Last Fall, I earned my doctorate from Two-Lane University after a seven-day solo ride through six states. I’m now known by fellow RIDE Motorcycle members as Dr. Souldance. Want to find out how I did it? I’ll have to start at the beginning—of the club, that is.
Dick Stob and Jerry Fondse founded RIDE Motorcycle more than 20 years ago. With a steady but changing membership of about a hundred people, and 12 chapters in six states (most in the Midwest), the club allows people of all skill levels and riding styles to share their passion for motorcycling. As a long-time member, I wanted to find out more about the club’s beginnings, so I sat down for lunch with Dick and Jerry and listened to them reminisce.
The two friends are unassuming; they are neither surprised nor boastful that the club has continued this long. Dick looks like a modern Santa with a goatee instead of a beard; his eyes twinkle as he tells me about their first trip to Blessing of the Bikes in Baldwin, Michigan. Early one Sunday morning in May of 1991, they pulled onto the shoulder of a bridge that runs over the Muskegon River. Dick says that as he listened to the sound of the river slipping by, “I remember the anticipation. I knew there’d be a lot more riding to come.” Jerry, wearing a wistful expression and wire-rimmed glasses continues, saying, “That was the spiritual birth of the club.”
Dick then tells a story I’ve heard repeatedly over the years about his dissatisfaction with a local Gold Wing group who did little more than eat together. “They’d meet up, ride 20 minutes to the diner for chili and then head home.” Jerry picks up from there by relating that some clubs can be too serious with their exclusivity, clubhouses and ranking. He remembers thinking, “Why don’t we just do it for the fun of it?”
These early critiques of other clubs helped shape RIDE. Both decided that anyone, anywhere could belong, no matter what type of bike they ride. Dick adds, “They don’t even need to own a bike.” The RIDE website says, “Members are united in the simple joy of riding, especially riding together. All are welcome. The only requirement is a desire to get together, develop skills and ride safely.”
I joined RIDE shortly after purchasing my first bike. More than anything else, I wanted to learn from others how to ride well and ride safe. After my first MSF class, I was afraid of everything: intersections, left turns and starting on an incline. Simply operating the bike and being on the road with drivers was a challenge. Having other riders I could turn to helped me navigate those early fears until my skills and comfort level grew.
I’m a member of the Grand Rapids Chapter in Michigan and we meet monthly at a local restaurant. Ken VanDyke, our Chapter Coordinator, describes our monthly meetings as, “An informal meet, greet and information exchange.” We trade motorcycle magazines and gear tips while munching on chips and salsa. We also have weekly group rides scheduled from March through November—dual-sport, cruiser and more moderately paced rides. Ken always says, “If you don’t see the kind of ride you want on the schedule, plan one,” so there’s usually something for everyone.
One year into my membership with RIDE, I started attending group rides with the club. I was nervous because I was unfamiliar with the roads and unsure I’d be able to find my way if I left the ride early. I need not have worried. The leader stopped us after 15 miles to check in. I experienced on that first ride what Dick and Jerry pointed out during our recent lunch—RIDE Motorcycle is really about taking care of each other.
This philosophy of caring for each other continues in RIDE’s focus on safety, which includes full protective gear, as well as structured rides. A ride leader navigates a planned route, the “wing” monitors the pack and road hazards, and the “tail” makes sure no one gets left behind. We ride two bikes to a lane in a staggered formation 2-4 seconds apart, all of which gives each ride a sense of predictability. After riding with others who don’t use these guidelines, I appreciate it all the more—I feel safer. It’s also one reason why members who relocate start their own chapter; that’s how the Detroit, Elkhart and Traverse City chapters started.
Although Dick and Jerry had ridden for years by the time they organized the club (shortly after their roadside stop), other members were new to riding, so one of theirs aims was to mentor and “communicate sensibility to young riders.” Today this focus continues with skills practice days in the spring, as well as education nights during the winter months. Riders wanting to brush up on dirt skills, cornering techniques or slow-speed maneuvers give us a reason to pick a movie from our library. We also share our knowledge with each other. Last year, I presented two education sessions about group riding skills. In this club, camaraderie isn’t just about riding together, but about helping each other. It’s a philosophy that I don’t often see among other riders.
It was during our lunch together that I learned why everyone in the club has a “handle.” Years ago, Dick and Jerry drove semis, and they each had an alternate name for communicating via the CB radio. Dick is known as “Pilgrim” and Jerry as “Stranger” (he jokes it’s because he’s stranger than most). They took their names from lyrics of a popular song: “I’m a pilgrim and a stranger traveling through this wearisome land.” Jerry expands on this, saying that a handle is a way for people to let go of their work identity, a way to say, “I won’t be defined by this.” Their connection to those lyrics points to how philosophical they are and why I feel so at home in their company. They found a way to balance the complexities in everyday life by using the club to keep things playful. This can be seen in its first name and logo. RIDE was originally called “The Over 40 Motorcycle Club” from their tradition to ride as soon as the weather reached 40 degrees. It was also a tongue-in-cheek reference to their ages RIDE members don’t take themselves too seriously—we couldn’t if we tried. The best example of this is a patch that is granted to a rider who has trouble while on a ride. The Badge of Aaron is accompanied by a certificate that says it is given, “To individuals who have made mistakes, yet completed a motorcycle trip under special circumstances, while demonstrating personal patience, courage, ingenuity and good humor in the face of adversity.” This is an amusing way of saying we don’t care if you messed up, we’re just glad you tried.
There are other patches members earn by riding certain roads or undertaking challenges. Best Roads are all over the country and include eastern Tennessee’s Route 129, Colorado’s U.S. 34 and California’s Highway 1. The Challenge Patches have amusing names. To Hell & Back is a ride from Hell, Michigan, in the mitten to Paradise, in the Upper Peninsula. The Chilly Burger patch is earned by riding over the Mackinaw Bridge (dubbed “the big Mac”) in northern Michigan in December, January or February. For leading three group rides in one season, I earned the Leader of the Pack patch. A trip to Tennessee got me the Appalachian Triathlon patch for riding Ohio Route 555, Deal’s Gap and the Blue Ridge Parkway. No one monitors or reinforces any of this, though. In fact, Dick likes to say, “$2.50 gets you any patch you want.”
Although members have taken to wearing their patches on jean jackets, the patches aren’t about rank or status—they’re about finding an excuse to ride or adding interest to a trip. Last fall, when planning my trip down to West Virginia, I took a look at our list of RIDE challenges. With the help of another RIDE member, I mapped out routes that allowed me to earn the last four patches (for a total of 10) that I needed to get my doctorate. The trickiest was the Penta, which I earned by riding through five states in one day: Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. As I rode along, I felt connected to all the RIDE members who had ridden before me. And it isn’t the temperature I remember when I think back on that trip, it’s all of the people from RIDE who made it possible—including Dick and Jerry.
(This article RIDE Motorcycle: A Club For One and All was published in the May 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)