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The Iron Cross
Get Real or Stay Outta My Tribe
2002 - The Year of The Iron Cross
In thinking about Sturgis 2002, two things really come to mind -
choppers are back (not that they really left) and the Iron Cross is the
symbol of the chopper.
Now, two or three years ago you might have spotted a couple of Iron (or
Maltese) Crosses on a few select belt buckles or seen a patch here and
there. Most of those were in reference to the Iron Crosses of the 60's
or certain groups who have never shaken the Iron Cross as a symbol. But
by and large, just few of us fogies sported the IC as a symbol of our
identity in the motorcycle community. Just what the hell am I talking
about here - you might ask.
Well, look at it this way - people form tribes. I'm not sure exactly
why, but my theory is that these tribes harken back to some primal,
distant spirit that defines at a sub-genetic level exactly who we are
and who we wanna hang out with. Have you ever heard somebody say "I was
born a biker, I couldn't do anything about it. I can't imagine doing
anything else"? Well, if you've heard those words (or spoken these
words) then you have encountered the tribal spirit.
I suppose it cuts across all lines and walks of life, there are tribes
that worship (church groups), tribes that compete (sports teams), tribes
that create (artist groups) and tribes that are just assholes (political
groups) - but without a doubt you know deep down who your tribe is. My
tribe is the chopper tribe within the biker nation. See, I think there
are groups of tribes (we'll call those Nations) and then there are the
Just as the Indian Nations were broken into smaller tribal groups, so is
the biker nation divided.
Within the biker Nation, we've got your 1%-ers, your idiot V-Rod
yuppies, your long distance riders, your builders and customizers and on
and on and on...hell, you've even got brand-specific divisions with
sub-tribes in those. Anyway, the point is that you know your tribe
...and you show the world your membership in your tribe by the symbols
you wear. I think sometimes we buy stuff to wear that we don't know why
we like - it just seems right. Your club members wear their club patch,
your panhead owners wear panhead patches, your triumph guys wear triumph
patches and so it goes on into the night.
Chopper guys always sport the Iron Cross. Dunno why, don't care. That's
the symbol of our tribe.
Anyway, the IC was all over Sturgis this year. T-shirts, pins, you name
it - it had the Iron Cross, which is just fine by me. The only thing is,
this is a pretty powerful symbol to me (...and my tribe) and I'm hoping
every yahoo with a Goldwing doesn't start thinkin' this an OK thing for
him to wear. The bar and shield has become so generic, that the once
powerful symbol doesn't really even mean you own a Harley anymore.
I guess my drift is this - just cause you put on an Iron Cross doesn't
mean you're a chopper guy. You earn that badge with your face stuck in
some piston hole at three am trying to figure out why these rings don't
fit. Or maybe cutting spacers from fork tubes, or rewiring a bike with
seven wires, or drilling the baffles out of a stock exhaust, or WHATEVER
it is you do to make that stock bike YOUR bike. When you've done that,
you can wear the cross. Until that day, my friend, just keep sportin'
that old bar and shield.
You'll know when you're a member of our tribe.
UPDATE (late 2003)
I've had literally hundreds of emails in response
to this article. Thought I'd share some of the best with you:
Sent: Thursday, September 26, 2002 1:40 PM
Subject: Iron cross
Just last month I queried the editor of Street Chopper magazine with the
question, "What does the Iron Cross represent or symbolize?"
Basically, he said that following WW2 (the BIG one as Archie Bunker calls
it) our men came home with captured medals from the Germans that they
"greased" and proudly displayed these medals on their leathers and scooters.
I build, what I call, ghetto choppers. We poor folk build what we can with
what we scrounge up since we don't have any money. As a young boy of 10 I
damn near came in my shorts as a hundred or so "bikers" passed by me and I
never forgot this sight. I said to myself, "That's what I wanna be when I
grow up!" Here I am 46 years later (do the math...I'm 56) and I can still
smell the burnt rubber and noise blasting from their magnificently loud
pipes. I vividly remember as if it happened yesterday how the leader of this
pack rode so proudly while his woman hung onto him for dear life. He had
long blonde hair and she had long beautiful black hair. As they passed me I
saw that their hair was actually entwined together...blowing in the wind. As
I watched them pass I saw the IRON CROSS tail light he sported. This is what
the Iron Cross means to me...Beauty, Adventure, Sex, Excitement...It
symbolizes what life is all about!
ChopperDan in Connecticut
From: Gino Begano
Sent: Monday, September 30, 2002 12:53 PM
Subject: Iron Cross
Hello, my name is Gino Begano, I've been reading your articles and
found a lot of them are very true and make you think about a few things.
