Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Fil-Am bikers forge friendship through annual Bikerdahan

The 8th Annual Bikerdahan is set for September 9 to 11, 2016 at Lake Don Pedro in La Grange, California. Bikerdahan 2016 is expected to gather upwards of 500 Fil-Am motorcycling  enthusiasts to celebrate the unique experience of being a Fil-Am biker in the freeway capital of the US.

As the event’s name suggests, Bikerdahan’s beginnings saw the morphing of several existing circumstances into a singular concept.  In 2007, JuandelaCruisers, then a four-year-old Fil-Am riding club based in Southern California, posted on their web-site their planned run to Big Sur. By then, leading Juancheros, Peter Lacson and Edwin Alcala, already confirmed to meet up with with a biker group based in Northern California,  the Fil-Am Riders. El Kapitan, Lacson’s Juanchero moniker, also replied to Stockton, Central California based Ernie Cabreana’s inquiry for a join up in Guadalupe.

The ride not only piqued the usual moto-crossed sensibilities for adventure, excitement, danger, speed, and conviviality; it also led to meeting Joe and Margie Talaugon of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), Central California Chapter.  Wanting to rally around the FANHS cause of appreciation and dissemination of the history and culture of the Filipino-Americans in the US,  exploratory talks began with the Guadalupe’s city government for a Fil-Am bikers assembly.


Bikerdahan is a more than a decade old word that is a combination of Pilipino, Spanish and American English words and or their sounds. It was coined in the same spirit of freedom that is the essence of every biker. Taken in its own terms bikerdahan brings back the component of travel, this time on a motorcycle.  It refers to like-minded, kindred spirits who keep company at least once a year to share their passion for everything they love about motorcycles. 

Having consolidated the geographical divide of their home state, the JuandelaCruisers launched the first Bikerdahan in the Sequoia National Park located south of Sierra Nevada in Tulare County.  The three-day rally lasted from August 15 to 17  and had a program which featured bike runs, unplugged choristers and a huge bonfire that became symbolic of the bikerdahan coalition. With tent camping accommodations only, Bikerdahan 2009 drew a crowd close to 100 Fil-Am bikers representing four Fil-Am biker groups.

Cabreana, a 1st generation Fil-Am and a biker since 1958 and veteran not only of a world war but many US biker rallies, said that Bikerdahan 2009 was distinctive. All rallies are noisy with sounds of rumbling and revving machines. In Bikerdahan 2009, when each biker dismounted, he immediately extended his arm for a handshake.


Bikerdahan’s special brand of camaraderie was indeed infectious that through the succeeding seven years, it was remounted in three other California nature parks and a Las Vegas casino. By its 2nd year, Bikerdahan’s club roster more than doubled, from the original four to ten Fil-Am riding groups. Bikerdahan 2011, which was hosted by San Jose based Fil-Am Riders, took place in Lake Isabella Camp in Kern County. This was the same venue for the preceding hosting club—Pinoy Harley Riders Club. 

To the uninitiated, riding is simply a pointless activity which still suffers from an unsavory reputation owing to biker gang wars reported on a regular basis in the news media or highly dramatic films with hooligan bikers, starring rebel icons such as Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda. Most recent contribution to this genre but on the small screen is the series Sons of Anarchy. Those in the know may cite Bikerdahan and its inherent camaraderie as unremarkable and actually the norm. Enlightened bikers worldwide are often accommodating and respectful of each other.

When riding, bikers have sharper instincts.  They are more aware of their surroundings and have greater regard for others who share the road.  A biker’s whole body is involved in riding. Tiny movements translate into significant reactions.The threat of collision with other two-wheeled and four wheeled vehicles is persistent. In that sense, riding is more socially integrative. Such underlying respect is no more evident when bikers meet. Animated conversations focused on riding, rides and bikes will invariably ensue. Further, the group ride is a biker convention which objectifies camaraderie.


The bonds nurtured in Bikerdahan go beyond conviviality. It speaks of ties that harken back to the motherland when televised or cinematic images of cowboys on horse back sparked the desire of  young Filipino boys to be part of that American adventure. Deprivations larger in scope and the aspiration for more freedoms eventually led to departure from the Philippines. 

For that culture breaking change of scene, America is ideal.  It is full of migrants: people who have moved away from the old country or hometown or the farm. Once in America, the Filipino migrants bicultural struggle commences.  These days it is referred to as shifting either sides of the hyphen in Fil-Am. Personal endeavour was and still is the key to thriving, if not survival. Eventually, that which invoked child like wonder initiated by images of cowboys is revisited. The sitting position on all motorcycles with large displacement engine resembles the slouch of cowboys on their horses. Certainly, it is no coincidence that a motorcycle is also referred to as an iron steed.

