UN­EASY RIDERS

Fortean Times - - Contents -

in­ves­ti­gates some un­usual cases in which mo­tor­cy­clists have en­coun­tered road ghosts and phan­tom hitch­hik­ers in the lim­i­nal zone be­tween haunt­ings and ur­ban leg­ends.

knowl­edge be­hind the fic­tion went deeper than the throw­away pulp ap­proach of many NEL au­thors at the time.

A very dif­fer­ent sort of book from the NEL pa­per­backs is Steve Wil­son’s The Lost

Trav­eller. Orig­i­nally pub­lished by Macmil­lan in 1976, it is set in a post-nuclear holo­caust Amer­ica. 13 The east of the con­ti­nent is now a po­lice state, while the west barely holds on to civil­i­sa­tion. Dur­ing the con­flict, psy­choac­tive sub­stances are un­leashed as weapons – but due to their par­ty­ing life­style, the Hell’s An­gels take the nar­cotic ef­fects in their stride. While out on a beer raid they en­counter, and res­cue, the drug ad­dled Pres­i­dent of the United States. This good for­tune leads them to be­com­ing a tribal group on the edges of the Fief, an es­sen­tial part of the de­fence of the so­ci­ety, but al­ways on the mar­gins: in some ways, this re­flects the Præ­to­rian Guard role the counter-cul­ture al­ways had in mind for the bik­ers.

Full of trib­al­ism, pseudo-Na­tive Amer­i­can spir­i­tu­al­ity, post-apoc­a­lyp­tic set­tings and a Grail Quest plot, The Lost Trav­eller is a unique and of­ten over­looked bit of biker fic­tion, but it ef­fec­tively cap­tures some of the ten­sions be­tween civil­i­sa­tion and its sub­cul­tural dis­con­tents. For a long time, Bri­tish fans of cus­tom mo­tor­bikes had to be con­tent with oc­ca­sional ar­ti­cles in the main­stream mo­tor­cy­cle press or mag­a­zines like Easyrid­ers im­ported from across the At­lantic. In 1984, this changed with the ar­rival of

Back Street Heroes. It was a mag­a­zine writ­ten very much for the Bri­tish biker; the ‘Back Street Heroes’ of its ti­tle were the home­grown bike en­thu­si­asts build­ing their own cre­ations in sheds and lock-up garages across the coun­try. From the first is­sue, Jim Fogg was a key part of the mag­a­zine’s suc­cess.

Archæol­o­gist, writer, and biker, Fogg is a bit of a hero of mine. He wrote on many sub­jects, but it was his fic­tion that most cap­tured my imag­i­na­tion. Au­then­tic­ity is an overused word, but there was a sense of clar­ity and gen­uine knowl­edge in his work, and he reg­u­larly touched on fortean themes. In Rat Bike, 14 the nar­ra­tor is search­ing for some bike parts and goes to see Mould, a reclu­sive mag­ickal prac­ti­tioner who is hunt­ing the Rat King. World Enough and Time 15 is a story about time-slips, while

Gabriel Hounds 16 fea­tures an en­counter with the Wild Hunt. Hexed ob­jects fea­ture in Fogg’s work too, in­clud­ing cursed archæo­log­i­cal finds (as in Blood Ea­gle, 17 which drew on his own ex­pe­ri­ences on digs) and peo­ple who bring bad luck to those around them ( Iron But­ter­fly). 18

One of Jim Fogg’s most per­sonal tales was ‘The Bridge’, about a 1973 en­counter with a ghost that pre­vented him from rid­ing over a dam­aged bridge. 19 He pref­aces it by de­scrib­ing it as a true story; cer­tainly, the area he talks about, near Keas­don and Ben­tham, is one he was fa­mil­iar with. He en­coun­ters the ghost twice. First, on the moors, the fig­ure steps out, caus­ing him to brake, and then, for a sec­ond time, at the bridge. On both oc­ca­sions, the black-bearded fig­ure is dressed in a heavy old over­coat tied at the waist with rope and wear­ing some kind of head cov­er­ing. Later, in about 1979, he sees the same fig­ure in a photo owned by his aunt, and is given a name (Joseph Macbride Camm) and a fam­ily con­nec­tion. Whether or not Jim Fogg re­ally be­lieved the story was true, (he passed away in 1989, so we can no longer ask him), it reads as if it was writ­ten with per­sonal con­vic­tion.

Some of the works men­tioned above were cre­ated by peo­ple on the out­side of biker cul­ture look­ing in, oth­ers by those for whom rid­ing mo­tor­bikes was a way of life. Many of th­ese books – even those that were writ­ten as pseudony­mous schlock fic­tion – had a huge and last­ing in­flu­ence on the whole sub­cul­ture,

Maybe it’s the risk in­her­ent in be­ing on two wheels, maybe it’s the iso­la­tion of the biker – even when rid­ing in a pack you’re on your own – but I sus­pect that the re­cur­ring theme of curses, whether fo­cused on bikes or their riders, might be down to the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of mo­tor­cy­clists and their re­liance on the del­i­cate me­chan­ics that keep a bike up­right. What­ever the rea­sons, mo­tor­bikes seem to at­tract more than their fair share of folk­lore and forteana; and I can’t see that changing any­time soon.

Strik­ingly sim­i­lar cover con­cepts for two of the most in­trigu­ing biker books of the 1970s.

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