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Born to Be Mild

Motorcycling with the Southern Cruisers Riding Club.

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Biker. The term brings images of beefy, rowdy men in leather chugging beer and raising hell in Hog-infested parking lots of rough-and-tumble bars to mind. Now, meet the not-so-badass members of the Southern Cruisers Riding Club (SCRC), a family-oriented motorcycle club that got its start in Memphis and has chapters in 44 states and five foreign countries.

In October 1998, Memphian Rick "Rickster" Perry purchased a bike and began anew after a 15-year break from motorcycling. After several weeks of riding alone, he yearned for the fellowship of a riding club. But he wanted something more than a group of guys to hang out with. He wanted a family-oriented group where wives and children could be involved. So he got a few friends together and formed the Southern Cruisers Riding Club, a group dedicated to including family in every aspect of their events.

"I've been in a couple other riding clubs. It was a bunch of guys that enjoyed getting together and hanging out in a bar or whatever. But there's more to riding than just hanging out in a bar," says Bubba Prescott, the Memphis chapter's events coordinator. "I joined this group a year and a half ago because I was looking for a group where my wife could ride also."

The idea of a family-oriented group caught on, and word spread. Soon enough, Jerry London from Knoxville contacted Perry about starting a chapter in his area. Then a phone call came from Tim Jones in Rome, Georgia, who was interested in starting a club. Eventually, chapters began to form outside the South and outside the U.S. Today, there are 326 chapters nationally and 14 overseas, including chapters in Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, and the Philippines.

The group has held true to its pledge of including family in everything they do. The 189-member Memphis chapter has several "family days": Dads, moms, kids, and even grandmas and grandpas can load up their bikes and ride out to a cookout.

"A lot of the wives join as riders or passengers. We don't require that you have your own bike to join, but we do have maybe a half dozen women that ride their own bikes," says Jimmy Mashburn, the Memphis chapter's first officer.

This commitment to family has led to a few basic rules: no illegal activity, such as drug use or alcohol consumption before a ride, and no "MC" or "1%" patches on riding garb.

"MC," which stands for "Motorcycle Club," is commonly displayed by members of rowdier groups that require more loyalty than the Southern Cruisers. The "1%" patch goes back to a 1947 American Motorcycle Association comment that 1 percent of bikers were hooligans. Today, Hell's Angels, the Booze Fighters, and several other clubs proudly wear patches bearing the "1%" logo.

"Motorcycle clubs are different from riding clubs," says Mashburn. "Motorcycle clubs take you into loyalty and what they call the brotherhood -- members for life. They do what they do, and we don't want anyone to relate us to a motorcycle club. We don't claim any territory. We're just out having a good time."

In a riding club, members still have a sense of brotherhood, but no one's going to put a price on someone's head for relinquishing his or her membership, and there are no enemy clubs to be on the lookout for. Participation in group activities is voluntary. Members ride at their convenience.

Although the SCRC claims it's only about having a good time, a couple of local events each year involve more than personal or family enjoyment. In fact, the bulletin board on the club's Web site is filled with messages that indicate several bikers actually shed a tear over this year's Cruisin' for a Cure, which raised money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. On October 11th, over 300 bikers showed up from across the country to participate in the third annual ride from the Marriott at Perkins and American Way to St. Jude. Bikers stretched for miles in their journey to the hospital, and over $45,000 was raised through donations from bikers and auctions hosted the night before.

The Memphis group also visits the Ronald McDonald House twice a year to take the children on rides around the parking lot.

"Just seeing their faces light up after having all those treatments and everything It's just unbelievable the joy that you get," says Prescott.

When members of the Memphis SCRC aren't helping children, they get out to simply ride together. Rides are organized by anyone with an idea of where to go. They also participate in "Bike Night" at Joe's Crab Shack (7990 Horizon Center Blvd.) on Wednesdays.

"What everybody has in common is a motorcycle, and because of that motorcycle, we meet people from around the world that we never would have met before," says Prescott. "It's just unbelievable the friendship that you acquire through riding. That's what the Southern Cruisers are all about: the friendship and the riding." n

For more information on the SCRC, check out the local Web site at SouthernCruiser.com or the national site at SouthernCruiser.net.

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