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Motorcycle Mania : Leisure World Road Runners are pushing 80--and not about to slow down.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As more senior citizens in Ventura County discover the fun of motorcycle riding, I might agree with G.B. Shaw: Youth is indeed wasted on the young.

Consider Camarillo’s septuagenarian “Leisure Village Road Runners,” six guys who were born to be wild.

“It started as a moped club in 1980,” Earl Mettler, 79, said. “Club membership was at one time up to 25. Then about 10 years ago, Irv Weiss came in with a big one.”

Weiss intervened here: “Actually,” he said, “it was a high-powered scooter able to go on the freeways.”

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Then 73-year-old Abe Levin bought a 450 c.c. Honda motorcycle. Another fella bought a 750 c.c. motorcycle. And soon the wimpy mopeds disappeared. The “Grey Panthers” exchanged their jackets for “Road Runner” patches and became a motorcycle riding club.

“Each of the current six members has been club president at one time,” Jack Stern, 75, said. And over the years, membership has dwindled due to illness and a reluctance to change from mopeds to motorcycles.

“I hated getting on a motorcycle,” Mettler said. “But it was either switch or leave the club. So I decided to break my neck with Russ and I’m still here at age 79.”

The men agree that six is a good number for safety. And it is easier to coordinate the rides that they take several times a week.

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They prefer riding on backcountry roads. “Ventura County is ideal for riders because there are a lot of trails available,” said Weiss, 72.

One of their best rides, said Stern, is a 150-mile trip up the back way to Ojai and a return through Carpinteria on the Ventura Freeway. They also enjoy riding along the Pacific Coast Highway to their luncheon destination in Malibu.

The men have a total of 216 years of riding experience. Russ Lomask is the group’s novice. He learned on a moped about five years ago at age 72. “Every time I get on a motorcycle, it’s a ‘hot wheels,’ ” he said.

Most of the men began riding as teen-agers. Weiss started when he was 15. And 77-year-old Russ Coombs recalled, “I bought my first bike--a Harley-Davidson--in 1937.” In those days, he said, bikes were seen as fun and sensible gas-saving transportation. There was no “bad-boy” leather and chains image. These days their sartorial tastes when riding are boots, heavy jackets and helmets.

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Motorcycle clubs of all ages tend to attract more men than women. But the guys don’t have a monopoly on choppers. About 55 of the 180 members of the local Harley Owners Group (HOG) are women, according to Bob Swift, who manages Harley-Davidson of Ventura. “Some are in their 60s and retired,” he said.

The shop also sponsors a local chapter of Ladies of Harley (LOH). The group allows membership without requiring the person to actually own a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

“All drivers are called riders,” said Oxnard resident and LOH member Bobbi Forsyth, who is 50. “When you sit behind, it’s called ‘packing.’ I ‘pack’ with my husband.”

Other women, including 62-year-old Helen Boffer, ride their own machines. Boffer lives in Oxnard and is the district director in California of Motor Maids, Inc., an international organization of female motorcycle riders.

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“There were two of us members in Ventura County, but now I am it,” she said.

To join Motor Maids, Boffer said you must be a women and own a motorcycle, belong to the American Motorcycle Assn. (AMA), and have a valid license to operate a motorcycle.

Boffer got hooked on motorcycles at age 5 when a policeman gave her a ride home on the tank of his motorcycle. She bought her first motorcycle and began riding when she was 17. Boffer is married and four of her children also ride motorcycles. “When they were little, I used to take them with me in a side car,” she said.

Next July, Boffer plans to again ride to the Motor Maid convention in Michigan. “Last year, at the 50th anniversary convention in Kansas, I won the plaque for riding the longest distance to get there,” Boffer said.

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To qualify, a woman must ride her motorcycle alone to the meeting. “It took me eight days because of the heat. It was 123 degrees in the shade at Las Vegas,” she said.

When Boffer is not winning trophies, she is employed at GTE in Thousand Oaks as an administrative clerk. At first her co-workers teased her about the hobby. But she set them straight. “Motor Maids is very selective. When I joined in the ‘50s, you had to have a sponsor,” she said.

“And still they allow no shorts, no tattoos. They are ladies. They are not motorcycle mamas.”

* FYI

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To locate a motorcycle club, contact your local senior center or motorcycle dealership. For details on Motor Maids, Inc., call (805) 375-4203.


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