Trans-generational trauma and the motorcycle sub-culture

Today I’m addressing trans-generational trauma amongst sub-cultures with particular regard for motorcyclists. Starting below with a brief history/account of the growth of the motorcyclist sub-culture and changing attitudes towards it culminating in today's widespread abuse.


Motorcycle subculture 

It started after the war as a cheap way to get around. In the 50s, people gravitated towards motorcycles typically non-conformists who did not want to be the same as everyone else.

In the 60s, the ton-up boys became prevalent as youths started to shift focus from cheap transportation and riding to racing and trying to make their motorcycles reach 100mph. In particular, the London area around the now famous ‘Aces Cafe’.

The dress of these motorcyclists became a sort of uniform which included leather jackets, denim cut-outs, seaman’s socks and leather boots. It was around this time that they became a sub-culture.

Towards the end of the 60s, the motorcyclists as a sub-culture interacted with another sub-culture that was up and coming around this time called ‘the mods’ who rode scooters, usually with extra lights and mirrors fitted to them. This became violent and was known as the clash between the mods and the rockers.

During the 70s, the motorcyclist culture grew and now included rock music as a part of their identity.

During the 80s, the government introduced legislation and law which meant budding bikers had to then take a formal motorcycle test with training before they could legally be on the road. This resulted in the 90s that less people joined the culture as a result of the test and numbers diminished.

In the 00s, new bikers were coming through because it had been excepted that they would have to train and take the test and also older bikers were coming back to biking who are now in their 50s and 60s.

As you can see, there is a fair amount of history to this sub-culture and not all of it could be included as this would increase the length of this article. However, the above outlines how this subculture grew over the decades, its place in history and where the abuse bikers suffer today stems from the reputation built on the backs of those early motorcyclists.

The ‘uniform’ of the 50s had a very practical application, in that it was actually for riding in British weather conditions as it provided an element of waterproofing and also kept the motorcyclist warm as they were open to the elements when riding motorcycles. Of course, as motorcyclists in the 50s were seen as ‘rebels’ and ‘non-conformists’ due to societal norms and attitudes of the time, this ‘uniform’ was starting to be seen as ‘scruffy’ or ‘untidy’. 

The 60s violence between ‘the mods’ who were considered by society as ‘smart’ in appearance when compared with ‘the rockers’ or motorcyclists is why society has formed the opinion that bikers are ‘violent’ and ‘bad people’. In the 60s, many a bank holiday was ruined by the ‘mods and rockers’ violence. That shared memory is why even today society think that ‘bikers are bad people, non-conformists, rebels, scruffy, violent’ were actually the opposite is true.

Bikers today hold down good jobs, do charity work, help out other members of society, but the shared memory of this brief history above is what people hold onto and why if you ride two wheels today you might get abuse both on and off the road.

Generational trauma

The above is an outline of generational trauma over the decades but what makes this trans-generational is its ability to be transmitted from one generation to the next, starting after the war and handed down to the present day. Parents teach their children, then their children go on to adopt similar attitudes and then grow up to teach their own children and so the cycle continues, thus a learned behaviour. 

I’m sure you can agree, we are far from the 50s and 60s here in the 2000s, so then why do we continue to get abuse now in modern times? This is why, because of the trans-generational trauma, experienced on both sides of society by bikers and non-bikers alike, it continues to be transmitted down through the generations in this fashion.

It is not as simple as cars against motorcycles, it runs deeper than that. The reality is motorcyclists pay road tax and insurance just like car drivers and have as much right to be on the road as car drivers or any other motor vehicle. What they don’t have, is the right to suffer abuse for generations past because of the attitudes of the time. Society is blessed with more open-minded attitudes today than it ever has been, but if we do not learn the lessons of the past then we could be repeating these learn behaviours and passing on generational trauma to the following generations.

This article, of course, focuses on motorcyclists in particular as a means to explore trans-generational trauma but it is by no means the only sub-culture within society. You might be part of one yourself, you might know someone who is part of one, either way you can reach out if you have experience of trans-generational trauma and want to explore it in a safe place, judgement-free and with a professional whose here to help you find awareness and growth as a means to heal.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Leeds LS1 & York YO23
Written by Kai Manchester, BA (Hons) Integrative Counsellor MNCPS (Acc) Supervisor
Leeds LS1 & York YO23

Kai is a fully qualified Integrative Counsellor and Equine Therapist who works with Anxiety, Generalised anxiety disorder, Trauma, PTSD and more. Kai did his degree in Integrative Counselling at Coventry University and went on to do his specialist training in Equine Facilitated Learning at Athena Herd in Kent. Reach out today to discuss your needs.

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