While many biker gangs associate road trips with beer, bars and colorful language, one "gang" exists that prefers ice cream, temples and hymns: the Temple Riders Association.
The group, founded in 1988, celebrates 20 years of riding motorcycles and performing temple work around the world.
"It's a social group," said Mary Boulter, member of TRA's executive committee. "We love our motorcycles and we love the gospel, not necessarily in that order."
This comment is consistent with one of the original goals written by founder Frank Reese the evening before the first TRA meeting 20 years ago: to combine the aesthetics of motorcycling with the spiritual uplift of temple attendance.
In 1987, Reese overheard a woman in a Goldwing motorcycle shop in Salt Lake City talking about how she didn't like to ride on Sunday. Soon enough they found two common interests The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and motorcycles. Soon after that encounter, they and their spouses made the first temple trip to the Ogden and Logan temples.
The following year, Reese made fliers and sent them to friends who might be interested in participating. Six couples met at a Leatherby's ice cream parlor in Taylorsville and established the Temple Riders Association. The group now has a membership of more than 700 people, from the United States to Canada to Australia.
"Our first temple ride was in 1987," Reese said. "We had no idea what would happen as a result of that."
The result has been hundreds of rides to many temples around the world. Some members, like Cliff and Iris Beattie, have traveled to more than 60 temples on their motorcycles. Each chapter is expected to have at least one temple trip each month. The organization meets as a whole once each year.
The service rendered is not limited to redeeming the dead in LDS temples. Preaching the gospel and perfecting the Saints also take place on the adventures.
"We always carry Books of Mormon," said Reese, 81 and still riding strong. "We've all had, in one place or another, really interesting experiences giving copies of the Book of Mormon."
While being a member of the LDS Church or being temple-worthy are not requirements for participation in the TRA, the influence of so many other members has affected some to make changes in their lives.
"We've had some significant experiences with folks who have joined our group and have become temple-worthy," said Reese, an Oklahoma resident. "We had another couple come in (with) their marriage on the rocks. After they joined TRA, their attitudes changed and they became temple-worthy and they're very happy together."
They've also influenced other bikers to have a fresh perspective on members of the LDS faith.
"We've changed some of the stereotypes of Mormons," said Boulter of Orem. "We're real people. We ride motorcycles. We have families."
But why not ride on Sunday? There is no commandment against driving on Sunday, and how different is an automobile from a motorcycle?
"We get so much enjoyment out of our bikes that we feel like we're breaking the Sabbath if we ride on Sunday," Boulter said. "We try to enjoy the Sabbath. We always prearrange church services."
Church services, which are held at each TRA event that occurs on a Sunday, are not difficult to arrange with the assistance of TRA members.
"There's a lot of variety in the members," said Gary Loesch, chairman of the 20th anniversary rally. "There's a history of strong church positions and leadership. We have stake presidents and bishops."
To celebrate the 20th anniversary this summer, the entire organization is invited to a rally in Ephraim, Utah, from Aug. 1 to 6. Organizers anticipate 200 or more riders to attend. At past rallies, church leaders such as Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder D. Todd Christofferson have addressed the group. This year's speaker remains undisclosed. Work will be done at the Manti Temple, both inside and outside.
"We're scheduling some work ... inside and outside the temple," Loesch said. "Everybody has a great time together through service and temple activity."
Loesch, a California resident, heard about the group and was interested but didn't know whom to contact. One day while visiting the Vernal Utah Temple, he saw a TRA license plate holder on the back of a motorcycle. He left a note on it, and he was contacted shortly thereafter.
"When it comes to the church, many of us get in the habit of doing our duties and going our own ways," Loesch said. "This takes it one step further in building friendships."
Loesch, 63, approaches the concept and purpose of the TRA with a practical perspective.
"You've got to get to a temple before you can do the work," he said. "You can walk or fly or drive. We choose to take motorcycles."
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