by Thomas Day
The best thing about non-fiction is that it is always better than fiction. What do you say to a man who was born a Louisiana sharecropper, moves to Oakland and starts the preeminent all-black, all H-D MC in the country? You’d better call him sir. The story is true, the East Bay Dragons are real, and Tobie Gene Levingston is the living founder and President of this long-standing organization.
Established in 1958, The East Bay Dragons were initially a car club. The Dragons slowly switched to motorcycles during 1959-60 with the influence of other bay area black MCs including the Rattlers and the Star Riders. The most visceral MC in the bay area were the Hell’s Angels. Mr. Levingston and Angels’ founder Sonny Barger go back to 1955 when the two of them would drink coffee at a place called the Doggie Diner.
The photography is first rate. There are intense portraits of many club members, each revealing their intensity and dedication. Represented bikes include the author’s kick-ass ’51 Pan chop with upswept pipes, a drag-style late 70’s 1200 Sporty with a 2-into-1 high flow pipe and outrageous period color shots of the clubs longbikes.
The tales within Soul on Bikes mirror our recent history. The author recalls stories about the Dragons and Black Power leaders of the late 60’s, Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown. The Dragons also walked with Huey Newton and Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers. Bay area icons Arlen Ness and Sonny Barger come alive in eyewitness anecdotes. He brings you to the days of Haight-Ashbury and “skinny white girls with stringy hair.” If you want stories about the Hell’s Angels, you can read about Terry the Tramp, Zorro (an early Sportster adopter) and an Angel called Winston who kept a lion in the back of his panel truck.
Mr. Levingston frankly shares how he closed the clubhouse to preserve the club during the crack cocaine-crazy 1980s. He makes no apology for the members that left the club over drug use and those that lost their lives due to drug turf wars. The author and the Dragons survive this bleak period and continue to ride all over the United States, while calling Oakland their home.
Why read about this all-black Oakland MC club? In the words of Dragon Glenn A., “(Being a Dragon) left me a man. It made me unball my fist. Made me stop fighting people. Told me that there’s a time to respond and a time to be a gentleman. That all women aren’t bitches. It’s nothing that we talk about. It’s just the way the older members carry themselves…”
In one simple sentence, this is the best thing I’ve read all winter. Mandatory reading. Soul on Bikes rips on four out of four cylinders.
Chrome Polisher–This is the real deal, y’all.
Big Talker–Come back when your ready to ride.
Longrider–You’ll feel the truth in Mr. Levingston’s words.
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