God Is His Co-Pilot
As he walks through the showroom at Titan of the Rockies, the Lakewood motorcycle dealership where he's repair-shop foreman, Nick Nichols relays the history of Indian motorcycles. When he passes a vintage 1940s model, he lets out a low whistle: The mint-green bike is a beauty. After years of dwindling profits, Nick explains, the production of Indian motorcycles was halted in 1953, but the brand was resurrected in 1999 following the merger of several motorcycle companies. Today the showroom is filled with new Indian Scouts, Spirits and Chiefs, as well as some Titans.
For our ride on this perfect fall day, Nick selects a 2002 Indian Spirit Deluxe that goes for $18,995. Like a lot of bikers, Nick refuses to wear a helmet; it restricts his hearing and peripheral vision. Besides, there's nothing like the feeling of the wind against your face.
At the speeds he drives, there's plenty of wind. For a novice rider, the smooth but fast ride is equal parts terrifying and thrilling. For Nick, it's pure freedom.
The Alabama-born son of a military man, Nick joined the service when he was old enough. He'd always liked riding motorcycles and owned a Suzuki, but it wasn't until 1980, when he was stationed at an Army base in Germany, that he fell in love with Harleys. A friend of his let him ride his brother's bike, he remembers, and "within a week, I sold my Japanese bike and bought a Harley."
It was also during his military service -- the Army moved him to Colorado Springs in 1982 -- that Nick met members of the Sons of Silence, a one-percenter motorcycle club that he joined in 1988. (Years ago, the American Motorcyclist Association estimated that 99 percent of all bikers are law-abiding citizens and that only 1 percent cause trouble; the outlaw bikers who felt they belonged in that minority proudly adopted the "one-percenter" designation for their clubs, which include the Hells Angels and the Bandidos, as well as the Sons of Silence.)
When his tour of duty was over, Nick became a certified motorcycle mechanic and earned a welding degree and machining certificate from Pikes Peak Community College. He moonlighted as a bouncer at biker bars and topless clubs, where he dated many of the dancers. Nick's best friend and Sons of Silence brother, Paul "P.K." Klein, managed Jim and I's Star Bar, one of the Colorado Springs biker hangouts where Nick worked as a bouncer.
On the evening of April 17, 1993, a man named Eugene Baylis walked into Jim and I's with an AK-47, two handguns, a knife and four hand grenades and opened fire. Nick was not yet at work; Klein and a patron were killed, and several others were wounded. In court, Baylis's attorney argued that a biker had shot Baylis with a pellet gun earlier in the day and that Baylis had simply gone to the bar to find the man and hold him until police arrived; his client was accosted at the door by Klein, the attorney claimed, and started shooting in self-defense. A jury bought the argument in 1995 and acquitted Baylis.
"I still visit P.K.'s grave," Nick says. "It will be ten years next year. I knew P.K. before I was a Son. Of all the brothers in the club, I loved P.K. the most. When you get that close to someone, that's what the word 'brother' really means. P.K. was a big, scary-looking man, but those who knew him knew he had a heart of gold. After P.K. died, I started losing my desire to be in the club."
Then he met Gary Davis at a Sons of Silence rally, and it wasn't long before Nick was a Christian, too.
"When I became a Christian, I wouldn't go to the topless bars anymore, and I quit partying," he says. "The guys couldn't understand why. I was the first one in our whole club to put a patch done in club colors with a cross on it on my club vest. There was an adverse reaction to that from a lot of the guys. A brother said to me once, 'So, I've heard you've found God. That's funny; I didn't realize he was lost.' I told him he got it all wrong: I was once lost, and now I'm found."
Nick never wavered in his faith. Still, it was hard when bikers who'd been his blood brothers started treating him like a stepbrother. "I felt alienated because of my new beliefs," he says. "They didn't want to be around me, and they didn't want to hear it."
Although he finally left the Sons of Silence in 1998, Nick defends his old club. "Just like cowboys, you have your 10 percent that are the wild ones," he says. "Most of the guys had jobs and were family men. They just wanted the brotherhood that the club had to offer. As much as the law likes to think they're all doing drugs and killing people, that's not true."
(Nick picked a good time to leave. Some of those family men had been trading in methamphetamine, explosives and weapons. In October 1999, after a two-year undercover investigation, federal agents arrested 39 members of three local Sons of Silence chapters and raided the Sons' clubhouses. In the Colorado Springs clubhouse, they found a shrine to Adolf Hitler.)
Nick found another brotherhood at Church in the Wind, one that will accept him no matter what. The church's members are his family, and while he'll never forget P.K., Pastor Gary is his best friend now.
Explaining the drastic changes in his life, Nick quotes from a Christian pop song he likes to play on his guitar:
I spent most of my life looking for acceptance.
I never found what I was looking for.
I was searching for love.
I just needed some acceptance.
All I got just left me wanting more,
Left me feeling cold and lonely on the inside
With nothing to show, but plenty to hide.
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