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By Megumi Nomura. April 22, 2015 - 4:37 pm
It wasn’t quite what I expected when the president and vice-president of HPU’s new motorcycle club walked into the bar where we were meeting. Jack Phelps, a senior majoring in engineering, sported a noticeable red beard, which showed in stark contrast to the loose-fitting, forest green sweater he wore.
Every minute or so he would readjust his dark, square-rimmed glasses up over his nose, and I couldn’t help but think “hipster lumberjack” instead of “motorcycle rider.” Dominic Anthony, a senior majoring in anthropology, looked a little more the part, with a bit of a goatee and a leather jacket. Still, they were both so polite and smiley, not to mention deeply philosophical and bright.
I know why Mark, the editor, had asked me to cover this piece. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one on the Kalamalama staff that rides. But as I discovered in the hour that I spent with Phelps and Anthony, the only thing I knew about riding was how to get from point A to point B without killing myself. I was missing all the important stuff: the comradery, the freedom, the potential to make positive social and political impacts. And unfortunately, like so many people, I had made the mistake of buying into negative stereotypes about riders (ironic, I know).
Let’s get one thing straight: a motorcycle club is different from a motorcycle gang. If you’re like me and you’ve watched one too many episodes of Sons of Anarchy, you might think that anyone who wears a jacket of affiliation and rides around in a group is engaging in questionable, if not illicit, behavior.
It gets tricky though, because those groups who could easily be identified as “gangs” also officially use the word “club” in their names (e.g. the notorious Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club).
Phelps schooled me on the vocabulary for this. Those who could be referred to as motorcycle “gangs,” are called one-percenters. As it turns out, gangs really do only make up a small minority of all motorcycle clubs.
Phelps further clarified the difference for me: “A gang is a gang. A club is a bunch of guys who set up a picket line so that Westboro Baptist Church cannot sit there and riot at a [veteran’s] funeral.” (He was making a reference to the Patriot Guard Riders).
He added, “A club is good people with good intentions, good morals and a good stance, and enough people to make that stance.”
Phelps went on to talk about how he admires events like the annual Toys for Tots motorcycle run, which usually draws more than 6,000 riders to Honolulu in an effort to raise awareness and bring in donations for underprivileged kids during the holidays.
Considering the potential motorcyclists have to accomplish such worthy goals, Phelps said, “A motorcycle club might not look good on a resume, but at the same time it’ll give you networking, connections, [and] a group of people to stand up and say your speech to even if it’s a very small minority… It’s a good, solid platform…”
Anthony agreed that changing the way people think about riders is important, and also saw group solidarity as the higher purpose for being in a motorcycle club.
“It is an achieved status,” Anthony explained, “it does some good for the community…” He went on to how motorcycle clubs work, “to bring people together, and to have something to bond over… Socialization is something that has to happen. We’re dynamic people, but we find common ground over something, and that’s how we bond.”
Anthony pointed out that in a motorcycle club, that group solidarity, when based on an appropriate “moral compass,” can be particularly useful for society: “It’s an empowering presence in the community… What do you need done, and what kind of influence can we provide? What strength?”
The tentatively named Nine Lives HPU Motorcycle Club welcomes both novice and experienced riders. Phelps himself has only been riding for a little less than a year. For those who have yet to try it out, Phelps and Anthony offer plenty of reasons why joining the ranks of motorcyclists is worth serious consideration.
Both agreed that freedom was the greatest benefit of riding. For Phelps, that freedom comes in the form of being able to go anywhere without friends bugging him for a ride. For Anthony, it involves “streamlining” his life and participating with nature.
Phelps agreed, saying “It’s not like being in a car. You feel the sun, the wind, if it’s raining, you’re wet…”
Anthony also suggested a boost in self-confidence as a benefit of riding. Admittedly, it is pretty cool. I don’t know of any motorcyclists who aren’t proud of being a rider. Elaborating, Anthony said “It’s masculinizing; your fists are out, you’re confident… Sitting up on a bike with your hands on the handlebars, Desperado style, and you just think, ‘I’m a f—— biker today.’”
In addition to freedom and confidence, Phelps and Anthony agreed that comradery was an important benefit of riding. Phelps noted that since leaving the Marine Corps, some of his closest friendships have been formed over motorcycles.
“From just walking around a parking lot, seeing someone working on a bike, and I ask ‘hey, do you need help?’ Next thing you know, my neighbor’s like ‘hey, let’s go for a ride!’” Phelps said.
Comradery and group solidarity are what Phelps and Anthony hope to establish within their new motorcycle club. Looking into the future, they also envision an affiliation of motorcycle clubs in colleges and universities across the nation.
“That way,” Phelps said, “if you transfer, you’ll automatically have friends.” From what Phelps and Anthony taught me, I don’t think you could ask for a better bunch of friends.
Photos courtesy of Jack Phelps.