Haut Moteur

The Art of the Chopper

Tom Zimberoff


Praise the Lowered!

Imagine motorcycles unlike any others you’ve seen before, ornate mechanical confections like Fabergé eggs with engines, exquisite but hard-boiled — and big, resplendent in the variety of their design and spectacular enough to be arrayed on pedestals in a museum. In fact, they were.

Holy Roller by Mike Brown / photograph ©2006 Tom Zimberoff

Riding my Harley-Davidson through San Francisco on my way home to Sausalito — five miles more through traffic then freewheeling across the Golden Gate Bridge, I thought I’d wait out the sweltering heat of an early summer day. No hurry. No need to lane-split when I could park on the sidewalk in front of Pier 23, a funky waterfront bar and café, where passing tourists would stop to admire my beast and I could scarf a cold beer on the Embarcadero.

As I rode closer, it was hard not to miss several black SUVs with bubblegum lights on top parked near my spot on the sidewalk, indicating someone important was inside. The governor? A foreign dignitary? No one stopped me from rolling onto my usual slot. I put the kickstand down, dismounted, unfastened my brain bucket, and asked one of the men in black, speaking into his sleeve, “So who ya got in there?” He nodded sideways at the open front door, where I could see Bill Clinton sitting alone at the bar eating a hamburger.

“Any problem my going in?” I asked.

He shook his head to indicate no problem.

Sitting at a table to my right as I entered were a half dozen men and women, recognizable by their dress and demeanor: staffers. I removed a Pocketfolio from my jacket pocket, a 4½- x 6-inch, richly printed-and-bound portfolio of black-and-white photographs, my calling card, always at hand because, long before it was practicable to pull an iPhone out of your pocket and display pictures on a screen, it was tiresome to respond to the curiously naive question: “What kind of pictures do you take?” My Pocketfolio included portraits of a U.S. president and a secretary of state, plus some movie stars. I scribbled a note on the frontispiece, then approached the table. My note requested a minute with Clinton to talk about doing a portrait like the one of President Reagan he could see for himself a few pages in. But these folks didn’t know me from some biker off the street.