Bay Area Motorcyclists Ride in Solidarity With Black Lives Matter
On Saturday morning, a large group of motorcyclists gathered at Heron’s Head Park in San Francisco’s Hunters Point district for a Black Lives Matter Solidarity ride. Organized by the Dames Don’t Care Motorcycle Collective, with help from the San Francisco Motorcycle Club, there was a great turnout. As we arrived, ride leader Jane Davis stood near the park’s entrance, distributing route maps, and directing people to water, snacks, and sign-making materials.
I was relieved and thankful to see the sign-making station. I had told myself that I was just too busy to get a proper sign made, but the truth is that I was afraid. Deep down, I was worried that a motorcycle emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” would run a higher risk of an altercation while riding into the City. Then came the realization that this is something black people deal with every day: a greater likelihood of having a problem on the road. Next came the recollection of a friend telling me that the first thing his dad taught him about driving was how to behave when pulled over so that he wouldn’t get shot.
With the help of some friends, we got a sign taped to my back. Others had showed up with well-made signs taped and pinned to their bikes and jackets. Signs had to be thoroughly secured to last through the windy ride. People employed safety pins, shoe strings, tape, and even just wrote on their vests, jackets, and the side of their bikes.
At 10 a.m. there were around 100 bikes of every variety, from scooters to Harleys, dirtbikes to crotch-rockets. The police arrived a little after 10:30. Murmurs of “Here we go” and “Hassled already…” rippled around the crowd. Surprisingly, there were simply two officers in a pickup truck. No rifles, no riot gear, no dogs, no tear gas. Just two guys that seemed relaxed and almost happy to help.
“They must be tracking what’s happening in the City,” said Jane Davis after the ride. “From all the different shares, we just caught their attention. They showed up from that, but we did not have any police contact before that, nor did we necessarily want it. It was pretty conflicting when they showed up. They did their job in that they allowed us to assemble and allowed us to have this route, but at the same time part of this movement – and I’m sure some people here disagree – was against police brutality in the end. So I hope that they saw what we were organizing for and I was very explicit about that when I talked to them. I’m grateful that we were able to do the ride without them intervening or anything.”
Though they did make us clear bikes from the entrance to the park, that seemed pretty reasonable. No win to be found in blocking someone else’s access to a public park. Other than that, they were interested in how the ride was being organized and explained that they’d be following us to the edge of their precinct and that other police would be following us through to the end of our route.
“You don’t need us to bound up any major intersections?” Asked Officer Green. This caused some general mumbling between the organizers. Motorcycle groups are fully capable of doing their own traffic control. Heck, motorcyclists even get employed to block traffic for funerals and events. The offer to have PD support was undeniably helpful, though. The last thing anyone wanted was a crash and some blue and red lights could make a rogue motorist rushing an intersection even less likely.
Again, we must recall that this is a white privilege. The ability to have a reasonable discourse and plan with calm law enforcement, to even pose for pictures together – not everyone gets that chance. Many, many folks would simply rather avoid law enforcement, no matter the benefit – wouldn’t even want to ask a cop for directions when lost.
The organizers found an intersection on 3rd street for the PD to block and then held a safety meeting. Jane Davis and Kimber Neely gathered the riders and gave an overview of the route. While everyone was quietly listening, a pedestrian across the street yelled: “That’s right! Black lives matter! My black ass matters!” After a good chuckle by all, Ben Berliner of the SFMC outlined the safety procedures.
“We have SFPD, they are going to help us get through certain intersections,” said Berliner. “We also have some volunteers that are going to be blocking intersections as well as we go through. Keep your ears and eyes open because people will be passing you as we go through the route. So be sure that you are staying on your line as we are trying to come around you so we can get to the next intersection. The goal is to get from point A to point B without putting your feet down. If you need to put your feet down, please do. Remember: ride your own ride, not the motorcycle you are following.”
Once riders had geared up and started bikes, it took a surprisingly long time for us all to funnel onto the road and get moving. At this point, we were blocking up the entrance to the garden supply store across from the park. Employees were coming out and taking pictures. Cars were waiting to get through, including a black family in an SUV. It brought the pang that our actions would bring inconvenience to the same people we were trying to help. This is another reason why it’s important that this remains a “movement, not a moment” as one sign said. If these protests don’t affect real, longterm, systemic change, then we’re just patting ourselves on the back, preaching to the choir, cutting the ribbon for one more veteran’s memorial while the war rages on unchecked.
Eventually we filtered through the bumpy streets of Bayshore and drove through the Dogpatch on Amador street. There was one, slow-moving mishap with a slippery railroad track and a bike went down. Thankfully no one was hurt and things only slowed down momentarily.
Turning onto 17th street, we started seeing more cars and pedestrians in the heavier trafficked Mission district. Surprisingly, for the most part, cars were behaving, not trying to creep through the intersection. A utility truck had even pulled out and was blocking traffic for us, a fist held out the window.
