Hamsters Motorcycle Club - Riding With Rodents

Exhaust Notes

The Hamster Parade down Main Street in Sturgis, South Dakota, stops all activity. For a moment, T-shirt vendors relax, conversations cease and scantily clad ladies turn their attention from the sidewalk to the titillating sight of 100 custom American motorcycles-each piloted by a yellow-shirted member of the mythical Hamsters Motorcycle Club.

Rumors abound. They are all millionaires ... they all own helicopters (for Mount Rushmore flybys) ... they use $100 bills to scrape the bugs from their leathers they collectively own 67 percent of Lawrence County, South Dakota.

But it's not all true. Some only lease the helicopters

Joking aside, the Hamsters Motorcycle Club was born as a tongue-in-cheek karmic reaction to the stereotypical hard-core biker image of the '70s. The group wanted to show that a collective of custom motorcycles could indeed pass through society without leaving a legacy of bar fights, intimidation and general social misfittedness. They exist to tweak, chop and create rolling works of art, and they love to ride them.

To Be A Hamster:
1)You must ride your American motorcycle to Sturgis.
2) It cannot be stock.

So what might seem like some sort of tunnel-visioned, chopper-tweaking, dollar-dripping secret society from the outside is really just a group of enthusiasts-like everybody else at Sturgis. They've refined a tradition and in the process become icons of the motorcycle world. Well-known industry types, such as Bruce Rossmeyer of Daytona Harley-Davidson, and world-renowned custom builders, such as Arlen Ness and Dave Perowitz, may populate the Hamsters, but the bulk of its members are nonindustry-but-fully-dedicated fans of the motorcycle arts. They live to debunk the belief that these machines are more for the eye than about the journey. They ride their radical bikes to Sturgis every year, sometimes covering 2500 miles each way to the hallowed hills of South Dakota. These machines, some worth more than the down payment on a Lear jet, converge on Sturgis peppered with bugs, road grime and smiling owners. Every year the route evolves, the machines change and the stories (and lies) get bigger and better.

For 2007, the ride started at the impressive Arlen Ness dealership in Dublin, California. It's always a grand sight to see dozens of motorcycles rolling in group formation, but there's clearly something special about this one when it rumbles into small towns such as Arco, Idaho, to fill up the fuel tanks. The mob clicks off consecutive 250- to 350-mile days at a surprisingly aggressive pace, so your machine had better be well constructed, no matter how pretty the paint. Each afternoon, the club rolls into a designated host hotel-much to the surprise of nonenthusiast guests. But true to their mission, the riders are more than happy to talk about their bikes, the places they have been and the work they do, as curious bystanders look on. The enthusiasm is contagious-especially to the hundreds of kids along the route in awe of the chrome, the paint and the rumble of the pack.

Yes, there are private parties. Yes, the Hamsters have bought so many condos along one road in neighboring Spearfish that the city agreed to change the name to Hamster Hill. Yes, there is a loose hierarchy to the club. But some myths were simply obliterated. For one, custom motorcycles can be ridden long distances, and no matter their individual backgrounds, Hamsters really do live to ride (and really love that yellow tidal wave along Main Street). And they, like you, can't look at a stock motorcycle without mentally compiling a list of changes they'd like to make for next year.