Friday, August 6, 2004

Hamsters build custom rides

Famed motor-cycle club breaks for Ketchum

Express Staff Writer

Arlen Ness, legendary custom motorcycle builder poses with his bike, the American Flyer in Ketchum. Ness is on his way to Sturgis, S.D. Photo by Willy Cook

These aren?t your ordinary hamsters. Spelled with a capital H, these Hamsters passed through Ketchum on Tuesday riding custom-built motorcycles on their way to the renowned Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.

The Hamsters, an exclusive club of motorcycle enthusiasts, began in 1978 at the Daytona Bike Week with six members. Of the entire club, 40 members journeyed from California, stopping in Ketchum for a layover day on the way to the rally.

?It started out as a joke,? laughed Barry Cooney of California, an origi-nal member and custom builder. ?It took off over the years, initially all of the guys were bike builders.?

Twenty-six years later the ?joke? has evolved into a 240-member club consisting of custom builders and custom motorcycle riders from around the world.

?It?s all fun,? Cooney explained.

The socially focused club boasts prominent members like premier custom motorcycle creator, parts builder and original member Arlen Ness of California, who joined in on the ride.

?Arlen?s known as the godfather of the bike industry,? Cooney said.

The club expects another 150 Hamsters to join the others at the famed rally, which is also the largest annual event for the Hamster club. Hamsters include three Wood River Valley members, Barry Peterson, Lon Stickney and Todd Rippo. Other members hail from around the world, including participants this year from Italy, Austria and Germany, who borrowed bikes and shipped them in from Europe.

Becoming a member isn?t easy. One Hamster explained you must ride with the group six or seven years and then the club will ask you to join. ?You don?t just join,? this anonymous Hamster remarked.

No doubt the club?s name does not exude the prestige of the high-profile group.

?Our wives said we were like a bunch of hamsters,? Cooney laughed referring how they acquired the name.

Somehow the rodent title stuck. Now, the humorous cartooned mascot graces bright yellow T-shirts and bike decals. Though the name was unexpected, the Hamsters are synonymous with the high-profile members riding custom bikes worth upwards of $100,000.

?Our group is interesting because we have a lot of custom bikes that our guys actually ride,? Cooney said.

Like the custom bike Ness rode into Ketchum. Ness calls his bike the American Flyer. Usually he builds a new bike to go to Sturgis each year. But, the American Flyer is making its fourth trip.

?This is the one,? Ness said.

Beyond the custom paint job?actually custom everything--the bike boasts a nine-gallon gas tank for the long road trip.

The road trip is an annual venture for the Hamsters, but the route to the Black Hills rally varies each year. The Hamsters will spend a week rid-ing to Sturgis, including their quick stop in Ketchum.

?We?re rollin? out at eight, be in the parking lot,? Cooney said to a fellow, yellow-clad Hamster.

Despite their humor, getting to Sturgis is serious business.

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