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Rolling Thunder


Over the weekend I met some new friends. Big guys with beards and lots of tattoos. American bikers! They're legendary - the subject of films, novels and television shows. Perhaps some of you have seen the classic film Easy Rider or the current television show Sons of Anarchy? As a kid, my dad drove a motorcycle but it was a big Honda Gold Wing he inherited from his father. These guys prefer something louder, faster and more flashy. Hundreds of thousands of them descend upon Washington, DC every Memorial Day weekend to take part in an annual event to honor fallen servicemen and women. Today I'll tell you their story.

1. The event, known as "Rolling Thunder," celebrated its 26th year over the weekend. Bikers from all over the country gather in DC to participate in a ride from the Pentagon to the National Mall. The name of the event is obvious when you stand in the presence of so many motorcycles riding the same condensed route. The noise and motion from all of the bikes does in fact resemble the sound and feel of rolling thunder.


2. Many of the bikers are veterans and others simply ride in honor of fallen loved ones, prisoners of war or those missing in action. Some of the parked bikes display photos of the military person the biker is honoring. This biker rides in memory of Samuel Huffman, killed in action on July 25, 1966. Other bikes display photo stickers of soldiers recently killed in Afghanistan or other regions. Really touching scene.


3. Others ride for a particular branch of the U.S. military. This guy is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. I'll show you later, but some of the bikes are real pieces of art.


4. We had a very windy day on Saturday, perfect for all of the decorative bike flags to proudly wave. These are quite small, but some bikes carry massive flags.


5. Rolling Thunder is a non-profit organization with over 90 Chapters throughout the U.S. In general, motorcycle clubs started in the U.S. shortly after World War II, when returning soldiers formed clubs as a way of coping with the return to civilian life. In the 1950's and 60's they gained popularity and American bikers became woven into the cultural fabric of America. Both good and bad biker alliances formed, the most famous bad boys club being the California group known as "Hells Angels." However, bikers associated with Rolling Thunder are definitely a kinder, gentler and more charitable breed. Here we have a multinational rider.


6. I saw numerous bikers who made the trip from Canada, including this guy who is a veteran of the Canadian Army. His bike had the iconic Canadian maple leaf painted on the front.


7. This guy is a real sweetheart! His name is Bob and he's from Rancho Cucamonga, California. He's part of an organization called Run for the Wall. Their slogan is "we ride for those who can't." Each year, Bob and others organize a cross-country motorcycle ride to DC to attend the Rolling Thunder event. The bikers take three weeks to get to DC, stopping at veterans' memorials and hospitals in every State along the way to honor and visit wounded troops. Notice the "Road Guard" sticker on Bob's shield? I'll explain later.


8. The event lasts for three days and there's a huge entertainment center called "Thunder Alley." It's here that bikers gather to chat, purchase biker stuff and eat burgers, fries and lots of other meat. Maybe when I get tired of practicing trademark law, I'll join this firm - Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys. :)


9. Lots of crazy helmets with various designs.


10. Standard biker vest.


11. Actually, the vests are quite interesting because they tell you many things. For instance, whether the biker is a veteran, in which branch of the U.S. military they served, which local biker club they belong to, etc. This information is usually conveyed in numerous patches. Check out this tired biker's vest, taking an afternoon nap but we see he served in Vietnam from 1965 - 1966.


12. Some customers roaming around Thunder Alley.


13. Many of the bikers will tell you their "biker name." This guy is known as "Stray Dog." :)) I told him my blog is read mostly by Russians and he explained how a Russian businessman once came up to him in a restaurant and asked whether he could get his photo taken with him. Stray Dog said "sure," just like he did with me. Maybe he should be the newest member of ZZ Top. Do Russians know this band? Great American rock 'n' roll music! The band members have long beards like this.


14. This guy wasn't so friendly so I don't know his biker name. Maybe "sourpuss" or something similar.


15. This woman was in charge of the biker's assistance booth. Bikers can register their name, license plate and phone number here and be on a list for free breakdown assistance. If they break down anywhere in the DC area other bikers volunteer to come and help. Bob from Rancho Cucamonga is one of the Road Guards who helps the stranded bikers.


