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Motorcycles have an ability-unique among land-based motor vehicles — to liberate the mind and spirit, whether you’re carving up the countryside to see the world from a different angle or just riding laid back while boring a ho
le into the horizon. The world on two wheels, you’ll discover, is refreshingly different. Bikers find that there’s more to these machines than the engine, wheels and the framework that holds them together.
“It really blows the tension away,” says Norman E. Gaines Jr. of Hartsdale, New York. Gaines owns a collection of nine motorcycles including Suzukis and a Harley-Davidson XLCR. He’s been riding for 34 of his 50 years. An employee at the New York Transit Authority, Gaines switches from public transportation to a very personal type on the weekends. He often rides with the Southshore Motorcycle Club in North Amityville, Long Island, and is a longtime member of the American Motorcyclist Association, the largest motorcycle organization in the United States. Gaines says he’s often the only African American motorcyclist in the group because he hasn’t found a black club in the area that puts the same emphasis on long rides.
Riding along those same lines is Ken Stewart, 38, of Costa Mesa, California. A state officer for the Honda Sport Touring Association, Stewart enjoys sharing experiences with other two-wheel fans. “The social aspect is tremendous,” he says. “Riders tend to be interesting people who do interesting things besides riding motorcycles.” Stewart, a transition coordinator for Safeco Insurance Co., says he enjoys riding “for the athleticism of it.”
A hundred miles south in San Diego, Bill Andrews, 53, is another Honda Sport Touring Association member who’s been riding since his teens. Andrews is also a senior motorcycle instructor, certified by the California Motorcycle Safety Program and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. He’d like to see more African Americans involved in motorcycling: “Many see this as a white sport and aren’t aware of what blacks are doing in it,” he says.
Although longterm riders often like the sportier bikes that Gaines, Stewart and Andrews love, most newer riders are following the trend toward cruisers. These are the long, low bikes popularized by Harley-Davidson. Such machines are geared less towards sharp angles in cornering and more towards style and leisurely grace.
Virda Sheppard, 37, a service operations area representative for Harley-Davidson, rides a Sportster 1200 Custom. The Milwaukee resident enjoys working with dealers and would love to see more women on bikes. Meanwhile, she rides with the guys and enjoys cruising the Midwest highways. “It’s a way to clear your head and I like the freedom,” says Sheppard.
Harley-Davidson, which held its 95th anniversary reunion in June, currently has the lion’s share of the cruiser bike market, but the Japanese brands are mounting a charge. Yamaha is the most aggressive, with its Royal Star line. Style is what sells, and both H-D and Yamaha proffer the 1950s retro look. Harley-Davidson relies on updated versions of old-style mechanicals, while Yamaha puts an old-style facade over purely modern, reliable technology.
Regardless of the brand