Motorcycling is dangerous; that’s what makes mainstream bikers such a tightly-knit community. Being there for the family of a fallen rider becomes all the more important when you realise that someday your riding buddies may have to do the same for your loved ones.
Which is why the Bikers Church in Brackenfell, north of Cape Town, was packed to capacity for the annual memorial service at the weekend, as hundreds of riders on an astonishing array of machines turned out in support of the families - 52 of them between 1 January and 10 October this year – who had lost a rider on the roads of the Western Cape.
Two motorcycles, each carrying a wooden plaque honouring the names of riders who had died on the roads of the Western Cape in the eight years since the memorial service was first held, rumbled down the aisles, led by Piper James McGowan of the Mighty Men, to the measured strains of that most poignant anthem of hope, ‘Amazing Grace’.
Pastor George Lehman welcomed the riders with the assurance that the Lord is always close to the broken-hearted, just as bikers rush towards a crashed rider - not to offer empty words of sympathy but to be strong for him when he can not.
As an illustration he called up a member of the congregation and had a paramedic connect him to an oxygen mask; too many riders, he said, had experienced waking up with those funny little pipes up their nostrils, but oxygen, he reminded them, helped them to breathe more easily when ribs and lungs weren’t up to it, soaking into the tissues of the body and promoting healing.
"Faith is oxygen for the soul."
It helps us to breathe, he said, when carrying emotional burdens that seem beyond bearing. He quoted Psalm 139, in which David seems almost paranoid about how well the Lord knows him, knows what he is going to say before he does - but is comforted that the same knowledge shields him front and rear.
“Stop running,” said Pastor Lehman. “He’s onto you; put your trust in Him.”
Motorcyclists Association of the Western Cape president Bruce Reynolds knelt by the plaques and read out the names of the fallen in a voice gruff with emotion, as their family members came up to be presented with a single red rose for each rider they’d lost.
He reminded the congregation of the literally hundreds of names that had been placed on these two wooden boards over eight years - and that each one had a family, before Pastor Lehman asked them to stand in support of those families as trumpeter Regan sounded the Last Post.
And, as the last, long notes faded away, nobody smiled at the sight of burly, unshaven guys in badge-encrusted leathers openly wiping the tears from their cheeks.
They were too busy wiping their own.
Deputy director of road traffic management David Frost, himself a righteous biker, committed the government of the Western Cape to a programme of action focused on biker safety - but also pointed out that change was a two-way street, that one in four motorcycle deaths did not involve another vehicle and that those deaths could only be addressed by a change in attitude from the riders.
“Albert Einstein once said,” he quipped, “that a man who is driving safely while kissing his girlfriend is not paying enough attention to the kiss.”
Do one thing at a time, he said, and do it right. If you’re going to drink, drink; don’t drink and ride. If you’re going to ride, just ride. Give it your full attention; that might just be enough to keep you alive.
Then he closed the circle with that beloved quote from Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
It was left to Piper McGowan to be lead the congregation out into the early summer sun to the skirling sounds of ‘When the saints go marching in”. And they were comforted, for more important than that those 52 bikers had died was that they had lived, and they had ridden and they were loved.