16. After speaking to a few bikers you quickly realize it's a tight knit community. They all seem to know each other and frequently joke around, calling each other by their biker names. The other thing I noticed is that many of the bikers affiliated with Rolling Thunder are religious. Some of the biker jackets had religious notations, like this group called "Honor Bound."


17. One biker even created a "Bible bike." Custom, and I'm sure very expensive, artwork on a lot of the bikes. And free Bibles!!


18. We're off to see the wizard - biker style! This is my favorite, a bike dedicated to the classic film The Wizard of Oz. This was my favorite movie as a child. I used to braid my hair and pretend to be Dorothy. I'd make my dad be Toto, the dog, and we'd skip around the house singing the wonderful songs from the movie.


19. This bike drew the most attention because it's entirely custom made. The owner has been working and tinkering with the bike for over 15 years. Total cost invested so far is about $35,000.


20. Here's the creator, Tom. Obviously he is partial to the color orange. I don't remember where he's from, but he told me they come to the event every year and always take time to visit their daughter in the nearby State of Ohio. Notice his patch "I Built Mine?" Proud of his workmanship.


22. Custom wheels. I could care less about wheels or rims but I think it's something men really notice. I say this because my car has performance wheels and men are always commenting on them. I didn't want them but they were already on the car and I was too impatient to wait for a delivery from the factory so I paid extra for tires I don't really like. And they're a real nightmare in snow! I discovered this during a winter trip to New Hampshire.


23. Now I'll show you more cool bikers.


24. Not too many female drivers, but many passengers.



26. Happy guy!


27. These guys, trust me they're only scary and tough looking on the outside. They're good people, doing good deeds.


28. Some even put cute teddy bears on the back of their bikes. :)


29. Others walk around with cute little dogs.


30. This event was really inspiring to me. I don't claim that all bikers are nice and wholesome but this group is really kind, approachable and patriotic. My family has a long military history and my grandmother (pictured below) paved the way for female soldiers today. She was a member of the WAVES, a World War II division of the U.S. Navy that consisted solely of women. When she passed away in 2004, she had a full military funeral at Quantico National Cemetery, where she was buried alongside my grandfather who served in the Marine Corps.


So tell me, is there a large biker community in Russia? I don't remember seeing any motorcycles but in winter time I suppose they would freeze in the brutal temperatures. And let's create biker names! What should mine be? :)


( 74 comments — Leave a comment )
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Alex Winter
May. 29th, 2013 03:18 am (UTC)
Мотоциклы с 90-х годов почему-то стали встречаться гораздо реже, хотя в сёлах их любили, так же как и велосипеды. раньше они были повсеместно,
May. 29th, 2013 04:21 am (UTC)
There are many bikers in Russia.
There are several types of these guys. Mainly there are two kinds: touring bikes (sometimes choppers) like Honda Goldwing (which is rather popular) and sport bikes.

Guys with sport bikes asked once Goldwingers why they never drink with sport bike lovers.
-- Why to drink with you, -- answer Goldwingers, -- if next week you'll be a completely new team?

I don't know if I can tell this story to be funny in English but guys with sport bikes die very often :) And much worse that they often bring many problems to drivers or pedestrians: they are heavy armored so they can survive crash @ 120 mph while no pedestrian would be alive after such rendez-vous. Usually russian sport bikers drive between cars with somewhat high speed and after this they say: "Hey, look for bikers! We are so brittle!" But they can't drive 30 mph when the flow goes @ 10 mph, they must drive 50 mph. And if traffic flows @ 60 mph, some of these geniuses will go above 100 mph between cars being so surprised when someone is unable to see them dodging some pothole. http://vimeo.com/28623781 -- here you can see some typical crash: what was the reason to slip between car in left lane and that passing it from the right? May be they have some spare lives, I don't know.

At some point I started to look for US bikers. After a year I noticed only one going between cars (it was near NYC). Probably, had I lived in NYC, I would see them much more often but in our places when biker comes to a red light, he never passes standing cars -- it's impossible to see such a picture in Moscow: no biker will wait.

