Iron Elite Patch
Iron Elite showcases the rich history, inspiring stories and custom bikes of African American riders.
African-American riders have been among the most influential in our 110 year history, blazing trails for not only other African-American riders, but for the motorcycle industry at large. Consider legends such as William B. Johnson, the first African-American Harley-Davidson dealer; Bessie Stringfield, the first known African-American woman to ride solo cross-country on a Harley in the 1930’s; and Benny Hardy, the custom bike builder who helped create the iconic “Captain America” motorcycle for the movie Easy Rider.
We pay tribute to these African-American Harley legends and others like them by creating a special, limited edition Iron Elite Patch. (Contact Your Local Dealer about the patch)
The history of the African American biker scene is filled with visionaries, artists, leaders and revolutionaries. People like William B. Johnson, the first African American Harley dealer. The teen-aged gypsy rider, Bessie Stringfield. P. Wee, the influential motorcycle club leader. And Benny Hardy, the unknown custom builder who created the most-famous motorcycle in the world, Captain America, for the movie Easy Rider. They each rode a motorcycle to showcase their pride, and fueled a movement more powerful than simple internal combustion.
The real revolution started in the late 1940s, as black infantrymen streamed home from World War II, hungry to replace the adrenaline rush of combat. Post-war, surplus bikes were available and cheap. In this era of segregated America, some dealers wouldn’t sell a new bike to an African American. Factions began to form out of love of the motorcycle. Some rode choppers, some rode dressers. The next step was the motorcycle club, some all-black, others integrated. They started to form in the late 1950s. East Bay Dragons. Star Riders. Buffalo Riders. The Eagles. The Defiant Ones. The Magnificent Seven. The Chosen Few.
In his 2004 memoir Soul on Bikes: The East Bay Dragons MC and the Black Biker Set, Dragons founder and president Tobie Gene Levingston explains that, “The level of camaraderie that young black men found in motorcycle clubs was something that couldn’t be obtained around the house; blowing off steam and being able to relate to like-minded individuals with the same struggles, experiences, upbringing and ideals – what it meant to be black.”
However violent or anti-establishment some clubs were, they recognized that in order to get respect and be successful they need to stay positive and push their brothers to do good – within both the club and the community.
The most basic but essential element has always been the ride, and a Harley has always been at the top of the food chain. Chopped fenders, raked forks and a souped-up motor made you a man among men. Show up on the wrong ride, and you weren’t taken seriously. You either got with it or got out. In Soul on Bikes, Levingston lays it out when speaking with a prospective member: “Man, you can’t get into the club with this Jap shit. You need to get yourself a Harley-Davidson. When you get one, come back and see us.”
The movement keeps rolling. Rare Breed Motorcycle Club was founded in 1989 to create a positive organization for African American men who share a passion for building and riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
“Our whole thing about forming Rare Breed is to be different from any other motorcycle club out there,” says co-founding member KW. “And we let the other young black men know there are other things to life than being in the neighborhood and the drug scene, the streets and the violence.” This group has since grown into a brotherhood of men from all walks of life, with chapters in Los Angeles and Atlanta.
Freedom is the universal truth shared by all riders: the freedom of riding without limits, barriers, rules or agendas. A rider never takes freedom for granted.
“Best freedom I ever had was on my bike, man,” says P. Wee, a member since 1959 of the LA Defiant Ones MC, and one of the godfathers of the urban biker scene. “By the time I put it into fourth gear, I feel like I can take on the world.”