There’s safety in numbers

Gainesville Throttle Rockers find thrill in riding safely as a group


Members of the Gainesville Throttle Rockers, from left, Ross Norris, Steve Dominguez, Tim Simpson and Ray Stern talks about their riding formation before the group heads out on a ride to Cedar Key to get clam chowder, in Gainesville, Saturday Jan. 12, 2013. The group of motorcycle enthusiasts meet every week to go ride the roads of North Florida.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 7:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 7:51 p.m.

It's a quiet Sunday morning on Williston Road. The occasional car drifts off the interstate and whooshes past. Flocks of birds tweet from treetops, and rays of daylight hug the 43rd Street Deli windows. Tall oaks line both sides of the road.

Next to the restaurant, in the Kangaroo Express parking lot farther up the hill, members of the Gainesville Throttle Rockers, a local motorcycle-riding group, are prepping for their ride. They're about to shatter the silence.

Jerry Dodd, the group leader, tromps around in rugged blue jeans, a thick leather jacket and boots. A pair of Harley-Davidson sunglasses shields his eyes.

He strides into the center of his group and calls them to order.

"All right, everybody!" he shouts. "Gather 'round."

Ten riders respond to his command, forming a circle around Dodd. Two men near the outer fringe nudge each other and continue to chat. One laughs and catches Dodd's attention.

"Hey! You don't talk when I'm talking," Dodd says. "Now, here's what we're doing.

"I'm ride leader. We're heading out to Brooksville. We'll grab some lunch when we're there, take a break and head back. We leave no one behind."

Dodd, 62, continues to meticulously assign riding positions. It's a calculated ordeal, one that's instrumental to the safety and enjoyment of the ride.

One stray turn could cause an accident. One look away from the road could get people hurt. There are hand signals, positions, procedures.

Group riding seems as controlled as a science experiment. Today, the members of the Throttle Rockers will ride 200 miles round trip. Anything could happen.

"You lose some of your autonomy in a group," Dodd said. "You have to. But you do not lose your common sense. Safety's the No. 1 priority. You can't go running and gunning."

Members of the Gainesville Throttle Rockets have ridden together since August 2012. In about 130 rides, with about 30 to 40 riders, there have been no accidents, no tickets, Dodd said.

"He's got a mature head with the group. Jerry's great," said Tim Simpson, 46, a fellow rider.

Dodd and Simpson started the group after riding in other motorcycle groups in Gainesville.

"If you want to go out and run and gun, do some circles, push 90, I'll go with you," Dodd said. "But there's no place for that in group riding."

What there is room for is the ride, the appreciation of wild air and open road, the feeling of freedom, of not driving in a caged car.

"It's a wonderful feeling," Simpson said. "There's nothing like it. When you give it a little throttle and start burning down the road, it's like no other kind of performance."

It's certainly like no car.

"Ha, I don't even drive cars," Dodd said. "Cars … Haha."

Back at the Kangaroo, nine motorcycles rest on their kickstands: Streaks of jet-black chrome and silver tailpipes catch the sunshine, pull it back like a slingshot and launch a swelling volley of blinding white light.

"I'm riding backseat today with Taylor Savage," laughs Jessica Miller, 29, the 10th rider. "I'm still saving up for my own bike."

In the Throttle Rockers, there's a wide variety of riders: students, women, elderly men, young men. The members say they want only good riders — not flashy riders, not showboaters, but team riders.

"There are no lines here. Everyone's just a rider," Miller says.

Some of the riders wheel over to the pump to top off their tanks. That's one of Dodd's rules: Never take off half-filled. Take every precaution.

Others turn on their engines and rev the throttle. Hair metal blares out of one man's radio. In just a minute, they'll be riding out. Dodd's already at the edge of the gas station parking lot, surveying traffic, itching to ride.

Simpson sits on his Yamaha. The low rumble carries across the parking lot.

"For some there's therapy; for us, there's motorcycles," he says before leaving the parking lot for the ride with the Gainesville Throttle Rockers.

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