Mike Lichter Presents Today’s Top Ten Fave Photos
Everybody in the motorcycle scene knows Michael Lichter. He is without a doubt the world’s best photographer of custom motorcycles and the biker lifestyle. His amazing and memorable images have been seen in Easyriders magazine for over 40 years and in many other periodicals and motorcycle-related books all over the planet.
Mike will do absolutely anything to get a shot. I’ve seen him hang off the back of a speeding pickup truck to get just the right photo of a custom motorcycle as a pack of bikers roar down the highway right behind him. His photographic documentation of such renowned rallies as Sturgis, Laconia and Daytona are legendary as is his annual “Motorcycle as Art” museum show at the Buffalo Chip in Sturgis during the August Rally.
Born To Ride magazine is very proud to announce that Michael Lichter is lending his talents here to show you a personal pick of some of his favorite photographs in biker lifestyle history. Rather than try to nail Mike down to his all-time Top Ten favorites, we agreed that these represent and interesting collection of photos spanning many years of his amazing work. Call ‘em Today’s Top Ten.
We spoke to Mike about this proud pick of moto memories from his studio in Boulder, Colorado. He was working on his all-new website that features incredible galleries of his work through the decades. I mentioned that looking at his photos reminds me of images I had seen depicting the cowboys, gunfighters and Native American Chiefs of old. Here was the biker lifestyle captured in all its grungy glory by a discerning eye. Images locked in time of an age when human beings were wild enough to throw a fossil-fuel motor between their legs and roar around on two wheels. Future generations will no doubt look back at us and think that bikers were crazy.
Mike told me that he had very similar feelings when he was putting together this year’s “Motorcycles as Art” show in Sturgis. The collection was called “Heavy Mettle” and his curator’s statement in part reads:
Since I bought my first Harley in 1977, custom motorcycles have become immensely popular and evolved considerably, as has the culture surrounding them. It was once thought of as something for outlaws and renegades, but by the mid-1980s, perceptions started to change, and it became not only socially acceptable to pull up all clad in leather looking tough on a big Harley, it became cool! Motorcycle gatherings grew in number, as did their attendance, and for better or worse, they became more organized and commercial through the 1990s and early 2000s. The days when “we just pulled over to the side of the road, and after a little partying we’d sleep where we fell” as Sonny Barger, a past president of the Oakland Hells Angels wrote, seemed to disappear in seemingly direct correlation to the attention biking was receiving on television.
Year after year, motorcycling grew, and then came the economic crash of 2008. All bets were off. Both riders and the motorcycle industry suffered a big hit. The outlook seemed bleak, but thankfully, beneath the surface, a new generation was coming of age with a different set of interests, concerns, priorities, and ways of being. There is a revival underway where there is less concern for what people ride and the accouterments of the culture. More attention is paid to the things that really count — like just getting out to ride and sharing the experiences around riding with friends.
Once again, I am encouraged to feel there is a correlation between my work documenting bikers over the last four decades and Owen Wister’s writing about cowboys in the changing American West more than a century ago. In the 1902 introduction to his novel The Virginian, Wister lamented that his romantic vision of cowboys and the American West had vanished. “What is become of the horseman, the cowpuncher, the last romantic figure upon our soil… His wild kind has been among us always, since the beginning: a young man with his temptations, a hero without wings… He and his brief epoch make a complete picture, for in themselves, they were as complete as the pioneers of the land or the explorers of the sea.” I do believe this brief “epoch” is not over and that these “romantic figures upon our soil” are back, stronger than ever, making this the best time of my career to be in motorcycling.
Looking Back – Paul Cox north of Bear Butte. Sturgis, SD. 2003
Hair flying in the wind, leather and brass, knives and power… Looking back in time to the bandits, pirates, Vikings and marauders that crossed the land before.
Faces. City Park, Sturgis, SD 1980
City Park was a world of its own, a protective sanctuary for many. Inside its gates, little existed beyond. Such an odd collection of personalities, backgrounds, and faces. The heart of America. A time before bikers wore much Harley gear.
After the Storm. Riding to the Belle Fourche Drags, SD. 1980
In 1979, there was flat track racing and hill climbs, but there was no drag strip in Sturgis. If you wanted to see Pete Hill drag race his Knuckle, you had to ride to Belle Fourche. It was questionable whether they would be racing on this day as the group of bikers mostly from Boulder left Sturgis’ City Park campground. Half way to the track, the skies began to clear. A rainbow appeared just as the sun made the wet pavement and prairie grasses glow. Free spirits crossed the “Great West.”
Puppy at Bear Butte, Sturgis, SD. 1994
I have photographed quite a few bikers surfing like this, but on this occasion and in this frame, Puppy exuded the spirit of what biking is all about as he rides his Flathead past Bear Butte. A friend of mine captured that spirit when she looked at this image and said, “Feel the Freedom.”
What’s Up? Lake Perry, KS. 1984
Life happens. Mike says he took this photo but didn’t really look at it for about five years. Then he noticed many aspects of it for the first time. A moment frozen in time. Look at this young lady’s best friend behind her having the time pf her life. So in the moment and present, surrounded by a group that is totally engaged. Check out the cameo appearance of the archetypal stoner looking over her shoulder. The one armed biker is just part of the scene. Bikers accept everyone as long as you know how to have a good time.
Hold On. The Burnout Pit at Myrtle Beach, SC. 2006
According to Mike, this young college girl had never been on a bike before. She just came out to Myrtle Beach Bike Week to see what all the fuss was about. Guess she found out and then some. All the rider told her was “Hold on.” The revs did the rest. Right after shooting this, Mike had a dinner meeting at a fancy restaurant and didn’t realize he was covered in black tire rubber smoke.
Early Morning. City Park, Sturgis, SD. 1979
I arrived in Sturgis for my first bike week too late to see the lay of the land but just in time for the all-night party that happened every night in City Park. This then was my first morning in Sturgis. I woke up not having slept much and assessed the damages, both internally and externally. What sort of toll did the party take? There was drag racing down the narrow pavement between the tents, there were campfires, wildness until all hours of the morning and a dreamlike recollection of police cars with lights flashing, screaming through the park in the middle of the night.
Home on the Range. Sturgis, SD. 1988
A bike, a tent, and the open plains. You and the elements. Motorcycling teases us with the freedom to be on the road, stop when and where you want to, and slow down and experience the world first hand. Janice Joplin comes to mind; “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
Nick’s Ecstasy. Sundance, WY. 2002
It was a time when choppers were king and bike builders were on TV every week on the Discovery Channel’s “Great Biker Build-off.” Builder Nicke Fredella was right in the thick of it all. When asked how he felt when this burnout photo was taken, Nick told Mike, “I feel like Satan coming out from the depths of hell, coming through the smoke.”
Happy Times. Billy Lane racing his 1919 Harley. Sturgis, SD. 2019
We end with this photo of legendary bike builder Billy Lane, totally in his element and loving life. Billy is piloting his 1919 Harley racer during his Sons of Speed vintage races. Mike Lichter truly has a unique and heart-felt gift when capturing the biker lifestyle. This image says it all.
For more information about Michael Lichter’s photography or regarding purchasing prints, please visit his new website, Instagram or FB pages. Visit www.lichterphoto.com and tell Mike Born To Ride sent ya.