Upscale bikers relish weekend role as non-conformists

October 08, 1990|By Doug Birch | Doug Birch,Sun Staff Correspondent

DRURY -- About 1,000 motorcyclists from across the nation invaded a campground here this weekend, but barricades weren't erected, police didn't seem on the alert, and the earth didn't shake from the rumble of exhausts.

Merchants might have worried as much about selling out of brie as of beer.

The rally was staged by the BMW Riders Association, one of two nationwide clubs for the mostly middle-aged, mostly white-collar owners of an expensive German motorcycle made by the same company whose car has come to symbolize American Yuppiedom.

Suzanne Henig, a club officer and organizer, said motorcyclists generally have an image problem, and club members -- who sometimes call themselves "Beemers" -- are no different. Sometimes they have a hard time convincing motel, restaurant or campground owners they won't raise hell.

"They want to know if we're coming in gangs," said Mrs. Henig, who is eight months pregnant. "They want to know about the 'rape-and-pillage' thing."

But the scene at the campground in southern Anne Arundel County on Friday afternoon was tranquil. In the main tent, a bearded man gave a lecture, with slides, on "the unleaded gas problem" and its effect on exhaust valves.

Nearby, a stall selling Philadelphia cheese steaks sold only 100 percent natural juice drinks.

At the rally entrance, a member of the event's staff, a consultant with a major computer firm near Denver, used a portable computer to keep track of registrations. There were at least a dozen sidecars: a reflection, organizers said, of the fact that many club members are raising families.

The German manufacturer lent support, sending two tractor-trailer loads of demonstration motorcycles and accessories. Shepherding the equipment was executive B. Patrick Raymond, who said the firm sells only about 4,500 to 5,000 motorcycles a year in the United States, partly because it declines to build any but the larger machines "popular with the experienced rider."

One club member described the manufacturer's attitude as: "If you don't fit the motorcycle, well, Fritz will sell it to somebody else."

The gathering seemed relatively intimate. By contrast, 80,000 motorcyclists on various makes of bike showed up in Baltimore for last year's annual Operation Santa Claus charity rally. (This year's Operation Santa Claus rally is scheduled for Saturday at Fort Smallwood Park in Anne Arundel County.)

The BMWRA rally featured skilled riding events, vendors selling everything from parts for antique motorbikes to $925 red-leather touring suits and music by a jazz band.

Publicity for Operation Santa Claus' brags of "more music, more food . . . more time for fun." It will feature tunes by groups called the Road Ducks and the Dixie All-Stars.

But even BMWRA members appear to relish the non-conformist image the public associates with bikers.

Bob Henig, husband of Mrs. Henig and chairman of the rally, frowned at the term "Yuppie motorcyclist." Most riders wore leather or denim, and many men sported fierce-looking beards. A man in leather pants, a member of a group of riders from Baltimore who call themselves "the Question Marks" and wear buttons, explained: "Everything we do is questionable."

David Cushing, a dealer from New Jersey, scoffed at the suggestion owners of the expensive American-made motorcycle, Harley-Davidson -- the symbol of so-called "outlaw" motorcyclists -- were wilder and crazier.

Many Harley owners, he said, have corporate jobs and "have to be very straight-laced and above-board during the week. But they like to become black sheep on a weekend. They like to pretend they are black sheep."

But Mr. Henig, who runs a BMW motorcycle parts supply business in Jessup, also described his fellow club members as "doctors, lawyers, people in the aerospace industry . . . and a lot of entrepreneurs."

Club members, he said, tend not to festoon their machines with added lights, chrome or gadgets, preferring to add accessories "tastefully." Loud exhausts are not in style -- in fact, sitting in the middle of the rally Friday afternoon, picnickers could hear the rustling of leaves in the trees as machines muttered past.

"Speed," a spindly mechanic from Baltimore who refused to give his real name, worked setting the valves on a 1978 motorcycle under the shade of a maple tree while his toy poodle, Missy, ran through his legs.

The mechanic joked that he used the dog as a rag, then pretended to grab at the animal's snow-white coat with his greasy hands.

"I like working on them, because I find that BMW owners are more selective," he said. "It's a better class of people. Educated, white-collar workers. It's more enjoyable to do things for them. They appreciate it more."

Mr. Henig and other club officials did not endorse this view. They insisted that, at most, there is a "friendly competitiveness" among owners of different motorcycles. At heart, Mr. Henig said, all riders share a love of their sport. "What they ride is immaterial," he said.

Lucille Dietrich, 61, a quiet-spoken, silver-haired lady who resembles Barbara Bush, rode her motorcycle from Hagerstown, braving the traffic-clogged Washington Beltway for part of her journey. She said her brothers taught her to ride just after they returned from World War II. She was 16 then, and she's never quit.

"Every year I think it's time to cut this out," she said. "But every year, I keep doing it. It's a lot of fun."

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