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Born to be Mild

Get your motor runnin’, Head out on the highway

These are Koushin’s Cruizerz, a gang of rough-look-
ing bikers who motor rumbling American-made motorcycles between the rice paddies outside Misawa Air Base, Japan, on a mission to satisfy their own lust for life.

They are head-to-toe covered in leather, with their gang insignia — a giant grinning Kabuki of the Japanese god of roads and travel — stitched to the back of their jackets. They eschew their given names for monikers like “Hotstick,” “Bo” and “Socks.”

When they take to the road, they own the narrow stretches of asphalt weaving through northern Japan like threads in a tapestry. They gather on weekends, mount up and head out for rides that last all day, sometimes even into the night. They’re dark, heavy and loud, and the locals either ignore them or wave.

But these bikers aren’t refugees from the latest ride to Sturgis, S.D. When they ride, they may look like they’re heading for the next rumble in some dusty biker bar, but they defy stereotype. These are the Cruizerz, a happy-go-anywhere gang of Air Force professionals who shuck their battle dress uniforms for leathers a couple times a month and take to the road to see the world.

As far as they know, the Cruizerz are the only organized group of American motorcycle enthusiasts in mainland Japan. By organized, they mean they have a charter, rules and a reason for existing beyond riding, said Master Sgt. Roy “Dipstick” Allison.

“The way we see it, we’re helping out,” he said. “We started as a group for motorcyclists who just wanted to hang out. Now we’re involved in charities, parades and official functions. We’re kind of rolling ambassadors for the United States.”

Since forming in 1998, the Cruizerz have collected toys for Christmas charities, money for various service organizations, participated in several community parades and events, and have even been featured in a Japanese motorcycling magazine. Their legend is large in the area around Misawa, a concept that completely baffles Master Sgt. Mark “Frog” Warren, one of the charter Cruizerz.

“When we formed, our motto was, ‘We ride to eat,’ ” he said laughing. “We’d ride places, eat and then ride back. And after we finished, we liked to stop for ice cream.”

Shriner’s parade on steriods
A typical Cruizerz ride is a daylong marathon of motoring and munching across the Japanese landscape, he said. They usually plan the rides well in advance. With an active membership of about 15 official riders, five or so candidates for future Cruizerz membership and nearly a dozen friends and associates who like to ride along, the simple country cruise through rice paddies can resemble a Shriner’s parade on steroids.

“We’re not very good at the last moment kind of thing,” Allison admitted. “If we have a lot of people, we have to put it all together well in advance. And we don’t go for those short little round-the-block rides, either.”

Indeed, the Cruizerz live up to their name by pursuing rides that can last more than 12 hours. Most average five to six hours’ road time.

A mutual love of the open road led to the founding of the club, Allison said.

While motorcycles are common in Japan, only a handful of people have the large cruising bikes the Cruizerz ride, and most of those are owned by Americans on Misawa.

Eventually, the Americans took to touring the country together. The incentive? To get off base.

“A lot of Americans over here won’t go out more than a few miles from the base,” said Tech. Sgt. Joseph “Hotstick” Krempasky. “[Riding] gets you out of the area. You can go out and experience the joy of the assignment.”

Japan also has the added advantage of offering what Krempasky called “some of the best driving” in the world.

“The scenery is awesome,” he said. “You’ll see things here you won’t see anywhere else. Those are the stories you can tell your rider buddies in the States.”

The Cruizerz also revel in the reactions of the Japanese people as the line of bikes rumbles through the countless small towns in the area. Some people stare, others ignore the riders, but the children are always excited when Koushin’s chosen roll past.

“The kids are great,” Warren said. “I love it when they see us and start yelling and waving. They like to touch the bikes and just can’t believe what they’re seeing. A lot of people see us and say, ‘Here come the Americans. Let’s start the party.’ ”

Road to membership
Earning the right to wear Koushin’s leathers is a fairly simple process, Allison explained. All it takes is an interest in riding, access to a motorcycle — which is waiverable — and someone willing to stand up and say you’re a halfway interesting, decent and fun person.

“Hey, we’re not looking for duds here,” Allison said laughing. “You gotta be able to have fun. And ride, of course.”

Being a rider isn’t as easy as it sounds. The last thing the Cruizerz want is someone who doesn’t really understand how to control a monster motorcycle, know the road rules or who could be a danger to themselves or someone else.

Most of the Cruizerz have taught or are teaching basic motorcycle safety for the Air Force, and all have completed the course. Most also have more miles on motorcycles than a lot of people have behind the wheel of cars.

“Safety is the one thing we take seriously here,” Warren said. “If you can’t handle your ride, you’re going to get yourself or me hurt. We don’t take lightly to people who say they can do it, but can’t.”

Once a member sponsors a prospective rider to the club, the rider becomes a “prospect” and has to complete a grueling test of enduring endless jokes at his or her expense, schlepping equipment to and from the support van that trails the pack on long rides and generally being the “new guy” until someone decides the prospect is good enough for general membership.

Somewhere in that process, the time-honored tradition of nicknaming takes place.

Most of the nicknames are simple jokes that stick. For example, Staff Sgt. Isaac “Socks” Francis earned his moniker because his pants ride up his legs when he’s on his motorcycle, revealing his calf-high white socks.

Allison was tagged “Dipstick” because someone thought the term funny. Allison thought so, too. The name stuck.

“Hey, it’s a term of brotherhood, right?” Allison said.

A lot of the original Koushin’s Cruizerz have moved to other assignments, but the club shows signs of enduring well past the current membership. The club has renewed interest in motorcycling among Americans living in the traffic-congested Misawa area, and the general good vibes that come from the riders have a lot of would-be riders eyeing a Koushin’s jacket.

Senior Airman Bougain “Bo” Sistak joined the Cruizerz after taking a motorcycle safety course at Misawa. He not only learned how to ride, he also learned to enjoy his time at Misawa.

“A lot of single airmen will sit around here and drink and be depressed,” he said. “I wasn’t going to do that. The Cruizerz help me get out and see the country. I’ve learned Japanese. I’ve been places I never thought I’d go. All because of the club. And I know how to handle a motorcycle. That’s a pretty good deal.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wherever the Cruizerz go, smiles from locals tend to follow, as Master Sgt. Mark “Frog” Warren discovers while fueling up during a recent ride. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rain, sleet, snow — doesn’t matter. The Cruizerz ride, but always with safety and comfort in mind.

America meets Asia when Koushin's Cruizerz rumble past a minature replica of the Statue of Liberty in a park near Misawa Air Base, Japan.Wherever the Cruizerz go, smiles from locals tend to follow, as Master Sgt. Mark “Frog” Warren discovers while fueling up during a recent ride. Rain, sleet, snow — doesn’t matter. The Cruizerz ride, but always with safety and comfort in mind.