Life in the fast lane with the Two-Wheeled Chick Magnets motorcycle gang
The motorcycle is, in many ways, an unlikely mode of transportation. When you park a car, you simply get out and walk away. Walk away from a motorcycle after you park it, and it falls over unless you put the kickstand down. Crazy little thing called gravity. Gravity and the laws of physics do strange and sometimes terrible things to motorcycles. For instance, thanks to the gyroscopic forces created by the rotating mass of a moving motorcycle’s tires, in order to make the bike turn right, you have to turn the handlebars to the left. To repeat: You turn left to turn right, and vice versa. It’s called counter-steering, and if you’re not hip to it, you’ll be eating the guardrail for lunch.
In short, riding a motorcycle, particularly the sub-400-pound, 150-horsepower sport bikes the Japanese factories are cranking out nowadays, is an inherently dangerous activity. Such motorcycles have power-to-weight ratios attainable in only the highest-priced sport cars, and top-end speeds that easily exceed 150 miles per hour. Only a handful of riders in the world are capable of utilizing the full neck-snapping acceleration of a Honda CBR-954, one of the lightest, fastest sport bikes ever made. Yet anyone with $10,000 in spare change can go down to the local Honda shop and purchase one of these lethal weapons over the counter. There isn’t even a waiting period.
One look at the antics of the Two-Wheeled Chick Magnets Motorcycle Gang, and you’ll think maybe there should be a waiting period. The members of this Sacramento-based motorcycle club seem hell-bent on making sport bikes do things they were not designed to do. Mile-long wheelies at 80 mph. Startlingly odd-looking “stoppies” or “nose wheelies” that balance the bike on the front wheel and jack the rear wheel 3 feet in the air. Smoky, tire-shredding burnouts that look like the fog rolling in over Twin Peaks in San Francisco. Bone-crunching, bike-wadding crashes that earn members nicknames such as “Tumbleweed” and “Rubberneck.” The Two-Wheeled Chick Magnets don’t just practice these insane and illegal stunts, they actively promote them on their Web site at www.sportbikegang.com.
Well, originally it was to get chicks.
“We needed all the help we could get,” jokes Darin Murphy, founder and Web master for the Chick Magnets. A transplanted New Yorker who started the club five years ago after moving to Sacramento, Murphy admits that forming a gang hasn’t really gotten the members that many more dates. However, he adds, “If we attracted one chick, it would be worth it.”
What the gang has attracted are sport bike enthusiasts both locally and from around the world, especially Europe, where performing public stunts on motorcycles is known as “hooliganism.” In fact, after Murphy first put the Web site up, it got so many hits, a sponsor soon came calling, Pro Slide, a European manufacturer of knee pucks. Knee pucks, or “sliders,” are hard pieces of high-impact plastic (roughly the size of a hockey puck) that are worn over riding leathers so that the rider’s knees aren’t turned into hamburger when they touch the ground as the bike leans into corners. Pro Slide now sends them knee pucks by the case, which suits the long-legged, knee-dragging Murphy and the rest of the Chick Magnets just fine, because what the gang is really about is riding sport bikes, and these guys go through knee sliders like Elvis eating fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Currently, there are a dozen official members of the gang, but anyone with a sport bike is invited to join the club for the weekend rides that are announced on the Web site. Over the years, the number of riders joining the club on weekends has grown to as many as 40, despite the warning clearly stated on the bottom of the Chick Magnets’ home page: “The riders pictured on this Web site are professionals (or at least that’s what they tell the ladies). In any event, the Two-Wheeled Chick Magnets are not responsible for any injuries that you might receive while attempting anything pictured on this Web site. We have enough crashes of our own to worry about. RIDE AT YOUR OWN RISK!”
