Behind the wheel
This Saturday, August 9, from one end of the Island to the other, the whoosh and rumble of engines will be heard as Harley Davidson riders from around New England, and Pennsylvania, gather for the 28th annual Run to the Rock, a music, food, and fun fundraiser hosted by the Martha's Vineyard Harley Riders, Inc..
The Martha's Vineyard Harley Riders, Inc. formed on the Vineyard in 1989, by Paul Humber, James Parquett, and a few other Island Harley riders. Club members now include doctors, carpenters, lawyers, plumbers, firefighters, farmers, and store managers, among a membership that fundraises for over a dozen Island charities. Last year, the group became an official not-for-profit club.
"It's not about the money," Mr. Humber says. "It's about getting the chance to go out and ride and about being a part of the community."
As the event nears, Mike Dow, the president of the Martha's Vineyard Harley Riders Inc., and Mr. Parquett, past president, join other long-time members in offering an insider's perspective on the Vineyard's riders. After all, to some people, the V-twin-powered powerful-looking chrome and muscle bikes with riders decked out in helmets, black leather jackets, chaps, and boots, might seem a bit intimidating.
"Most people in a group of Harley-Davidson riders are harmless," explains Mr. Parquett, sounding amused. "They are kind of like a cat. You don't bother them and they don't bother you. They just like to ride."
Mr. Humber explains there is a reason for everything: "Leather is the best piece of equipment to protect your body." Mr. Dow adds, "And it's warm. It keeps the wind out. Thirty-five degrees at 65 miles per hour is 15 degrees." Mr. Parquett explains, "All the chains and the boots make you feel like a motorcyclist - it's all part of the dream."
To these men, not much can equal the craving for adventure like the exhilaration of riding a Harley-Davidson on the open road.
"It's like flying, soaring in the wind," explains Mr. Dow. "It's a thrill when there's a group of bikes all riding together. It's not a feeling of force, it's about being outside, with the wind in your face. It feels like freedom. We are all like little children when we are on the bikes, smiles from ear to ear."
Riding in numbers is often safer, because everyone looks out for each other. "If the person in the lead sees sand in the road, for example, they point down and everyone knows," Mr. Humber says, "Riding all together is like being part of a wave, you know exactly what the other riders are going to do. Riding these bikes is a way of life," says Mr. Humber. "It's a toy to get away for the weekend, but it's also a chance to find peace and quiet."
And Mr. Dow adds, "Being on a bike is like poetry in motion."
Photo by Linda Wood
When asked to describe their bikes, the two men chuckle. "It's my second wife," says Mr. Humber, referring to his 2000 Harley-Davidson Road King. Mr. Dow, who rides a 1998 Harley Heritage Soft Tail, joked, "It's my only one now."
Maintaining these bikes is serious business, the two men agreed. "Some people keep their bikes in a shed, in a garage, or in their living room," Mr. Dow says, admitting that he is guilty of the latter. "Some bikes are so clean that you could eat off them. And, the saying goes, it's faster when it's cleaner."
"If you looked at hundreds of Harleys of the same make, every one would still be completely different," Mr. Humber says, explaining that there are an infinite number of ways to customize a Harley.
The Run to the Rock began in 1981 with a group of Island riders, including Tom and Marc O'Donnell, who used to invite childhood friends from off-Island for a party. Over the years it has grown into a fundraiser that contributes to about a dozen Island charities. The club expects more than 100 bikers to join them on Saturday. "People should chill out. We're not telling people to go out and hug your local motorcycler," Mr. Dow says, "We are asking people to be kinder and less judgmental."
The event on Saturday costs $30 for a ticket that allows riders to take part in an entire day of festivities with an all-you-can-eat buffet and live music. There are 15 competing categories for bike awards during the day.
Oak Bluffs resident Olivia Lew is a recent Middlebury College graduate who gets around in a 2001 Camry.