By: Brook Rosini/Special to The Rainbow Times–
Ride safe. Ride your own. Ride often. That’s the motto of the East Coast Biker Chicks, ECBC, a women’s motorcycle club founded ten years ago this month by Lucky Belcamino.
Established in 2003 as an antidote to what Belcamino and her friends saw as masculine-identified, rigid, militant women’s motorcycle clubs, the group’s foundational values coalesce around an emphasis on safety and awareness, the idea that women no longer have to be content to ride on the back of someone else’s bike, and the importance of female camaraderie in motorcycle riding.
Record shows safety is number one
The club holds an impressive safety record of zero incidents in their decade of operation, and the women in the group are brought together by their pure unvarnished love of motorcycling. Each woman has her own love story of the moment she met her motorcycle match.
“I sat on a friend of the family’s Honda back in 1976, when I was 5,” recalls Shel Demerle, National Vice President of Operations. “It was that moment I was hooked.”
And although they all agree that riding is fun, they each have a different approach to it.
“It’s therapy to me,” says Belcamino, Founder and National President of the club.
Demerle describes it slightly differently.
“It’s the freedom, the rumble, the wind, the badass feeling you get when you ride,” she says. “For a minute I feel like someone else.”
And Emily Savard, a member since 2004, likens motorcycling as a wake-up call to live life in the present.
“When you’re riding you really have to be in the present,” she says. “And that’s something I learned right away as soon as I got on a bike, and I was ready to live that way.”
The women in the group are as different from one another as the various makes and models of motorcycles on the road.
“We have women from all walks of life. Women from all different backgrounds with all kinds of day jobs, from pharmaceuticals to a lawyer, a state police officer, a day trader on Wall Street,” says Belcamino, describing the group’s diversity.
But what they all have in common is a passionate devotion to ECBC, and a fierce loyalty to the woman who started it all.
Demerle states, “I consider each member a close friend. I would do anything I could to help any of them out and I truly hope the members get that sense form me. Lucky has become family. She knows I’d do anything for her and ECBC.”
“I’m very loyal to her,” agrees Savard. “We all are.”
Chapters and growth
The group has grown in leaps and bounds from the start, with chapters rapidly opening in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine, and Pennsylvania. Soon after, a West Coast branch of the group opened up, including chapters in California, Nevada, and Arizona. There’s even a chapter in New Orleans.
But although the club has spread across the country like a wildfire on wheels, it doesn’t look like the name is going to change. In the early days of the ECBC, before the “What Not to Wear” episode, before Belcamino’s life story was published in the book Biker Chicz of North America, before biker-turned-entrepreneur Edward Winterhalder came calling to make a reality series about the club (you can watch the pilot episodes on Amazon.com), there was just Belcamino, her ECBC-branded baseball cap, and her many community connections.
“I was a marketing genius,” Belcamino laughs when she recalls those days. “I always wore my cap. It was a black cap with big, white letters. That was all I had. And all it said was ‘East Coast Biker Chicks.’ But people were intrigued. Men and women would stop me and say, ‘That’s such a cool hat! Is that a club?’ And then I’d get to talk about it.”
Belcamino would put on her cap and pound the pavement, hitting up all the local gay bars and LGBT publications. ECBC is LGBT-friendly, but opens its arms beyond the LGBT community.
“One thing I love about ECBC is its willingness to be inclusive. I am a ‘Butch’ identified person and I’ve always felt welcome,” says Demerle. “We have had past members that were trans and gay and straight and bi and everything in between. I love that. And I hope me being me puts potential members at ease and they too feel welcomed.”
Belcamino attributes her success to many community members who helped her along the way, like Matty of “Matty in the Morning” on KISS 108 FM, the club’s sole honorary male member, and two of her best friends, Yosi Fernandes and Heather Adamian—women she has been close with for over two decades—who Belcamino says came up with the idea to start the club.
“They’re fully responsible for putting the bug in my ear,” she says. “They had said, ‘Yeah, you’re The Mayor, you know everybody, you should get a gang together and get some t-shirts and we’ll go out and wear them on charity rides.’ Well, here we are, ten years later.”
Coming up with the name
Belcamino even credits her tuxedo cat, Basil, with providing inspiration for the group’s logo. Belcamino says Basil sat on her lap when the perfect name came to her, after she had entertained monikers like “East Coast Riders” and “East Coast Biker Babes.” The club’s black and white colors are a tribute to the cat’s formal black tie markings.
Belcamino talks about the moment she thought of the name almost as a foundational rite, a birth by fire for an organization that would grow from being nothing more than an idea in the heads of a handful of friends in a basement in 2003, to a group hundreds of women strong spread across the nation ten years later.
“I remember feeling the tingling of goosebumps on my arms, and then it came to me, and it just resonated in my brain and I knew that was it. It just clicked,” says Belcamino.
According to Belcamino, she knew “babes” wasn’t right for the group: it was too infantilizing and sexualizing, whereas “chicks” was liberating and empowering. She says, “Chicks are like fun, funky, eclectic, rock ‘n roll, hardcore – they can be anybody, you know?”
ECBC members Demerle and Savard both offer the idea that Belcamino’s leadership style is one of the reasons the club has been successful.
“Like most things, what makes something successful is how it’s run from the top,” says Demerle. “Lucky’s passion and deep love for the group keeps it strong and the members loyal. After the leadership, clearly, it’s the members that are the glue and body of the group. If it wasn’t for members we wouldn’t be anything.”
