Now a decade old, Maryland Sportbikers riding club boasts more than 2,300 members in its Facebook group, where organized rides are announced.
One of its organizers, Ty S-One, has been invited to join several motorcycle clubs in the 15 years since he started riding. But he’s turned down the offers, choosing instead to stay in the riding club with a crew of guys who have become his close friends.
“Those other clubs had too much of a time commitment,” he said. “This is more come as you like, participate as you like. It’s more relaxed.”
That’s the appeal of the group and what often brings newer and younger riders to riding clubs like Maryland Sportbikers. Though Ty and a handful of others help organize the rides, which often include a stop at a scenic destination or a favorite restaurant, the group doesn’t have the hierarchical positions. Members can purchase a back patch, though they aren’t like the traditional patches earned in a motorcycle club.
Though membership in a riding club may not come with the same sense of brotherhood and expectation of lifelong commitment, Ty said there’s still a strong sense of community and family that forms among those who regularly join the rides.
Those bonds grew even stronger after a tragic accident killed two members and injured others in 2017, when a construction vehicle clipped a members’ bike. That rider was killed and debris from her crashed bike caused others in the standard formation to go down.
Ty and Frank “Scorpio” Cook, another one of the club organizers, were both involved in the crash. Ty suffered a broken collarbone and several broken ribs; Frank said he was “incredibly lucky” not to have been hurt. Another organizer still uses a wheelchair after suffering spinal injuries from the crash.
“We ride together, we break bread together and we come together when there’s an accident,” Ty said.
Still, the loss of two members and the trauma of the scene meant fewer organized rides in the immediate aftermath. And it underscored the importance of one of the core elements of Maryland Sportbikers: safety.
“Accidents do happen and we don’t hide from talking about that reality,” Ty said. “We take lessons from them and share them before every ride and then offer all the support when we can.”
Each organized ride starts with a pre-ride safety briefing that involves a rundown of the rules: no stunting and protective equipment is required.
“We say ‘dress for the slide, not for the ride,’ and require proper gloves, boots, a jacket and a helmet,” Frank said. “I like organizing these rides because it gives me an opportunity to give that message to younger [riders.]”
For the organizers of Maryland Sportbikers, the ultimate goal of every ride is to get everyone home to their families. Large group rides split into three groups based on speed and experience and a sweeper hangs at the back to help anyone in need. Those who break the rules are pulled over by one of the organizers and risk being kicked off the ride.
“We all stick together and we stay in touch,” Ty said. “That level of organization and commitment is what often attracts people to our rides.”
Ty often hears from riders who joined Maryland Sportbikers and then went on to a more traditional motorcycle club.
“We hear from a lot of former members who say ‘Thanks for bringing me into bike life,’” Ty said. “We are that introduction, where people can get their feet wet and then go to another club with more commitments.”
Ty is proud to help offer that foundational support for new riders looking for a community of other motorcycle enthusiasts. He credits his own interest to the mentorship of Sue Miller, who took him under her wing in 2005. She gave him her phone number and said he could join her on a ride once he got a bike and all the necessary safety equipment. Acquiring a motorcycle and gear took Ty a full year but once he did, Sue followed through on her promise. The two started riding together in a small group that included a few who later became organizers of Maryland Sportbikers.
Sue was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2014. Ty now has Sue’s old bike, which is covered in the signatures of more than 400 people who loved her.
Ty occasionally rides the bike as a way to honor Sue and remember the risks of the sport she loved.
“She was a great mentor,” Ty said.
With safety as a top priority, Maryland Sportbikers continues as a way to connect riders who want to join together and have a fun ride, Frank said.
“There really aren’t strings attached,” he said. “We just enjoy setting up rides.”
Those rides, held about once a week, typically attract about two dozen people but can bring in as many as 60.
The group does host other events like potlucks and fundraisers, but typically uses its large membership to connect more people with charity events hosted by other motorcycle clubs.
Ty has added nearly 20 new members to the Facebook group just in the last couple of weeks, even though few organized rides are happening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ty and Frank are eager to return to the normal schedule and continue welcoming new riders.
“I absolutely think riding clubs are gaining popularity,” Frank said.
This story was told by Mara Klecker.