Biker clubs want to overhaul the bad-boy image
LANGHORNE, Pa. (AP) — Seeing a bunch of bikers in the rear-view mirror might conjure up a bit of anxiety, especially since popular culture’s image of a motorcycle rider isn’t one of a law-abiding citizen. Think the terrorizing Marlon Brando in the 1953 film “The Wild One,” or the bikers who deal in drugs and weapons in the more recent television show “Sons of Anarchy.”
Many motorists have seen a swarm of motorcycles appear in their car mirrors, and heard a growing roar as the group gets closer and closer, cars suddenly surrounded by burly bikers clad in leather and denim.
It is an anxiety that Jim Hober, a road captain for the Bucks County Harley Owners Group, said he understands. But the vast majority of bikers are perfectly harmless, Hober said.
“You do have the gang-type groups, you do have people who act like idiots,” Hober said. “I’m afraid of the motorcyclists I see doing (lane) splits and wheelies, I know they can cause an accident. That’s not a motorcycle group, that’s a group of idiots and that’s where we get the bad image.”
Biker gangs still were operating in the area recently. Last year, a Pagans member was sentenced to nine years in prison for drug trafficking. He and other members of the outlaw motorcycle gang were accused of taking part in a multi-million dollar drug ring run by a Bristol Township doctor. The gang’s website, pagansmc.net, even displays the names and prison addresses of 33 of its incarcerated members in case someone wants to write to them.
The outlaw groups make up just a small percentage of the bikers cruising the highways. The rest are law-abiding citizens, including judges, lawyers, bankers, dentists, police officers and other professionals who just like to ride together.
“When you’re in a group, you’re seen,” Hober said. “It is much more safe to ride in groups. ... We all have lost or know somebody in the hospital because (other motorists) aren’t paying attention.”
Most of those bikers are older than you might think, too. The median age of a motorcycle owner was 47 in 2014 — up from 32 in 1990 — and those over age 50 now account for about 46 percent of all riders, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.
Pete Frentzen is one of them. At 63, the director of Indian Valley Harley Owners Group is mostly bald with a white mustache and does not look out of place in his position as the vice president at Penn Community Insurance.
“From 9 to 5, I’ve got the suit on, and after hours I’ve got the denim on,” Frentzen said with a laugh. “I’ve had customers when I’m dressed for riding ... there’s just as much shock finding out I ride as (bikers finding out I run a bank).”
Jerry Dewhurst, who is in his early 60s and is vice president of Skippack-based Blue Comet Motorcycle Club, said bikers often represent a cross-section of the area.
“Personally, I’m an electrician,” he said. “We have people who are professionals at every level ... every level of skilled and unskilled workers.”
Frentzen, Dewhurst and members of other local biker clubs hope to change the perception of motorcycle riders, especially those who ride in groups. While the members still look the part of stereotypical motorcycle riders — outfitted in denim and patches, some with tattoos — club members said they are a friendly group of men and women who view riding as a good time. They gather on weekday evenings and weekend afternoons to take a joy ride through the country and maybe grab some food.
“You appreciate nature and the sunshine so much more than when you’re in a car,” said Wayne Wiley, who picks up and delivers motorcycles for Brian’s Harley-Davidson and is director of Bucks County HOG, both in Middletown. The group has more than 300 members, but attendance for weekday joy rides can be as low as a dozen.
Often, the joy rides end at a restaurant or food stand, popular destinations for riders like Hober, who is in his 40s and also works as an electrician when he’s not riding.
“There’s a saying we have: We ride to eat, and we eat to ride,” Hober said. “We love ice cream — ask any motorcyclist.”
Those rides also are a way to help the community through charity work, since each biker pays an up-front fee of about $25 for rides that are specific to a charity fundraiser. When hundreds of bikers take part, the money can add up. Hober said Bucks County HOG raised $12,000 last year for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and has donated to organizations fighting against cancer. Bucks County HOG, along with Indian Valley HOG, of Sellersville, raises money for veterans groups, too.
Blue Comet does a Christmas in July toy run for local children’s shelters. Its members also attend many community events, giving them a chance to interact with the public and show they aren’t scary people.
“The biggest thing is changing the way people look at us. We try to be friendly and sometimes people are scared of bikers,” Wiley said. “It’s a big part of my life to change that perception and get new people involved.”
Misconceptions about bikers hold back people from riding, bike club leaders said. They’d love to have more people join their organizations to enjoy the hobby as much as they do.
“With my organization, there is camaraderie, friendships. We do things inside and outside of the club,” Frentzen said. “And the feel of the open road, it’s a great experience.”
Both clubs stress that they are family oriented, with fathers, mothers and children in attendance at most events. Statistics from the Motorcycle Industry Council also show that 61 percent of riders are married, and more women are making their way into what was once a male-dominated hobby: 14 percent of riders were female in 2014, up from 6 percent in 1990.
“I ride, my husband rides, our children all ride,” said Linda Joseph, the membership officer for Indian Valley HOG.
Many motorcycle clubs, like Bucks County HOG and Blue Comet, are sponsored by local motorcycle dealerships that don’t want to be associated with criminals or trouble-makers. Instead, they want a club that will encourage more people to take up riding and create more customers for the dealership.
“The HOG chapter is an extension of the dealership, you’re riding and promoting the brand, promoting the lifestyle and experience of riding,” said Jacqueline Berrios, the marketing and promotions manager for Brian’s Harley-Davidson, which sponsors Bucks County HOG. “The dealer is actively involved; we share a like mind with the club.”
Cosmo’s Indian Motorcycle, in Bensalem, sponsors several clubs. The store’s general manager, Jeff Davis, said retailers support the clubs because they maintain the image, but not the behavior, of the biker lifestyle.
“The motorcycle is just a device. ... What we’re selling is the culture,” he said.
So the next time you’re in a traffic jam and see a swarm of bikers, don’t worry; they’re probably riding together for safety. And if you see them riding between lanes of cars or on the shoulder of the road, don’t worry; they probably just need to keep moving so their engines don’t overheat, not because they want to cause terror.
Information from: The Intelligencer, http://www.theintell.com