Sonny Barger book review: Let’s Ride

by on June 11, 2010
in Commentary

I’ve got two copies of Sonny Barger’s new book, “Let’s Ride,” to give away! To be eligible to win, read my review below and leave a comment on this post that contains either one good tip for fun, safe and/or smart riding, or a quick take on why you’d like to win the book. Two winners will be randomly selected on Friday, June 25 from among those who comment! Thanks to  Harper Collins for the opportunity to review the book and for providing the give-away copies.

Here’s the thing: many folks will not lend credence to this book because of the lifestyle led unapologetically by its author. That’s the route I almost took when I was invited to read and review the book.

But, ultimately, I believe that having multiple perspectives on any given topic is always a good thing. People coming from different backgrounds, and with different life experiences, can often lend something quite valuable to the discussion.

If you think that Sonny Barger is going to advise you to “not worry” about riding while impaired, or to terrorize groups of upstanding citizens, or to be a scofflaw regarding helmet use, or anything else along those lines, you’ll be just as surprised as I was at how mainstream (“square,” if you will) his advice actually is.

And you may also be surprised at how much useful information is in the book regarding riding techniques, evaluating motorcycles, and valuing/looking out for your own safety.

Whatever else he’s done in his long life, Ralph “Sonny” Barger has been riding motorcycles for something like 60-plus years. And while it’s tempting to think of him in the one most obvious dimension (he’s the founder and long-time President of the most visible chapter of the most visible motorcycle club in the world – the Oakland, California Hell’s Angels), there’s also at least one undeniable truth: the guy knows how to stay alive on a motorcycle.

With several books already under his belt (including an autobiography and a couple of novels), Barger now takes on the task of passing along some of his more practical wisdom about bikes and riding.

His new book, Let’s Ride: Sonny Barger’s Guide to Motorcycling, co-authored with Darwin Holmstrom, covers everything from the types of motorcycles that are out there to the basic controls and how to operate them to how to change your bike’s oil.

The section on how to evaluate a used bike isn’t just useful when you’re shopping, it could also be used as a checklist of things you should review to determine the condition of the bike you already own. And, the chapter on advanced riding strategies is filled with reminders every rider – experienced or beginner – can use to stay safe on the road.

What really struck me about the book, though, was how much the world’s most infamous one-percenter and I seem to have in common.

For example, I’ve often said that motorcycling is relaxing not because it allows you to sit back and take it easy, but because when you are riding it leaves you singularly focused on your safety, the road, and the bike. At the end of the ride even though you’ve been working hard mentally, you’re still relaxed.

Sonny says the same thing:

(Focusing on road hazards) helps me prepare for potential danger, but it does more than that: it focuses my complete attention on that moment in time, so that I’m not thinking about anything other than riding my motorcycle at that place in time. It might not be the same as spending a lifetime in some Buddhist monastery, but the concentration required while riding a motorcycle is a form of focused meditation that makes all the petty distractions of day-to-day life melt away. It might seem morbid to concentrate on potential danger with such intense focus, but it clears my head. When I’m finished riding, I feel relaxed and recharged, so morbid or not, I consider it a beneficial activity.

I’m also fond of saying, “Ride like no one sees you, and those who see you want to kill you.”

Barger says the same thing, in a slightly more colorful way:

…I recommend adopting the attitude that every single person on the road is a sociopathic serial killer who has just escaped from an asylum for the criminally insane. This might seem a little pessimistic, but you’ll live longer if you assume everyone else on the road is a homicidal moron whose sole purpose is to kill you.

A few other things Barger and I have in common:

Bottom line: the book is a good primer, shows occasional flashes of Barger’s salty humor, and offers up a lifetime of bike-riding wisdom you just can’t argue with.

Don’t forget, leave your comment with a riding tip or reason why you’d like to read the book, and you’ll be eligible to win a copy!