Touring bikes behave differently, more resembling US counterparts.
(no subject) - fareastener - May. 29th, 2013 08:44 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: There are many bikers in Russia. - marcusxxx - May. 29th, 2013 09:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: There are many bikers in Russia. - peacetraveler22 - May. 29th, 2013 03:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 29th, 2013 05:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 29th, 2013 05:35 am (UTC)
Well, in Russia we have many bikers and biker's communities, less than in US, but still many. First biker's club, that was organized after USSR broken, is called "Night wolves" and now wolves are the largest biker's community in Russia. They positioned itself as legal MC, friendly with government and Putin, but really some chapters are 1% like SOA :).

In my region I know about two clubs:
1. Sakhalin Orphans MCC - legal community, they was named because the third name of his president is Sirotin, its consonant with russian word "sirota" - orphan in english.
2. Association of Sakhalin Bikers - little MC, have approx 10-12 members. My good friends :)

Well, now about this post: photos are very good, old guy looks a newest member of ZZ Top - Sharon, you stole my comment :)
Thanx for your good job :)

And one city legend from russian biker's life.

Just imagine: the big annual biker's party like Rollin' thunder, on wide square somewhere in Russia.
In one corner of the square - solid bikers company, respectable guys with long hairs and beards, dressed in patched leather vests, nearby are chromium-plated harleys, gold wings and other steep choppers. They drink beer and slowly talking about life, women, choppers and other important things.
In the opposite corner - company of youth, they riding on plastic disposable bikes, they ride from side to side on a wild speed, and overall they are behaving cheeky and brazenly. One of the young people mustered the courage, went to the old bikers and said them: "Hi, guys. You are not friendly, I think. You are bikers - we are bikers too. We all have a rest on this square whole day, but you still don't want to get acquainted us...". Most respected old biker looked at him and said: "Son, we don't see any reason to get acquainted your company, because you're coming here each year with completely new membership"...

Well... I'm sorry for my english :)
May. 29th, 2013 06:31 am (UTC)
we have "Night wolves", the largest biker organization in Russia, but this is shit. "Night wolves" are not independent. they are linked with the government, and sometimes are covered with it. one of history you can find here http://eugenyshultz.livejournal.com/380086.html

and here http://eugenyshultz.livejournal.com/tag/%D0%97%D0%B5%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B3%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%B4
(no subject) - fareastener - May. 29th, 2013 08:45 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - togliatt - May. 29th, 2013 09:07 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fareastener - May. 29th, 2013 09:17 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - togliatt - May. 29th, 2013 10:22 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 29th, 2013 03:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fareastener - May. 29th, 2013 10:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 29th, 2013 03:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fareastener - May. 29th, 2013 09:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 29th, 2013 06:24 am (UTC)
We have biker clubs and in my opinion the number of riders increase with every year.
Also we have similar tradition in my town. Our bikers ride in honor of fallen in World War II on Victory Day (9 May).

I like ZZ Top! And I think many of Russians know about that band.

This is very interesting post! Thanks a lot!
May. 29th, 2013 06:44 am (UTC)
Yeah. Gibbons, Hill and Beard - they are great :)
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 29th, 2013 03:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fareastener - May. 29th, 2013 10:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 29th, 2013 03:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mybathroom - May. 29th, 2013 06:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fareastener - May. 29th, 2013 10:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mybathroom - May. 30th, 2013 04:12 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 29th, 2013 07:30 am (UTC)
May. 29th, 2013 03:26 pm (UTC)
Very cool! Thanks for the links to the articles. And, wow, look at the roads in Belarus!! So nice, close to U.S. quality. Next time I visit Moscow, I'm going to try to talk my friend into driving to Belarus. I'd really like to explore the country.
(Deleted comment)
May. 29th, 2013 03:28 pm (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for linking to my story in the moto-ru forum.
May. 29th, 2013 08:03 am (UTC)
Позавчерашний Memorial Day в Вашингтоне
User yukor referenced to your post from Позавчерашний Memorial Day в Вашингтоне saying: [...] Репортаж [...]
May. 29th, 2013 10:36 am (UTC)
Hey, I`m sorry, I know nathing, but in Moscow, we called bikers "craclers", it becouse the saund of crashed bike under the wheeles, black humor. Yesterday, the Day of Frontiar guard. It`s a link, not mine http://zyalt.livejournal.com/
May. 29th, 2013 03:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Bikers
I read Varlamov's story. I read his blog and actually met him when he came to DC last year.
May. 29th, 2013 12:36 pm (UTC)
Do Russians know this band?
You gotta be kiddin?! :)
May. 29th, 2013 03:35 pm (UTC)
Well you live in the States! I know some American rock bands have international recognition (like Metallica and AC/DC), but I didn't think ZZ Top fit into this category. Btw, when did you come to America? Was it for a job?
(no subject) - olgor - May. 30th, 2013 02:46 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - vlad2277 - Jul. 24th, 2014 05:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jul. 24th, 2014 05:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 29th, 2013 04:06 pm (UTC)
Perhaps some of you have seen the classic film Easy Rider (с)
yes :-)
Do Russians know this band? (c)
Are you kidding ? Even my dad (over 60) knows :-)
May. 29th, 2013 04:13 pm (UTC)
The film is great! I had no idea ZZ Top is so popular overseas but I'm glad because they make great music. Good ole boys from Texas, and I think they all still live there when they're not touring.
(no subject) - fareastener - May. 29th, 2013 10:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 30th, 2013 02:09 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fareastener - May. 30th, 2013 02:40 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 29th, 2013 05:12 pm (UTC)
"And let's create biker names! What should mine be? :)"

