Back On Their Bikes

Maryland Retreads Offers Attractive Option for Mature Motorcyclists

By Sara Gavin | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 04.30.13 – Frederick Scene, Lifestyles, People & Places

For Boonsboro residents Jeff and Patsy Ensminger, going for a scenic ride through Frederick County on their 2006 Harley Ultra Classic—Jeff at the helm and Patsy saddled behind—is a thrill that’s difficult to accurately describe. “Only a dog who sticks his head out the car window really knows (what it’s like),” says Patsy.

The couple will tell you, however, that these days, they don’t really feel the need for speed like they did when they were younger. “We rarely go above the speed limit,” Jeff says with a laugh. “As you get older, you don’t really need as much of an adrenaline rush.”

Fortunately for the Ensmingers, both 55, there’s a club that caters to the more mature motorcyclist. It’s called Maryland Retreads and there are only two real requirements for becoming a member: you must have an interest in motorcycling and be at least 40 years old. The Ensmingers are the club’s state representatives.

The Maryland Retreads are a state chapter of the International Retreads Motorcyle Club, which was started in 1970 as a small correspondence group for motorcycling enthusiasts. Today, there are Retreads clubs in nearly every state as well as in England, Canada and New Zealand.

The founders named the club after a process called retreading— putting new treads on used tires— that was common during World War II when new tires were difficult to come by. Many members of the Retreads began an interest in motorcycling in their teens and 20s but often had to abandon their bikes to raise families or pursue professional interests. Decades later, when their children were grown and money maybe wasn’t as tight, they revisited that former passion— “retreading,” as they call it.

Sometimes, getting back up on the bike isn’t as easy as it sounds. Just ask Frederick resident Mike Grote, whose motorcycling hiatus lasted 35 years. “I rode a lot when I was very young and then when I came back to it, it was very intimidating,” says the 56-year-old. “I thought, ‘I don’t remember it being this scary.’”

Grote tried riding with several motorcycle clubs before finding out about the Retreads and was surprised by how well their pace suited him. “The first time I rode with those guys I couldn’t believe how nice and relaxed it was,” he says. “When you’re riding with more aggressive groups, if you’re not up to it, you can be pretty stressed out by the time you get back.”

For Grote, riding with the Retreads gave him back his confidence on the bike. “I don’t think I’m going to take any more breaks,” he says. “I think I’m hooked again.”

The Maryland Retreads currently have 73 members mainly from Frederick, Washington and Carroll counties but also hailing from Howard, Harford, Baltimore and Montgomery. The club’s oldest member is 84. The Retreads don’t discriminate against any make or model of motorcycle. Kawasakis and Suzukis ride in harmony with Harley-Davidsons.

On the first Sunday of every month, at least a couple dozen members gather for breakfast at the Mountain Gate restaurant off of U.S. 15 south of Thurmont. When the weather is decent, their motorcycles line the parking lot—spotless and shining in the sunlight. “Retreads definitely take good care of their bikes,” says Jeff Ensminger. “It’s like looking at flowers in the springtime.”

After breakfast, the Retreads will climb aboard those gleaming bikes and set out on a planned group ride to places like Harper’s Ferry, Brighton Dam or Antietam Battlefield. “We just like riding around and seeing what Maryland has to offer, enjoying the scenery,” says Jeff Ensminger.

The clip is leisurely, usually involves back roads as well as a stop at an ice cream parlor or two, and no one is ever in danger of getting left behind—certainly a far cry from the leather-clad, tattoocovered biker gangs many associate with motorcycles. “We definitely don’t go hopping bar to bar— maybe from restaurant to restaurant but not from bar to bar,” says 69- year-old Dottie Routzahn, who has been heavily involved with the Maryland Retreads along with her husband Harold for nearly 20 years.

“We like to eat and we like to ride and we look out for each other.”

Above all, the Retreads are about socializing and bonding over a common interest. Each year they plan picnics and other get-togethers, travel to regional, national and international rallies and collectively select a charity to support through various fundraisers. For most members, the relationships are just as important, if not more so, than the rides. “These are friendships that last a lifetime. I don’t think I could have made better friends anywhere else,” says Jeff Ensminger.

Ensminger’s parents, Joseph and Barb, joined the Maryland Retreads in 1978 and at 78- and 74-years-old respectively, are currently the club’s longest-serving members. Jeff recalls tagging along at Retreads events as a young man and convinced Patsy to join with him “the minute we hit 40.”

Established in 1973, the Maryland chapter of the Retreads turns 40 this year, effectively making the club itself officially eligible for membership. But as any Retreads member will attest, motorcycling is one of those things that can get better with age.

“In today’s world, we’re so busy and your mind is always so tired,” says Jeff Ensminger. “Just to be out on your motorcycle and let the world go by, it’s a great stress relief.”

For more information on the Maryland Retreads, visit mdretreads.com.