Taiwan's Grandriders motorcylists visit SLO

Group of older motorcycle enthusiasts from Taiwan spreads message of staying active regardless of age

kleslie@thetribunenews.comAugust 21, 2013 

As the Taiwanese Grandriders rolled into San Luis Obispo’s Mission Plaza on Wednesday, it was clear they were anything but an ordinary biker gang.

They weren’t decked out in leather. Instead, they wore T-shirts with a red-and-blue Grandriders logo, tucked into belted slacks and jeans.

Rather than tattoos, they had baseball caps and lanyards.

And among the 10 of them, their average age was 87.

In 2007, the bikers decided to drive motorcycles across Taiwan to pursue their dreams of seeing their home country while raising awareness of the importance of physical activity among the elderly.

Filmmaker Hua Tien-hao captured their 732-mile trek in his 2012 documentary “Go Grandriders,” which premiered in Taiwan last year and will begin showing in the United States this month.

On Wednesday, as the church bells rang, 10 of the original 17 motorcyclists were welcomed, smiling and waving, at Mission Plaza by a crowd of onlookers.

Because the elderly Grandriders were unable to get licenses to drive in the state, each was assigned a member from the BMW Club of Northern California, a motorcycle enthusiast group based in Santa Clara, to drive them.

After the plaza stop and a quick visit to City Hall to meet San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx, the Grandriders made an appearance at a local assisted living facility, The Manse on Marsh.

There, the Grandriders met with about 20 residents, and some shared their stories.

Hong-dao Chang, 77, affectionately known as “The Pastor,” spoke about the importance of trying your hardest and staying active, even into old age.

“This movie had a big impact of people of Taiwan,” Chang told The Manse on Marsh residents. “The reason we come here is we want to continue the impact on Americans. We want to show, try your best to reach. No matter how far you reach, you are still reaching for something.”

For Ying-Mei Chang Chen, also 77 and the Grandriders’ only female member, the decision to reach came after seeing an advertisement in the newspaper for companions on a cross-country motorized scooter ride.

“At that time, I was 72. I thought, ‘I can do it,’ because Taiwan is so small — I have been in America, and that is so, so big,” said Chen, whose three children live in the United States. “And I also thought, ‘I am (older than) 70 years old. If I can motorcycle and go by myself, it would be very cool, and very meaningful.’ ”

Throughout the ride, the motorcyclists faced wind, rain, mountain roads and injuries, but Chen said she felt safe the entire time. And when the Grandriders returned home, the crowds greeted and cheered them on as though they were heroes, Chen said.

Now, Chen is excited to move on to the next leg of her trip. The Grandriders group will continue to Santa Barbara today as part of their tour of California.

They will complete their journey Friday at the AMC Atlantic Times Square in Monterey Park, east of downtown Los Angeles, where “Go Grandriders” will get its U.S. theatrical premiere.
After that, the group will head home to Taiwan.

But Chen has one memory of the United States she said she will remember forever.

“It is very fast here,” she said with a grin. “The highways are very fast.”

Video: The Grandriders ride into SLO

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