Rocker MC at Bard College: New School Meets Old School

Rocker MC Bard College Simons Rock
Rocker MC regulars, clockwise from far left: Luck Henderson, Jason Stafford, Jake Aloia, Amanda Bury, Monk Schane-Lydon, Tyler Farnsworth, Messiah Vision, and Helen Cohen. (Photos by Gregory Cherin and Dan Carp)

Some think the face of motorcycling is aging. Not so in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where one man is bringing the biker zeitgeist to Bard College at Simon’s Rock. Known as “The Rock,” it’s an early college that gives 10th and 11th graders the experience of post-secondary life at a tender age. Many students graduate with a bachelor’s degree at age 20, which I did in the ’80s, and it was the smartest decision I ever made.

Monk Schane-Lydon hopes students will also leave the school with a love of heavy metal thunder. Monk, a former Air Force helicopter crew chief, is an adjunct instructor and advisor to the Simon’s Rock Motorcycle Club, or “Rocker MC,” a self-funded club that restores old bikes.

“Our first bike was a Honda CX500,” Monk told me. “It came in boxes and was essentially a $100 donation of parts.”

A couple years ago, the Rockers hosted me for a reading during my national book tour for Spirit Traffic. I was so inspired and impressed by their passion that I chased them down for a series of phone interviews.

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Rocker MC, or just “Club” as the students call it, is the brainchild of Sean Lamoureux, who brought bikes to students for a spring term workshop in 2015. Later, Bill Powers, a parent who wanted his kids to get out of their dorm rooms and work with their hands, bought the club its first motorcycle lift. Since then, Monk has been slowly accumulating tools.

Monk said only two students currently ride. “The ‘over-my-dead-body mom’ is still a reality for some. Tyler even named his bike ‘The Mother Disappointer.’ Our students are ages 15-19, so they must have permission to ride. But it’s not about riding for most of them; it’s more about building and creating.”

Rocker MC Bard College Simons Rock Monk Schane-Lydon
Adjunct faculty member and club adviser Monk Schane-Lydon teaches students how to use tools and the ins and outs of maintaining, repairing, and rebuilding motorcycles.

Monk added that besides mechanical skills, bodywork, and painting, students also learn patience. “These things are not done overnight. They also learn self-confidence. We had a fork seal that needed to be replaced. I said, ‘Okay, Helen and Jake, take that front end off. The book is right there.’ In two hours, they had taken it entirely apart and replaced the front seal. They were so satisfied with their work. Students here learn to complete their goals.”

“When I show them bodywork,” Monk continued, “I tell them to close their eyes and feel it. Being able to dial in and trust your feelings is a talent.”

In addition to advising Club, Monk teaches graphic design. “One of my students, Luck Henderson, created graphics for a Virago to give it some attitude,” he said. “I taught them how to use Photoshop and Illustrator. Another student, Ava, took off mechanically and tackled her Mazda Miata, pulling the rear end and putting her own brakes on. She [did it] on her own in her driveway. The wild thing is her dad was not mechanically inclined at all.”

What are the big takeaways for Club students? “You’ll have to ask them.” 

Rocker MC Bard College Simons Rock Helen Cohen
Rocker MC teaches students to solve problems. Here, Club member Helen Cohen rewires the headlight bucket on a 1978 Honda CX500. Later, she’ll test the new indicator lights for the turnsignals, neutral, high beam, and oil pressure.

Helen Cohen is an 18-year-old psychology major. She doesn’t ride motorcycles (her mom “has quite an aversion” to them) and steered clear of Club until the second semester of her junior year, when a friend invited her to join. 

HC: [Club] appealed to me. I wanted more technical experience and a better understanding of how machines work. I drive an old car – a 2006 Volvo S60. I wanted a better understanding of how to keep it going.

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CJT: What are you getting out of Club?

HC: Confidence and an appreciation for the machines that take us places. There is so much involved, but it’s not as complicated as I thought. When I first walked in there, the only thing I was brave enough to mess with was sanding a gas tank. I later learned how to solder and am learning more about auto mechanics. Motorcycle knowledge can apply to cars. The skills give you a way of thinking, so you’re not quite so concerned by things like blown fuses. 

I feel much more confident now. And it’s a way to learn about motorcycling and the motorcycle community.

It’s fun. Being in Club demystifies things and makes me feel like I can take an active role in repairing things. It has already saved me from having to call roadside assistance. It has nothing to do with my career, but that confidence will follow me forever.

Rocker MC Bard College Simons Rock Jake Aloia
Under the watchful eye (and camera) of advisor Monk Schane-Lydon, Club member Jake Aloia tightens down the rocker arms on a 2004 Triumph Bonneville T100 after adjusting the valves.

