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Rebels with a political cause turn out at biker rally

| Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2008

Last weekend, I partied with about 20,000 of my fellow motorcyclists at the Westmoreland County Fairgrounds near Greensburg.

The National Bikers Roundup is the country's oldest black motorcycle rally. The event changes locations annually and settled this year on Western Pennsylvania -- a first in the rally's 31-year history, said chief organizer Billy Walker.

Walker started the rally back in the days when the phrase "biker rally coming to town" sent shock waves through the citizenry and hordes of state troopers onto overtime shifts.

The affable Walker is the first to admit the rally is little more than a low-key family affair, even if many members of this nationwide clan dress like extras from Hagar the Horrible.

"This is a chance for everybody to get together, catch up with their friends and just enjoy each other's company," said Walker, who sports the prerequisite gray beard of today's Harley-Davidson set.

And while many in attendance still had a look that said mad, bad and dangerous to know, the true subtext of this year's rally was less about biker cool and more about election-year politics.

The fairground air was thick with the smell of fried food and barbecue smoking on vendors' grills, but just as abundant were vendors selling T-shirts celebrating presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

There were black shirts bearing the candidate's face and the words "Hope" or "Change."

Some shirts revealed a deep sense of aspiration among blacks, as they depicted Obama riding an expensive Italian Ducati sportbike in front of the White House.

One shirt, though, had me scratching my head. It had "America's Black Royalty" with a cartoon of Obama, soul singer Beyonce Knowles, comedian Bernie Mac and, inexplicably, reality-show host, rapper and oversized pendant-wearer Flavor Flav.

Something tells me Barack's people haven't endorsed that particular garment.

This was quite a stylistic change from the fashions I've spotted being sold at other biker gatherings. Many of the shirts I've brought home from these events displayed images dirtier than a break-room microwave oven with language to match.

But there was a definite paradigm shift at work this year. Leather-clad bikers could choose between tattoos, oversized belt buckles shaped like skulls and renewing their voter registration cards.

I found it reassuring to find that this many previously apolitical bikers were willing to trade in their longtime penchant for shirts bearing dirty jokes and naked girls for support of a man making an historic run for president.

Even if it means Flavor Flav getting credit he doesn't deserve.

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