Stories of outlaw motorcycle gangs dominate public perception and media coverage, dating back to post-World War II and continuing through Hells Angels and the 2015 shootout between several biker groups in Waco, Texas.
A simple Google search of the term “motorcycle club” leads to numerous headlines like “10 most dangerous biker gangs in America” on the first page.
Many outlaw motorcycle gangs identify themselves with a “1%” patch on their jackets, referring to a 1947 comment by the American Motorcyclist Association that only 1 percent of bikers engage in violence.
While the exploits of groups like the Bandidos, Mongols and Hells Angels grab headlines, Mississippi’s largest motorcycle club is quietly trying to change that image with philanthropic missions and a commitment to public education.
Founded in 2003, the Miles Per Hour Motorcycle Club has expanded from Jackson to 16 total chapters across Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri and Georgia. At just under 200 members, it is the state’s largest motorcycle club and the only one to spread outside Mississippi.
Longtime members credit Miles Per Hour’s commitment to the community with helping the club spread across the South. Each chapter is required to adopt a local school, where they donate textbooks or school supplies or even help paint a hallway. The Jackson chapter works with Galloway Elementary.
“If you call us, we’ll be there when you need us, whether an old lady needs her yard cleaned up or a window needs a new coat of paint,” said Chris Dishmon, a founding member of Miles Per Hour who’s known better around the group clubhouse by the nickname “EQ.”
“Our original plan was to come together and disprove stereotypes,” said Dishmon, 53. “Most of the time when you see a biker on the news, it’s always bad.”
Inside the group’s clubhouse on Roach Street, just south of downtown Jackson, fake mugshots of some of the group members line the wall, a tongue-in-cheek way of poking fun at the biker image.
“Outlaw groups are on that side (1 percent), and we’re 99-percenters,” said Anthony Williams, national Miles Per Hour vice president. “Not everyone is rowdy like that; it’s just the 1 percent.”
During a weekly Thursday meeting at the clubhouse, Jackson members are joined by guys from Hazlehurst and Hattiesburg chapters. President Fred Diggs takes a catalog of donated clothing for victims of the recent Hattiesburg tornado, and the group begins talking about their upcoming anniversary celebration April 22 and 23.
“There is going to be over 600 people,” Dishmon said. “It’s going to be a nice and controlled wild party.”
Some housekeeping takes place at the weekly meetings, but most of that is reserved for conference calls between chapter leaders. Thursdays are mainly an opportunity to share stories and drink a few beers.
Some members work at the Nissan plant in Canton; Dishmon does contract paint work; and another member, better known as “Armageddon,” is an attorney for Richard Schwartz & Associates in Jackson.
“I’ve been all over the world,” Armageddon regales the group. “You don’t want to go to Paris or London; it’s too expensive. Prague and Budapest are the best. You can walk into a club and people will be rubbing your face because they’ve never seen a black person before.”
Jerry “Bossman” Sands has also traveled with his job as an offshoreman, making stops in Australia, Hong Kong, Thailand and Amsterdam, among other locales. As a native Mississippian, bonding with his brothers in the motorcycle club makes him more connected to his community.
Sands recounted the time two years ago, during a club-sponsored meal for the homeless, when two kids with mismatched shoes approached him.
“After seeing those kids, one of the guys broke down and started crying,” Sands said. “We were able to track down their address, and for Christmas me and the national president spent $3,200. It was a blessing to be there and to do something for somebody. We still drive by their house today.”
On weekends when there isn’t a charity event, Miles Per Hour will organize a long ride among members. The local chapter leader is responsible for choosing a route. The club is known for scenic, out-of-state trips.
“We’ll start at 9 in the morning and come back at 9 at night,” Williams said. “It’s nothing to put on 300 or 400 miles in a day.”
When the club first started, a majority of the members rode street bikes, but as original members have gotten older, they’ve transitioned to the more comfortable cruiser, most notably the Harley-Davidson.
“I can remember one ride to New Orleans, I got off the (street) bike looking like John Wayne,” Dishmon said. “They say you don’t have a real bike until you have a Harley, anyway.”
Dishmon’s favorite ride in the state is to take MS-16 north out of Canton to MS-3 through the Delta and back to Vicksburg.
“It reminds me of (‘Mississippi Roads’ host) Walt Grayson,” Dishmon said. “There are a lot of things you see on back roads that are still in their original state.”
Miles Per Hour attracts members because of their commitment to long runs and community service, Williams said.
Dishmon added: “We’re not looking for publicity for doing the will of God and doing what is right by your fellow man.”