The California African American Museum in LA hosts ‘Black Chrome’, an exhibit featuring black motorcyclists, their bikes, and a bit of history (through April 12th, 2009). I managed to catch it last weekend – the show is poorly advertised in the motorcycle community, and only a chance google result raised the website of the museum, which sits next to the LA Coliseum (and its stunning Robert Graham headless nude man/woman statues, which caused such controversy at the 1984 LA Olympics). The museum complex also includes an Aerospace Hall, with an SR-71 ‘Blackbird’ plane outside – amazing.

‘Black Chrome’ (gotta love the name) is a mixed bag of a show – a superlative and long overdue concept, with a few real gems, but on the whole it lacks the depth needed to make a statement about motorcyclists ‘of color’. The gems; I never knew that the builder of those seminal choppers in Easy Rider, Ben Hardy, is black! A claim is made that the whole extended fork style of custom motorcycle was created by Black rider/artisans – take that, nazi bikers! It all makes sense of course – who invented the ‘look’ and sound of Rock music, who created Jazz and Blues, who started the trend for outrageous stage outfits/antics which were parroted and expropriated by everyone else? Okay, I’m done.

But, this tidbit of information is presented on a 8″ square card, between two ‘Easy Rider’ posters. I’m not sure if the curators really appreciate the significance of this nugget of information, and the exhibit strikes me as curious for its lack of a catalog or much background information at all. Someone is either completely unfunded, or isn’t really savvy to the impact a show such as this could/should have on popular culture. They are aware, however, of the popularity of the Chopper craze, as quite a few bikes on display are new OCC-style bikes.

A Discovery Channel video on the History of the Chopper (a Jesse James project), on continuous loop, does explore the exclusion of Black riders from Chopper magazines In The Day. The video also allows ‘Sugar Bear’ to explain his own history of building custom bikes since the 1960’s, and most significantly, mention is made of photographs of Black choppers dating back to the 1950s… and you can bet The Vintagent will pay this man a visit!

The period photos in ‘Black Chrome’ poorly reproduced, displayed, and explained – they speak volumes, but I truly wish the curators had spent more time exploring a world most of us don’t know. Where’s the sholarship on the subject? I guess it’s here – hire me folks, I write cheap. The photo above is Esvan Mosky, with his dog Koo Koo Man, on their modified BMW /2 tourer – Esvan was in show business somehow, but I’d like to learn more about this intriguing fellow.

Images of women riders are included, with a brief mention of Bessie Stringfield, founder of the Motor Maids, and a few words that women had their own motorcycles within the riding clubs, then and now. More please.

Gang and Club ‘colors’ are prominently displayed, including the East Bay Dragons, a still-active group I see on the road at times. Their Drag Bike (see photos) is perhaps only intact as it had a rather serious ‘issue’ with the crankcases during a sprint. Oops. I love that it is presented ‘as is’! Unfortunately, a 1960s Sportster is also presented thus (ie, incomplete) with no good reason other than to fill space. A nice orange metalflake Panhead makes sense, as does a beautifully pinstriped Sportster named ‘My Man’, owned by a woman.

My favorite Club jacket – the ‘California Blazers M/C’ (above); aesthetically uninspired, barring the late-model Velocette Scrambler used as their logo…cool.

[The black/white period photographs from the ‘Black Chrome’ exhibit are used here by kind permission of Na’il ‘Shayk’ Karim, publisher of The Black Biker magazine and Breezin on Two Wheels. Shayk painstakingly collected these photographs from family members of the subjects, and the photos were licensed exclusively to Shayk.]

Related Posts

The Black Angel

Master Plumassier Maxime Leroy takes…

The Vintagent Original: The Black Falcon

The Black Falcon is the most revered…

The Vintagent Selects: The Museum

A Short Film by Tom Rochester,…

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter