There’s nothing like the call of the open road — if everyone can get their schedules lined up, of course, and they can find babysitters.
“Pretty much all they care about is wanting to go ride,” said Ben Petrovic, owner of Atlantic County Harley Davidson of Galloway Township, of the numerous motorcycle clubs and riding clubs in the region — not the sterotypical notions of bikers out of movies or tv shows, especially one tv show, but clubs made up of regular people with the common interest of finding any excuse to hop on their bikes and go. But as their membership gets grayer, will younger riders be as enthusiastic?
“We ride three to four times a week — not far,” Petrovic said of his Harley dealership’s own club,the Atlantic County H.O.G.s (Harley Owners Group). “Dinner rides, ice cream runs. Then some weekends, we plan something around someone saying, ‘I know a real cool place!’ And it turns out to be a 300-mile ride. And then some vacation together, or take long weekends to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., or Sturgis, S.D.”
And that’s just one club. In South Jersey, he said, “there are so many different clubs out there right now.”
There are veterans groups, like the American Legion Riders, and military support groups like Warriors’ Watch and the Buffalo Riders. There are Christian motorcycle clubs, like Beacons of Faith and Hope out of Villas and East Coast Watchmen in Wildwood. And there are clubs for firefighters and police officers, such as the Red Knights and Blue Knights.
“All of us grew up in the area, and bikes were a common hobby we had,” said Quentin Letson of Pleasantville, of the Unleashed Rydaz, which includes bikes ranging from stuntbikes to dragbikes to motorcycle cruisers. “We loved racing dirtbikes in Egg Harbor Township, and it brought us together as we got older. We could go out and share the culture of the bike world.”
The Unleashed Rydaz, which has chapters in Virginia and North Carolina, “was founded on the impremitur of, number one, being positive role models, and number two, to take part in community events.”
The Rydaz, for example, run an annual health fair with AtlantiCare and have supported National Night Out in Pleasantville, Letson said.
“It’s a good feeling to have,” he said of the club’s work. “With all this negativity, you need something to brighten that up.”
The Gentlemen of the Shore Motorcycle Club recently held their biggest event, the Autism Fun Day at Dolphin Field in Atlantic City, where bikes were lined up along the bleachers as club members manned the bouncy castle and kept kids entertained.
Out in Ohio Avenue, members in their Gentlemen of the Shore jackets took pictures with police officers driving by on their own motorcycles, two kind of riders getting together for a smile and a selfie.
“Late in life, I started enjoying riding motorcycles,” said George Crouch, of Atlantic City, the club’s event coordinator, standing by his Suzuki 750. “And I’ve always been community minded. It was a perfect marriage for me.”
Several female motorcycle club members were also at the event, including Laia Mortimore of the Lazzy Throttle Queenz, who listed several reasons why women interested in riding should join a club.
“Camaraderie, sisterhood, and giving back to the community,” said Mortimore, of Galloway Township. “We do a lot for women and children.”
Sharon “Caramel” Hawkins, of Glassboro, with the East Coast Bad Girlz, also described the club as a sisterhood.
“It’s a community, and there really are people from all walks of life, all professions,” Hawkins said. “Women go to work in casinos, health care, school teachers, pharmacy technicians, bus dirvers — all different professions who come together to help the community. ... ‘Sons of Anarchy’ is so far to the left of what we represent. When she has a vest on, when she’s on her bike, she’s still a caring person, and still a member of the community.”
Some clubs are co-ed, such as the Atlantic County Ruff Ryders — a riding club, whose membership requirements are usually less strict than motorcycle clubs. The Ruff Ryders have adopted Washington Avenue in Pleasantville, and can be seen riding up the street and keeping it clean on many Saturdays.
Then there are the distinctions among members themselves. Ed “Chief” Parsons, of the Delaware Valley NAM Knights, one of several chapters including one in Cape May County, said that applicants go from “hangaround” status, which can last from a month to a year, to “prospect” status — when they can wear part of a club’s patch — to “full-patch” status, which for the NAM Knights features a dragon.
“People see our colors and they ask, ‘Are you from Buffalo?’” joked Ed Harshaw, of Wildwood, of his Buffalo Soldiers club.
The group was formed to spread awareness of the African-American Buffalo Soldiers, whose history spans from the Civil War to Iraq
“In our organization, we have lots of law-enforcement officers, doctors, lawyers, CEOs,” Harshaw said. “We have standards we uphold,”
But as popular as the clubs are, they are mostly made up of older riders, something that Petrovic said was an issue for the future of the clubs. But, he said, he was optimistic that younger riders will come into the fold as they get older.
“A lot of young guys are on foreign bikes and aren’t really into the club thing,” Petrovic said. “It’s more of an individual thing. ... Our club sets up rides and you just have to come along. Younger guys, they just want to do blowouts and do wheelies — and we all did it. But when you reach a certain age, you figure out you can’t do that anymore. So you figure out who you want to be with. And you (join) up with a club.”
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