Sacramento motorcycle club rides into its second century

06/17/2013 12:00 AM

06/18/2013 9:57 AM

Their wheels keep on turning.

One century after its incorporation, the Capital City Motorcycle Club continues to celebrate the freedom of the open road and the joy of riding.

Saturday, the club officially marks its 100th birthday, making it among the nation's oldest motorcycle organizations.

"At first, people are skeptical; they never heard of a motorcycle club as old as ours," said president George Keenelarsen, a member for 13 years. "But once they learn more, then they're amazed."

Capital City (sometimes spelled "Capitol" during its long run) still uses the quaint cottage clubhouse it built on 13th Street just north of Broadway. Club members constructed it for $4,000 in 1940.

"When it was built, it was surrounded by an orchard," said Ralph Venturino, the club's unofficial historian. "There was nothing else around it."

Said Keenelarsen, "When I started coming (to meetings), there was still a group of guys who were really old and still going to the club. They'd talk about the old days and tell motorcycle stories. It was like our little private classroom."

Now, memories cram the club's 800-square-foot cottage. Awards, placards and tributes line the walls.

"They ran out of room on the walls, so they started putting them on the ceiling," said club member Trish Bullivant, who is helping plan the anniversary celebration.

Much of the club's early history concentrated on racing. Many trophies are engraved to Armando Magri, "Sacramento's Iron Man." Owner of a local Harley-Davidson dealership for more than 30 years, Magri raced extensively throughout the West during the 1930s and '40s.

As members passed away, much of that history seemed lost. But while cleaning up the clubhouse, Venturino found a treasure trove.

"He literally stumbled over a bunch of boxes," Bullivant recalled.

Inside were records – decades of letters, receipts, photos, newspaper clippings and much more – that are now being lovingly sorted by Bullivant and preserved. Originally named the Capital City Wheelmen, the club actually dates to the 1800s; they rode bicycles, not motorbikes.

Capital City's conversion from bicycles to motorcycles followed a national trend that swept through California in the early 1900s. The nation's first motorcycle club was founded in Yonkers, N.Y., in 1903. That was the same year Harley-Davidson debuted and two years after the first Indian motorcycle roared out of its Massachusetts factory.

Motorized bikes caught on quickly in California, home to the next three oldest clubs in America. Granddaddy of West Coast clubs, the San Francisco Motorcycle Club incorporated in 1904. Oakland and Pasadena clubs both started in 1907.

By 1911, the San Francisco club had more than 500 members. In Sacramento, the Capital City Wheelmen started attaching motors to their bicycles. In 1913, the Wheelmen decided to make it official.

"They filed for incorporation as the Capital City Motorcycle Club on June 22, 1913," said Venturino. "We know that. But actually, the Wheelmen go back to 1886. We consider ourselves the oldest continuously operating motorcycle club in the Central Valley."

Nationwide, early motorcycle club history and record-keeping are somewhat vague. Capital City incorporated 11 years before the birth of the American Motorcyclist Association in 1924. The AMA today represents more than 25 million riders nationally, according to its statistics.

From its outset, the AMA focused on safety and public perception. The organization encouraged all riders to be responsible and – even in the 1920s – tone down the noise.

Improving motorcycle riding's public image – which often focused on bad- boy stereotypes – always has been part of the Sacramento club's goals. Newspaper clippings mixed among the club's records reveal some of those concerns.

Those stories portrayed rough outlaw riders, who ignored rules while creating mayhem on wheels. That wasn't the style of the family-friendly Capital City Motorcycle Club.

From a newly bound scrapbook, Bullivant read the overheated prose of a late 1940s newspaper clipping, warning of motorcycle gangs sweeping the West, and "Kiss Me Baby" bikers. She smiled at its warnings to the community to watch out for such notorious groups.

"It's all part of the history of motorcycle riding," she said as she flipped through the scrapbook. "I get goosebumps reading this stuff."

Today's club members are mostly over age 50 and overwhelmingly recreational riders. The group regularly hosts short rides and two annual fun runs. Yes, some wear leather while motoring on two wheels, but that's where the similarity to any biker stereotypes ends.

"When people see me in my leathers, they're shocked," said Bullivant, who rides a Harley.

"We have all kinds of people from different walks of life and all kinds of bikes," she said of the roughly 65 members. "Sometimes, all you have in common is riding motorcycles."

"Our club doesn't discriminate between men and women; a lot of clubs do," added Keenelarsen, who rides more than 40,000 miles a year. "We have a place for everybody. If you're in our club, you're in our club."

Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington


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