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Motorcycle club members and weekend warriors, seeking the freedom of the road, face dangerous curves on and off Dallas streets

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"Maybe a little," he says. "Ten years ago if the wrong people were in our territory it was shoot on sight."

Though Bandidos is one of the most threatening groups in Dallas, it maintains it is merely the most committed. Chapter members hold real jobs—Zach works for a local railroad company—and treat prospects with respect ("We make them earn the patch, but we don't make them eat a pile of shit or anything like that," he says).

"To us this isn't a hobby or a way to see the pretty sights on the weekend," he says. "We ride hard. We play hard. Yeah, we hang out in bars."

But do the Bandidos always pay their tab?

"Most of the time," Zach says with a smirk. "Depends on whether we bump into our waitress on the way out."

It's official. I'm a bitch.

In biker parlance anyway, as on Sunday, November 21, I hop on the back—"bitch seat"—of a motorcycle for my virginal voyage from Duke's to Strokers. With fear in my eyes and no helmet on my head—in order to enhance that 360-degree experience—I jump on a Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster. With naive trust that my first ride won't be my last, I put my life in the hands of...a former Chicago Bears cheerleader.

She is blonde. She is curvier than the loop around White Rock Lake. She is a Carrollton in-home child care entrepreneur who has swapped last night's little black dress at the Margarita Ball for this afternoon's little brown chaps atop her modish bike. She is—as I hesitantly lock my hands around her waist—the empowered dominatrix to my desperate, helpless submissive.

"I've only had one bad wreck," says Sandy White, an independent rider who is 50 going on 25. "Got 20 stitches in my head and a cracked kneecap in 2003. Guy fell asleep on the Tollway. Totally rear-ended me."

Gulp.

Our group of 12 bikes heads west out of Duke's parking lot onto Belt Line Road, south down Interstate 35 and then onto Harry Hines toward Strokers. Everything is magnified and intensified, from the wind whipping White's ponytail into my face to the subtle bumps in the road to the sounds of birds chirping at stop lights. As we merge onto the highway I immediately feel the sensation that should I lose my death grip on White's abs, without a seat belt or air bag or, well, doors, I will fly right off the back and straight into the hospital. Have to admit, the risk is indeed part of the reward.

"I realize how crazy this sounds to some people," says White, who cheered with the Honey Bears in 1984-85, "but if this horse bucks us off we'll just get on and ride again. As a rule, fear isn't a big part of my life."

Other than when I almost let White's idling bike topple over in Duke's parking lot, the only hairy moment occurs when the driver of a Black Tahoe decides to make a drastic maneuver on Harry Hines—from the far right lane. Without a blinker or seemingly even a glance at his surroundings, the SUV veers violently left, dramatically and dangerously dividing our pack in half on his way to making a U-turn.

To me the ride is enlightening. To others it is cathartic.

It's the first time since Rico's accident that Niki—Gonzo's wife of eight years—has been on a bike. She couldn't help but recoil in fear when the experience yanked her back to the night she hopelessly performed CPR on her dying friend Elisa in the middle of Central Expressway.

"When we got on 35 my sunglasses were filling up with tears," Niki says safely back at Duke's. "That Tahoe reminded me how dangerous all this is. It's assholes like that that cause wrecks. I believe we're all a part of God's plan and if it's your time you'll be gone, but still. I fear for my family and friends on bikes more than ever."

In the family room at Parkland on September 18, a grief counselor and tearful relatives broke the news to Lacey and Loran about their parents' death. Told that her mommy and daddy "went up to Heaven," five-year-old Lacey clutched her comfort "horsey" stuffed animal and—after a long, seemingly thoughtful pause—responded to the news. "This," she said, lip quivering and eyes watering, "has never happened to me before."

The grown-ups will likely also struggle through a crappy holiday season void of Rico and Lela. Shaken by the episode, Gonzo has even contemplated giving up riding, an almost blasphemous notion in a hardened biker world bonded by power and leather and, yes, blood.

"There have been times when I've thought about selling my bike," he admits. "I know Rico would want me to keep going, but riding's just not near as fun as it was. This all just really, really sucks. I haven't gotten over any part of it, to tell you the truth. I'm still sad. Still mad.

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Richie Whitt
Contact: Richie Whitt