Paladin.  If you were part of the nascent Old Motorcycle scene in Berkeley in the late 1970s/80s, you probably encountered him.  He was typically seen hanging around T.T. Motors on Ashby Avenue, giving unsolicited advice and a deposition on any subject to anyone nearby. Sometimes that was me, after I’d ridden whatever was running, from San Francisco to the East Bay to check out the bikes for sale at T.T. Motors, visit my friends, and inevitably have a chat with Paladin.

Paladin on a Triumph TR6 sold to him for $45 by John Gallivan of TT Motors in Berkeley [Berkeley USA]
He was a devoted Triumph man, and I owned several of his ‘hardtail’ Triumph conversions over the years, each honed closer to the ‘bob-job’ ideal than anything made today – they were fast, light, and no-frills. He could appreciate other brands though, and enjoyed discussing their relative merits. His arms were covered with amazing self-applied Triumph tattoos, images from long-ago advertising, logos, and graphic imaginings of motorcycles and women. He applied tattoos on others, occasionally.

John Gallivan in his TT Motors shop in Berkeley. [John Gallivan]
John Gallivan, owner of T.T. Motors, said of Paladin,  “I liked and respected him a great deal. I sold him that bike [a Triumph TR6] for $49.00, and he stayed. His writing in Iron Horse magazine and others are classics. He coined the word ‘unobtanium’ referring to rare British parts. His centerfold in Iron Horse with a girl and real rats crawling all over is a classic.”   As mentioned, Paladin was a regular contributor to Iron Horse, and had a column, ‘Paladin’s Notebook’, with illustrations of his ideas for choppers and cafe racers, some of which were prescient, and predated the third-wave cafe racer scene of the 2010s by 20 years.

‘Paladin’s Notebook’ ran in Iron Horse for many years, and mixed Paladin’s illustrations with thoughts on motorcycle design and culture. [Iron Horse]
Paladin knew a heck of a lot about motorcycle history, their care and customization, and motorcycle culture in all its diversity.  He knew a lot about everything else too, and shared what he knew in a distinctive voice, like a pirate that had swallowed Sylvester the Cat: thufferin’ thuccotash, arrr.  As he spoke, one eye would squint, then the other, and as he waved his arms he jingled the tools hung on chains from his filthy leather jeans.  He carried a sheathed knife he’d made himself, and made them for others too, occasionally.  And he was a performance poet, in a now-vanished tradition of Bay Area poets who ranted and broke boundaries, were extremely political and sometimes had the cops intervene in their readings, like Peter Plate, for whom I printed several books.  His friend Arnold Snyder recounted one of Paladin’s poems from the mid-1970s from memory on his blog:

Every damn body was born to die
So while you’re waitin’ you better get high
’Cause the trip is whatever you manage to buy
And you pay for it soon as you’re born

Now, me, I get off on women and sin
Hard partyin’
Getting’ righteously wasted
But mostly a big ol’ Milwaukee V-twin

’Cause there’s nothin’ at all like a righteous machine
About dynamite fast and say, medium clean
And if you’ve been hangin’ out there
You flat know what I mean

Tearin’ up empty streets around dawn
Tearin’ down highways out on a run
With a few or more bros, out havin’ fun
The wind in your armpits, your chrome in the sun

And like the wind, you’re gone
On a knucklehead, or a panhead, or a shovelhead
’Cause once you’re gone, you’re gonna stay dead
So, meanwhile, Get it on!

Another ‘Paladin’s Notebook’ featuring a design that predates the current Tracker custom style by 30 years. [Iron Horse]
Paladin was 5′ tall and full of surprises.  The first time I rode a Velocette to T.T. Motors in 1985, Paladin brought out a bucket of soapy water and a sponge and washed it!  “Such a finely made motorcycle as this should NEVER be dirty!”  He, on the other hand, didn’t mind being dirty.  He was spiritually inclined towards old Norse religion, which was odd for a Jewish guy from New Jersey – his real name was Martin Rosenberg.  But, this was Berkeley, so while his chosen religion was remarked on, it was never judged.

