A Conversation with Reason Riders Atheist Motorcycle Association
Atheists, humanists, agnostics, and questioning theists are well aware of the stigma oftentimes associated with the secular community. One way to combat judgment, reconstruct outlooks, and help inspire changes in the way people think is to purposely attempt to learn about that which we do not understand.
In observance of Ask an Atheist Day this year (April 20th), let’s take an opportunity to learn about an atheist biker group originating in Arizona. Reason Riders Atheist Motorcycle Association is breaking through the barriers of any preconceived notions one may have about both atheists and bikers. Their mission is “to present a positive image of atheists by doing good without gods. Our motivation is not from the promise of reward or threat of punishment. Integrity Above All.”
The below questions were inspired by a conversation held at the American Atheists Convention between the interviewer and Kevin “Hondo” Hickman, President and National Director of Reason Riders Atheist Motorcycle Association. Responses have been written by Hondo.
I hope you enjoy learning about Reason Riders Atheist Motorcycle Association as much as I did. I was so enthused by our conversation that I bought one of their patch stickers, which now adorns my laptop.
Kevin “Hondo” Hickman is the President and National Director of Reason Riders Atheist Motorcycle Association.
Isabella Russian: Can you describe how your group came to fruition?
Kevin “Hondo” Hickman: On July 13th, 2013, Hank Fox had published a blog, “Hey, Where’s Our Motorcycle Gang??” Though poorly titled, it went on to propose the idea of a “nationwide [atheist] motorcycle club.” The rough draft of what a patch would look like and the name, “Reason Riders” was suggested. By November of that year, Walker (CA) and Bishop (AZ) had taken hold of the idea and modified the original patch idea. Small 4″ patches were made and available to wear, but we had not yet become an official riding group. Hank published the “Reason Riders are Really Real” blog update explaining what advancements had been made. Bishop and Walker road for a couple years, getting to know the scene in California and Arizona to decide when and where the first chapter would stand up. In May of 2015, the first chapter got its go ahead in Arizona, where the Reason Riders officially donned the first back patches and were recognized as a friends and family riding group. Within a couple years, we had grown to the point where we could hold our own events and became an association.
Russian: What was the envisioned purpose of creating the Reason Riders Motorcycle Association, what is its current mission, and how has the group realized its mission?
Hondo: The original purpose of the Reason Riders was, and continues to be, to provide an environment where atheist and non-religious motorcycle riders can come together without any of the dogma or religious influences often seen in the community. We do not have chaplains, blessing of the bikes, or pre-ride prayers. In the earlier years most of our efforts were spent on the motorcycle community, but we found that our efforts were better served in the neighborhoods and organizations where our appearances weren’t so common. The nature of riding, the gear we wear, the patches sewn on to our vests, and the tattoos, we seem to bring a room to hushed whispers when we walk into an atheist/secular/humanist event. We are most certainly a novelty of the Secular World. After the predictable warm up period, the groups we have involved ourselves with have continually asked for us to return.
Russian: What makes the Reason Riders Atheist Motorcycle Association unique?
Hondo: The easy answer would be that we are the only Atheist Motorcycle Association in the country. However, the best answer would be that we are not what the stereotypes may have you think. The majority of members are highly educated critical thinkers who love to engage with other like-minded people. You won’t see the bravado some might expect or the disregard for others.
Russian: What is the difference between a motorcycle club and a motorcycle association? Which one is the Reason Riders?
Hondo: There are a ton of different motorcycle clubs, all with their own goals and traditions. While both a Motorcycle Club and Association are centered around motorcycles, Clubs are going to have a much higher personal requirement for participation and involvement. Association requirements are much more relaxed and sometimes don’t require members to have a motorcycle. The Reason Riders is an Atheist Motorcycle Association.
Russian: Can you describe the arduous process of establishing a motorcycle association, as well as the relationship to other motorcycle groups that are not associations?
