What motivate 500 Fil Am bikers to gather for ‘Bikerdahan 2016′

Peter "El Kapitan" Lacson  rallies Bikerdahan meet.

Peter “El Kapitan” Lacson rallies Bikerdahan meet.

By Peter Lacson

“There is no problem big enough a tankful of gas and a sunny day can’t solve”.
– Steve McQueen

Los Angeles — The 8th Annual Bikerdahan is set for September 9 to 11, 2016 at Lake Don Pedro in La Grange, California. This year’s 3-day outdoor Fil-Am biker assembly will be hosted by the “council of leaders”, with each of the 15-member California based groups represented in the committee. Bikerdahan 2016 is expected to gather upwards of 500 Fil-Am motorcycling enthusiasts to celebrate the unique experience of being a Fil-Am biker in the freeway capital of the US.

Four groups of bikers in California formed the first Bikerdahan in 2007. JuandelaCruisers, then a four year old Fil-Am riding club based in Southern California, posted on their web-site their planned run to Big Sur. By then, leading Juancheros including this writer, already confirmed to meet up with a biker group based in Northern California, the Fil-Am Riders. “El Kapitan”, my moniker, also replied to Stockton, Central California-based Ernie Cabreana’s inquiry for a join up in Guadalupe.

The ride not only piqued the usual moto-crossed sensibilities for adventure, excitement, danger, speed, and conviviality. It also led to meeting Joe and Margie Talaugon of the Filipino American National Historical Society, (FANHS), Central California Chapter. Wanting to rally around the FANHS cause of appreciation and dissemination of the history and culture of the Filipino Americans in the US, exploratory talks began with the Guadalupe’s city government for a Fil-Am bikers assembly.

The JuandelaCruisers launched the first Bikerdahan in the Sequoia National Park located south of Sierra Nevada in Tulare County. The 3-day rally lasted from August 15 to 17 and had a program which featured bike runs, unplugged choristers and a huge bonfire that became symbolic of the bikerdahan coalition. This drew a crowd close to 100 Fil-Am bikers representing four Fil-Am biker groups.

Manong Ernie celebrates his 86th birthday September 3 with FilAm bikers.  Photos by Peter Lacson.

Manong Ernie celebrates his 86th birthday with FilAm bikers. Photos by Peter Lacson.

Cabreana, first generation Fil-Am, biker since 1958 and veteran not only of a world war but many US biker rallies said that Bikerdahan 2009 was distinctive. “All rallies are noisy with sounds of rumbling and revving machines”.

Sealing friendships

Bikerdahan’s special brand of camaraderie was indeed infectious that through the succeeding seven years, it has been remounted in three other California nature parks and a Las Vegas casino. By its’ 2nd year, Bikerdahan’s club roster more than doubled from the original four of Juandelacruisers, Fil-Am Riders, Kayumanggi Riding Club and Pinoy Harley Riders Club with six additional Fil-Am riding groups. Bikerdahan 2011, which was hosted by San Jose based Fil-Am Riders,took place In Lake Isabella Camp in Kern County. This was the same venue for the preceding hosting club—Pinoy Harley Riders Club.

Those in the know may cite Bikerdahan and its inherent camaraderie as unremarkable and actually the norm. Enlightened bikers worldwide are often accommodating and respectful of each other. To the uninitiated, riding is simply a pointless activity which still suffers from an unsavory reputation owing to biker gang wars reported on a regular basis in the news media or highly dramatic films with hooligan bikers, starring rebel icons such as Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda.

When riding, bikers have sharper instincts. They are more aware of their surroundings and have greater regard for others who share the road. A biker’s whole body is involved in riding. Tiny movements translate into significant reactions. The threat of collision with other two-wheeled and four wheeled vehicles is persistent. In that sense, riding is more socially integrative. Such underlying respect is no more evident when bikers meet. There is no need to defend their hedonistic passion for adventure, danger, speed and excitement. Animated conversations focused on riding, rides and bikes will invariably ensue.

‘Why we ride’

The bonds nurtured in Bikerdahan go beyond conviviality. It speaks of ties that harken back to the motherland when televised or cinematic images of cowboys on horseback sparked the desire of young Filipino boys to be part of that American adventure.

For that culture breaking change of scene, America is ideal. It is full of migrants: people who have moved away from the old country or hometown or the farm. Once in America, the Filipino migrants’ bicultural struggle commences.

