Life on two wheels
Founded in 1907, Pasadena Motorcycle Club's roots go deep into city's history
By Sara Cardine 06/21/2012
Every Monday evening around 7:30 p.m., throngs of motorcycles of all makes, models and years convene on Howard Street off Fair Oaks Boulevard, in a parking lot outside a tiny Quonset hut neighboring a nondescript apartment complex.
Triumphs, Harleys and Gold Wings mix unceremoniously as riders swap salutations and good-natured ribbings that imply long, comfortable acquaintances.
Eventually, the riders shuffle into the hut and get down to official business. In doing so, they are continuing a tradition that stretches back more than a century, one that began in a still-nascent Pasadena and has since entwined with the city’s own heritage. They are the Pasadena Motorcycle Club.
On Saturday, members invite the public to come out to Pasadena’s Old Towne Pub, where from 8 p.m. to midnight, they will celebrate 105 years of devotion to life on two wheels. The party features musical performances by local bands The Bombers and The Loveless. The birthday event is part of a busy calendar that includes long-distance rides, a movie night/fundraiser for LA’s Optimist Youth Home (this year, an Aug. 18 showing of “Cycles South” will be held at Holmes Power Sports in Pasadena) and regular dinner rides to area restaurants.
Founded in 1907, the Pasadena Motorcycle Club (PMC) is the oldest motorcycle club in Southern California and third oldest worldwide. Yet, despite its long history and deep ties to the community, no one knows it exists.
Perhaps it’s because, as avid as they are about riding, members don’t typically ascribe to the showier aspects of motorcycle fandom. Made up of men and women ranging widely in age, occupation and bike preference, PMC focuses more on cruising than bruising, according to Road Captain Trev Raham, who jokingly asks to be referred to as anything other than a “biker.”
Maria, he points out, is a clinical psychologist and mother of three, while Alex is a television line producer. Julian runs a movie theater, Levi works at Glendale Harley and Bob is a school administrator.
“Are we supposed to be cool? Are we supposed to be tough? Are we supposed to wear bandanas?” Raham asks, comparing PMC to more typical biker clubs. “They’ve got logos and flames and stuff. In Pasadena, it’s more about the history.”
Wilds to roads
In its earliest incarnation, PMC somewhat resembled Pasadena’s sporting Valley Hunt Club, with members participating in hare and hound races through Pasadena’s orange groves and unpaved streets on the backs of bikes instead of horses. A photo taken in 1911 shows nearly 100 members posing, wheels forward, in front of their Pasadena headquarters. That same year, PMC entered a float in the Rose Parade, which was then little more than a decades-old tradition.
At that time, the motorcycle itself was still relatively new on the scene. Although outlandish steam-powered bicycle contraptions date back to the mid-19th century, motorized versions resembling today’s machines weren’t regularly manufactured by bigger names like the English bicycle maker Triumph, the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company or Harley-Davidson until the early 1900s. As daring riders raced the new bikes, technological advancements began to trickle down into larger consumer markets.
By the 1930s, advances in the motorized engines allowed PMC members to enjoy off-road dirt bike trips northward to wayside towns like Cinco and Mojave, on routes that may or may not have included official thoroughfares. Throughout the next few decades, it wasn’t uncommon for riders to tear off for cities more than 150 miles away in hillside communities, recalls PMC President Phil Holcomb, who’s been in the club for more than 20 years, but began riding with members in 1956.
“It was a dirt club in the old days, when I first started coming here. We’d ride from here to Ridgecrest,” Holcomb says. “We had pure dirt bikes, no license plates, no headlights, no taillights. And half the members of the club were policemen.”
Perhaps it was due to the predominance of policemen among the ranks of Pasadena Motorcycle Club’s membership that when, in the ’80s and ’90s, laws limiting the use of non-street legal vehicles restricted the routes motorcyclists could travel, PMC members generally complied and road rides became the standard fare.
“You can’t ride in the dirt anymore,” says Treasurer Paul Orban, who joined PMC in 1973. “Everybody’s put up fences and signs and roads, and there’s legislation and desert turtles. You just can’t do it.”
In recent decades, focus has shifted to safe riding and community service, and those who used to off-road now help out by providing volunteer security duty or float operation for entries at the Rose Parade.
A different focus
Pasadena Motorcycle Club is serious about making sure riders obey the rules of the road and keep an eye on one another. That’s something 30-year-old Justin Johnson, a Huntington Library rare book and medieval manuscript conservator by day, appreciates. A rider with about 10 years under his belt, he admits that while owning a bike makes road trips more fun and memorable, there’s an inherent danger in taking a motorcycle out on LA freeways.
“The minute you say it’s not dangerous is the moment you crash. At any moment, your life could change forever,” he says. “Being part of the club, I’ve learned to ride safely, faster than people who ride independently.”
Mixed in with the general camaraderie among members are lessons about riding more intelligently. More experienced riders teach, chide and even resort to yelling to make distinct points about safety, Johnson says. This is part of what makes PMC unique, according to Raham.
“It’s not about the show, it’s about riding, riding safe,” he says. “It’s not about hot-rodding and racing, it’s about putting in as many miles as we can.”
That unwavering commitment to wearing out rubber was evidenced last month, during PMC’s annual Greenhorn Ride (whose past participants have included the likes of Steve McQueen and Bud Eakins, known for riding in “The Great Escape”). Meeting in Glendale to begin a two-day journey, members logged upwards of 800 miles before returning home.
Holcomb, who owns 10 motorcycles (two BSAs, two BMWs, two Triumphs, one Harley, one Yamaha, one Honda and one Kawasaki), says he’s racked up 130,000 miles on just two bikes alone. Retired Pasadena Police Lt. Dick Smith, who joined in 1960 and has earned the affectionate nickname “old business,” estimates he’s gone somewhere around 150,000 miles — approximately six times the circumference of the Earth — since his first ride.
What’s the appeal? Member George Loew has an idea.
“For me, it’s the feel of riding a bike,” he says. “Blowing through the air, moving your whole body through corners, rather than just turning a wheel — it’s a wonderful feeling.”
Old Towne Pub is located at 66 N. Fair Oaks Blvd. in Pasadena (enter through the alley off Holly Street, between Fair Oaks and Raymond avenues). For more information about the Pasadena Motorcycle Club, visit pasadenamc.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.