COLUMBIA — Ronie "Ron-Ron" Chandler's passion for motorcycles is nearly lifelong. Her mother took her on her first ride when she was 9, and she's been into it ever since.
In 1992, her mother gave Chandler her first bike, a 1975 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1000. Chandler is also among the founding members of the Free Rollers, a social riding club started by her parents in Delaware 21 years ago.
“I like getting out into the wind," Chandler said. "It’s like feeling a closeness to God.”
When you ask people at the 33rd National Bikers Roundup about the passion behind riding motorcycles, you hear that quite a bit: the joy of getting out in the wind and feeling free. The roundup, which began as a gathering of African-American clubs, is an opportunity for people who love motorcycles to celebrate them together.
Chandler met her husband, Clarence “Spud” Chandler, at the 22nd annual National Bikers Roundup in Greenville, S.C. Each year after that, the roundup has been a place to mark their anniversary.
“At the roundup every year you get a feeling of closeness to the people that you meet, and you look forward to seeing them again next year,” Chandler said.
As of Saturday afternoon, about 12,000 people had attended the roundup at the Boone County Fairgrounds, a National Bikers Roundup spokeswoman said. That's considerably fewer than the 35,000 bikers city officials expected. Still, it's a lot of motorcyclists, and they could be spotted, and heard, solo and in groups throughout Columbia since they began arriving for the roundup, which began Tuesday.
During a bike show at the roundup on Saturday, the final full day of the event, Chandler sat next to her current ride, a 2005 Victory Kingpin — Arlen Ness Signature Edition, as people wandered through the four rows of motorcycles, talked and got a good look.
As the afternoon waned, the rumble of motorcycles was steady background noise in and around the fairgrounds. As it did on Friday, the crowd grew in anticipation of live music in the evening. But bike-watching was still the main event.
Al De Freece and Dave Adams, friends for 36 years, met while working at Exxon in New Jersey and have been riding together ever since. Even though Adams moved to Cleveland and De Freece lives in Montclair, N.J., they meet up every year at the roundup.
"Coming to one is an adventure," Adams said. "Sometimes it's in a state that you've never been to or only driven through and never really had a chance to stop."
Adams called it a giant family reunion.
"You get to see the friends you've made over previous years," he said.
De Freece, who has been riding since 1977, said the first bike he ever bought was a Yamaha 650, chosen solely because his father had owned a Yamaha 180. De Freece went out to the dealership with no experience, but after about a half-hour of practice, he was off and riding.
"If it wasn't raining, I was out riding," De Freece said.
"Being on the road, it's just you and your motorcycle," he said. "The passion for riding is something that burns within you."
Adams, who has been riding since he was 15, likes the freedom he feels on a motorcycle.
"I'm a free spirit anyway," Adams said. "Out on the bike with the wind in your face and the world around you — that's what makes you ride. This is our way to be happy, out on a bike."
Larry “Joka” Williams of Atlanta started riding 30 years ago after his brother got him interested.
“Everyone is like family,” Williams said about the roundup. “People will come up to you and talk. No one is a stranger.”
Rene Parker, president of the Elite Riders Motorcycle Club in Downingtown, Pa., traveled to his first national roundup seven days after buying his first motorcycle.
“I’ve been hooked ever since,” Parker said.
Referring to a rivalry between the owners of Harley-Davidsons and those of other bikes, Parker said he affectionately calls his ride, a Honda VTX 1300, “the Harley killer.”
The roundup is a family event for the Elite Riders, who were accompanied by their spouses and children.
“The trip here was an adventure,” said club vice president Larry McGibboney of Downingtown, Pa. They traveled from Pennsylvania to Columbia in two RVs, pulling their bikes in a trailer.
“People think motorcycle clubs and gangs are the same thing," McGibboney said. "They are not.”