Anyone with an ounce of gray matter has sense enough to stay clear of the biker scene.
That world is rife with dope deals, flash violence and menacing characters straddling two-wheeled rocket ships.
The bad biker image gets upended this weekend when a kinder, gentler motorcycle gang takes over the Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds to stage a Biker Rodeo.
The public is invited to spend time with easier riders Saturday and Sunday at five bucks a head. There’ll be cheap food, a rock concert (5 p.m. Saturday), special events for children, a motorcycle swap meet and an array of gleaming Harleys, according to Chris Olson of the Soul Patrol.
“We want to encourage people to see who we are,” he adds. “This will be a family affair.”
The Soul Patrol is a curious bunch: former outlaws who’d now rather save your soul than steal your wallet.
Olson and his pals still look like scruffy bikers. Some of them smoke cigarettes and use coarse language, but they ride for Jesus.
“We may look rough, but we’re real,” says Olson. “Being a Christian is deeper than a cuss word or a cigarette.”
A chaplain for the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla in 1993 called the Soul Patrol one of the most popular and effective groups to speak to prison inmates.
Soul Patrol members say they’ve scraped up about every nickel they have - some $7,000 - to hold this bizarre festival, which appears to be a cross between a real rodeo, a county fair and the “Twilight Zone.”
There will be Motorcycle Barrel Racing. That’s easy to picture mentally, but how about the Potato in the Haystack?
In that contest, women passengers dive off moving motorcycles into a pile of hay and try to grab a potato. “It’s great,” adds Olson “they’re clacking heads like bowling pins.”
There’s a race to see how fast riders can push an empty beer keg across a finish line with their front tire.
There’s even a contest to see how slow a biker can ride. “Last one past the finish line wins,” says Jim Tipton, 44, the Soul Patrol chaplain. “If your feet hit the ground, you’re out.”
Soul Patrol members are as serious as an open grave about not wanting to offend any brother bikers who haven’t yet seen the light. They make a point of not mentioning the club names of any outlaw groups.
Olson says the patrol tries to co-exist peacefully with those ill-tempered folks, many of whom are expected to participate in the rodeo for cash and trophies.
“It’s a matter of respect,” explains Tipton. “You won’t get anywhere in the biker world without respect. I don’t look up to them, but I still respect them for who they are.”
Christians should be so gracious. Some churchgoers scoff at the Soul Patrol despite its old-time deliverance message. Real Christians, the theory goes, should be clean-shaven and neatly dressed.
The patrol is as rough around the edges as a bundle of dry corn cobs: Tattoos, earrings, grimy jeans, wild hair, beards….
Jesus may have saved them from drugs and evil ways, but he let them keep their love for growling Harleys and the fierce independence bikers covet.
“There’s nothing like the feel of being on the road with nothing but a motor between your legs,” says Tipton.
One Soul Patroller who gives his name only as Bear says he went to church the other day and inadvertently put the fear of God in a woman.
She took one look at his 6-foot-4, 296 pound-frame (he didn’t get his nickname for nothing) and quickly slid her purse as far away from him as she could.
Once upon a time that might have been the smart move. But the born again Bear is more Teddy than griz.
“You don’t have to be bad to be a biker,” says the slow-talking Bear. “Not as long as you have Jesus in your heart.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Soul Patrol Saturday and Sunday at the Fairgrounds. Admission: $5