Cool Calm and Ready to Ride
By Jenny B. Davis
Photos by Olaf Growald
A bike lover gets himself and his gear ready for the ultimate road trip to Sturgis
Every year on the first Friday of August, the sleepy town of Sturgis, South Dakota, transforms into the motorcycle capital of the world. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally regularly welcomes an estimated half-million bikers for a 10-day bacchanalian bash. And when this year’s festivities throttle up on Aug. 5, TJ Gaines will be there.
Gaines, owner of Westside gym No Quitters in Fort Worth, will ride the roughly 1,100 miles to Sturgis in the saddle of his 2021 BMW K 1600 B cruiser. Joining him will be his longtime friend Manuel Garza, who will pull a trailer holding more bikes, gear and plenty of provisions.
Gaines estimates the trip to Sturgis will take about two days. But the adventure itself has been more than 40 years in the making.
Gaines bought his first motorcycle in 1980. He chose the gold-and-black 1975 Honda XL350 not because it was cool but because it was cheap.
“I couldn’t afford a car,” Gaines says with a laugh, recalling the lean years when he was juggling a full-time job with college classes. A friend had taught him how to ride, and the midsize thumper — a bike with a single cylinder, four-stroke engine — was both easy and reliable.
“I loved it,” he says. “Until I had an ‘Oh, shit’ moment.”
Gaines hit an oily patch on a rain-soaked road, derailing his ride and sending him sliding across the road. The accident left him both scarred and circumspect.
“If you ride a motorcycle long enough, you are going to crash,” he says. “But if you love riding the bike, if you love the freedom of it, you get back on the bike.
He did — but he also decided to get serious about his skills. He started taking classes to learn the rules of the road, techniques for mastering myriad road conditions and how to drive more safely in general, he says. “Once I learned to be a better rider, I appreciated my bike even more.”
It was love that eventually led Gaines to a new bike. Around 2000, he fell for a smart and spirited Ohio transplant named Jacque, and it just so happened that she was from a family of motorcycle enthusiasts. She had grown up riding with her dad, and even her grandmother rode a motorcycle. When she married TJ in 2005, Jacque brought to the union her dad’s Indian Motorcycle Scout along with her own bike, a purple 1998 Harley-Davidson Road King. Eventually, Gaines got a Harley, too — a 2006 Street Glide.
For years, they rode together, spending most weekends exploring Texas highways and byways. “We saw parts of the state you just can’t see from a car,” he recalls.
When they weren’t riding, Jacque spent time scouring motorcycle dealerships and pawnshops to build TJ’s collection of leathers: jackets, vests, chaps and other heavy-duty riding gear.
Jacque put her kickstand down permanently when she became pregnant with their first son, Sheldon, but TJ kept going.
He took over her Harley and joined up with Tony, also a lover of motorcycles. Together, the brothers traveled to motorcycle events around the state — the Republic of Texas (ROT) Rally in Austin was a favorite — and participated in benefit rides.
TJ knew about the Sturgis rally, of course. Founded in 1938 by a group of Indian Motorcycle riders, the event is beloved for its organized rides through the stunning terrain of the surrounding Black Hills. It’s also legendary for the diverse types of people it attracts, from white-collar bikers to notorious outlaws and everyone in between.
TJ and his brother often talked about going to Sturgis, but it always seemed impossible. “Between family and my business, I just never had the opportunity to go,” he explains. “So, I put it on my bucket list, and it’s been there for 10 years.”
Last year, however, two things happened that vaulted Sturgis to the top of TJ’s to-do list: the effects of the pandemic began to wane, and he turned 64, one year away from a birthday he saw as a milestone.
“I thought, ‘2022 has to be the year,’” he says. “I asked Jacque, ‘Do you mind if I go?’ and she said, ‘Just be careful.’”
Gaines began planning for Sturgis about a year in advance. He sold both Harleys and invested in the BMW, a newer and more reliable bike. He knew he’d have to spend upward of 10 hours on the bike each day to make the multiday trip to and from South Dakota, so building endurance became his priority.
Every weekend, he logged hours riding down Granbury’s winding roads — “twisties” in biker parlance — first for three hours, then five, then seven and on up to 10. He rode to Austin, Galveston and Lubbock, experimenting with weather, road and traffic conditions.
Riding all day wearing full leathers and a helmet took some getting used to, especially in the Texas heat. One thing TJ isn’t worried about, however, is what to do with the output of his GoPro, which he’ll have mounted to his helmet for the trip. Sons Sheldon, 14, and Miles, 10, have agreed to edit the footage.
TJ also doubled down on improving his personal fitness. For the past eight months, he has been training to adapt to the physical demands of maneuvering almost 750 pounds of bike. “If you don’t have the cardio, you won’t last,” he says.
Next came the logistics: planning the ride, booking accommodations and figuring out what to haul in the trailer. Currently, the contents include TJ’s 2003 Indian for Garza to ride at the rally, a golf cart and a Zooz electric bike for kicks. And because music matters, TJ created a series of playlists to correspond to different types of rides. Right now, the open road is all about country singer Chris Stapleton and the Mexican pop band Maná, while high-stress traffic calls for Tupac.
“This is my one and done,” he says. “After this, I don’t want to take any more vacations without my boys and my wife.”