Martin Rosenberg aka Paladin, from the book ‘Berkeley U.S.A.’ [Berkeley USA]
Paladin died of heart failure in his sleep in 1988: he was only 45. He had suffered a mighty knock to the head in a motorcycle accident a few years prior, which definitely altered his personality. And, who knows what he put into his body for fun.  His wake was amazing, and set the pattern for every wake to follow that I had a hand in: a ram’s horn was filled with whisky, and passed from person to person, with each raising a toast in turn, a collective shout ‘To Paladin!’, and telling a story or remembrance of the man.  A proper wake, and how I’d like to be remembered too.

The following is an excerpt of an interview with Paladin, from the book, ‘Berkeley U.S.A.’ (Anne Moose, Alternative Press, 1981):

“Essentially, everything that I do relates at one level or another to motorcycling. I make my living by writing for motorcycling journals and doing illustrations for them… I’m into motorcycle paint work and uh, you know, it’s kind of dull if you ain’t into bikes, but I’m into bikes so I find it all quite fascinating….Twenty years ago, it didn’t matter if you rode a Harley, or if you rode a Triumph, or if you rode a BSA. If you rode, you rode. You were committed. The other people who rode were your brothers, except you didn’t use the word brother because you didn’t have to. This was all just, you know, understood at almost a back brain level.

Now then, when the Japanese started bringing their bikes in, what they brought was nothing new in the sense of engineering. What they did was… a publicity campaign. They brought in a form of advertising to make the motorcycle, shall I say, socially acceptable. Well, people that are stone bikers, as opposed to motorcycle operators, don’t really care much about social acceptability… But what this did, brought a whole new kind of person into the riding scene, and it brought in a lot of divisionism. In 1963, you break down on your bike on the side of the highway, you know that the next guy who comes by is going to stop and help. And it don’t matter what brand of bike you’re riding, or if his bike is chopped or not, or who’s in a club and who isn’t – that’s jive. You’re a biker or you’re not. Since the Japanese bike has become popular…it’s brought this new element …this whole concept of antagonism and divisionism which we’ve had to deal with for about the past twelve to fifteen years.

The notorious ‘rat bike’ cover of Iron Horse, with Paladin, a model, and his ratty Harley-Davidson. He later became a cafe racer fan. [Iron Horse]
Personally, I can’t stand Japanese bikes. I don’t care how fast they are, or how many camshafts they have, or if they win races. I just don’t like the aesthetics of the damn things. But at the same time, it doesn’t matter what kind of sled you’ve got under your ass – when you’re in the wind, it’s like, the same wind, and that’s the policy we’re pushing.

As far as I’m concerned, the only group that really matters in this country, per se, is the bikers. And this may sound like an off-the-wall statement, but I think if you’ll check back you’ll find that during that whole big so-called cultural revolution of the sixties, language, style, and everything was copied from the bikers. Our influence is a lot more subtle than many people would imagine. We’re simply living our own lives, and in living our own lives we’re setting such a rare example in modern times…

Some intriguing cafe racer designs from ‘Paladin’s notebook, including a Morini V-twin. [Iron Horse]
The thing is, you’re born black, you’re born Chicano, you’re born Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, Jewish, Polynesian, whatever. Nobody is born a biker. It’s something you do by choice. A biker is under a complete psychic necesssity, right, in that he is one half of a symbiotic organism of which the other half is a motorcycle. And if you wish to make any value judgements on that, go ask your mother how she likes her valium.

One of the things that a lot of people that I’m close to are into, is trying to get more women into riding. I guess you could say it’s part of our highway beautification project. I personally think that women and men both – and everyone – should know how to handle machines… that, to me, is the only way we’re ever going to have what I’d consider to be a sane and healthy culture… If people are going to band together, it must be through recognition and respect of their own strength, and of the strength of those about them. It always starts at the inside and works out.”

May you long be remembered, Paladin. [Berkeley USA]


Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.
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