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In the summer of 1905, less than a year after its formation, the San Francisco Motorcycle Clubheld its first run, a five-mile journey from the clubhouse on Market Street to the hilltop overlooking Daly City, by way of Mission Street. The foray was ambitious. While the bone-crushing wooden chassis of earlier motorbikes had already given way to more comfortable spring frames and spring-mounted seats, motorcycles at the time resembled little more than glamorized bicycles, complete with little bells and step-through frames for women. The wheels on these motorbikes were slender, the engines were anemic, and climbing hills was considered an achievement. Add to all of this a typically inclement San Francisco summer and the fact that, south of Army (now Cesar Chavez), Mission Street was just a long dirt road, and it's little wonder that the 12 charter members quickly succumbed to a quagmire of mud and frustration. (It would be another two years before Indian introduced the first American V-twin engine and yet two more years before Harley-Davidson would present the 45-degree V-twin with its signature rumble and the blood-quickening top speed of 60 mph.) Of course, the cancellation of the SFMC's first run did not discourage the dirty dozen or dampen the Bay Area's growing interest in motorcycles. By 1911, four years after the foundation of the neighboring Oakland Motorcycle Club, SFMC membership had swelled to 500 and counted San Francisco Mayor P.H. McCarthyamong its ranks. Like most clubs at the time, both the SFMC and the OMC were nondenominational in that motorcycles of all makes and models were welcomed, as were members of any rideable age and both sexes, but it's worth noting that, in 1913, a spirited rider named Dudley "Red" Perkinsjoined the SFMC and distinguished himself as a champion hill climber on his Harley. One year later, he opened his still-famous dealership, and his influence could be felt in the predilection of the club for many years to come.
"When I joined up, 80 percent of the members rode Harleys," says current Road Captain David Schillerwithout any hint of nostalgia. "Now, there's about six of us. There are a lot of sport bikes now. Dual sport. Some rat bikes. ... My son rides a rat bike. Honestly, I don't know what those guys are doing." Schiller chuckles, pointing out that Eric Schiller is the current vice president of the SFMC.
"I used to bring him down in a sidecar," says David, who has been an active SFMC member for more than 24 years.
"It's really amazing to see a club that's been around for so long, where multiple generations can just walk right in and feel at home," says Rocky Mullin, a member of the Bavarian Illuminati Motorcycle Club, a loose association of pagan motorcycle lovers whose primary tenet is "do what thou wilt," as long as it harm none. "You see that sort of longevity with churches but not in many other places. The historical record in this place is absolutely amazing."
Despite a fire in 1985 that gutted the SFMC clubhouse's northern wall and the earthquake that did more damage four years later, the group's history has been carefully preserved. New track lighting hangs from the richly burnished ceilings of the clubhouse, illuminating a hundred years of club banners, ribbons, black-and-white photos, and newspaper clippings; trophy cases brim with memorabilia honoring members' achievements in competition, community action, and racing. There is a Hap Joneswall commemorating the beloved member's inaugural, if uninvited, ride over the Golden Gate Bridge during its first pedestrian crossing in 1937, and follow-up coverage from 1987 when Jones was invited by the city to repeat the historic ride. (He happily accepted, doing the run aboard a vintage Hendersonwith the granddaughter of the company's founder riding in the sidecar.) Other photographs of great rides and greater parties line the wall near the bar. Antique bikes hang from the ceiling above a pool table and a vintage foosball table, under which a group of children plays hide-and-seek. A mountain of jackets piled against the southern wall threatens to become an avalanche of black leather. A group of bikers -- some of them proudly designated outlaws, some of them attorneys, carpenters, and schoolteachers -- raises glasses to the 100-year anniversary of the second oldest club in the nation.
"Our club was founded in 1903," says Vermin, a life member of the Yonkers Motorcycle Clubfrom New York. Unlike David Schiller, who wears a white button-down dress shirt, gold braid, and captain's hat, Vermin looks like every father's nightmare -- long hair, big mustache, thorny complexion, difficult teeth, and well-worn leather covered with well-earned insignias. But he's sweet as can be.
"My father did everything he could to keep me from following in my uncle's footsteps," admits Vermin, "but here I am." He looks out over the block party where bikers have come from all over the country to honor the centennial clubhouse.
"Last year, a bunch of the [SFMC] guys came out to celebrate our 100-year anniversary, so we wanted to reciprocate," says Road Captain Vince Grimaldi.
"You always meet great people when you're on the road," says Vermin. "The only thing different is the geography. The camaraderie is the same. I've spent every Friday and most weekends of my adult life with [the Yonkers MC], and I wouldn't have it any other way."