Let it be something modest - "Princess of United States", or "Duchess of Virginia".
And what is the origin of the name "Shannon"? Irish perhaps? What does it mean?

May. 29th, 2013 05:27 pm (UTC)
Yes, Shannon is a very Irish name! The Shannon River is the longest river in Ireland. In the States, Shannon is both a female and male name, but mostly female. It means "possessor of wisdom" or "little warrior." I don't think I possess much wisdom but I gladly consider myself a warrior. :) I like my name a lot and in the fall I'll visit Dublin for a conference. I'm sure I'll meet some other Shannons there.
(no subject) - qi_tronic - May. 29th, 2013 08:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fareastener - May. 30th, 2013 03:26 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - fareastener - May. 30th, 2013 12:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 29th, 2013 06:21 pm (UTC)
>>ZZ Top. Do Russians know this band?


Good pictires, thanks!
May. 29th, 2013 06:32 pm (UTC)
What about Soviet times? You were a rebel and listened to American rock 'n' roll from the evil West? :) Actually music played a very important role during the collapse, it's quite interesting.
(no subject) - qi_tronic - May. 29th, 2013 08:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 29th, 2013 08:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - qi_tronic - May. 29th, 2013 08:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - yarowind - May. 31st, 2013 04:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 29th, 2013 08:12 pm (UTC)
But what I don't like about modern bikers is that they are not completely real.
This all is not an everyday lifestyle but just a weekend hobby.
May. 29th, 2013 08:25 pm (UTC)
Sure, they have to work like the rest of us! :)
(no subject) - qi_tronic - May. 29th, 2013 08:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 30th, 2013 12:48 pm (UTC)

Bikers in Tyumen city.

toptyumen. livejournal. com/199385.html

Night Wolves (Ночные Волки) biker club

www. google. ru/search?q=%D0%BD%D0%BE%D1%87%D0%BD%D1%8B%D0%B5+%D0%B2%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%BA%D0%B8&newwindow=1&client=firefox-a&hs=eJO&rls=org.mozilla:ru:official&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=Q0mnUfmtC4ap4gSVw4DwCA&ved=0CDsQsAQ&biw=1280&bih=887

May. 30th, 2013 02:36 pm (UTC)
Russian bikers, same style as their American counterparts. And some of the biker jackets even have English words. :)
(no subject) - fareastener - Jun. 1st, 2013 07:04 am (UTC) - Expand
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May. 31st, 2013 04:09 am (UTC)
It's very interesting post, thank you. This people are looking happy. Hope they are.
We have a lot of bikers in Ukraine as well. I respect this guys!
May. 31st, 2013 02:17 pm (UTC)
I was surprised by how friendly they were! And certainly in sunny California there must be a lot of biker events. You should check it out sometime. My aunt lives in Orange County so I go there frequently.
(no subject) - rider3099 - May. 31st, 2013 02:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
May. 31st, 2013 02:19 pm (UTC)
My pleasure! Glad you liked the report. Oh, I have very crazy curly hair so I could be a scary biker. :)
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