BOSTON— Leather jackets taken by the brim and twisted effortlessly backwards onto shoulders. Black leather boots worn out from years of riding on dusted up roads. Red bandannas adorning foreheads just above stereotypically dark shades. Rough and tumble, big and strong, heterosexual. All stereotypical characteristics given to “bikers.” Despite the standards given to motorcyclists, Riders Motorcycle Club of Boston, New England’s largest gay male motorcycle club, aims to shatter the stereotypical, heterosexual norms of motorcycle club culture by simply existing as a group of individuals who share a common interest in motorcycles.
“I think [Riders] was formed initially just out of common interest,” said club captain Tom Hood. “The way the motorcycle community works, outside of the gay community, is very testosterone driven. It’s very hetero-male, and there really isn’t space in that general community for gay expression. So for gay motorcycle riders its difficult to find a place there, where you can be comfortable being yourself in a group.”
Riders began in 1984 and has been a continuous all gay/bisexual male club since 1988. The bikers enjoy organized rides in and around the New England area, including day rides as short as 75 miles and some overnight rides spanning for more than 300 miles.
“Well, we usually don’t have big busted women sitting on the back of our bikes that are happily showing off their boobs”
Trips are club-member organized and planned around the members’ busy schedules. There is no minimum mileage required to be a part of the group, and the welcoming, accepting community extends to the motorcycles as well — all makes and models are welcome in the group.
“There are a subset of men who are interested in motorcycles, and they want to feel like themselves when they’re out doing it,” said club treasurer Ross Harpestad. “So, I think that we actually help support a niche of gay men who like to be out on motorcycles, who like to be out on highways enjoying the country.”
As gay and bisexual men in the greater Boston area, these men have recognized the heterosexual culture stemming around motorcycle clubs and have crushed stereotypes surrounding gay men—without even trying.
“Well, we usually don’t have big busted women sitting on the back of our bikes that are happily showing off their boobs,” said Greg Mailloux, club member. “And, that alone is a stereotype, it’s certainly not all the cases.”
A few members of the group recently rode up to Maine near China Lake to enjoy a weekend.
“I think we all enjoy each others company,” continues Mailloux.
“I think theres a certain camaraderie there, that is not necessarily because of the gay thing but certainly because of the motorcycle thing.”
The Riders emphasize that if one were to see them on the road, they would not be able to recognize that they were an all gay and bisexual male riding group.
“Worcester is definitely a more important parade to do. Because Worcester is not so welcoming to the gay community. So I think it’s more important to be present and be counted there.”
“I’m not sure if you saw us you would know any different, other than pride flags on license plates,” said Hood, “Or maybe a T-shirt somebody is wearing that might clue you in that we’re not just another riding club. Other than that we’re just another group of bikes out on the road. In terms of how other people view us, I doubt they would be able to tell the difference. I mean, we don’t ride down the highway with three-foot pride flags flying,” he laughed.
To show their love for motorcycles as well as their support of the LGBTQ+ community, the group participates in the Boston, Worcester, and Providence Pride Parades by riding their bikes at the front of the parade. Members bring their bikes to the parade in the morning and are able to ride in the procession and participate in the festivities that celebrate being a part of the LGBTQ+ community.
“The Boston Pride Parade has always been a lot of fun,” says Harpestad. “The attitude has always been really great there, very enthusiastic, very fun. We’re usually at the front of the parade and are able to just sort of ride through and wave and be a part of a larger community.”
Although the group enjoys being a part of Boston Pride, they feel that their presence is more important in the Worcester Pride Parade, a much smaller, less welcoming community. They want their support and welcoming attitude to transcend the boundaries of this less accepting event.
“There are no spectators. Worcester is kind of a blue collar town, it’s not terribly welcoming, and, we kind of like that,” says Hood.
“Because it’s an opportunity for us to be there, and in a town where a lot of the gay population probably doesn’t get recognized, I think it means more in Worcester. Boston is a huge pride parade. It’s completely inclusive, everybody knows about it, everybody goes out to see it, it’s wonderful, there are millions of people. Not so much Worcester. So sort of as a social, or as a societal commentary, Worcester is definitely a more important parade to do. Because Worcester is not so welcoming to the gay community. So I think it’s more important to be present and be counted there.”
In more recent years, the club has received inquiries from heterosexual males wishing to join the inclusive, welcoming, open-minded atmosphere of Riders. Although the group remains exclusively gay and bisexual, the members plan to discuss their actions about taking on these inquiries moving forward.
“So I really think that was the way [Riders] was formed, to try and be able to exercise this common interest and be able to have the members express themselves in their sexuality without having to worry about consequences,” remarks Hood.
However, instead of focussing on their sexuality, this group focuses on their mutual love for motorcycles and motorcycle riding.
“Essentially it was always assumed that you were heterosexual because you were on a motorcycle, and back when Riders started that was a great outlet for people who were not heterosexual,” says Mailloux. “So they were able to find people to ride with, and it really filled a void there before anybody really became sort of open minded, or maybe less judgmental. Accepting.”
This group was not formed to decrease the stereotypes around gay men, it was formed to give people a safe space to be themselves while doing something that they love.