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Renegade TV

April 21, 2009

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The dominant strain in American motorcycle culture could broadly be described as the Cult of Harley, and like that motorcycle company, it’s about lifestyle as much as it is motorcycles. There are certain articles of faith that come along with the lifestyle: helmets are bad, chrome is king, there is such a thing as a riding “season,” and proper women’s motorcycle gear includes a fringed leather bra.

In this scheme, choppers are no longer the DIY backyard welding shop bikes of old, but the blinged-out garage art favored by fans of the Learning Channel, $200,000 bikes designed to be uncomfortable, to show how tough the rider is, then parked under cover for 364 days a year. Unless the purchase is financed by a backwoods meth lab, there is very little outlaw in it. It’s a rebellion that comes with as many rules as it breaks.

All of which is to say that this is the culture Johnny O and his late night local biker show Renegade TV find themselves in. Is it incumbent on him to challenge the stereotypes? Maybe not, but it sure would be a refreshing change. Somewhere between the zip-tied together rat bikes, the vintage racers, and the wheely riders on the highway to nowhere, there’s a motorcycle culture in Baltimore, but as long as motorcycle equals cruiser and custom equals chopper, we’re not going to see it on TV.

Johnny O is a likeable enough host, and it would be great to see him do something different with the show, but here he’s just rooting for the overdog. In the debut episode made available for review, the feature on Exile Cycles was interesting enough, mostly because Exile’s rusty creations aren’t the standard cotton-candy chrome lawyer mobiles one usually sees cruising Ocean City’s Coastal Highway. A segment on a police benefit event consisted mostly of Scott Donahue talking about how great it all was, which is fine, and it’s nice that he had a good time, but as long as you’ve got the motorcycle cops on the hook, how about talking to them, or even showing some of the training they go through? Anyone who’s ever seen a parade knows the cops can do amazing things with those heavy bikes in close quarters.

If the premier episode is a guide to how the show will run, it’s not about riding so much as the accoutrements of riding, from the bling to the babes (the show is sponsored by Scores, and a third of the show is taken up by a sort of softer core take on the Girls Gone Wild ads that share the show’s late-night time slot). If Renegade TV’s intent is to establish a connection between motorcycles and meathead testosterone, it’s done it, but it’s well-traveled ground. That’s not to say there isn’t a market for it, there is. The shtick is just a little tired.

Anyway, maybe it’s possible to expect too much from a show that airs at 3 a.m. Saturdays on Fox45, but a conversation between Mr. O and Vermont bike builder Tommy Graves seems to sum it up. After Johnny ogles the paint job and detailing on Graves’ $150,000 custom bike, the builder points out the capacity of the enormous gas tank. “He rode it down here from Vermont,” Johnny jokes, and everyone gets a good laugh. Of course he didn’t. And the sad thing is, no one ever will.