These Local Seniors Have No Intention Of Getting Off Their Motorcycles
By Brad Goins
Today, 74-year-old Bob Phelps walks with a cane and a decided limp. In 2005, he was driving his motorcycle across an intersection when a driver suddenly pulled into it from a feeder street. She “definitely turned” after he’d taken possession of the common area.
Phelps came out of the wreck with a broken arm and leg and sciatic nerve damage. He spent nine days in a hospital and two weeks in a rehabilitation center.
Phelps, who has been fully insured during a lifetime of motorcycle riding, was hit by a driver with no insurance and no license.
When he came out of it, he had a pin in his left leg and another in his left arm. Still, he continued working at his job.
But after five years, he began to experience some undeniable slippage in his work. When heavy loads had to be lifted, a third worker would have to be called in. Phelps thought it would be best for all if he retired.
Although he quit work, he kept right on riding his bike. “That’s all I’ve ever done,” he says. And he has no deep philosophical explanation for his firm devotion to the activity. “I just like it.”
He’s liked it for well over 60 years. He never developed enthusiasms for hunting, fishing, trucks or cars. But, he says, “since I was a little kid, I’ve always loved motorcycles. They always impressed me.”
He loved them long before he could ride them. He finally mounted a moped at the age of 13. It wasn’t until he was 20 that he actually owned a motorcycle.
He’s ridden motorcycles in 43 states and two provinces of Canada. He estimates he’s ridden to Colorado a dozen times.
But he’s made some concessions to age. Some time ago, he quit cross-country racing. He now takes several medications for an atrial fibrillation heart condition. As he says, “I just don’t push it like I used to. I take it on my own pace.”
One change in his driving habits that’s probably due specifically to his age is his concern and caution about the demands of handling a two-wheeled motorcycle. “When I stop, there’s a problem holding the bike up … If I lay it down,” he fears, “I can’t pick it up.” He estimates his machine weighs 900 pounds.
Phelps has also changed some of his habits due to his concerns about the behavior of other drivers. “I try to avoid certain towns — at certain times, especially. I may be a little over-cautious, but I’m not sure what they’re thinking.”
Still, Phelps is willing to take trips that beginners might consider challenging. He often rides to Arkansas. “That’s just a nice ride,” he says.
“I’ll take a day ride of 70 to 80 miles by myself. I still love it.”
He remembers plenty of good rides from the past, especially with his first wife, Linda. “It was a good time — driving on the road to Colorado.”
A ride that could probably have been a bit better was one that took place after the couple made a getaway to Big Bend Park. When the two awoke, it was to see their bikes draped in icicles. They drove all the way back to town in 34 degree weather and 65-70-mile-an-hour winds. “We both like to froze.”
Age may have put some sort of crimp into Phelps’ motorcycle riding, but you’d never know it from the way he talks. “I kind of like it the way it is. I feel really good.”
Today, he says, he rides “with a bunch of good guys.” If you ever want to meet them, they congregate at 8:30 am on Sunday mornings at the Waffle Shop in DeRidder.
Ernest Parker And Mike Trouvé
Ernest Parker, now 61, rides a Harley Davidson Tri-Glide. He, too, feels that, due to the effects of an injury, he finds it a real challenge to “hold up” a two-wheel motorcycle.
But Parker’s serious hip injury took place on the job, not on the streets. He has yet to have a serious accident on a motorcycle.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been some awkward moments. Parker got his first motorcycle — a Honda 550 — at the age of 15. He found it in a used car lot. He acquainted himself with the navigational aspects of the motorcycle in the parking lot. Then he headed out onto the road for his first drive. The only problem was that when he got to his first red light, he forgot to put his foot down beside the bike.
Probably more awkward was an incident some years later when Parker’s back tire locked. As he fell backwards, his foot got caught in the cable on the handlebars, and Parker got pulled behind his bike. He experienced no physical injuries, but his pride was hurt.
Parker is now part of a motorcycle riding group called the Revelators that we’ll learn about shortly. The day I talked with Parker, he brought along two Revelators who are quite a ways short of being seniors — 46-year-old Jay Lawson and Jeff Conley, 53.
Also in attendance was another senior, Mike Trouvé, age 63. Although he’s not a member of the Revelators, he likes to ride with the club.
Do the four like to ride together? I asked. “We try to, very diligently,” said Conley. Their biggest challenge is scheduling with Trouvé, who works as a trucker.
Neither Parker nor Trouvé feel they have particularly bothersome health problems, and neither curtails his driving because of his age. But they do take certain precautions when they ride. These are due to the failure of many drivers to stay aware of motorcycles on the road.
“People look for two headlights,” says Parker. “They don’t see motorcycles.
“When I put my foot on the brake, I look in my mirror to see what’s gonna eat me alive.”
But of course, the on-street experience is not all stressful. Three of Parker’s sons ride motorcycles. “It’s nice to see your kids in the mirror behind you.”
