Georgia: Bikers' Club Travels Its Own Road, Despite Challenges

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They have their own rules and lifestyle, but stress that they’re not criminal. Rather, the 15 members of Tbilisi’s Cross Riders Motorcycle Club see motorcycles as an opportunity to travel immersed in their surroundings. And, essentially, to be free. “The main purpose of establishing Cross Riders was to gather like-minded people who don’t give a damn about the sun and the moon and who are only about riding,” explained the club’s 23-year-old president, Gio Chkhartishvili. “It’s never happened before in Georgia, so it’s fresh and new for everyone.” But to pursue that dream in Georgia, where well-paying jobs run scarce, can be a challenge. While some of the Cross Riders have jobs, with a few working for the Georgian Post Office or in IT and marketing, others are unemployed. A bar allows the two-year-old motorcycle club (MC) to cover its costs and help out members who sometimes can’t even afford gasoline. Some take out bank loans to import their motorcycles. Others buy used bikes locally. One member even put together his own “rat” bike — an old motorcycle kept running by cannibalizing parts from anything that can be used. As with most classic motorcycle clubs worldwide, women are not allowed to join. They can and do frequent the clubhouse to drink at its bar, however. One already rides a motorcycle. Others plan to. “I feel respect in general,” said Meko Tsikarishvili, a 23-year-old close friend of President Chkhartishvili. “Nobody judges you on how you look or what you wear. It depends on your attitude and personality. More traditional Georgians don’t like anything different and they’ll judge you on everything. Cross Riders is where I can be who I really am.” At the same time, this is a group that respects its cultural roots. The club sometimes rides with the Georgian flag, and adopted its crosses for its own. The Georgian government itself now appears to be exploring motorcycling, too. An agreement with the European Motorcycling Union, announced on October 28, could lead to motorcycling competitions and more tourists on wheels. Bikers can still be a fearful sight for some, but the Cross Riders emphasize they founded their club only to create a sense of brotherhood among those sharing a love of the biker lifestyle. Nonetheless, the club doesn’t avoid contact with “one-percenters,” motorcycle clubs accused by the American Motorcyclist Association of being in a criminal minority. “We do not consider ourselves ‘one-percenters,’ but we have friends abroad who are,” explained 28-year-old Treasurer Data Makashvili. So far, in this traditional society, the MC’s conflicts with locals appear to have been few. After complaints about the near constant sound of motorcycles at their previous clubhouse and bar, situated above an American-style dive bar in the Georgian capital’s center, the Cross Riders simply moved to a spot underneath the nearby Dry Bridge. The old venue will become a shisha lounge, providing revenue for the club. Such decisions are voted on by all 15 full members, who elect their officials and also tackle management issues such as complaints about the Confederate flag on one of the clubhouse’s bar walls. The flag was allowed to stay as a “biker symbol,” yet the club voted not to condone racism. That reflects, in many ways, the bikers’ aim of cutting their own path, even if against the grain for others. For Makashvili, who became transfixed with motorcycles at the age of 15 when he saw a photograph of a lone biker silhouetted against a scenic vista, that desire has become a living reality. “We have our own standards,” he said.
Onnik Krikorian is a freelance journalist and photojournalist reporting in the south Caucasus.