Hog heaven: Williams bikers take to the road with Features

I know that Tom Cruise rode a motorcycle in “Top Gun.” And that the big beefy guy in Armageddon rode one too. I was surprised to discover, however, that a dean, two professors and a security officer here in Williamstown all have a penchant for leather, loud noises, motorcycle paraphernalia and, of course, the open road.

If you saw a girl in a blue t-shirt, jeans and flip-flops riding down Main Street on the back of a motorcycle Friday afternoon, that was me. The driver of said bike was chemistry professor Chip Lovett. After hearing that I was writing an article about faculty and staff bikers even though I had never been on a motorcycle myself, he simply handed me a helmet and told me to hop on.

While the ride through central Williamstown was exciting for me, it must have been routine for him. After all, this professor has ridden all the way from Southern California to the Grand Canyon – a trip that included a long stretch through Death Valley.

“It was probably 115 degrees out there,” he said. “I made it by soaking my sweatshirt in cold water.”

Good times.

This love of West Coast jaunts isn’t confined to the chemistry department. Political science professor Cheryl Shanks has taken some California trips of her own.

She went to college in California and it was there, where she shared a house with four motorcycle-riding men, that she first set her mind on getting a bike. After years of riding, her favorite route is still up Highway 1 in California, from Santa Cruz to San Francisco.

Shanks can be seen riding around town on a big bike called a Motorguzzi. Although she prefers to ride by herself, she shared with me that she often takes passengers for a ride.

Anyone we would know?

“Well, Dean Nancy Roseman has been on my bike a couple of times,” she said. “She’s a good passenger.”

Way to go, Dean Roseman.

Dean Peter Grudin bought his first bike when he was in college as well. He was a student in France when he made the decision to invest in a very small motorcycle and tour the Alps and the southern parts of the country.

“I had a sleeping bag and a tent strapped on the back of this bike and about 15 dollars in my pocket,” he said. “I stayed away for two weeks. The feeling of freedom was extraordinary.”

Assistant director of Security Dave Boyer was up on a bike at age 13. Born and raised in Williamstown, his favorite toy was his father’s vintage bike in the basement of their house.

“I would sit on it and make little revving noises,” he told me. “It was a lot of fun.”

As a teenager, this time sitting on a real bike, he was racing in North Adams with about eight other friends at the same time a sewage public works project was going on. Boyer swerved to avoid a manhole, but ended up veering off the road into a ditch. Unfortunately, the ditch was filled with what Boyer tactfully called “sewer waste.”

“I was up to my chin in that stuff,” he said. “My bike disappeared under me. My friends stopped to see if I was O.K, and then all of them fell over laughing. I mean, I was covered in bits of toilet paper and crap. It was the nastiest situation I have ever had on a bike.”

Just on a bike?

“Well, probably ever in my life.”

All grown up now, Boyer can be seen riding to work on a Harley Davidson. His office reflects his love of Harleys as well; his walls are covered with clocks bearing the emblem of the cycle manufacturer and photos of his bike. He even has pictures of a Ukrainian exchange student dressed up in an American flag shirt sitting on Security’s finest Harley.

But for me, the piece de resistance is Boyer’s Harley emblem tattoo on his shoulder. He rolled up his sleeve and pointed out the eagle, wings spread, and showed me where the word ‘Harley’ is written.

Wow. That’s Harley commitment. I am very impressed.

Do any other of our faculty bikers have skin art?

“No, I don’t have any tattoos,” Grudin replied. “At least that I know of.”

And what about the evident dangers of riding motorcycles? Well, that does not seem to deter any of these men and women. Professor Shanks explains that it isn’t the bike that is dangerous; it’s cars not respecting bikers.

“Cars are evil,” she told me. “They’re out to get me.”

Grudin is also very aware of the dangers of being on a bike. He never rides in snow, ice and even rain. “My wife is still a little worried about my riding,” he admitted, “but she understands that a dean needs some other life.”

Grudin has fallen off his bike before, but was only scraped up. Boyer, however, had a slightly more serious accident.

“I was coming back home to Williamstown from Springfield and I fell asleep while driving my bike,” he said. “I fell off and cracked some ribs. But really nothing serious.”

Right. No big deal.

So what motivates these men and women to get up on what Lovett calls a “huge engine?”

“My bike is the only thing I’ve ever bought that truly makes me happy,” Shanks said.

“I have many complex reasons for riding,” Grudin said, “and it is a secret shared with me and my psychological counselor.”

As for me, I think I will stay with cars for the foreseeable future. I’m not sure I could trade in my flip-flops for leather boots.