Motorcycle club members reminisce on 50 years

·5 min read

Sep. 4—There are two words etched into the concrete stoop of the little white house at 711 N. Locke St.

Though simple in nature, they tell a story that stretches back half a century; one of brotherhood and comradery and of the freedom of the open road.

"Road Knights," the words read in tidy gray lettering, in case anyone questions who resides inside.

But walk into the property, and the bare walls and mostly empty rooms tell yet another story.

The structure is now sold.

It's time to move on.

But for the seven surviving members of the Road Knights Motorcycle Club — the oldest motorcycle club in Howard County which once boasted anywhere from 25 to 30 members — some goodbyes are harder than others.

And though none of the men like to use the word "disbanding," they do admit that the logistics just aren't there anymore to successfully maintain a clubhouse and participate in community events the way they used to.

So last week, before the club's Locke property is officially someone else's, the Tribune caught up with the Road Knights to reminisce about the club's place in Kokomo history, as well as where the men go from here.

Becoming the Road Knights

It was 1968 when a group of local African American motorcycle riders began meeting inside a garage here in Kokomo that they monikered "Hoganville," aptly named because of the surname of several of the group's members.

"Our focus was mainly about safety and security at the time," Clarence Grier, one of the club's founding members, said. "We didn't want to be one of those outlaw clubs that went around terrorizing the neighborhood. The one thing we wanted to have was a good name. We always said your name is your bond, and we didn't want anybody talking about us in a bad way.

"So, we were always dressed really well, and our bikes were always very, very clean," Grier added. "We were very selective on who was able to join, and we made sure everyone knew that we were a clean club because we didn't want to get a bad reputation."

In the early-1970s, the Road Knights became sanctioned through the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) and began holding motorcycle field meets on Father's Day weekend in front of their clubhouse before heading out to the Kokomo Speedway or the Bunker Hill Drag Strip to top off the festivities.

Those field meets — which went on for decades — were mainly competitions between motorcycle clubs throughout the Midwest, Grier noted, featuring categories of events like "best dressed club," "largest member club" or "oldest rider."

They'd even give out trophies to the winners, Grier quipped, motioning to the mountain of trophies that still sit in a back room of the Locke Street property.

Grier and the rest of the Road Knights hope that many of those trophies can be displayed at Douglass School once the project at that facility is completed.

Lee Gleaves, who joined the club in 1976, talked about the popularity of those annual field meets.

"The event was so big that we had people coming from everywhere," he said. "We had them coming from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Ohio, Alabama, you name it. And it got so big that they even called it 'Road Knights weekend.'"

But even while members of the Road Knights were involved in those field meet events, club member William Pendleton (member since 1968) said they also knew it all wouldn't last forever.

Due to manpower issues, the Road Knights haven't participated or sponsored the Father's Day weekend events for years now, Pendleton noted, though some other individuals have tried to keep the festivities going.

"We knew years ago that it was going to come to this," Pendleton said, referring to the loss of membership creating a cutback in community participation. "When you don't have enough manpower to do what you used to do, it's just difficult."

Road Knights President Boyd Kirby agreed with Pendleton, adding that the change was just inevitable.

"Sam Cooke sang a song about that," he smiled. "A change is gonna come. We knew one day we wouldn't be able to do the Father's Day event, and we were ready for it. It had grown so big, and we just didn't have the ability to keep up. But we wanted to go out right. We wanted to go out smoothly. We didn't want to do anything or be associated with anything we knew couldn't be done 100%."

Because the Road Knights, Kirby said laughing, have never done anything less than 100%.

That includes everything from their sponsorships of Little League teams to community Easter egg hunts and even their Saturday morning rides that the group used to take together all across the Midwest.

And it's perhaps those group rides that many of the surviving members said they'll really miss most of all.

Remembering the moments

"I miss it already," Kirby said when asked about the Roads Knights. "I joined in 1973, and they started this thing in 1968. So, I had four or five years to observe this club. At the time, I didn't even have a motorcycle, but I knew I wanted to be a part of it. ... And they took me in. And now I'm starting to miss everything about it already."

Of course, several of the men admitted that they don't ride their motorcycles as often as they'd like to these days, due to age and other health issues, but don't call them a "garage" club just yet.

"Just because you don't see our motorcycles doesn't mean we still can't ride," Pendleton said laughing. "We can ride. We can definitely ride. A lot of people want to look at us all now and say, 'Who is that?' but I would tell all of those people that I have more miles under my belt than they'll ever get. They ride from one block to this block, but we hit the interstate.

"We know what it's like to go out there on those four or five lanes of traffic, and the Lord then brings us home safe and sound," Pendleton added. "... And even when all of us, when we're gone, somebody is going to remember us. They're going to still remember the Road Knights."