“The people on the street were cooperative – that I saw – were supportive and they were waiting patiently,” said SFMC member, James Mensing, who was one of the volunteer intersection blockers.
“I agree,” said Miriam Moody, whose involvement with the SFMC, Dames Don’t Care, and San Francisco Scooter Girls helped connect the clubs for this ride. “The public was with us.”
“We’ve done this for marathons and people get very irate,” said Mensing. “People were just very enthusiastic, which was great to see.”
At 17th and Treat, I did stop to block one car that was trying to slow roll the intersection. The driver honked and signaled that he was trying to go straight. I shook my head and held up a “wait-one-minute” index finger as I watched for the end of the procession in my rearview mirror. It only took a minute or two before we were on our way again. Since I had been about halfway back from the front when I stopped to block the intersection, I would estimate that the ride inconvenienced people for less than five minutes at a time.
As we approached South Van Ness, there were more cars and people honking, cheering, and holding a fist in the air. One lady in a small red commuter car was honking in rhythm and let out a long “Woooooo!” that would normally be reserved for a late night dance floor.
As we approached Van Ness and Market, I got the first significant view of the entire group. Seeing it stretch out and go up the hill, this was clearly a ride to rival most, and definitely one of the biggest in San Francisco. Sure, there are larger rides, especially for the “patch clubs” focused on Harley Davidson culture. They’ll have rides with over a thousand participants, but you don’t tend to see them stopping traffic on Market street.
We cut off Van Ness and turned onto Polk Street in front of City Hall. We stopped there momentarily to let the group gather together. Again, more fists in the air, clapping, honking and waving. One driver, unsure of if it was ok to honk at a group of bikers, looked questionably out his window while timidly pressing the horn. He received a nod of approval and the honking increased as we rode through Polk Gulch and over the hill to the Marina.
“When we were coming down Polk street, all down hill, I was at the back of the pack above everyone else and I could look forward and see like four blocks of motorcycles ahead of me,” said Noah Lundling. “Seeing all the bikes at once, I saw how many people were involved. I’m actually very thankful that we’re getting to participate in a civil rights protest. This type of thing hasn’t really happened since the ‘60s.”
It was in the notoriously affluent Marina District that we received a small bit of negativity. At Polk and Broadway, a neatly-coiffed gent with a dog in an open-top jeep was waiting to turn left. He shook his head and frowned a sour milk frown as we passed. His dog was jumping around excitedly and folks at the corner market had poured out to clap and hold fists of solidarity.
As we passed Leopold’s, another white man held his arms out questioningly and even flashed the bird, I’m told. There were five or six people clapping right in front of him, though. And on the opposite corner, a large garbage truck blasted its horn and the driver held up a fist.
It took us 45 minutes to complete the 8.5 mile ride from Hunters Point to Crissy Field. We milled about, discussing the ride, many friends meeting for the first time since quarantine. We took a group photo on the beach and then got down to checking out bikes. There was no official count, but attendance was estimated between 200 and 250 riders.
The most unique bike was a Filipino-style trike that turned out to be a City-funded art project called the “TNT Traysikle.” The San Francisco Arts Commission wanted to create markers for San Francisco’s Filipino neighborhood, like the gates for Chinatown. They approached Michael Arcega, an associate professor of art at San Francisco State, who in turn contacted motorcycle film-maker Paolo Asuncion.
“Most people aren’t even aware that there was a Filipino area,” said Asuncion. “It was like Chinatown, but Filipinos.”
He said they get a great response from the shiny, chromed-out vehicle. “People run up and say, ‘I used to do this or that with these in the Philippines!’”
The bike name, “TNT” stands for “tago ng tago,” a tagalog saying that translates to “Always hiding” or “Hide and hide” and expresses the sentiment of the challenges of undocumented immigration. They’re planning a youtube series sponsored by Kultivate Labs that will draw attention to the little known Soma Pilipinas area and give voice to immigration rights. You can learn more about it at Balay Kreative or at the Handsome Asians Motorcycle Club facebook page.
At the end of the day, the ride supported the Black Lives Matter movement went smoothly. No dings, no dents, no scratches.
“I was very pleasantly surprised at the turn out,” said Steph Cepellos, a rider from Oakland. “I was expecting like 30 bikes. People on the roadway stopped to show their support for the ride and therefore the cause.”
“We really were thoughtful about the route,” said Davis, looking back on planning the ride. “We wanted it to be safe. We wanted all different types of CC displacement bikes to be able to participate. We also knew we’d have kids on the ride so we wanted to make it accessible to them. It was a lot of different meetings over zoom or calls, scout rides to find out how the route was, making sure that we got the word out, that we out-reached to the right people. We talked to a lot of different motorcycle clubs. Some of them showed up. Some of them didn’t. And that’s for a variety of different reasons but I think the ones that really showed up took a stand. They’ll be on the right side of history.”