By AMANDA BEAM
NEW ALBANY — At times, people who meet the tattooed biker named Gorilla might be quick to judge who he is based only on his appearance. Yet if they sat down and spoke with him for a spell, they would see a different side of the former Clarksville resident.
Like all good storytellers, the man takes his time when discussing his riding adventures, whether he’s talking about the beauty of a v-twin engine or the “lost” wrenches engraved on his forearm to honor those who no longer ride or repair on earthly streets. Through all his years, one thing has remained constant in his life — an undaunted love of motorcycles.
“All it takes is usually one good ride on a real bike and you’re either not affected at all or you’re bit and it never goes away,” Gorilla said. “It’s just like racing. It scares you so bad you never want to do it again or it scares you just enough to really make you love it and want to do it more and more. That’s the way it does me. It scares me just enough that it make me want to do it again and again.”
For Gorilla, the biker bug nipped him early. At the age of 9, a parts’ salesman who worked with his dad at the local Ford dealer introduced him to motorcycles. From then on out, he rode whatever he could get his hands on. Summers during his youth consisted of pushing pedals on a 10-speed for 32 miles just so he could ride the rural hills on his country cousins’ dirt bikes.
After turning 17, the thrill-seeker discovered riding Kawasaki 900 and 1,000 cc KZs gave much more of an adrenaline rush than the dirt bikes. Racing brought with it an unintended consequence of a nickname. His friends started to call him Gorilla, mostly for his 300-plus pound size that reminded them of another broad-shouldered beast.
But even the man behind the moniker acknowledged the name could also have applied to his rebellious attitude at times as well. Now weighing in at a little less than 200 pounds, a much thinner Gorilla is still mostly known only by this one handle.
“There are people I’ve known for 30 something years and they don’t know my real name. There’s been no reason to ask for it,” Gorilla said.
Back when he started riding, most motorcyclists learned how to do their own bike maintenance, fixing almost any problem themselves rather than take them into a shop. Gorilla was no different. Tinkering with motorcycles seems to give him almost as much excitement as actually riding them. An extra benefit was that he was good at it, winning a state and regional Prosser Vocational mechanics competition back when he took some classes to avoid what he called “some trouble.”
Times have changed though. Fewer and fewer new riders have the necessary skills to regularly do upkeep let alone repair their own road machines. Image now, he said, has become more important than learning about some basic riding responsibilities.
“What we say now is that the new Harley tool kit is a gold card and a cell phone,” Gorilla said. “Most of the old guys, man we’re just dying off. That’s all there is to it. Thank God there are a few young dudes coming up through the ranks that want to do the repairs, maintenance and performance improvements with their own hands.”
Although later in the early 1980s he would give up his Kawasaki and switch to the “classier” Harleys, the 53-year-old still likes to tear up the racetrack even today despite some knee, neck and back issues. In fact, this year he believes will be his fastest year in competition yet. No matter what the future brings, Gorilla refuses to give up on the thrill of the race.
“The adrenaline rush gets going and my body isn’t torn up anymore. My legs and back don’t hurt. I’m like a kid again for the weekend,” he said. “Not so much after the weekend is over though.”
With 35 years biking experience under his belt, there’s not too much that Gorilla hasn’t done or not too many bikes he hasn’t ridden. All the major motorcycle festivals including Sturgis have been worked or visited. Wrecks have occurred, although thankfully none overly serious. For a while, he was even president of a local biker club. And no, he’ll be the first to admit that most biker organizations don’t necessarily resemble the ones on television, although some do claim Gorilla looks like the character Clay Morrow from FX’s “Sons of Anarchy.”
Saying television shows don’t accurately portray biker culture doesn’t necessarily mean some elements shown in these fictionalized accounts don’t actually exist. Now out of club life, Gorilla still believes in a saying many of the bikers repeat — “Let the man make the patch. Don’t let the patch make the man.”
“There are no absolutes in life. You are going to meet good and bad anywhere you go,” he said. “You can go down here and sit down in church on Sunday and look down the row and it’s just like going to a meeting of a motorcycle club and you look down the row. There’s going to be some good ones and there’s going to be some bad ones. That’s life.”
As with any other group, a wide range of people join motorcycle organizations for any number of reasons. Gorilla admits most become involved for the camaraderie and fellowship. But at times, people might try to act like something they are not. That’s when a re-examination of why they’re riding, he said, might be needed.
“If you get in to the Harley thing and you start feeling it changing you, stop and go the other way. Don’t let any of the atmosphere around any of this stuff change you,” he said. “It’s just like anything else in life. Stay true to yourself.”