Jake Aloia is also 18. He is a double major in psychology and criminology. During the summer before starting at The Rock, he took an MSF course with his dad. They got their motorcycle endorsements together, and they share a Triumph Street Twin. Jake joined Club as soon as he got to school and has been part of it ever since. “Such a niche club at a niche school. It felt so perfect. I showed up at my first meeting; it took me less than an hour to fall in love,” he said. 

CJT: How’s Club going for you?

JA: I get a lot out of it. A big part is having space to work with my hands. It’s meditative. Creating something with your hands is a nice step away from the hustle and bustle of being a student. Showing up and tinkering is therapeutic. At the same time, you gain so much knowledge. Every time you go, you have a new problem to solve. Having the limitations of a not-decked-out shop gives you better problem-solving skills. 

CJT: What are your biggest takeaways? 

JA: Two. Every problem has a solution. In life when you don’t know the solution, you want to give up. You think, ‘This is too complicated.’ But you don’t have to be an expert. Every problem can be solved in one way or another.

The second is: Less is more. You don’t need every tool to solve these problems or repair these bikes. You can do a lot with a little. Each time, we must ask ourselves: How can we do it with what we have?

I’m much more confident as a rider and troubleshooter. If something happens, I might be able to take care of it myself. It all boils down to confidence, problem-solving, and understanding how the machine works. 

CJT: How will this experience influence your life?

JA: It is monumental for me. I have always loved working in this kind of mechanical setting, and I’ve gained a big enjoyment of it in Club. Being able to maintain my own vehicles, being able to carry that confidence, knowing the machine is not in control of me, and knowing what is happening under me as I ride make me a safer and smarter rider. For as long as I ride, I will feel that. 

Rocker MC Bard College Simons Rock Messiah Vision Helen Cohen Monk Schane-Lydon Rosie Echols
Left to right: Messiah Vision, Helen Cohen, Monk Schane-Lydon, and Rosie Echols work on Rocker MC’s 1978 Honda CX500.

Tyler Farnsworth is a 20-year-old biology major. He has been in Club for three years and initially joined because he was interested in riding and realized he did not know much about how engines work. He wants to apply that knowledge to other things, namely his car.

CJT: What are you getting out of Club?

TF: Obviously knowledge in terms of mechanical skills, but possibly more important than that is friends. I met people here I would not have met otherwise. I met my roommate, Jake, who is now my best friend.

I have always been interested in
mechanical stuff. I wanted to try the robotics team in high school, but the kids were not willing to teach you what you didn’t already know – that is the opposite of Club. Even if a student only comes once or twice, they are still going to learn something and meet some really cool people. 

Club proves that anybody can work on and learn about this type of stuff. It doesn’t matter who you are. Even if you never ride or never need to work on your own car, you’ll learn problem-solving skills that will apply to many different areas of your life. 

What makes it fun and interesting is that every time you show up, it’s never the same. I’ve done electrical work, I’ve taken apart a carburetor, replaced parts, and done bodywork.

Rocker MC Bard College Simons Rock Rosie Echols
Rosie Echols uses a grinder to modify the rear frame loop of a Yamaha Virago, which is being converted from a cruiser to a bobber. No mechanical knowledge or experience is required to join Club. All students are welcome to learn and have fun.

CJT: Do you ride?

TF: I have a license but no bike. My dad doesn’t want to deal with my mom’s anxiety about it. But once I have a job and my own place…

CJT: What’s your dream bike?

TF: There are a lot of bikes out there. Right now, my dream is to finish the [Honda] CX500. I am graduating at the end of this semester, so maybe that will happen! 

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CJT: How will your experience at Club influence your life?

TF: When I showed up for the first time, I was new at Simon’s Rock and did not feel good about doing things by myself. I came to Club alone and felt okay about being on my own, meeting new people, and making new friends.

At Club, I felt more affirmed that I can try something on my own, that I will be accepted and welcomed. I was talking about how anybody can and should show up – it’s important that you mention that I am transgender. Nobody ever mentions it. I want to encourage people that ride motorcycles – and everyone else – to embrace who they are and be themselves.

Are these smart young early-college students the new face of motorcycling? All signs point to a resounding “yes.” They share a love of motorcycles, individualism, and kinship with all generations of bikers. The future of our two-wheeled family looks bright indeed.

C. Jane Taylor is the author of the moto memoir Spirit Traffic, published in 2022. Her second book, Riding the Line, and her Sunday Love Letters are available on Substack. Subscribe here.


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