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27 Responses to “Sonny Barger book review: Let’s Ride”
  1. Pam says:

    I’ve been waiting for this post! As a newbie I don’t have much safety advice except I would recommend all riders with or without experience to take the basic safety course. It is the best way to start riding. And it would reveal any bad habits in an experienced rider.

    The reason I would love a copy of the book is because I am such a newbie! I want to learn how to change the oil, know what to look for in a used bike, and how to stay alive!!

  2. Carmen says:

    I would love to win this Book! I think people discredit Sonny Barger because of all the hype behind his name but truthfully I would take riding advise from him before I would anyone else. He has rode for so many years that if it hasnt happened to him it probably wont happen to you. LOL Cudos to Sonny for sharing his life experiences with us!

  3. Denise says:

    Oh my goodness this is fate! I have seen documentaries regarding Sonny which made me not once even guess who that is, a historical figure in our society, no matter how dysfunctional it is. The life that he led from going to war and being part of history in that matter, than coming back and creating a long lasting club of men that, though they have their bad days, are still men that have faults, like everyone else. They just choose to bond together versus running amuck. I know a few club members and they decent individuals who have always treated me fairly and respectfully.

    I am turning a corner in my life, recently becoming single, and in this month alone graduating college on the 23rd, turning 45 on the 27th, moving to Phoenix on the 1st of July, and tonight finally doing something I have always dreamed of, taking the motorcycle safety riders course! I finish on Sunday evening and will have achieved a goal that I set for myself years ago but children and grandchildren were more important. I will soon work hard to achieve purchasing my 1st motorcycle, Harley of course, though I love Indians as well.

    I understand what Corn Dog says when he talked about hearing both sides to the story, as you know there is their side, his side, and the right side. No one will ever know and no one needs to know, just understand that Sonny helped to build an organization that is still around today even when many businesses have come and gone throughout our years.

    I don’t have any tips, other than being on the back where I will say that the passenger needs to pay attention to the road just as much as the rider otherwise you could end up on you’re a—-. So with that being said I would use this book to educate myself more on riding and hopefully it can help me buy my 1st bike!

    Choose me!

  4. Melissa Brunner says:

    We have all of Sonny Bargers books so far, but haven’t gotten this one yet. There are a lot of life lessons to be learned from his writings. One of my favorites is ‘Freedom: Credos from the Road’.

    “Customize yourself. Originals Don’t come off an Assembly Line” – Sonny Barger

  5. Kim Pickett says:

    For beginners: first, choose to ride only if it is something you desire. Don’t do it for a husband, a boyfriend or anyone but yourself! Secondly, I would suggest taking a course such as a state sponsored riding one (MSF – or the Rider’s Edge program that Harley Davidson provides Third, take it slow. Don’t ride to impress. Give yourself time to get used to the bike and riding. Everyone learns at their own pace, don’t beat yourself up if yours is slower. And, never quit learning. When it comes to riding safely, there’s always room for improvement.

  6. Lars Fatland says:

    I’d love to read the book,it sounds pretty good, however, this book should go to someone with a bike! (maybe someday for me!)
    I just finished reading Sonny’s autobiography, it was a fun read-the guy has had quite a life, and although his rap sheet is a mile long, he is an intelligent guy who represents a certain lawless, rebellious nature that I find appealing-not unlike the old gunslingers,and risk taking adventure seekers-exploreres, defenders of freedom!
    Stay safe on the road~all the best,

  7. Rascalking403 says:

    Totally getting this book. I just started riding last year and am without a knowledgeable group around me so this may become my bible.

  8. Thumper says:

    I’m getting this book sooner or later…I would love to read his take on biking.