Blame it on California roads! California thoroughfares as thruways to freedom, biker mettle challenges, sensory overload and even immortality have been cited by diverse, foreign, and dyed in the kevlar bikers such as Philippine sociologist and newspaper columnist Randy David and Brit Henry Cole of Gladstone Motorcycles. In Cole’s World’s Greatest Motorcycle Rides Riding California One, worldwide cultural and social changes in the late 50’s began in San Francisco.  Thereafter , California’s most prominent response was the credo— Live life as you want. To Cole, California One is the overt statement of that freedom and aspiration; where a biker can ride the American dream  to express himself as an individual amidst the diversity of landscape and culture with singularity of purpose—FUN. A passion expressed on what David said are roads made for motorcycles with their unnumbered twisties, hairpin turns, gradual loops that escalate to greater heights and expansive yet tangly highways.


Group roster increased from ten to 15.With such disparate and increased number of participants gathering in a nature camp, RV camping became another option. Filipino Riders of Las Vegas, hosted Bikerdahan 2012 in Prim Valley Resort and Casino. Daly City’s Crispy Pata took charge of Bikerdahan 2013, and brought it back to its outdoors venue, this time set in Lake Don Pedro, La Grange.The next year, Stockton’s Respect the Brotherhood hosted Bikerdahan 2014 and opted to use the same Don Pedro camp.  In 2015, Pamilya Mabuhay from up North chose Lake McSwain, Snelling for their fete.

The bonds nurtured in Bikerdahan go beyond conviviality.  It speaks of ties that harken back to the motherland in which the key feature of Filipino culture is aimed at maintaining a sense of family. Such loosely knit social gatherings of Fil-Ams are already part of American life. Bikerdahan is distinguished from the rest because it manages to recreate a fiesta of hispanic era stylings in a California nature park. Rather than a collective struggle against modernisation, Bikerdahan dedicates itself to all things leading edge of mechanised two-wheelers. 

Most evocative of the hispanic era fiesta is the lay out of the clubs in the camp. For the first night of activities, most clubs host open camp site receptions. Any recognised or vouched for riding enthusiast may visit and share in the festivities,which invariably include garage bands,colors hung on a predesignated wall,dancing, overflowing food of varied regional Philippine cuisines and a surfeit of alcoholic beverages and other substances.   By mid-afternoon of the 2nd day, all gather in the camp’s open air stage for the grand celebration. The hosting club, hermano if you will, has a prepared program that will involve games, contests and rituals. Before sun down, professional musicians who are also Fil-Am bikers begin performing on the camp’s open air stage. After rousing the crowd, the hosting club’s cusinero del fiesta opens the buffet tables for dinner.  Dinner fare is strictly Filipino with four large vats of Calrose rice positioned strategically around the party venue.

In a youtube interview, 1st generation Fil-Am Vincent Paderes of Pamilya Mabuhay confirmed that that Bikerdahan was the biggest gathering of Fil-Am bikers in the US.—Bikers from California and Nevada gather to share food, music , fun and stories, making Bikerdahan a much sought after bike rally.All Fil-Am bikers look forward to Bikerdahan and hope to eventually pass it down as a tradition to the succeeding generations.

The fiesta-like gaiety that pervades any Bikerdahan is all the more authentic and impressive considering that Bikerdahan has become a cultural substructure, helping Fil-Ams re-define their natural tendency towards the familial.  The Fil-Am biker returns to Bikerdahan every year to renew his identity and sense of belonging to a familial village. At the same time he also secures for himself a sense of arrival and advantage in the larger riding public.

The exhilarating performance of a motorcycle, the machine’s pure beauty and personal endeavour capture riders to become bikers. Even as young lads in the Philippines, the wannabe bikers already appreciated and/or possessed the qualities of independence and self-reliance, attributes  which predisposed them to become bikers. Whether they grew up in the Philippines or in America, most Fil-Am bikers rode in their youth.  They knew even then that riding would set them apart.

Aside from providing a myriad of sensory delights, much is made of the exigent consciousness that riding imposes. A biker is organic to his machine. One is riding in the world and never merely past it. One is riding to both the physical and emotional realities of the world and therefore the only option left is to focus on the now. As one companions the wind, memories of the past and plans for the future are shorn. To David, riding is an affirmation of the sheer joy of moving along with time.  Jay Leno’ s succinct version: motorcycles are time machines.

When riding, the Fil-Am bikers are strategically positioned to evade the constantly shifting equation of their biculturalism. They need not seek approval on either side of the hyphen. Then again, the king of cool, Steve McQueen said it best: There is no problem big enough a tankful of gas and a sunny day can’t solve. —KBK, GMA News

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