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Motorcycle event to be led by the 'good guys'

August 17, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Jeff Wilkins was in first grade when his father brought home what Jeff wanted more than anything - a motorcycle.

A Honda Trail 70, to be exact, with tires fat enough to carry the dreams of a young boy with big plans.

One plan - jumping over two red wagons - ended with three stitches in Wilkins' nose, right between his eyes. Wilkins said he had tried to imitate a stunt performed by one of his idols.

"That broke me of my Evil Knievel days," Wilkins said, referring to the popular motorcycle daredevil.

Wilkins, 34, still rides bikes and is now the proud owner of a customized Harley-Davidson, complete with a stretch front end and neon lights.

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For the past few months Wilkins has been organizing Martinsburg Bike Night, which 2,000 to 5,000 bikers are expected to attend.

Bikers can participate in an hourlong, police-escorted ride through Back Creek Valley and the Hedgesville, W.Va., countryside next Saturday. Those who want to participate are to meet at the Bon-Ton parking lot at Martinsburg Mall at 6 p.m.

The ride will wrap up on Queen Street around 7:15 p.m. Festivities downtown will include food, bike items and motorcycles on display. The downtown event concludes at 11 p.m.

Many downtown businesses and restaurants plan to stay open later than normal. Wilkins hopes all area hotel rooms are filled, restaurants are at capacity and stores ring up sale after sale.

He dispelled any fears that the event will attract gangs.

Wilkins is president of the local chapter of the Blue Knights chapter, a biker group whose members are in law enforcement.

"We're the good guys," he said.

"It's going to be a lot of fun for bikers of all walks of life," Wilkins said. "It will remain a calm and peaceful event where the citizens of Martinsburg and other communities can come downtown and feel safe."

Piece of Americana


Before becoming a Berkeley County bailiff around five years ago, Wilkins worked for eight years as a street police officer with the Frederick County (Va.) Sheriff's Department.

On most days, Wilkins can now be found in the courtroom of Circuit Judge David Sanders. His eyes move around the room, monitoring security.

He also is the man who tries to put jurors at ease with jokes and a grin. He brings them food if they want to deliberate through dinner hour and escorts them outside the courthouse at the end of the day.

A few years after getting his first bike, Wilkins graduated to a street-legal bike with skinny tires. His first ride consisted of going around in circles on grass. Rain was falling and Wilkins' father, Virgil Wilkins, told him he was going to fall.

Dad was right.

Later, a friend told Wilkins there are two kinds of riders - those who have been down and those who are going to go down.

Wilkins went down in 1987, when he was involved in a serious accident. A school bus ran a red light and forced Wilkins into another lane, where he collided with a Monte Carlo.

Wilkins flew over his handlebars and onto the car, then landed on the pavement where he was knocked unconscious.

"It was a scary feeling waking up on the yellow line," he said.

A full-face helmet saved him from serious injuries, and possibly saved his life, Wilkins said. He kept the helmet.

Although Wilkins swore afterward that he would never ride again, his father quickly fixed the bike.

Later that evening, Wilkins was on the road again. About a mile later, he rescinded his vow.

With the exception of a Honda he bought for his girlfriend, Wilkins is strictly a Harley man.

"Once you ride an American Harley-Davidson it's just a feeling ... you're riding a piece of Americana."

Stress sloughs off when Wilkins hops on his bike. He's found himself on the road until 3 or 4 a.m.

"Sometimes life can deal you some rough cards," he said. "There's no better way to relax than firing up that machine."

Every nook and cranny


To promote Bike Night, Wilkins has handed out fliers at every biker event, shop, cafe and bar he can find. If Wilkins is at a gas station and sees a biker pull up, he'll hand them a flier. He estimated that he's shaken thousands of hands.

"You can bet I've been in every nook and cranny looking for every biker I could find," he said.

He is hoping to make the Martinsburg event an annual one.

Watching all the bikes drive along Queen Street should be a memorable sight, Wilkins said.

"I hope that it's the sound of thunder and the windows are shaking on both sides of the street," he said. "The sound of rolling thunder will be the sound of victory that we made a lot of money to revitalize downtown."

Although he was not born there, Wilkins considers Martinsburg his hometown.

"It's just the sense of home and pride of people knowing who you are," Wilkins said. "I want to give something back."

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