By David Walters- Freelancer
For some who are apart of them, the love for their Motorcycle club is paramount. Nothing, or few things for them, take precedent above their club. Often, we admire, respect and revere this dedication. In a seemingly me-first era, it can be downright refreshing. For those that live this life, do you care only the lineage of where you and your brothers come from? Is the history of your club omnipotent for you? How you feel, how you view it, is something that is very personal to you. That deserves all the due respect and credit in the world. For some that are like me, we long to hear those old-time stories, learn a little bit about everything, and understand the history that drives the magnetism behind what we love.
In my first few articles that Insane Throttle has allowed me to scrapheap onto you, we have explored the history of early bikes and racing. Can I get a shameless plug here for Shrimp Burns?! We have looked at the history of bikes and speed, we have looked at the type and pull of the bikes that carried the men from the Battlefields of WWII directly into adding important context to the club life that you love. Few cultural shaping events can be pinpointed with the same propelling importance as the Veterans that returned home from war. Changed men, in need of excitement that most of contemporary society could not understand. Some clubs became prolific AMA racers and hill climbers. They had names like Yellow Jackets, Sharks, and 13 Rebels. Some clubs simply refused AMA regulation, to do things their own way. Names like Pissed of Bastards, Boozefighters, and Top Hatters. Perhaps one of the oldest non AMA clubs the McCook Outlaws formed in McCook Illinois in 1935, although more recognizable today as the Outlaws Motorcycle Club. William Dulaney, who is perhaps one of, if not the premier scholar on unbiased, academic focused, research of Motorcycle clubs, says it best in his work when he states –
To go all the way back though, to really learn the history, we must go back before Harley Davidson itself. Almost even before Indian’s founding in 1901. Indian was founded by two famous bicycle racers and promoters who had learned from single cylinder hand controlled machines racing around the velodromes of Europe. The names Hendee and Hedstrom are as famous as Harley and the Davidson Brothers, Pope, and Excelsior at the turn of the 20th century. The tribe like pull to belong. To be a part of something is as old as man itself. When these single cylinder engines found their way onto bicycle frames, it was no different for those that chose to belong.
The first Motorcycle club to exist is still in existence today. It was properly named “The Motor Cycling Club“. It was formed in England in 1901. In 1906 it held what was believed to be the longest race at the time, 391 miles from London to Edinburgh, to be completed inside of 24 hours. Tom Woodman was the first winner with a time of 22 hours and 33 mins. They were the first to hold motorcycle races at the famous Brooklands race track which is rumored to be the inspiration for the Indianapolis 500 track. On their official website section about their history, it states ” MCC events were and are different because they still involve a substantial overnight journey which in itself is an adventure. When you consider that most people are habitually in bed before midnight, an overnight road race is quite the thrill”. While their races have increased in competition, distance, and track type since that first run to Edinburgh, MCC trophies are still highly coveted today by motorsports enthusiasts.
In the States, we come to a club that has one of my favorite slogans I’ve ever read anywhere. Including a lot of the Military units, I’ve been a part of. The Yonkers Motorcycle Club boasts the motto “If you can’t party, go the fuck home”. Well then! Yonkers MC is said to have formed in 1903, then merged with another New York club called Brooklyn MC. They formed the first sort of activists and rights group for motorcyclists called the Federal Association of Motorcyclist (FAM). Which was joined by, Indian Motorcycles own George Hendee. Yonkers MC was started as a Bicycle club in the late 1800’s, George Eller was the first president to bring it into the motorcycle age. 1 year later they would see their FAM become FIM…. Federation of International Motorcyclists, as motorcycling started to become a more popular means to commute amid rough and congested big city roads. This was a full 23 years ahead of the formation of the AMA which would happen in 1925. Which brings us to the point that Yonkers MC does not hold AMA Charter 1, they hold Charter 6! Yonkers MC served as civil defense messengers in WWII and today still puts on runs. If you happen to attend one, send me a picture of the 1913 Pope said to be enshrined in the clubhouse!
San Francisco MC was born in 1904. Do I have to tell you where?? They survived the devastating San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 and many great legends have come from this terrible event. One such story goes that member J.S Tormey ran back into the destroyed and burning clubhouse, saved the gavel and rushed back out. This gavel was later discovered and presented at their 40th-anniversary party in 1944. Another story that has passed through time recounts how the members held a party at a dance hall, 5 hours before the earthquake struck. The rumor goes that perhaps overserved members didn’t realize what was happening and continued to party through the quake. San Francisco MC members included a former Mayor of San Francisco, legendary Harley racer and dealership owner Dud Perkins, and Hap Jones. Hap was the first person to cross the Golden Gate Bridge on a motorcycle. SFMC was also at the famous Hollister rally of 1947. It is rumored they have a 1904 Curtis in their clubhouse… So again, if anybody wants to take pictures for me!
Apparently Sunshine, warmth, and ocean water just births MCs. In 1907 the Oakland MC was founded. You know who was an early member of the Oakland MC? Smokin Joe Petrali! Do I have to remind you about the legend that is Smokin Joe? Smokin Joe was a board track, flat track and hill climbing racing extraordinaire. Including winning over 49 AMA Championship races after their formation. Oakland MC is also reported to have put on a run that went to Antarctica. I guess you can become tired of the warmth? On their website, the Oakland MC lays claim to being the “oldest, continually active Motorcycle Club”. No periods of inactivity due to changes or wartime services. They have a famous California race called the Jackhammer Enduro. Which is a 100-mile run through the Mendocino National Forest.
Also in the Sunshine State, this time further down south, the Pasadena MC was brought to life in 1907. It boasts that a large portion of its membership became military motorcycle riders during WWI and continued service as dispatch riders in WWII. They started as off-road enduro riders zipping through the yet to be paved orange groves outside of Pasadena and Los Angeles. These races became famously known as Hare and Hound races. Today Pasadena MC is still known for its Greenhorn Enduro 500 mile off-road race.
Last but certainly not least, a still active club with a bit of controversy for the title of oldest MC. Portsmouth MC out of Portsmouth, Ohio was formed in 1913. Archive documentation puts their incorporation as a Bicycle club back to the early 1890s, similar to how the Yonkers MC was progressed from Bicycle Club to Motorcycle Club. Most do recognize 1913 as the MC born on date though, as little conclusive information can be found to when the idea of “why pedal, when you can motor”, was added to their club. The Portsmouth MC has a successful history in AMA Flat-Track Racing and early entry requirements said a prospective member had to be an accomplished Musician. As to uphold the perception of societal excellence. I might still know how to play the Recorder……….