Due to some drivers’ lack of awareness of cycles, these two seniors find insurance more important than ever. “If you’re an old guy, you’ve gotta have it,” says Trouvé.
A playful tit for tat that goes on in the group — especially between Conley and Parker. It’s a standing joke that Parker’s “sense of direction stinks.” It’s such a persistent jab because Parker’s official job for the Revelators is to find the places where the group is headed.
In reference to Parker’s devotion to riding, Conley says, “he will probably be buried on his bike.” Conley shows me a photo of a black motorcycle pulling a stylized version of a horse-drawn hearse. The men agree they’re considering getting one of these rigs.
Although all these men make solo motorcycle rides, they prefer to ride in groups, and especially with other members of the Revelators. The men sometimes travel in extraordinarily large groups. Last Veteran’s Day, they were part of a local assemblage that numbered 568 bikers. The Sheriff’s Dept. accompanied the group with a Rolling Cross.
‘Bald Heads And Hairy Knuckles’
The Revelators are a Christian riders club. The word “Jesus” can be seen repeatedly in the “colors” they wear on their motorcycling jackets. “We’re trying to spread the word of God,” says Lawson.
The group members believe that the fact that they look more or less like “typical” motorcycle club members actually helps them in their mission; makes them seem more approachable to strangers. Lawson thinks people are often inclined to talk to a friendly biker when they “won’t listen to a preacher in a three-piece suit.”
Lawson notes that because members have had the problems that many members of motorcycle clubs have struggled with, such as addiction, they are down to earth and can easily be approached on that basis.
Children are especially drawn to Parker’s bright purple Harley Davidson “trike,” or three-wheeled motorcycle. Like Phelps, Parker had begun to feel challenged by the demands of holding up a two-wheeled motorcycle, and made the switch to the trike. For children, this big sleek purple giant looks more like an amusement park attraction than a road vehicle. They love to pose for pictures while sitting on the trike.
Part of the Revelators’ mission is to bless the motorcycles of other riders — something they will do on request at any time.
“We love to meet people,” says Lawson. Parker also enjoys meeting people during the course of these activities. “It’s relaxing,” he says. “[I see bikers] with bald heads and hairy knuckles.” They turn out to be “nice guys.”
The Revelators make sure they set an example for any who are watching them or checking them out. For instance, they don’t go into bars. But that doesn’t mean they don’t like company.
They socialize weekly at 7 pm on Saturdays at the Lake Charles seawall. They meet with other Revelators; independent and motorcycle club riders; and, in fact, people who don’t ride motorcycles at all. Anyone is welcome. At times, the social event has attracted more than 200.
The Revelators Motorcycle Ministry has a Facebook page. The group is affiliated with the Open Door Bikers Church at 423 West Burton St. in Sulphur.
Johnny Beaugh, now 75, was born and raised in SWLA. His first bike was an Italian-Made 1969 Harley Sprint 350 cc.
Beaugh took a long hiatus from motorcycling after he got married. When children came along, he sold his bikes.
In 2000, he returned to the hobby, obtaining a 1400 Suzuki. Since then, he says, he’s “been riding pretty steady.”
In 2005, he joined the Lake Charles Harley Owners Group, often known as HOG, which rides four times a month, usually with 10 to 25 members joining in. Among the group’s events is a yearly picnic, a crawfish boil and a Christmas party. (Learn more at lchog.org.)
Beaugh is presently Head Road Captain, a post he’s held three years.
Neither Beaugh nor any other member of the group has had a serious accident in all the times they’ve ridden together since 2005. “I’ve been fortunate,” he says.
As for the effects of age, he shares the main concern of the others in this story. “It’s getting harder and harder to hold the bike up, especially with bad knees.” At stop signs, he must use front and rear breaks to bring the motorcycle to just the right degree of standstill before he puts his foot down on the road. “It just takes a lot of practice.”
The concern, again, is that the weight of the bike might be a little too much for the aging body. “You have to double down,” he says. “My thinking hasn’t changed, but my reaction time might have slowed down a few seconds.”
And like the others, Beaugh is looking out for the other guy. Good driving, he says, means “being careful; being observant of the vehicles around you; of the environment; the weather; the road conditions … Intersections are the worst place.”
Johnny Beaugh speaks for all these senior bikers when he says their experience is “hard to explain. It’s addictive.” Regardless of their ages, none of them has any short- or long-term plans to give up motorcycle riding.
Though they all have the aches and pains that come with aging, these annoyances don’t put a serious crimp on their riding. To the degree that they do have age-related concerns about riding, these all center around the challenges of holding up the motorcycle when it stops. They are also concerned about drivers’ tendency to be unaware of bikers. Because of that, they all insist on being fully insured.
Aging has not slowed them down. When it comes to motorcycle riding, they are resilient and content. That’s not a bad frame of mind for one’s golden years.