I’ll tell you where you weren’t. You weren’t online surfing the Internet or firing off an e-mail. You weren’t chatting on a cell phone. You weren’t texting or sexting or tweeting or blogging or poking or friending. You weren’t snapping digital photos. You’d never heard the term “download.” You’d also never heard the term “Twin Cam” and you weren’t making plans to attend Hollister or Street Vibrations or Biketoberfest or any other of a whole raft of major events that would appear in the near future. And unless you were a Harley rider in the San Francisco Bay Area, you weren’t reading Thunder Press.
It was in ’92 that Reg Kittrelle founded this publication in a cramped office space in Scotts Valley, California, where a skeleton crew of staffers labored by the dim yellow light of kerosene lanterns, setting wood type by hand and developing tintypes, putting out a newsprint tabloid of Harley happenings, news, views, gossip and wienie bite results, and then personally delivering them to area dealership parts counters and biker hangouts by ox cart—or so it seems now.
That was also the year when everything changed convulsively. It was the dawn of the tech explosion and the Milwaukee miracle that suddenly thrust Harley-Davidson into the national spotlight and caused an unprecedented burgeoning and transformation of the biker culture in America.
And by the time we observed our 10th anniversary, Harley had tripled its production, and Thunder Press had expanded to cover the entire country with three regional editions—North, South and West—and had established editorial desks in a half dozen states so that we could continue to provide the regional flavor and content that is our proud hallmark while also providing the motorcycle and product reviews and the national event coverage of universal interest.
By the time we turned 15 years old, the whole American V-twin phenomenon was on fire to the point of inferno. Milwaukee was hitting the 400,000 unit mark with bold boasts that they would soon top half a million. Production custom outfits—what we referred to as “American Other”—were maturing and selling tens of thousands of premium-priced machines, and Victory Motorcycle was growing up and making its presence felt. Large biker events had sprouted and were thriving nationwide, and Destination Daytona had appeared on the scrub palmetto wastes north of Daytona Beach as a seeming harbinger of how things would be going forward. The whole thing appeared an unstoppable juggernaut. To get a feel for the magnitude of that transformation just check out our THUNDER PRESS Timeline starting on page 82.
And then a funny thing happened on the way to this, our 20th birthday. The economy tanked sickeningly and the contraction of the American motorcycle industry followed, contracting nearly as cataclysmically as it had arisen over the previous decade and a half. Motorcycle related businesses folded left, right and center, and the air went out of the booming, fat-tired production custom sector of the market. The party, it seemed, was over, and the long climb back to prosperity has proven a frustratingly sluggish one.
But happily it is happening, and as we celebrate our 20th it appears now that we’ve finally, unequivocally, bottomed out and hit the reset button. This year Milwaukee’s unit production is rebounding robustly—to about what they produced 10 years ago. More importantly, the crowds returned to Daytona Bike Week last month, and they came in a palpable free-spending party mood. The future’s suddenly looking rosy from where we sit.
In looking back over these last 20 years it would be easy to make the argument that the American motorcycle industry and culture have undergone a more dramatic transformation than in any like period in history, but perhaps the most overarching change has been in the popular perception of the stereotypical Harley rider. The old bogeyman of B movie drive-in fare, the social pariah with bad teeth, a drug habit, an anger management problem and a suspended license was supplanted over that time by the arguably more insidious stereotype that held us all to be lawyers and bankers, dentists and stockbrokers, weekend warriors and well-heeled leather fetishists. Of course we’re all of those things and a whole lot more and nobody knows it better than we do because one thing that hasn’t changed throughout those 20 years is the essence of how Thunder Press gets done—the involvement and the voices of every faction of this crazy quilt culture from the old school to the new blood, the clean and sober to the hell raisers, the three-patch to the jersey clubs and everything in between. They’re splashed all over the cover of this edition and throughout its pages, the genuine to-the-bone bikers of every stripe who’ve made it all happen, whether it was in furnishing event coverage from a local poker run or bike show or chili cook-off, or offering opinions on the burning moto-issues of the times—things like helmet laws, waving etiquette, and when it’s OK to wear chaps—or simply picking us up and reading us monthly. Thanks to all of you, Thunder Press remains the national/local beat reporter of all things biker. That will never change. We’ll even still report the occasional wienie bite results. We just can’t help ourselves.
It’s all right here in the diaries.