  9. Clerkjane says:

    I have always watched documentaries on cable about biker gangs, outlaw bikers, etc. and I know that Sonny Barger’s name was mentioned numerous times in different documentaries. I have always been fascinated by what makes outlaws in general tick so that is why I watch these types of programming.
    Since I have never read any of Sonny’s books yet (notice I said YET), I would love to win this book to get me started (or hooked) on his literary library of life as a biker and a human being who took a path less traveled than most folks. Please consider choosing me to receive one of Sonny’s books. I will be sure to share it with all my fellow female motorcycle friends, and perhaps even with my husband who is currently traveling the Four Corners USA trip and left me home to work… boo hoo! PICK ME-PICK ME-PICK ME!!!!!

  10. Michelle says:

    With only a few thousand miles on my bike, I am a newbie at riding. The only advice I can give at this point is to take the motorcycle safety course, start on a small bike, and practice, practice, practice! Every time you take off on your bike, every shift, every time you put your feet down at a stop, whether it was perfect or not, it is one more experience that is teaching your body and mind to ride.
    ‘Let’s Ride’ is definitely a guide book I am looking forward to reading!

  11. judith "Thelma" O'Toole says:

    Having ridden my own MCs for 40 years,my advice to a woman starting to ride is” Take the motorcycle safety class offered in your state.Do NOT allow any man to attempt to teach you to ride”.Sonny Barger is 100% my hero and has been for 45 years.I have been lucky enough to meet him several times and once to ride with HAMC, San Fernando Valley, California.That’s right, The HAMC allowed a woman who could keep up with them, to ride with them.I need Sonny’s newest book to add to my collection of Sonny’s books on the real price of freedom.

  12. Jenny says:

    I would be interested in a copy of this book. It would probably be good for me to start reading differing opinions :-)

  13. SSPORT says:

    I am very excited to read this book. I love to hear everyone’s perspective on the ride! We all are from different back round and different ages. I have been a rider for three years. Never in my wildest dreams think that I would become a rider! I stopped my dearest husband from getting on a bike for almost 20 years and rode on the back of his for 4 years. After getting up the guts to try it on my own – I found “my wind”! We are a couple together for over 26 years and are pretty much in “empty nest”. I felt it was important for us to do something together that we could each enjoy. Riding for us takes up a lot of time -because we love the scenic roads. Never going back! We have met diverse friends along the way!

  14. Ladyhog says:

    One of the fun things that I do on my bike when riding solo is taking pics of “Sally” (my bike)with road side attractions & then sending them to friends/family as pic messages. In doing so, I leave a picture trail of my traveled route just in case I dont return home on time. Also, I add the pics to an album called “Sally’s Travels”.

    In addition, I am the organizer for a local ladies riding group & I am always searching for info to pass onto our riders since a majority of them are newbies. After reading your review, I believe this would be an excellent resource for them to use.

    There are 2 quotes that I am always repeating to the Ladies: “RIDE YOUR OWN RIDE” & “PRACTICE, PRACTICE & PRACTICE”!

    Happy & Safe Riding to You!

  15. Toby says:

    I am a newbie rider…just over a year under my belt. My husband, and mentor will be leaving me for a year while he deploys to Afghanistan (Army). He has been my biggest fan and most loyal supporter in my learning to ride. I feel as though half my heart will be gone for a year. While he is gone, I want to make some great strides in my riding, so that when he comes back we can pick up and take a long and much needed road trip on our bikes. I’m an open minded person and I love to learn. I think Sonny’s book would be a great tool and inspiration.

  16. angie says:

    i totally agree with both of you! i always expect every car to pull out in front of me. and i started on a ninja 250…extremely light and nimble. while all the other ladies i knew had husbands buying them old 1200s and such, i was actually out riding mine!

  17. Debbie D says:

    I would love to win this book as you can never have too much information. Take things at your own pace and move along as you feel comfortable you don’t have to impress anyone, this is for enjoyment. INVEST in a BRC Motorcycle Safety Course. When purchasing a MC try many on for size don’t purchase a cetain brand/make from peer preassure. Hope to hear from you!