Eventually, that which invokes childlike wonder initiated by images of cowboys is revisited. The sitting position on all US motorcycles with large displacement engine resembles the slouch of cowboys on their horses. Certainly, it is no coincidence that a motorcycle is also referred to as an iron steed.

California thoroughfares as thruways to freedom, biker mettle challenges, sensory overload and even immortality have been cited by diverse, foreign, and dyed in the kevlar bikers such as Philippine sociologist and newspaper columnist Randy David and Brit Henry Cole of Gladstone Motorcycles.

Group roster increased from ten to 15, one addition being the first club outside CA, the Filipino Riders from Las Vegas, Nevada. Filipino Riders of Las Vegas, hosted Bikerdahan 2012 in Prim Valley Resort and Casino. Daly City’s “Crispy Pata” took charge of Bikerdahan 2013, and brought it back to its outdoors venue, this time set in Lake Don Pedro, La Grange.The next year, Stockton’s “Respect the Brotherhood” hosted Bikerdahan 2014 and opted to use the same Don Pedro camp. In 2015, “Pamilya Mabuhay” from up North chose Lake McSwain, Snelling for their fete.

The bonds nurtured in Bikerdahan go beyond conviviality. It speaks of ties that harken back to the motherland in which the key feature of Filipino culture is aimed at maintaining a sense of family.

Like a ‘fiesta’

Hundreds of Filam bikers and their families during a Bikerdahan festivities.

Hundreds of Filam bikers and their families during a Bikerdahan festivities.

Bikerdahan is distinguished from the rest because it manages to recreate a fiesta of Hispanic era stylings in a California nature park. Rather than a collective struggle against modernization, Bikerdahan dedicates itself to all things leading edge of mechanized two-wheelers.

There may be no marching band, but there are several garage bands performing at any given time during the first night of festivities.

There are amusing moto-centric games and contests. Invariably there is dancing or what passes for it, be it spontaneous or part of the main event’s program. Food is overflowing, usually of varied regional Philippine cuisines and a surfeit of alcoholic beverages and other substances.

For the first night of activities, most clubs host open camp site receptions. Any recognized or vouched for riding enthusiast may visit and share in the festivities. By mid-afternoon of the 2nd day, all gather in the camp’s open air stage for the grand celebration. The hosting club, hermano if you will, has a prepared program that will involve games, contests and rituals. Before sun down, professional musicians who are also Fil-Am bikers begin performing on the camp’s open air stage. After rousing the crowd, the hosting club’s cusinero del fiesta opens the buffet tables for dinner. Dinner fare is strictly Filipino with four large vats of Calrose rice positioned strategically around the party venue.

The fiesta-like gaiety that pervades any Bikerdahan is all the more authentic and impressive considering that Bikerdahan has become a cultural substructure, helping Fil-Ams re-define their natural tendency towards the familial. The Fil-Am biker returns to Bikerdahan every year to renew his identity and sense of belonging to a familial village. At the same time he also secures for himself a sense of arrival and advantage in the larger riding public.

Riding for a cause

It has always been this writer’s vision for the JuandelaCruisers that Juancheros extend themselves beyond their fun filled riding quests. There must be a secondary preference to help not merely other bikers but share with the less advantaged. Since 2004, the Juancheros have donated their time and money to five US and three Philippine based charities. They have participated four times in the local Toy Run for the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. In 2011, they hosted two dance benefits called Thunder on the Floor of which all proceeds went to the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Emeryville, California. In 2004 and 2010, they organized garage sales in favor of two Philippine beneficiaries, namely Bantay Bata and Tulong sa Barrio. When Ondoy devastated the Philippines in September 2009, along with Pinoy Harley Riders Club, the Juancheros orchestrated a series of events for the benefit of the Philippine Red Cross.

Aside from providing a myriad of sensory delights, much is made of the exigent consciousness that riding imposes. A biker is integral albeit organic to his machine. Full awareness is required. One is riding in the world and never merely past it. One is riding to both the physical and emotional realities of the world and therefore the only option left is to focus on the now. As one companions the wind, memories of the past and plans for the future are shorn. To David,”Riding is an affirmation of the sheer joy of the moving along with time.” Jay Leno’ s succinct version: “motorcycles are time machines.

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