It’s 120°F (49˚C) in the Mexican desert and Jay Cagney fumbles for more duct tape in an attempt at rigging his self-built ‘77 sportster chopper back to functional form, praying it doesn’t go up in flames before he succeeds. He’s on a 579 mile (931 km) hell ride from Temecula, California to San Felipe, Mexico and back called the El Diablo Run. It’s an annual event for old school chopper guys to get together and ride, and it’s also the first time Cagney’s ever been out west on a bike he’s spent three years perfecting. He’s part of a throwback era of soul-searching adventure travel made possible on self-built machines echoing the glory chopper days of cult classics like Easy Rider.
A photographer by trade, Cagney documents his travels around the U.S. and Mexico, giving a peek into two-wheeled adventures with a unique mix of characters. While studying photography in New York, Cagney met the owners of Original Skateboards during an afternoon surfing session and they gave him his first break as videographer for the brand in 2007. His professional portfolio as an action sports photographer grew from there and eventually evolved into the lifestyle photography of his passion: old school choppers. Cagney gives us a snapshot of what life on the road looks like for a guy who’s living the dream.
1 STRANGE DAYS
“Strange Days is a ’70s-inspired motorcycle event in New Jersey. It’s located on a farm under a ridge that the Appalachian Trail passes over. Hanging out at this event is like a trip through time; you get to hang with your old friends, make new ones, all while admiring bikes that are way older than you are. The sunsets are unreal and usually a few through-hikers from the AT will stop by for a beer and some music. Here, Josh Kohn takes Keith for a ride in his beautiful 1979 Shovelhead.”
2 THE RACE OF GENTLEMEN
“Two racers in line for the start of The Race of Gentlemen. This is a race that happens in Wildwood, New Jersey, on the beach, and is all about being brought back in time. It’s a requirement that your motorcycle be a pre-1947 American-made tank shift bike. Most would keep these bikes in museums but there is a group that believes in the saying ‘Ride ‘em don’t hide ‘em.’”
3 FLAG GIRL
“Sarah, the flag girl, is wearing a vintage one-piece Harley Davidson jump suit at The Race of Gentlemen and jumped like this for every race. Needless to say she was pretty sore by the end of the weekend. She really helped tie in the vibe of old school racing.”
4 NO HANDS
“This was my first time in Cleveland and it did not disappoint. The Venturos crew rolled up for a motorcycle and art show called Fuel Cleveland and showed everyone how to get wild on a bike. This is Matt Epler who surfed through the crowds with little effort, not even needing his arms up for balance. We have to wear helmets in New Jersey so it was trippy to see so many people without them in Ohio.”
“It’s pretty much inevitable that there will be a huge bonfire when you get a few hundred people on bikes together armed to the teeth with beer and whatever else people like to put in their bodies. It’s always a great way to meet people since everyone is there with the same interest. There may be some stigma about the motorcycle crowd but I can say I’ve met some of the most genuine, sweet-hearted dudes who won’t hesitate to help you in any way they can. Even if they are a little rough around the edges.”
6 THE HELLRIDE
“Someone described the El Diablo Run [an excursion into Baja and back] as ‘Spring Break for Chopper Dudes.’ This is actually pretty accurate, except there are far less females and way more hair and tattoos. There was 400-500 of us who stayed at a camping site on the beach in San Felipe. There weren’t many rules, but there was plenty of tequila, so things got wild all day and all night.”
“I ride an Ironhead, and they are notorious for breaking down. Well, I broke down on the longest stretch of desert that had nothing in sight. Luckily three guys stopped and tried to fix it with me, but we couldn’t figure it out so they gave me some water and continued on while I waited for the chase truck. I was pretty nervous after hearing rumours about how Mexico can be dangerous, so to kill time I continued to try and fix the bike. I finally figured out that my coil separated and was able to tape it back up and get back on the road. I helped a few others along the way and I think I was one of the last to make it to camp. If no one broke down there wouldn’t be as many stories and friendships.”