I'm emailing just to give some thought about the Iron cross and what my
thoughts are. I'm not trying to step on anybodies feet, I'm just giving
some food for thought. First I'll say a little about myself, I've always
raced motorcycles, from motocross to flat-track. along with my family. I
have just recently taken to street riding and enjoy it. I'm a welder and
fabricator by trade. I began making things here and there for Harley's
and have decided to try my hand at building custom frames,tanks and
bikes from scratch. It will be a learning process but I feel I will
enjoy it. Anyway I have always been awed by the iron cross, I got a
tatoo of it years ago and everything I have has it on it. Me and my
family took a trip to West Coast Choppers, this is when I started seeing
the connection between the Iron Cross and choppers, since that trip I
have looked extensively into the Iron Cross, meanings, conflicts and so
on. What I found is that no matter, what region, country, or tribe used
the Iron Cross, it was always a symbol of pride and prestige. I feel
that this is the connection with choppers, because somewhere at
somepoint somebody took pride in building that bike and it wasn't store
bought. This should make the owner proud, it is usually one of a kind.
One thing that has steered me away from running out and buying a plain
store bought harley is that it is exactly true what you said about
wrench time. I'm personally tired of yuppies running out and buying a
Harley just to say they own one, trailer it up and go. I thought bikes
were for riding. My grandfather always told me that all of my family
rode bikes when riding bikes wasn't cool. They may have been riding
Yamahas but at least they were riding. I have a friend and his wife who
ride BMW's, they are from Denmark and favor BMW's. Alot of local people
say they are not bikers. Well all I have to say is the rest of them
trailer their bikes wherever they go, my friends ride rain, snow, or
shine and don't own a trailer and sometimes putting 900 miles a day on a
trip. This is more of the biker spirit to me, not because they just own
a harley and a vest. I think it is all about the road. I personally have
ran into conflict with people about my iron crosses. They think it is a
symbol only of nazism, this is untrue. Christianity and Vikings had it
first. I now say it is just an awesome symbol and a symbol of pride.
I'm not yet a die hard biker, but I think it is great. I am more into
working with the metal with the hopes of someday cruising the road on a
bike which I completely built. Thank you for your time and your
articles are great. Gino Begano
Sent: Monday, October 07, 2002 9:22 PM
Subject: regards to the iron cross
this e-mail is in regards to your editorial about the maltese cross (I.C. as
you put it). you say that this is a symbol of your tribe, a tribe
specifically about choppers, when in actuality the maltese cross symbol
stands for protection. if you look around you, you will see many different
styles of these crosses, from your biker belt-buckle to the shield of a
fireman. as a biker, i think we all could use a little protection from the
harshness of the open road..
From: brian harston
Sent: Wednesday, October 30, 2002 9:12 PM
Subject: Iron cross article, a fan
Warren, just wanted to drop you a lne and let you know how much I
appreciated and enjoyed your aricle on the iron cross. You took the words
right out of my mouth and many of the words i anted to say i wasn't sure if
i had the right to say anyway. I am only 20 and i have been a harley man
since i was a little itty bitty boy, i love it now and always will, no
exception. I am on what you may call the lower half of the economic scale so
when it came time for me to buy my first bike i had to search for two years
to find the right deal. I found a 72 sportster and have since made her my
own. I, along with the guidance of some devoted and knowledgable old chopper
rats, have turned the once stock horse into a hardtail back-yard flamed
custom. she aint real pretty but i love her more thn anything. Anyhow, my
point is that it is very refreshing to read an article such as this because
it lets people, especially a young person such as myself, realize a
Sorry to ramble, i could go on for days, but anyways, i just wanted to let
you know that i thought it was a good article and i feel you brother.
Rock -n- roll,
Sent: Tuesday, November 12, 2002 5:22 PM
Subject: reply to web story
warren I have spent the last year turning my 95 sporty into my chopper.first
I put a pat kennedy front end on it new paint striped all decals lights
etc.the last thing I did was cut the back fender and put a iorn cross light
and side mount plate.what iam leading to is .Ididnt really know what the
iron cross meant.till I was done with the bike and I read your article.what
ever it takes to make your stock bike your bike.that made it all worth while
I now feel that I have earned the right to fly the cross thanks and notice
my e-mail adress.