  18. Glenda Kelly says:

    WOW – my curiosity is definitely piqued after reading your review of Sonny’s latest book. I think is is always good to have and share perspectives from all walks of life, that’s what it’s all about! I particularly like the quote you mentioned from the book – ride like everyone is a sociopath out to kill you! I feel that way most days trying to ride to/from work in a college town! Thanks for the great review! Glenda

  19. Vicky Darrow says:

    I enjoyed reading your review of Sonny Barger’s book. I am new to the sport and really haven’t read much about him, but this book should provide some good pointers for those of us who are new to riding. I learn something new every time I read Corn Dog’s postings. We are never too ‘young’ to learn.

    Even if I don’t win this book, it is definitely going into my collection of other books on motorcycle safety, motorcycle trips, motorcycle camping,…

  20. Ragamuffin says:

    Corn Dog, I thought your book review was excellent – it pulled me in and got me wanting to read the book – good job!!! So from what you’re saying Sonny Barger puts his pants on one leg at a time in spite of the fact that he’s a legend in his own time. You pulled up a chair and listened to what he had to say and now I wanna hear more of what he’s got to say. I was chatting with a couple of friends just yesterday and they were telling me that they always watch at intersections and try to make eye contact with other drivers to ensure they are seen and don’t pull out in front of them. I think that’s a good idea but sometimes people look straight at something and never SEE it. My suggestion is to WATCH THE WHEEL – if the wheel is moving, be prepared cuz they’re coming out.

  21. Cathie says:

    Well, I dont ride,but I love being a passenger on the back of my husbands Harley. We live in central Florida, and there are alot of great back roads we ride and travel from the east coast to the west and everywhere in between. My husband has been riding for 20 years,and I have to say he is a very safe and alert rider. It’s as if he has developed a unique 6th sense when he’s riding. As far as the book goes, he has all of Sonny’s previous books and I know he would enjoy this one. I’m hoping to win it, and give it to him for his birthday next month!!Thanks and be safe.

  22. Dr Tigger says:

    Newbie Safety tip: Never ride out of your comfort zone.

    Why I want this book: I am married to a cop and would love to put this on our coffee table to see the reaction!

  23. Nancy says:

    I’ve been riding my own for a year now and managed to already have an accident that broke my foot in four places and required surgery! I need all the help I can get! Seriously, safety tip #7, ride your own ride! If those guys that have been riding 20 years are going faster than you’re comfortable with, ride at the back of the pack so you can go your own pace. Would’ve saved me 2 months on disability! Thankfully, I’m back on my bike and have put 3000 miles on since then and am loving every minute – SAFELY!!!!

  24. Lorrie says:

    I have met Sonny Barger. He is respectful and friendly but I’m pretty sure he has his other side as well.

    I’ve been riding my Harley – Heritage Softail for 4 years and started with a Sportster. My opinion of starting with a “smaller” bike is a little different than Sonny’s. I’m pretty short, 5’2″ and the Sportster, albiet weighs 200 pounds less, is top heavy and couldn’t be lowered. I was never able to get my feet flat. The dealerships pushed the Sportster as “a woman’s bike”. It took me less than a year to realize it wasn’t for me. I have much better control of the Heritage and I had the stock seat customized to fit my butt. Control means confidence but confidence should never be confused with cockiness.

    My life has changed in the most positive way since I’ve been riding. I’m able to relax and de-stress. I’ve tried meditation but could never clear my mind. When I’m on the bike, I don’t think of anything other than the sights, smells and keeping myself safe.

    I would love to have this book! I like the idea of Sonny being thought of as something other than a thug. He is a patriot and this shows that he has a thoughtful side. If I don’t win this, I will buy it anyway.

    Thanks for the wonderful review! I live in Colorado and enjoy hearing about your rides in other parts of the country.

    Ride Safe! =)

  25. Pam says:

    I’m still crossing my fingers and toes waiting to hear who wins!

  26. CUTTER says:


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