Belcamino agrees that the club would be nothing without the women involved in it, crediting members’ dedication, as well as the support of the club’s officers and Board of Directors, with the group’s longevity.
“Without those women, the ECBC would just be me,” she says. “I built it and they came, you know? So the ECBC is what it is because of the support of the members past and present. It really has flourished because of the dedication of these women.”
Belcamino, whose last name translates to “beautiful road” in Italian, discovered motorcycling at a young age. According to Belcamino, she doesn’t think she felt back then that special sense of independence being on a motorcycle gives her now.
“It’s empowering to get on this machine and ride with a bunch of women. I can’t explain it. If you’ve never been on a motorcycle, never ridden with a whole group of women, it gives you something … it’s just something phenomenal,” she says.
Tying the knot on wheels
And now, Belcamino’s relationship with bikes has brought her to another kind of relationship: her marriage to her wife, Candace Belcamino, now the National Secretary of ECBC.
Belcamino was overcome with emotion as she told the story. She says when she stops to think about it, she is overwhelmed by the power of ECBC.
“It’s made so many friends, there’s been so many relationships out of it, so much charity work. And it brought me to the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. It’s really a very moving experience,” she says, choking up.
“Lucky wears her heart on her sleeve,” says Savard. “She shows her emotions very truly and very honestly, which is so becoming. A lot of people hide things or don’t talk about things, and it’s too bad because I think if people put themselves out there the way Lucky does, they’d get to really thoroughly enjoy life, in all its beauty, and in all its trials and tribulations.”
Demerle met Belcamino at a nightclub in downtown Boston that has closed. They were friendly and would chat when they saw each other, but after the hotspot shut its doors, they lost touch. But one day, after Demerle decided she wanted to join a motorcycle club, her girlfriend forwarded her a link to one that looked like it might be a fit for them. It was the East Coast Biker Chick’s website.
“When I opened it I about fell off my chair,” recalls Demerle. “It was Lucky in all her glory leading this club, ECBC. I emailed her and she remembered me right away. We’ve been great friends ever since and I’ve been a member ever since.”
Likewise, Savard had been riding for a few years when she moved to Newton, Mass., from North Carolina. She wanted to find a group of women to ride with. With what she describes as its loud and proud vibe, its attitude of camaraderie and inclusiveness, and its free-spirited leadership, Belcamino’s club was the right fit for Savard.
“Even though Boston is a metropolitan area, it has small circles, and I think what Lucky was trying to put together seemed like a younger group in spirit,” says Savard. “Lucky is very young at heart. We’re a little flashy, we’re a little loud. We’re a little younger in spirit than the other clubs out there.”
Giving back to community organizations
Beyond the friendships, Belcamino’s own marriage, and another wedding that has come out of ECBC, the club has donated to charities like the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society, Massachusetts Motorcycle Survivors Fund, and various other local and national nonprofit organizations.
“The ECBC have donated money, time, energy and efforts these past ten years, helping us help others and promote motorcycle safety and awareness aimed towards reducing accidents, injuries and deaths,” says Paul W. Cote, President of the Massachusetts Motorcycle Survivors Fund. “We very much appreciate all the ECBC members do and all they are.”
As part of their ten-year anniversary celebration, the club will host a major fundraising ride themselves this August. Other ten-year festivities include Belcamino making appearances on Matty in the Morning and Belcamino being a guest speaker at the Mid-Atlantic Women’s Motorcycle Rally in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
“I’m going to be making as many appearances as I can to get the word out about the ten-year anniversary,” she asserts.
Boston Pride in the hearts of ECBC
But the club seems most excited about participating in Boston Pride Parade on June 8, estimating that as many as 100 women will ride under the ECBC banner in this year’s parade.
“ECBC has been a strong supporter of Boston Pride for many years,” says Pride Board President Linda J. DeMarco. “They have not only participated in the parade, but they have come forward to help and volunteer with us at many events and we are grateful to all of them for that!”
“My favorite time is seeing Lucky lead the group at Boston Pride,” states Demerle. “It’s just so awesome. She glows. Literally! Beams from ear to ear and gets the crowd going every year. It’s the best.”
This year, too, Belcamino expects more growth in the club, with the possibility of new chapters opening up in Alabama and Baltimore.
“People hear about us, or they see us out on the road or on Facebook, and they want to join,” she says. “So we work with them to make that happen.”
Belcamino explains that she has strived to make the process of joining ECBC and opening a new chapter of the organization a collaborative and painless process.
“All you have to do is have a motorcycle, a license, an insurance card, and pay your $50 dues for the year and you’re an East Coast Biker Chick,” she says. “It’s fun, casual, friendly, no frills, no militancy. That’s the way it’s always been and that’s the way it’s always going to be and that’s that.”
To open a new chapter, she explains, “You have to take full responsibility for daily operations, assign officers, run a website – basically do everything it takes to run a business. So we interview them, send them rules and applications, give them as much information and support as we can, and then if they decide they want to do it, we send contracts out.” The cost to join is nominal: $150 annually, with individual chapters keeping the revenue from their memberships, t-shirt sales, and merchandise sales.
Belcamino believes that keeping the process simple and the cost low has been key to ECBC’s growth. But when asked if she ever thought it would get this big, she says no.
“The first couple [of] years were challenging, and it was exciting,” she says. “But I never thought it would be like this. I just thought we would ride a couple weekends and then it would dissipate. It’s amazing to see how the organization has grown. I feel very blessed. And I am dying to get on my bike and ride for 2013.”
For more information about the East Coast Biker Chicks, visit their website at www.eastcoastbikerchicks.com/index.html.