Sent: Thursday, November 21, 2002 10:40 PM
Subject: Iron cross
I agree and disagree. It is getting commercialized. I wanted to get a tattoo
of one with a guy riding a chop in front and dust rising sort of blocking
out parts of the cross. However after all the publicity with the cross and
Jesse James ect.... I will probably go back to the drawing board. Of course
I wanted it becouse I have a 1976 Honda chop that I can't find parts
anywhere for and also becouse the cross actually began as a German Flying
medal of honor. Given to great German pilots. My grandmother was born and
raised in Germany until she married my grandpa who was in the army over
there. Anyway it has two meanings for me becouse I work in the aviation
field as well. I was trying to get the Tat while I was over in Germany but
most of them are expensive and the good ones work by appointment only and
have a weeks waiting list. Well ride on and maybe you can come up with a new
symbol for us hardcore backyard chopper's.
From: Larry Pratt
Sent: Tuesday, December 03, 2002 10:00 PM
Hey Bro I have just read the article and could not find a single idea wrong.
I have been a biker in many guises from outlaw to respectable. I always
figured I was a biker and then it wasnt a brand specific type just a biker.
I still give the power to the biker salute when riding to any two wheeler no
matter the ride they are on. This seems to really cause great confusion
among the Harley riders and the honda 90"s. Atatude is the only common
thread we th Bikers have in common. Rides are just as personal as they will
be made to be. Nothing pisses me off more than a fellow biker with their bad
tude in the air as they ride. I try to be in the spirt of bikin when ever
the ride is on. Nuff said about me just wanted to say thanks for the
article. Keep up the spirt.
From: jacob L. Griffin
Sent: Friday, December 06, 2002 9:29 PM
Subject: Response to righteous article
I'm 30 years old and it's taken me 17 longass years to finlly get a
bike. I was a wannabe when yupies wore alligator shirts instead of HD
tshirts and rode in BMW's instead of riding 30,000 dollar bolton
specials from the factory! I was the stoner kid in the 80's with
longhair who rode his bicycle to the local HD shop who bought tshirts
and got chased off for sitting on the bikes! I can relate to the
"tribes" analagy. When the yuppie fad dies and Yuppie Davidson is no
longer the in thing we'll still be tearin up the streets! Ride like
Sent: Friday, December 27, 2002 12:17 PM
Subject: Tribal you bet.
I've just finished reading your article about the Iron Cross and I have to
agree with you.On the thought that just because you wear a symbol doesn't
make you one.I believe the Iron Cross originated from the "Red Baron".It
symbolizes to me a type of freedom and strength,away of life.Not some thing
made commerially like the Bar and Shield has become.The I.C. symbolizes a
simpler way of life yet a very hard earned one.
From: john smith
Sent: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 1:50 PM
Subject: iron cross tribe
im a 21 year old auto tech . hate it but love to work on bikes. my first
bike was a 1972 triumph tiger wich is now in a riged frame no extension solo
then i bought a 1976 sportster, took off the glide added a springer cut up
the cam cover to get rid of the ugly sporster look small head light riged
fram and no extras
am i part of your ironcross tribe, i wear one so i hope so , and i've spent
to many cold nights alone in my shop
Sent: Saturday, February 08, 2003 3:14 PM
Subject: Iron Cross
Read your article on the cross at choppersrule.com, AMEN got to earn the
right to wear it. Would't put one on mysporty till after i tool a sawzall
and did a bit of rearrangin as it were. Too bad folks these days find some
sort of brand appeal in the symbol.
Anyway, just wanted to say the story was right on.
It's better to build it, than to billet.
Date: Friday, October 04, 2002 5:34 PM
that by far my friend is one of the best editorials that i"vE read
in some time. keep up the great work....
..steve - FROM, DOC HOLLIDAY CUSTOM CHOPPER
PS. HOPEFULLY SOME BANDWAGONEERS WILL GET THE HINT
Subject: Iron Cross
Date: Sunday, December 01, 2002 1:46 PM
I could not agree with you more. It seems like every day we lose some more
of our identity to people that can't even adjust their lifters.
Ironaces M/C Fallon Nv.
From: Korth Cameron Civ OO-ALC/MANLSAE
Nothing personal but I have a complaint. People like to call the "Iron
Cross" a "Maltese" cross to be politically correct. An Iron Cross is not a
Maltese cross, they are two different things completely. The Iron Cross as
it is today came from the Prussian military as a medal (its use was
continued in the German military after the fall of Prussia. Which is why the
PC choose to call it a Maltese cross which it is not). I don't know the
complete history of the Maltese cross but it has come to be associated with
firefighters and has eight appendages not four (It is the common roundish
cross symbol you see involved with firefighters). If someone wants to wear
an iron cross they need to buck up and call it what it is. thanks for your