Biker Lifestyle

Police Issue Warning About Outlaw Motorcycle Club Activity:LGBT bikers say they just want to ride:As US market weakens, Harley-Davidson recruits new riders

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VOCM

RCMP have issued a warning about increased outlaw motorcycle gang activity in the province as the summer riding season continues.

Staff Sergeant Steve Conohan of RCMP Criminal Intelligence provided more detailed information to media today on what can be expected from members of outlaw gangs.

Sgt. Conohan says the gangs are known for their intimidation of people and their association with criminal activities, despite their attempts to present themselves as good community citizens.

He says the public may notice increased outlaw motorcycle gang members, who at time, will ride in formation at high speeds on the highway, unsafely passing vehicles and blocking intersections.

Outlaw motorcycle gangs use a 1% patch and often have a logo or colours that identifies members.

Sgt. Conohan is urging the public not to engage gang members, and instead report sightings and any suspected illegal activity to police.

RCMP and RNC remind the public that outlaw motorcycle gangs should not be confused with law-abiding motorcycle riding clubs that operate in the province.

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MILWAUKEE (AP) – Harley-Davidson, the iconic brand that sells its customers an image of freedom and adventure, found itself in an unwanted role this week: poster child for the damage of an international trade war.

Harley said it would move production of motorcycles bound for Europe overseas, blaming European Union tariffs it said would add an estimated $2,200 cost to the average bike. That prompted President Donald Trump – whose own tariffs prompted the EU moves – to accuse Harley of using tariffs as an excuse for moves already planned.

Beneath the rhetoric, Harley is a company that needs overseas growth to shore up a business that is shrinking in the United States, where retail sales fell 8.5 percent last year. International sales also fell, but by less than 4 percent.

Milwaukee-based Harley has been putting renewed emphasis on teaching people to ride as part of its effort to attract more customers. As The Associated Press reported in December, Harley has expanded the number of dealerships with a Harley “Riding Academy.”

The program launched in 2000 with about 50 locations; the company now says 250 dealerships in the U.S. offer the three- or four-day course. It says about a quarter of those launched since 2014.

The Motorcycle Industry Council says the median age of motorcycle owners increased from 32 to 47 since 1990. About 46 percent of riders are over 50; only about 10 percent are 30-34.

Samantha Kay rode on the back of her father’s motorcycle growing up, but when the 25-year-old took a class to ride for the first time she couldn’t help being anxious.

“I think motorcycles inherently do scare a lot of people,” Kay, of Milwaukee, told The AP in December, when she was one of 50,000 people nationwide to take such a riding course at a Harley-Davidson dealership in 2017.

The training is one of the ways Harley is trying to attract a new generation of riders like Kay amid big demographic shifts.

“Some of the aging Baby Boomers, which have been the guts of Harley-Davidson’s purchasers, they’re getting older and some of them are just getting out of the sport because they can’t handle the motorcycle anymore,” Clyde Fessler, who retired from Harley-Davidson in 2002 after holding several executive positions over 25 years, told the AP in December. He created what became the “Riding Academy.”

He said the idea “is getting people comfortable on a motorcycle and getting them to feel safe and confident.”

In addition to riders getting older, a slow economic recovery has made it harder for millennials to buy new motorcycles, said Jim Williams, vice president of the American Motorcyclist Association.

Among the newest models, a 2018 Softail Slim starts at $15,899 and a 2018 Sportster Forty-Eight at $11,299.

But it’s not all the millennials’ fault, said Robert Pandya, who managed public relations for Indian Motorcycles and Victory Motorcycles. Pandya recently launched “Give A Shift,” a volunteer group discussing ideas to promote motorcycling. One of their conclusions, he said, is the idea that “if mom rides, the kids will ride.”

Currently, women are about 14 percent of the riding population, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

“The biggest possible opportunity in motorcycling is to invite more women to ride,” Pandya said in December.

That’s not lost on Harley-Davidson. Among the ways Harley-Davidson is trying to reach younger riders is by having motorcycle role-models like Jessica Haggett, the founder of the “The Litas” all-women motorcycle club, be a voice for the company on social media. And the company is also focusing advertising efforts in male-dominated sports like the X Games and UFC events popular with younger viewers.

“I think we have to work harder to gain share of mind with young adults, for example, in that they have other activities in their lives. They’re on screens, they’re connecting socially, they’re involved in gaming, they’re involved in other things,” said Heather Malenshek, Harley-Davidson’s vice president of marketing.

She said the easily customizable Sports Glide model that launched in November and the aggressive, performance-driven Fat Bob also have younger riders in mind. In all, the company plans to release 100 new motorcycles over the next 10 years. During that time, the company also wants to gain 2 million new riders.

