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.