“Pretty much we have a crash every weekend,” says Murphy. Most of the time, the crashes are “low sides” caused by improper cornering technique that injure a rider’s pride more than his body or bike. But occasionally, someone messes up real bad, like the guy who tagged along on a Salmon Falls Road ride last year and wound up being life-flighted out. Murphy, who rides the aforementioned CBR-954, has hit the deck more than once, and Latham Zubillaga, whose Kawasaki ZX-9 Ninja recently expired after he wrecked it for the fourth time, is acknowledged as the Chick Magnets’ current crash-and-burn artist.
“We have a saying,” Murphy explains. “Latham has gone down more times than the girls we pick up in bars.”
While Zubillaga is the current crash king, the most famed wreck in Chick Magnets lore belongs to Eric “Tumbleweed” Palmer, and is recounted on a video clip on the Web site. The gang was practicing riding wheelies in their latest secret spot (the police frown on such activities) when Palmer gave his TL-1000 Suzuki a little too much gas and lost control of the bike doing 70 mph. There were exactly two cars parked on the otherwise deserted street; Palmer managed to hit both of them. He broke some ribs, an ankle and a wrist and received a really nasty case of road rash. The TL-1000 was a “total loss.” Undaunted, Palmer upgraded to an even more powerful CBR as soon as he recovered from his injuries. The gang was grateful for his return, as Palmer is considered the club’s “most powerful chick magnet.”
If you’re getting the impression that the Two-Wheeled Chick Magnets are a bunch of hooligans with the average mentality of a NASCAR fan, you’re only half-right. They may relish in tales of mayhem and destruction, but some of these guys know how to ride a motorcycle seriously fast. Murphy, ironically enough, teaches courses in motorcycle safety on alternate weekends. Eric “Yoda” Hill, so named because at 33 he is the oldest, wisest and most wrinkled Chick Magnet, has been riding since he was 6 and has a racing past under his belt. Hill is the group’s speed and wheelie king, and on a video clip on the Web site, he performs a magnificent burnout in a garage on his Kawasaki ZX6R, laying down a dark circle of rubber in a smiley face design. There’s even a lofty goal behind all of this risk-seeking behavior.
“People are going to do wheelies and stuff no matter what,” Murphy says. “We want to help them understand the proper technique. We want to teach new riders to ride recklessly as safely and responsibly as possible.”
To that end, instructions for performing wheelies and stoppies are provided on the Web site, and the gang has a strict safety code that all motorcyclists must agree to before joining them on a ride. The code can be summed up with two simple ideas: always ride within your limits and always, always, always wear the right protective gear—helmets, boots, gloves and leathers—even if the Magnets occasionally appear in photographs and video clips on the Web site performing dangerous stunts wearing helmets, T-shirts and blue jeans.
“No matter how good of a rider I am,” Murphy says, “I don’t want to endanger anyone else.”
Because the skill levels of the 50 or so motorcyclists that attend the Chick Magnets’ weekend jaunts vary, the gang has a policy of waiting at major crossroads for the rest of the group to catch up. Questions about riding technique are encouraged, and gang members have been known to coach newcomers in counter-steering and other motorcycle mysteries. Ride with the Two-Wheeled Chick Magnets often enough, and they might even invite you to join their inner circle. But be warned: Not everyone gets to be a Two-Wheeled Chick Magnet. You might have to ride with the gang for months before they ask you to join. The initiation process for new members is brutal, usually involving some form of public humiliation such as dressing up like a Smurf and being forced to answer the door at one of the gang’s many parties.
Ian Avilla, who rides a Kawasaki ZX6R, is the club’s latest prospect. Murphy says he’s planning an exquisite initiation for the Avilla, who doesn’t seem worried about it in the slightest. He’s happy to be joining a group that allows him to express his own love for riding a motorcycle on the edge. Sure, it’s a dangerous hobby, but it’s worth noting that despite all the shenanigans and crashes, no Two-Wheeled Chick Magnet has ever been killed.
“We live forever,” Avilla insists.
Godspeed, young man, godspeed.