it. The neo-classicist movement is what properly rekindled my interest in riding a bike. OK, yes: in the end I fell on the side of ABS, low MPG, and the like. When it truly came down to choosing my own bike, I chose (slightly bland) modern reliability. I don’t regret that choice, but the fact is: it is not what pulled me into motorcycling. I consistently rank this video as a key impetus in my deciding I needed to get a motorcycle, followed very closely by this video. Neo-classical choppers and a hipster Bonneville.
I still dream of owning a Bonneville. I tell myself it will be my next bike. I don’t think of myself as a neo-classicist but I dig their world. If I were on my own Road Pickle adventure, my map would take me to See-See in Portland, Deus in Venice Beach, and wherever it is that the Show Class Magazine dudes hang out in North Carolina.
(2) I didn’t go to college there; my girlfriend of the time did. I always say she majored in breaking hearts.