A biker is not a biker without the leather: leather jacket, leather vest, leather chaps, leather boots, leather belt. Studded, fringed, pinned, plain and covered in patches.
Some stretch across the backside of a jacket. Some are the size of a palm, circular or square, and even shaped like flames. They are as different as the bikers who don them this week at the Outer Banks.
It’s Bike Week and the North Carolina State H.O.G. Rally. In motorcycle, H.O.G. spells Harley-Davidson Owner Group.
"They like to display who they are," said Tammy Johnson, who sells patches at motorcycle rallies around the country. "That’s what bikers are about. It’s a statement."
Ken Fuhrer is all about being a Christian. He’s got a Christian Motorcycle Association patch on the front of his jacket and one with a cross that says "Riding for the Son."
Bikers are every where. They are in clusters, rumbling down the highway or cruising along the Beach Road; filling up restaurant and hotel parking lots; at gas stations, landmarks and shopping at the open-air markets set up just for them.
At these markets, Johnson and other vendors peddle special items to suit bikers’ fancies.
She ran one of several booths at Jeanette’s Pier in Nags Head on Thursday.
Butch Cunningham bought a Harley-Davidson patch with an American flag from Johnson. He had it stitched on right there, while his wife, Denise, browsed.
The couple came up from Georgia on the Harley Road King they bought three years ago. Before that, they rode a Honda. The y have traveled to bike weeks and rallies in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.
This is the first year the Outer Banks has been home to the H.O.G. rally, which began Thursday and ends Sunday. It’s usually in Asheville. The change in scenery has proved popular: About 2,100 people pre-registered this year.
Ally Cassorla, marketing director for Outer Banks Harley-Davidson, said state rallies usually bring about 1,200 people. She was expecting an additional 1,000 to register once they got here.
"Bikers are always looking for a good place to ride", Cassorla said, the ride is what it’s all about it.
"But you’ve got to have the leather", says Denise Cunningham, who sported a vest and boots and chaps over her jeans. "Leather protects against the weather and spills, but it also contributes to a look. You’ve got to collect the patches and the pins. But it’s all about the ride and the freedom that comes with it".
Spike Jenkins bought his first Harley after his divorce 10 years ago. He got "Harley-Davidson" tattooed around his head and orange flames where his eyebrows would be. He’s got seven piercings in his ears.
"I’m me now," he said.
"We’re going through our second childhood," added Brenda Gregory, who rode with Jenkins from Conway. She doesn’t have her own Harley, but she’s got the get-up, boots, a studded pink T-shirt and a studded belt.