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Journal Sentinal

As a longtime biker and an openly gay man, Tom Hood says there likely always will be a place for motorcycle groups that cater to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members.

Those groups, he says, aren’t as necessary as they were years ago. But they’re still a place where LGBT motorcyclists can relax and be themselves without fear of scrutiny or criticism.

“That’s not possible for some people in a mixed or straight environment,” Hood said

Originally from Platteville, Hood is president of the Riders Motorcycle Club in Boston, one of the nation’s oldest gay men’s motorcycle groups.

The club was formed in the early 1980s when the biker community didn’t welcome LGBT riders who openly expressed their sexuality.

Now, LGBT bikers say things are much better, although there are exceptions.

“I personally would be very cautious” in some situations, said Terri Coughlin, a lesbian motorcyclist and former Harley-Davidson Inc. employee.

“But for those of us who want to come out and live our lives authentically, motorcycling is another expression of personal freedom,” Coughlin said.

Harley-Davidson is a sponsor of this week’s PrideFest Milwaukee, a celebration of the LGBT community that runs Thursday through Sunday at Maier Festival Park.

Coughlin says she’s grateful Harley has taken that role, since years ago she had a hurtful experience while volunteering at one of the company’s motorcycling events.

“I am very impressed and happy that they’ve come a long way since then,” she said.

RELATED: What you shouldn’t miss at this year’s PrideFest, from the B-52s to admission deals

RELATED: Backpack restrictions are part of PrideFest security, but so is creating a safe space for the LGBTQ community

This will be the first year PrideFest has a motorcycle parade, with several hundred bikes expected to participate Saturday.

“It’s definitely not exclusive to LGBTs. You won’t be crashing the party if you don’t have a rainbow flag,” said Cormac Kehoe, one of the organizers.

Parades like this are a sign of better times, according to Hood, who attended Lawrence University in Appleton from 1985 through 1987.

Years ago, he belonged to an outlaw biker club, but as a gay man, he has since made Riders his group.

Some outlaw clubs — known as “1 percenters” because 99 percent of bikers don’t belong to them — have a strong anti-gay bias.

Yet most people in motorcycling pay little or no attention to someone’s gender or sexual identity, according to Hood.

“I can go on other rides and not feel like I am under any scrutiny or pressure. Generally, the way it works in the motorcycle world is, if you give respect you get respect,” he said.

Trying to build motorcycle ridership and attract new customers, Harley-Davidson has stepped up its marketing aimed at younger people and racial minorities.

LGBT bikers say the company has a mixed record in reaching out to them.

When he was a Harley Owners Group member, Hood said, “there was never anything in their publications that even mentioned LGBTs at all.”

Yet Harleys are popular with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bikers, said Chaz Antonelli, past president of the Empire City Motorcycle Club, in New York, the oldest gay men’s biker group in the nation.

“They are already marketing to us in their own way, saying this is your freedom, your ability to do what you want, when you want,” he said.

Still, not everyone has embraced some of the changes.

Four years ago, a Salt Lake City police officer got into trouble when he objected to riding in the motorcycle brigade at the front of a gay pride parade, saying it was a violation of his religious liberties.

Eric Moutsos said he was unfairly labeled a bigot because he simply asked to swap roles and work a different part of the parade in June 2014.

Moutsos, a Mormon, said he felt uncomfortable doing what he considered to be celebratory circles with other motorcycles leading the parade. But he said he never refused to be part of it.

He was placed on leave and later resigned. The police department said it would not tolerate “bias and bigotry,” and that it did not allow personal beliefs to enter into an officer’s decision to accept an assignment.

Moutsos said he was offended by the notion that he would treat gays and lesbians differently than anyone else.

“It is unquestionably my duty as a police officer to protect everyone’s right to hold a parade or other event, but is it also my duty to celebrate everyone’s parade?” he said in a statement in 2015.

Many motorcyclists not part of the LGBT community say someone’s gender or sexual identity is their own personal business.

“The world is a big place. Play nice with others,” said Ted Palmatier, a longtime member of the DMZ Motorcycle Club, for veterans, in Burlington.

“Personally, I wish a lot of people would just loosen up their underwear. … It’s a little too tight,” he said.

While there will probably always be a place for LGBT motorcycle groups, Hood said, over time there will be less need for them as society becomes more accepting.

At one time, Riders Motorcycle Club had 140 members; now it’s down to about 55.

Hood said he thinks the LGBT community can claim a victory when it’s no longer a big deal for sports stars and celebrities to announce they are homosexual.

“And the fifth thing down the list you would use to describe a person is their sexual identity.”

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