Hondo: The process varies wildly from state to state and even county to county. The most difficult part is the patience needed to build the trust and respect of the community. As an independent association, we do not claim territory or property and we cannot show “support” or favoritism towards clubs. The Reason Riders have to be 100% neutral. We will attend charity events and rides to support the causes though.
Russian: Is there hierarchy in your group? If so, what does that look like, and what is its function?
Hondo: We utilize the typical structure for leadership at the chapter level, President, Vice President, Sergeant at Arms, Treasurer, and Secretary. My role of National Director is a more recent one since additional chapters have formed elsewhere in the United States.
Russian: Can you talk a little bit about your patch, and patch structures in general?
Hondo: The Reason Riders’ patch is a single piece, meaning it is one large patch with our name and logo all together. This is to prevent confusion as a club by not having what is called a three- or two-piece patch.
Russian: What do Reason Riders members do together?
Hondo: Outside of charity rides/events, we’re more likely to be taking day trips for some oddly specific food, or hosting game nights at the local Humanist Community Center.
Russian: Can you talk about the activism and/or community/volunteer activities your association has been/is involved with?
Hondo: In the past several years we have done anything from raising funds for families affected by childhood cancer to conducting blanket drives for houseless veterans. We have provided escorts during numerous pro-science and women’s rights protests, including assisting Planned Parenthood volunteers who are in fear of harm. Our members will attend county/city hall meetings to speak for secular pillars and the separation of church and state.
Russian: Can you describe your relationship with the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix?
Hondo: The Reason Riders have affiliated with the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix where we have been hosting a family friendly game night on the first Saturday of every month for the past few years. We first began going for their Sunday Speaker events and met an amazing group of people.
Russian: What do you believe has been a success for the group?
Hondo: We don’t give up. The one thing that has been consistently voiced to us was that we were going to fail. Coming up on ten years, lots of leadership turnover, a pandemic where we could only meet virtually, and yet we are still here. Due to the protocols of the motorcycle community, we have also had to be very selective in who joins. Someone just looking to put a patch on their back and not learning the rules of this world isn’t going to be a good fit. They are still welcome to ride without a patch in our group until that changes. Many who begin the probation process decide on their own that it isn’t worth it to them. There’s no hazing or grunt work type stuff during the probationary period but it is expected that they learn protocol when approaching clubs in person or on the road.
Russian: What has been challenging?
Hondo: As an independent association, we cannot recruit. Anyone interested in joining must be the ones to reach out to us. Growth, without recruiting, in a community that is surrounded by religion can be slower than desired.
Russian: How can someone join if they are interested?
Hondo: Joining must be done either through an established chapter, or forming a chapter where one does not yet exist. Our by-laws are published on reasonriders.com and anyone can email us through the website. We offer a mentor program for those wanting to stand up a chapter, but it helps to have a decent knowledge of the motorcycle community or have someone with you who does.
Russian: What is a favorite memory of yours with the group?
Hondo: It’s not one favorite memory but a collection around one concept. It happens for everyone who earns their patch, and that’s getting a road name. Your road name is what everyone calls you, and you don’t get to choose it. It can be something as silly as obsessing over needing sprinkles on your ice cream, now you’re “Sprinkles.” Then there’s the really obscure routes, like being named “Loaf” after coming out as pansexual. Shortened pansexual to pan, which is bread in Spanish, and bread comes in a loaf. By the end of the probationary period, everyone should have their road name.
Russian: Do other motorcycle groups give you a hard time for displaying the fact that you are an atheist association? How is atheism viewed or received by the motorcycle community?
Hondo: We haven’t had an issue with other clubs or associations over us displaying the word “atheist” on our patches in Arizona. There have been some issues in the bible belt, predictably, but overall everyone has been receptive. I think there are a lot more atheists in the motorcycle community than what might have been thought before, given the responses we have had.
Russian: How can we learn more about and support the Reason Riders?
Hondo: There is reasonriders.com, our Facebook page/group, or Instagram. All have a contact feature to send us a message directly with any questions. By the time this is up, the online store should be open and accepting orders for t-shirts, stickers, and other swag.