News and Tribune

June 29, 2013

FREE TO RIDE: Motorcycle culture is alive but evolving in Southern Indiana

By MATT KOESTERS
matt.koesters@newsandtribune.com

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — “I’m a motorcyclist. I’m not a biker,” says Bernie Bartley, 64, of Louisville. “That’s them people running around looking like pirates, making a lot of noise and don’t want to wear their helmets. That’s a biker.”

Maybe Bartley sounds cranky about today’s motorcycle riders. But then again, maybe that’s a right he’s earned. Bartley owns 14 motorcycles, and he used to own 10 more. Of those, three are licensed for the road, while the rest are now museum pieces that he restored. And there’s not a Harley-Davidson among them.

“I don’t drive an old car and I’ll be damned if I drive an old motorcycle,” Bartley said. “And that’s what a Harley is, basically — an old motorcycle.”

Instead, Bartley’s partial to bikes of Japanese make. He loves to ride often, and when he does, he chooses between a 2012 Honda Gold Wing, a 2013 Honda CB1100 or a Honda Blackbird.

“I’ve got like a Corvette, a Cadillac and something just common,” he joked.

And the differences between Bartley and other bikers don’t stop at a distaste or preference for American motorcycles. Bartley derides the leather chaps, jackets and boots worn by other riders as tough-guy affectations. He eschews chrome as an unnecessary accessory, preferring a simpler look.

But the passion in Bartley’s heart for windy roads and unmarked pavement beats in the chest of anyone who’s partial to two wheels and loud engines.

“Say you’re traveling out west. In a car, you’re in a movie theater,” Bartley said. “When you’re on a motorcycle, you’re in the movie. You know what I mean? OK, you’re in a car, the windows are up, you’re in your air conditioning, you’re seeing everything I’m seeing, but I’m outside and I’m in the movie, and if it rains or if a bird flies up and poops on me, I get hit.

“It’s just being more free.”

 

FREE FOR ALL

“I would say a biker is someone who’s in search of freedom, who enjoys being outside, being outdoors,” said Derek Korte, the purchasing and preowned inventory manager at CC Powersports in Clarksville. “They enjoy being active, but they like being in control of something other than a car. A motorcycle gives you an amount of freedom where you’re kind of open-air, no cockpit around you and you’re just kind of cruising, man.

“You feel the wind and you feel the noise of the motor, and you feel all of this excitement and passion.”

CC Powersports is the largest motorcycle dealership in the Louisville metro area, and at one point billed itself as the largest in the Midwest. CC Powersports’ bread and butter is the Japanese bikes that Bartley is partial to (Hondas, Yamahas and Suzukis are all sold there), as well as American bikes like K & M and Victory/Polaris. Korte has seen all types of riders come through his showroom.

“Everyone has a different agenda when they want to ride,” Korte said. “Everyone has different schedules and obligations. For some people, it’s rain or shine and I’m riding everywhere I go. And then some people, their riding and their daily commute is their enjoyment. They ride to work and from work and they enjoy that. That gives them a little bit of release.”

Ray Wilkey, 46, of Jeffersonville, straddles that line. He used to be on the road nearly every day on his cruiser, sporting black T-shirts, the Harley-Davidson shield and leather boots. Now he’s down to two or three times per week, but his passion for the road hasn’t left him.

“It just washes away everything,” Wilkey said. “Any stress, any bad day that you had, it’s gone once you get on the motorcycle.”

Wilkey’s still a fan of bike nights around the area — Kingfish in Jeffersonville is a good one on Tuesdays, but the biggest one in the area happens every Thursday at Texas Roadhouse along Dixie Highway in Louisville. And he’s twice taken to the road for trips that spanned thousands of miles and 26 of these United States. He smiles as he recounts a trip that took him into Canada via Detroit and back to the states through Maine, and shudders remembering the wicked heat of Needles, Calif., during a trip along the famed U.S. 66.

“Sort of like the Griswold family vacation, we saw every little thing on the side of the road,” Wilkey recalled.

The line between “bikers” and “motorcyclists” has blurred over the years. Once considered the scourge of the roads, motorcycle clubs are more likely to be found on cable television than in the crime briefs. Cruiser-style bikes were once considered the only game in town, but bikes built for speed are now accepted alongside their chromed cruiser cousins. And women? Once considered an accessory for the passenger seat, they’re now equals in the biker community.

Jacquelyn Scanlan, 33, of Sellersburg, may as well have been born on a motorcycle. She got her first 50 CC dirt bike when she was 10, and it wasn’t long after that that she was on a bigger bike with a bigger engine. Now she rides a 2005 Honda CBR1000.

“Things have changed. There’s not a big surprise when you see women on motorcycles anymore,” she said. “Now I’ve had people comment just because I have such a larger bike — 1,000 CCs is a lot of power.”

 

ROADS OF SOUTHERN INDIANA

Thanks to its hilly terrain and plenitude of backroads, Southern Indiana may just be the best place in the state to ride.

“Around here, the riding is extremely good,” Korte said. “There’s a lot of elevations in the roads that you ride. Twisty roads are obviously what everyone looks for.”

Wilkey has his favorite routes through the area, but singles out the ride up State Street in New Albany onto Paoli Pike and into the Knobs.

“There’s a place up there where you can see all of Southern Indiana,” he said. “It’s beautiful to stop there. I like roads like that.”

A popular route is Ind. 211, which begins at an intersection near Elizabeth. Scanlan, Wilkey and Bartley all name it as one of the best roads for riding in the area.

“It’s a really nice ride,” Scanlan said.

Wilkey adds the ride along the Ohio River near Utica and further north in Madison to his list of favorite sites in Southern Indiana, but the less traveled the road is the better one.

“A lot of people say their favorite roads are the roads that have no paint,” Wilkey said. “So any backroad that’s not been striped, that’s a good road because there’s not a lot of traffic, not a lot of people.”

And on that, he and Bartley can find some common ground.

“It’s just the curves, and just the scenery, going down old backroads and looking up everybody’s driveways as you go by just to see what everybody’s doing,” said Bartley. “The backroads are beautiful.”