Take the 1969 film Easy Rider, which cemented the chopper, a custom motorcycle, as an American status symbol. The film starred actors Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. Two black motorcycle designers, Ben Hardy and Clifford Vaughs, created the iconic, souped-up Harley Davidson motorcycles – dubbed “Captain America” and “Billy” – Fonda and Hopper rode in the film, according to the film NPR.
One of the earliest motorcycle pioneers was Bessie Stringfield, who made history in 1930 as the first black woman to ride solo across the country. Her efforts were not without risks, as she was driving at a time when segregation was the law of the country. Instead of hotels, which denied her stay, she spent her nights in the houses of black families or, according to reports, even in gas station lots Iron & Air Magazine.
“The black biker community exists largely because of white side racism,” Leveque said.
In the book, Leveque recounts growing up alongside white bikers who proudly displayed swastikas and casually used racial slurs. He chided this type of biker by getting a tattoo of a swastika crossed out.
In the time she spent photographing the New York community, Dingley saw that clubs were often inclusive and welcoming of riders from all backgrounds.
However, her project was slow to get off the ground as she needed to gain their trust.
“You had to show people you wanted to be there,” Dingley said. “I don’t think I was treated any differently than people trying to break into the scene.”
It took a year of her regular appearances at events and cultivating relationships before she was fully accepted. The Black Falcons, a club in the Bronx, eventually vouched for her and signaled to other clubs that she was a welcome presence. After about two years of photography, she began interviewing drivers.
The book flows like oral history and has the familiar feel of an old group of friends sharing stories at the end of a party long after most of the guests have gone. Focusing on their voices was a conscious decision on the part of Dingley – she knew there was no other way to make her experiences right. As she took pictures, she shared photos on social media, and over time, she heard from bikers of color from across the country who invited her to take their picture. While it was nice to hear from them, travel was not part of the project.
“I had to focus on New York if I was ever going to do it justice,” Dingley said.
Ezy Ryders subverts expectations of both the people and the parts of New York City that are photographed. The city isn’t exactly synonymous with the idea of the open road, which features prominently in popular depictions of motorcyclists. Still, the book proves that there’s plenty of room to drive.
“There’s an open street in Brooklyn. There are open roads in Queens. Even in Manhattan there’s an open road,” Leveque said. “There are bikers of different colors and different shades that roam these open roads.”
A crucial aspect of life in the Black motorcycle community, Dingley found, is a biker’s nickname. Traditionally, a nickname is rarely chosen, it is bestowed. Leveque became “Preach” because, wherever he was, he always spoke at length about the history of black motorcycle culture.
Although she was there to photograph the community, Dingley eventually found that she, too, had earned a nickname.
“Most of the time it was a very appropriate ‘Photo Lady,'” Dingley said. “It was definitely a badge of honor.”
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/ground-new-york-citys-black-motorcycle-clubs-rcna39578 Locally with the Black Motorcycle Clubs of New York City