There were a lot of club patches at the Motorcycle Supershow this year. I saw only one or two Hells Angels patches, and I would guess that most of the others were of the 99 percent variety, though I didn’t bother to ask anyone. You can be pretty sure that a Southern Cruisers member does not consider him- or herself an outlaw motorcyclist, but what about the Risen Dead? Swordsmen? Lucky Devils, Widows Sons, Canadian Cruisers, Sikh MC—all of whom and more you could spot by simply walking around the Supershow halls in Toronto and looking at the backs of people’s jackets.
Some, like the Canadian Cruisers, don’t seem to be one percenter material, and a club whose membership is based on religious affiliation might be an unlikely candidate, too, so the Sikh MC is probably out—but where does that leave the Lucky Devils, or the Risen Dead? I’m not saying those guys are one thing or another; I’m just sayin’.
But I don’t care, really. Although I did once belong to a club that thought of itself as outlaw (“The Cycle Barons,” July 2011), we were hardly old or experienced enough to carry it off. We tried, but no, not really. We shot blanks, though we had a hell of a lot of fun doing it.
I haven’t been much of a joiner since those days; the only club I belong to now meets at the Mt. Pleasant Library in Toronto and discusses books, and you can feel confident in guessing that we don’t wear a club patch, or anything whose main feature is a naked human skull. I’ll bring it up at our next meeting, but I’m not hopeful.
I spent most of my riding life up to 2010 pretty much alone, zipping down the lanky byways of British Columbia by myself or, rarely, with a couple of friends. Moving to southern Ontario in 2010 and then hooking up with the Cycle Canada crew on a Fall Tour was a revelation. Pulling into place behind Neil Graham or Derreck Roemer on a twisty Pennsylvania rural route and pitching every bit of my focus into staying there at a hundred and twenty kilometres an hour was thrilling and calming at the same time. I kept thinking, “If he can make that turn at this speed, I can make it.” And as I watched Derreck or Neil or Uwe cut the apex into a forest-wrapped corner just ahead of me, I felt as if I were being pulled along on invisible strings. It was glorious.
For me, following a gifted rider on a curving road with someone else’s motorcycle is a pretty good reason to get up in the morning and go to work, and I doubt that any of you would disagree, so forgive me for a moment’s gloatation. It kind of makes up for the 99 percent of the time we spend behind a computer keyboard trying to think up new ways of saying the same old thing. Not that even that part of the job isn’t better than a lot of other kinds of work, and occasionally we do manage to spring something fresh on you—but the group riding situation of a multiple test or a Fall Tour occupies, unfortunately, a minority of a magazine staff’s time.
Notwithstanding the joys of a Cycle Canada group ride, I don’t really get the attraction of a club whose members ride together and (probably) hang out together at Tim’s or Starbucks when they’re not riding, though I think I understand the appeal of the patch. There’s a kind of pride of membership that occurs when you are welcomed into a group that claims allegiance to a principal you value. It struck me when I was invited to join the Cycle Barons, but I was 17 years old and easily impressed—I thought bikers, and particularly outlaw motorcycle club bikers, were the essence of cool, and to be completely honest, there’s a little bit of that left in me. I try not to acknowledge it, and please forget I mentioned it, but I probably felt something like that when I was invited to ride with this magazine’s editor and some contributors five and a half years ago—not so much the thing about outlaw bikers, but the thing about being invited to join the kool kids. It’s almost a mirror image of the old Groucho Marx rule: I’d join any group that wouldn’t let me in. When I was 17, the invitation to join the Cycle Barons knocked me out; when I was much older, I thought I had pretty well earned the invitation to join the Cycle Canada crew, so it wasn’t so much surprising as simply delighting. I was more than a little pleased to finally obtain something I’d wanted for a long time.
But over the years I’ve been involved in a few club-like rides, and some of them were about as exciting as watching the coffee drip at Tim Hortons. Clubs are great for members who enjoy them, but call me a misanthrope; I’ll take a good bike, a twisty road, and just one or two skilled riders for companions any day over a club get-together. And for that, we don’t need no stinkin’ patches.