'Hog' Wild

President Barack Obama, right, and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, left, are seen during the arrival ceremony at the Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

When you spot a motorcycle in your rearview mirror, what is your first reaction?

Is it a sense of adventure, symbolized by the 1970s film "Easy Rider?" Or are you a little nervous that a Hell's Angel is on your tail?

Well, relax. That motorcycle rider could very well be your children's orthodontist or your car mechanic. And, as CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston reported, a lot of bikers are in a very good mood this summer as they celebrate the 100th birthday of an American icon — the Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

"You feel like you're more powerful than you've ever felt before for some reason," says David Uhl.

A passionate biker, Uhl rides his motorcycle in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near his home. "There's a feeling and a sense of being freer than you've ever been in your life," says Uhl. "It's probably the closest thing you can get to flying."

Yet to Uhl, a motorcycle is more than a great ride. It's a source of artistic inspiration.

"The Harley-Davidson is a very special motorcycle because it has a certain type of geometry that lends itself to being beautiful," he explains.

For the past four-and-a-half years, Uhl has produced more than 40 paintings — all starring the Harley-Davidson. Some have sold for nearly $50,000, allowing him to build an impressive house and studio outside Denver. He began by designing black Harley T-shirts with eagles, and dragons and wolves.

He then turned to a larger easel, inspired by the motorcycle's role in our nation's history. The motorcycle was born in the same era as the airplane and the automobile. His paintings wander from trips to the countryside in the 1900s, to racers and flappers in the 1920s, to a woman lounging on her Harley in the 1950s.

"Woman are soft and curvaceous creatures, and then the bike is a hard-edge kind of sex machine," says Uhl. "Put them together, and you've just got a dynamite combination."

Some see Uhl as the Norman Rockwell of Harley-Davidsons.

"In the motorcycling world, my take on it is more about the feelings that it inspires," he says.

He is not alone. Californian Scott Jacobs has produced 162 paintings of Harleys over the last 11 years. If Uhl is a romantic, Jacobs is a photorealist.

Jacobs has ridden since he was a teenager, and he loves the motorcycle as a machine. His work is filled with details — glittering chrome, powerful engines and brilliant colors.

"I think the motorcycle is definitely a part of the American fabric," he says. "It's loved by so many."

At a recent art exhibit in Denver, the Harleys were not only parked outside, they were also hanging on the walls inside. The bikes are admired by riders in black T-shirts and beards, as well as people from the corporate crowd and country club set.

The "Hog," as it has been affectionately nicknamed, has come a long way from its humble beginnings. "The Heroes of Harley-Davidson" exhibit at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in Ohio features a full-scale replica (10 feet by 15 feet) of the wooden shed that was built in the back yard of the Davidson home in Milwaukee.

"All they wanted was something that would get them to the fishing hole quicker," says Ed Youngblood, the exhibit's curator. "But, it turned into one of the leading motorcycle companies in the world."

Early in the 1900s, people accustomed to riding horses suddenly took to riding motorized bicycles.

"Until 1915, there were more than 200 brands. And all that came to an end when Henry Ford created the Model T," says Youngblood. "There was just no choice what American were going to buy."

So why ride on two wheels when you could ride four?

"Excitement," Youngblood explains as the reason for riding the two-wheel vehicle. "From that time on, the motorcycle ceased to be a utilitarian vehicle and became a vehicle for enjoyment, excitement and fun. And that's what it still is today."

Last year, 1 million motorcycles were sold in the United States — the tenth straight year of increased sales. The Japanese started pouring motorcycles into the U.S. in the '60s, almost driving the Harley off the road. Honda now sells more than anyone else. The Japanese dominate the off-highway market of motor-cross and racing. Harley-Davidson is second and controls the large highway cruiser market. And it's not a cheap hobby. The average highway motorcycle costs more than $11,000.

No one in America has done more to stoke the passion than 70-year-old William G. Davidson, grandson of one of the founders of Harley-Davidson and father of the Harley Art Program.

"I've always felt that a Harley-Davidson was mechanical art — rolling sculpture," says Davidson.

Willie G., as he is known, is a cult figure among Harley owners. He helped save the company from bankruptcy in the 1980s with his designs and insistence on high quality. Along the way, he threw away his coat and tie for a look shared by many motorcyclists.

"There's a little bit of rebel in all of us," says Davidson. "Motorcyclists are a group who, they have a look, and they're proud of it."

The leather look began after World War II when returning American fighter pilots were drawn to the speed and excitement of motorcycles. They carried their leather jackets with them. Some carried the enthusiasm too far. The 1954 movie, "The Wild One," starring Marlon Brando, was based on the trashing of a California town by some of those returning vets. The outlaw image was born.

"In any sport of any activity, where you're dealing with a hell of a lot of people, you're going to have a group that maybe abuses what they shouldn't abuse," says Davidson. "Of course, the press goes nuts and they love it."

There is also a darker side of motorcycling. Law enforcement has classified some groups as outlaw gangs, and accused them of being involved in organized crime.

In June, federal agents raided a Hell's Angels clubhouse in San Diego and charged 18 members with gun violations and drug trafficking.

Members of other gangs — the Pagans, Bandidos and Outlaws — have also been cited by the Justice Department. Ed Youngblood, who led the American Motorcycle Association for almost 20 years, says it's unfair to tar millions of motorcycles with the sins of a few.

"I'm familiar with the FBI reports on this," he says "But, I would point out that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with motorcycling. That has to do with criminal behavior and lawlessness.

"I guarantee you, if they're doing any big selling, they're probably in a van somewhere. So, the idea of linking that with motorcycles — to me — is pretty tenuous."

Yet the bad boy motorcycle image is shrinking. Thanks in part to the late Malcolm Forbes, founder of Forbes magazine and an avid rider of Harley-Davidsons.

"Ever since Malcolm back in the late '80s, it's a different breed now," explains artist Scott Jacobs. "It's the lawyers and doctors and the yuppie riders."

The in 1998, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City staged an exhibit called "The Art of the Motorcycle."

Youngblood says the exhibit was an announcement to the world that the Harley-Davidson bikes had arrived.

More than 20 million Americans ride motorcycles, and more women are joining the ranks of Harley drivers, who aren't just hanging on for the ride. This is in spite of concerns from many that motorcycles are just too dangerous.

"Everything we do has a risk," rationalizes Youngblood. "Operating a wheel barrel is dangerous."

Some tens of thousands attend motorcycle rallies each summer. Others turn on a growing number of motorcycle shows, which are becoming a staple television such as the popular "American Chopper" program on the Discovery Channel.

So, it shouldn't be surprising that a group of Denver Harley riders celebrated the Fourth of July by taking a ride to the prestigious Cherry Creek Arts Festival in one of the city's most upscale neighborhoods. The booths selling paintings and ceramics didn't draw them in. They wanted to see the exhibit art on two wheels — a collection of motorcycles and paintings of motorcycles.

In the middle was William G. Davidson. He says America's love affair with the motorcycle shows no sign of ending.

"I think a motorcycle ride is an adventure," he says. "It's always a journey. It's equally as important as the destination. So there's an emotional charge about getting on one of these great bikes and running across the country."

  • Rome Neal

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