"I was in the Volunteer Riders years ago" is a phrase that I hear more and more often as I talk to riders around town. Once that I announced I was working to put together the history of the club, it was remarkable how many people came forward and told me that they were in the club at one time in their life.
It's been a challenge to confirm the exact date, but I have been told by several sources that Knoxville-area off-road riders formed the club sometime in 1969. One thing that is sure, the club is still going strong today.
Over the years, the Volunteer Riders Club has been the club to belong to if your interest is in off-road trail riding and/or racing. For 40 years, there has been no better way to find people to ride with, and places to ride, than to be in the Volunteer Riders.
The first enduro the club put on was the "Foggy Mountain Enduro" in 1970. This enduro later became a national qualifier for the International Six Day Trials held in Europe. Held on Bluff Mountain, this enduro, and the effort required to put it on, drew scores of area riders together and was the driving force of the early years of the club.
In those days, the club had members who raced enduros, flat track, scrambles, and rode observed trials. And back then, the club held its own races in each of these disciplines. As I have worked on assembling the club history, I've heard stories of men riding and racing Pentons, Maicos, Huskys, and Bultacos in areas that are today full of rental cabins and golf courses. While the bikes have changed, and the areas to ride are fewer, the common thread stretches through the years: Volunteer Riders have always loved to ride.
I was a latecomer to dirt-bike riding, and to the Volunteer Riders. I was almost 30 before I got my first dirt bike, a Suzuki DR350 that I took in on a trade for one of my old road racing bikes. A few of the guys I ran with at the time picked up XR250 Hondas, and we started riding the trails at Royal Blue. I can't remember which one of our group found out about the Vol Riders, but I remember going to my first meeting at a steakhouse in Fountain City. Friendships were formed quickly, and before I knew it, I had been shanghaied into being club secretary. That was over 15 years ago, and I've been in the club ever since.
In the past 10 years, the Volunteer Riders have hosted competitive events (enduros and hare scrambles), but currently the club is more dedicated to holding social rides that appeal to all. Also, the Volunteer Riders have been responsible for building, and maintaining, miles of motorcycle-only trails. If you have ridden a single-track trail in this area, there is a 99 percent chance it was built by the Volunteer Riders.
Gary Pugh, current president of the club, wants to stress that the club tries its best to have something for all of its members. "We want to make sure that we have fun events that cater all riders, beginners or racers," Gary told me. "So far this year we have had a cookout and club ride that anyone could enjoy, a campout and ride that had trails for every skill level, and a tag team hare scrambles race that turned out to be huge fun."
Kids and new riders are always welcome in the club, and each year we always have at least a few rides that are intended just for beginning riders. The summer before last, the club brought in former off-road champion Shane Watts to hold a special skills class just for kids.
When I asked Gary how he came into the club he said, "It was 2002, and I was at Sportcycle KTM in Maryville when I met Gary Clark (another longtime member and past president of the club). He invited me to come to a meeting, and I've been there ever since."
Meeting people to ride with is the primary focus of the club. Not everyone in the club rides the same, but everyone loves to ride. I can't tell you all of the great people I've met over the past 15 years. On club rides people will usually group up with the ones who ride their same pace, and everyone meets back together at the end. Everyone is quick to help a new rider, or anyone who has trouble on the trail.
If you are interested in joining the Volunteer Riders, we would love to have you. We meet the third Thursday of each month at the Time Warp Tea Room (1209 North Central) at 7:30 p.m. Our meetings are very casual, though we do try to keep some semblance of order. Usually we discuss what we just did, what we want to do next, and when we're going do it.
Besides the monthly meetings, we try to have an official club ride every four to six weeks, usually fewer in the heat of the summer. Each January we have a club banquet, which is always the best-attended event of the year. This is followed by the traditional "Day after the Banquet Ride" that goes on regardless of weather or temperature. In some years this has gotten pretty interesting. Until I joined the Vol Riders, I had never seen a bike completely frozen to the ground!
If you would like to find out more about the club, read some old newsletters, and see some good (and some bad) pictures, you can check out the Volunteer Riders' website,
Russ Townsend has been riding on and off road motorcycles for over 25 years. He has been active in promoting new legislation for OHV users, is a lifetime AMA member, former racer, and current Secretary of the Volunteer Riders dirt-bike club.