OMAO — Since he was a child, Bertram Almeida was always fascinated with motorcycles.
He got his first set of wheels when he was 11 years old and has not looked at the rearview since, figuratively.
When he got older, he started racing in local hare and hound races and poker runs. His passion for motorcycles eventually led him to becoming president of the Garden Island Motorcycle Club.
His mission as club president: educating locals on the 60-year history of the club and establishing a permanent safe haven for dirt bikers on Kauai.
Though he has had many joyous moments riding on the roads and mountains of the Garden Isle, and as much as he wants to give back to Kauai’s local community of motorcyclists, he says being labeled as a biker also brought unwanted negative attention.
“There’s a lot of good people who ride motorcycles. People should know that … It’s less than 1 percent that are bad,” he said.
This week, Almeida sat down with The Garden Island in his home in Omao and discussed his personal experiences as a motorcycle enthusiast, good and bad, and some of his responsibilities and ambitions as a local club president.
The Garden Island: So take us to the beginning. When were you first interested? Did you come from a family of motorcyclists?
Bertram Almeida: No. That’s the thing. Unlike the Andrades, the Kaluahines (and other families), I never came from a legacy of motorcycle riders. I think my dad rode a Harley when he was in the military. I remember as a kid seeing pictures of him on a bike. I don’t know if that inspired me, but I was always fascinated. I can’t remember exactly when, but anytime I saw a motorcycle, whether it was on TV or a mini bike in the Sears Roebuck Christmas catalog, whatever it may be, I could just stare at it and imagine what it would be like to have one.
TGI: So when did you finally get your own ride?
BA: My first bike was actually a broken down, refurbished bike. It was more like a scooter than anything else. The handlebars were duct-taped together. I guess, after a while, my parents felt that it was time to get a new one because the one I was riding was dangerous.
So the first bike I got was a Yamaha. I think it was a DT100. It was an enduro. It was one of those half-street, half-dirt bikes. I rode that thing, I think, until I graduated. I think I got it when I was 11 or 12 years old, somewhere around that time.
I was in heaven. I drove all over the place. Back then, the cane field roads were all open, so you could go anywhere. You could go as far west as you could. You could go all the way to the North Shore. Having a motorcycle was like having a car.
TGI: How did you become president of the Garden Island Motorcycle Club?
BA: Clay Oshita wanted to re-establish the Garden Island Motorcycle Club. It was still in existence, but it was under another name. They changed the name. Clay was just like, ‘Hey, let’s just re-establish the Garden Island Motorcycle Club.’
I became president in 2009. After (the previous president Karl Ramirez) resigned. I took over. Shanghaied, actually. I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t want to do it (at first) … but somebody’s got to do it.
I just knew it came with a lot of responsibilities. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to do it. But I knew it took a lot of commitment, and I wasn’t sure if that was something that I could commit to.
We just had our 60th (annual Hare and Hound). Carrying that burden that it keeps on going every year (is one responsibility). And making sure that the club is run as it should run … When we re-established our mission statement, one of the goals was to educate people on the history of The Garden Island Motorcycle Club. That’s one of the responsibilities.
The second one is to be good stewards of the land. Constantly, whenever you’re doing something up there, you want to make sure you’re not violating any laws. There’s certain run offs and stuff, and you don’t want to be just pushing around land and causing flooding.
The biggest challenge is getting lands that are designated riding areas. The way I see it is, if it’s designated, then you can control it … If it’s every man for himself anywhere on the island, then you got people riding state land, private land and breaking down fences. It doesn’t help the image for dirt bike riders … If you provide them with an area to ride, then you’re going to have less problems elsewhere.
I’m not saying everybody, but I know people who’ve gone under fences and done things that you’re not supposed to do. A lot of the large land owners know what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, when that happens, then that hurts everybody.
TGI: You say when bikers trespass, it doesn’t help their image. Do you think that’s part of why bikers are sometimes perceived as “bad boys”?
BA: I think, for most people, if you ask them to close their eyes and think of a motorcycle rider, I’d say a good nine times out of 10 it’s going to be some guy in a leather jacket, probably not well-groomed and probably with bad intent. It’s so far from the truth. I know riders that are doctors, business owners, lawyers and preachers. The stigma and all of that is unfortunate because there’s a lot of good people who ride motorcycles. People should know that.
You see stuff like world’s wildest TV or stupidest videos or whatever, you see some guy pulling a wheelie down the street. That might be 1 percent of the guys that ride that are just irresponsible. The majority of the people are not.
I’ve been in situations on my bike where guys have tried to run me off of the road. Here they are in a 5,000-pound vehicle. My bike is only 600 pounds. It’s a dangerous game that these guys play … I know guys who don’t ride bikes on Kauai because of the way people treat motorcycle riders, and bicyclists for that matter.
I’ve had guys, while I’m riding my bicycle on the side of the road, fly beer bottles at me. They don’t even know who I am … They think it’s funny. It’s dangerous. It’s terrible and it’s got to stop.
TGI: That is messed up. Do you believe one day the perception of bikers will change?
BA: I think it’s like anything else. In time, people will start to realize. But don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of motorcycle riders out there that like the fact that they’re looked at as bad guys. They kind of get off on that … But I think in time, people will change their view. But (that won’t happen) unless we start talking about it and have dialogue.
TGI: How often do you go riding now?
BA: I think everybody is going to agree with me on this one: Not as often as I should. I’d like to ride it more, but I’m working … I try to take the bike out, at the very minimum, at least once or twice a month now that I’m older. Before, I used to ride every day. I used to jump on my motorcycle, go up on the mountains every single day and go ride.
TGI: For how much longer do you think you’ll be the Garden Island Motorcycle Club president?
BA: Oh, I resigned last week. Just kidding.
As long as I can I guess. It’s a little tougher now. I got a mortgage now. I got to look out for my family’s interests. But as long as I can do it, (I will).
I’ve asked other people to step up. It’s been five years. Not that I don’t want to do it. I think it’s good to have new blood in there with new visions. But I still feel that there’s unfinished business on my part that I’d like to see through. Mainly the acquiring of permanent riding areas.