Updated: March 23, 2012 at 12:00 am
When Viet Nam veteran Bob Leeke retired after 26 years and 13 days in the Air Force, motorcycle riding became his therapy, a way to relieve the stress.
At 61, he still puts on his 20 year old leathers, picks a direction on the compass — never a destination — and rolls away. Last summer he rode 2,000 miles in eight days on a trip through the Missouri countryside.
Kind, but crusty, Leeke says he likes bikers better than politicians, and on the road he isn’t afraid to show his anger when a car cuts him off.
“They cut me off, I’m going to give them a one-finger salute,” he said on Wednesday.
Still, Leeke tries to live the example of a good biker — for 10 years he has been the sales manager at Rocky Mountain Cycle Plaza and has ridden with many Colorado Springs motorcycle clubs, known as MCs.
Despite his faith in riders and their culture, Leeke knows there’s a darker side to MCs — the one-percenters , the rider term for motorcycle gangs known for tight brotherhoods, strict rules and a history of violence.
For some members of the Colorado Springs riding community, the March 3 fatal shooting at Sin City Disciples clubhouse that left one man dead and put two Fort Carson soldiers in jail, has echoes of one-percenter culture. The Sin City Disciples, also sometimes spelled Deciples, a group founded in the 1966 in Indiana, according to the One Percenter Encyclopedia, has been labeled an Outlaw Motorcycle Gang by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — joining the ranks of the Hells Angels, and the Colorado-based Sons of Silence.
Two Fort Carson sergeants, Christopher Mountjoy, 30, and John Burrell, 27, were arrested last week on suspicion of first-degree murder in connection with the death of Virgil Means.
According to police reports there was a brawl at the group’s clubhouse, at 628 W. Vermijo Ave., in the early hours of a Saturday morning. Means and a friend dove into a car to flee, but Means was hit by one of several bullets fired at the car, police said. He died shortly afterward in Penrose Hospital.
From the outside, the Sin City clubhouse seems little more than a defunct concrete slab warehouse at the dead-end of west Vermijo Avenue. The neighbors — a stone countertop store, electronics and car-parts storages — prefer to keep to themselves. The clubhouse’s only giveaway is a black and red steel door, emblazoned with “Private club members only,” and bearing a deep dent.
Burrell, assigned to Fort Carson’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, worked as a bouncer at the club, according to court documents. In the past, he was a member of the New Era Car Club, a club for active duty soldiers, according to his Facebook page.
Mountjoy, assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, served a tour in Iraq, where he lost his hearing after his ear drums were ruptured by an IED explosion, according to an article on www.healthyhearing.com.
The homicide has done nothing to help the local biker image, Leeke said.
“Anytime you have bikers, you’re gonna have a perception,” he said. “It’s doesn’t take but one or two of us.”
Motorcycle clubs are popular with military members as they provides a sense of brotherhood and release, Leeke said. The Sin City Disciples are no different, he said.
“I do know that most of them are military members,” he said. “A lot of those guys came out of Fort Hood.”
An ATF Intelligence Report released in 2010 listed the Sin City Disciples, along with another local one-percent group called the Sons of Silence, as an Outlaw Motorcycle Gang with a military membership. The report profiles gang members with a military history.
Fort Carson has no prohibition against soldiers joining a motorcycle club, said Meghan Williams, a spokeswoman for the post.
Even for long-time members of the Colorado biking community, Sin City remains elusive and unknown.
Barb Manka and her husband Jerry have owned bike shops in Pueblo and Colorado Springs since the late 1960s, and she said she knows little about the group. The Mankas have been members of the Colorado Springs Touring Club since 1995, and like Leeke, they can be seen at many of the local rides throughout the year.
At events, such as the March 17 and 18 Super Show & Swap, Manka, 75, is a “backpatch watcher” — she eyes the allegiances of riders, pinned to their backs, as she strolls through a show.
She has seen a Sin City backpatch or two. But at the swap last weekend, the Sin City guys were nowhere to be seen — Leeke suspects there was a quiet understanding that, given recent events, their attendance was not welcome.
Barb Manka has struggled against the “bad biker” perception her whole life, ever since her then-boyfriend, Jerry, got her into riding, much to the horror of her parents.
“So I don’t know what gave me this instinct that I wanted to be a motorcycle rider,” she said on Thursday.
The Mankas and their children have ridden bikes in every state in the U.S. They’ve also pulled into a road-side restaurant, placed their helmets on a table, and seen people flee at the sight of them.
“We’re not tattooed and we don’t wear black leather,” Barb Manka said.
She describes the one-percenter groups as intense brotherhoods, with strict rules and laws for its members. Barb Manka prefers clubs with purposes — and in a town with one of the highest number of registered bikes in the county, Leeke said, there are plenty to choose from.
There are Harley Owners Groups, Special Forces clubs, and a Christian Motorcyclists Association, among others. Barb Manka likes her womens group, with 105 members.
“You gotta have a goal,” she said. “The group falls apart if you don’t have something to do.”
This past October the women’s group raised $22,500 during their Breast Cancer Run, she said.
Not all bikers are bad — even those who claim to be one-percenters. Leeke and the Mankas have been friends with and worked with members of the Sons of Silence group for years. Sons of Silence members, who also have a clubhouse in Colorado Springs, could not be reached for comment.
Leeke is not above exchanging a civil word with Hells Angels members either. After all, like horse-back riders or bicyclists, bikers have their hobbies and their ways of seeing the world, he said.
“That’s what riding’s about. My horse has two wheels,” he said.
Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261