Motorcycle Clubs Support their Community
Who Belongs to Motorcycle Clubs?
Motorcycle owner demographics are changing. The median age of a biker is now 50, with 81 percent of owners being male, and 68 percent being married. As the average age of motorcyclists trends up, will they lose the outlaw rep that some adhere to and others disdain? The violent, organized biker gangs get more attention than the multitudes of law-abiding, community-minded citizens who enjoy riding and may or may not belong to a motorcycle club. For riders looking for a club to join, there are nearly as many varieties as there are highways to ride on. Many of the clubs have commonalities beyond riding: they may share a professional bond, a simple geographic tie, or status as veterans. While some are gender-specific, others are open and take pride in their diversity.
One of the forces which mobilize these groups is a desire to contribute to their community. They may come together in support of a member who has suffered an economic or personal loss, raising money for medical or funeral expenses. On a larger scale, the clubs often sponsor events to support local and national charitable organizations of all descriptions.
What is a poker run?
Poker runs are arguably the best-known motorcycle club fundraisers. Although poker runs can accommodate many other forms of transportation, including golf carts, yachts, even snowmobiles, the genre almost certainly started and is most closely identified with bikers. Thousands of charity poker runs are scheduled throughout the US every year for a wide variety of causes and organizations. A quick search of upcoming events in any location will identify a huge variety. A representative sample includes a “sexy schoolgirl” theme hosted by Mayhem Riders and benefitting the Warrior Foundation in southern California, the 10th Annual Redeye Run supporting the American Legion in Ohio, Bikes, Blues and Boom, in Joplin, MO to benefit local combat veterans, and hundreds more.
A local motorcycle club or chapter can easily set up and manage this kind of fundraising event. It can be simple, just a route with some stops to pick up a hand of cards, with the registration fee distributed between prizes, administration, and the intended recipient. Or it can be more complex, with entertainment, 50/50 raffles, food trucks, and rallies. Either way, participation is usually high, and overhead is low, so the beneficiary (individual or organization) receives maximum benefit with minimum complication. Poker runs (or the variant but similar poker chip runs) are a great way to get riders out doing what they love while raising money for a good cause, whether that is Habitat for Humanity, Doctors Without Borders, suicide prevention, or the local food bank.
One of the most significant recorded motorcycle poker runs was sponsored by Realities for Children Charities in Fort Collins, Colorado. Over 3000 riders participated, with 1500 certified by the Guiness Book of World Records as qualified in establishing a new World Record.
Do MCs have specific charitable affiliations?
Other motorcycle clubs are created with specific affinities or social goals, and their membership and operations reflect that. Bikers Against Child Abuse International (BACA) was founded in 1995 by John Paul “Chief” Lilly, a biker, social worker, and certified play therapist. Members provide comfort, safety, and support to children who are identified as subject to abuse. The organization started in Utah and has chapters worldwide. BACA members will visit children who are in distress or in danger and, when appropriate, will even accompany them to court hearings and other appointments. Every potential member of this club is fingerprinted and background checked.
CMA (Christian Motorcycle Association) , based in Hatfield, Arkansas, was founded in 1975. It has over 125,000 members and a primary purpose of evangelism within the motorcycling community. The association sponsors family events, missions, revivals, rallies, and an annual “Run for the Son” fundraiser from which the proceeds support emergency motorcycle vehicles.
The members of The Buffalo Soldiers MC, started in Chicago in 1993, (the Chicago Chapter is called the Buffalo Troopers, due to the pre-existing presence of a different group using the name of Buffalo Soldiers) are mostly former military or law enforcement. The group founder is Ken “Dream Maker” Thomas, a retired black Chicago Police Department officer. In addition to the group’s orientation toward charitable endeavors, it is differentiated from other clubs by its diversity—members include all races, and the club allows women to join, rather than requiring them to hold auxiliary status. There are 79 chapters distributed through 42 US states and Canada. They organize fundraising to support senior citizen homes, student scholarships, and food and fund drives for charitable organizations including the March of Dimes and Toys for Tots. Members also serve as mentors in area youth and educational programs and are actively involved in recognizing the Tuskegee Airmen’s accomplishments and sacrifices.
ABATE (American Bikers Aimed Toward Education) is a well-known motorcycle education organization. They primarily target issues important to bikers, raising awareness, and advocating for bikers’ rights. The group originated as “A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments” and was founded in the early 1970s. Its original purpose was to advocate for the protection of choppers under attack in various states as unsafe. Later it pivoted to oppose equipment requirements, including helmet laws, the group found excessive. The group, which remains loosely organized regionally, with different chapters operating under various versions of the name, remains involved with rider training and safety efforts in many areas and also promotes toy runs, food drives, and first responder training.
What about Women’s Groups?
The Bikerni is an all-women biker group based in India. It has over 700 members and operates to promote gender equality and respect for women. The Bikerni often partners with local men’s clubs to sponsor charitable events. While this club is world-renowned, the US has some similar women-only groups doing great work here at home. In Florida, Chicks in the Wind raises money to support local shelters for women and children. The Furies MC in Chicago (named after the Greek and Roman mythological creatures) is a group of women who love to ride and share time. The women participate in annual rides, including Ride to Work Day, International Female Ride Day and the Chicagoland Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade. Another great example is the Lost Girls MC in Visalia, CA, which raises money to support breast cancer treatment and research.
Iron Order is a fairly new motorcycle club with a mixed reputation. Established in 2004, it sometimes gets identified with the “outlaw” biker gangs but declares itself independent and beholden to no one but its members. The IOMC supports charitable organizations with poker runs, bike shows, and other events.
Even the Hells Angels club does its part. While certainly better known for bad-boy notoriety, even criminal behavior, many Hells Angels chapters have cultivated a reputation for good works as well. Hells Angels have become known for sponsoring Toys for Tots drives, bicycle giveaways, and other charitable endeavors across the country and the world, a stark contrast to the organized crime image that follows them.
With motorcycles found in over 8% of US households (up by a full percentage point since 2014) an continuing to increase year by year, it’s not surprising that the owners comprise a broad spectrum of individuals.