Against all odds, that most unsavory of modern cultural archetypes has now seemingly become the very paragon of style and healthy living. I’m speaking of the reviled “dirty biker,” an oft-derided breed characterized traditionally by an affinity for beards, tattoos and piercings, and an aversion to soap, shampoo and laundering—except as a consequence of riding in a downpour. We’re also known for subsisting on a diet of predominantly meat, beer and booze, and possessing a wardrobe limited to T-shirts, weathered leather, scuffed boots and unwashed denim. Our crude-to-nonexistent table manners also figure into the defiantly counterculture gestalt.
And, yes, that dossier does sound like the very definition of unsavory. But over the course of the half-century that the subculture has endured, the forces of fashion and medical science have co-opted or vindicated pretty much every disreputable element of our beloved lifestyle.
It was the fashion details that went first, starting most obviously with the leather jacket which entered the mainstream a good long time ago, and spreading from there to the more recent popularity of tattoos and piercings which have become so ubiquitous that you’re liable to see more ink and studs at a college basketball game than a bar in Sturgis.
Then the burgeoning offbeat “hipster” culture helped themselves to our boots and beards. The beards have proven particularly infectious and are now a fixture at ballparks and network anchor desks nationwide.
Oddly, it’s the beards that represent the crossover from our fashion influence to that of our health and hygiene regimen. As it turns out, researchers have concluded that beards are actually very healthy. They protect the face from UV rays, eliminating fully 99 percent of the exposure, and they protect against the ravages of the wind thus preserving the essential moisture in the skin beneath. What’s more, they serve to filter out pollen, dust and various other allergens, keeping them from being inhaled and thus are especially valuable as a first line of defense for asthma sufferers.
On top of that, it’s now widely acknowledged that frequent showering (or, according to some authorities, any bathing at all besides the proverbial whore bath) is no longer considered a healthy behavior. It’s been shown to wreak havoc on your skin’s natural self-cleansing attributes, eliminating the beneficial bacteria that dwell there, preserving your skin and keeping offensive odors at bay. In effect, the more you bathe to combat BO, the more you have to. Just abandon the showering ritual and in a relatively short span of time your own skin will resume its hygienic duties giving you a healthier hide and dramatically fewer bodily effluvia, counterintuitive as that may seem.
And the same goes for shampooing. It’s now pretty much universally acknowledged that all it does is strip away your hair’s natural texture and shine, and using anything besides water is ultimately a destructive practice—and, again, the more you shampoo, the more you need to in order to achieve the healthy mane your scalp is naturally capable of providing.
Where things start to get really interesting is on the subject of the dirty biker diet. As a starting point we can consider what is now acknowledged to be the original low-carb diet—the precursor to the Atkins diet and the like. Originally published in 1964, The Drinking Man’s Diet by author Robert W. Cameron (who lived well into his 90s) extolled the weight-loss virtues of, essentially, red meat and distilled beverages. It sold over two million copies back then and then fell off the radar until it was recently revived and touted by the likes of Esquire magazine—a revival attributed in part to the popularity of the TV series Mad Men for obvious reasons. By all reports it’s an effective program with no ill effects besides, perhaps, cirrhosis.
But aside from that possible downside to booze, it’s now a medical fact that the beer we tend to imbibe in vast quantities has significant salutary properties. As it turns out, beer is possessed of a number of antioxidants and vitamins capable of lowering cholesterol, rebuilding muscles, killing off viruses and even preventing cancer. It also rehydrates the body more efficiently than water alone. Who knew?
Where things start to get really curious pertains to basic etiquette where—again against all odds—it’s been reported by no less an august journal than the New York Times that eating with your fingers is gustatorily superior to picking at your food with flatware or a spork. The benefits abound, involving everything from enhanced sensory enjoyment of your meal to the invoking of one’s innate sense of portion control. And when you’re finished dining, believe it or not, clinical studies have shown that using those same fingers to brush your teeth instead of using a toothbrush also has significant benefits, particularly in the area of fluoride absorption and effectiveness.
All of the foregoing is a lot to get your head around, but the it’s in the matter of dirty denim where I was really taken aback, and that’s because of the recent pronouncement by the CEO of Levi Strauss that he only washes his 501s annually. Once a year. That’s it. And on the heels of that admission came the same report from designer Tommy Hilfiger.
Is nothing sacred?
So there you have it. Fifty years, we’ve stuck to our guns, thumbing our noses at respectability by any means possible, only to have the very qualities that made us pariahs endorsed by science and coopted into mainstream society.
Times have changed, and the establishment has caught up with us at last, and as it stands now, if you want to be as handsome, healthy and hip as a dirty biker you just need to lose your obsolete notions of personal hygiene and dietary discipline, table manners and clean jeans. And stop worrying so much.
Oh, and get a bike.
It’s all right here in the diaries.