The Mufflers live for the open road

The explosive harmony of riding with a pack of dozens of motorcycles is something Rachael Epstein has experienced only once, last summer, while riding along with a Reisterstown-based motorcycle club. The roar of the engines was like music to her ears.

"It's so odd," Epstein recalls. "I'm really noise-sensitive to loud, piercing sounds, certain music. But the sound of loud mufflers is like birds humming. It just works for me. That sound of all those engines, all those mufflers, it's unbelievable.

The way things are going for Epstein, the next time she hears it, she'll be at the head of the pack. She's now president of the Mufflers, an all-women motorcycle riding group she helped found.

"How cool would that be?" Epstein asks, talking so enthusiastically about the prospect of a full-on Mufflers pack ride and the Mufflers in general that she forgets to eat the bacon-and-egg bagel in front of her during a recent interview at Common Ground, the coffee spot that's just a few doors down from the Mufflers' unofficial clubhouse, Rocket to Venus.

"A couple of times a year to ride with that amount of people. It's something unbelievable." In the meantime, the Mufflers is morphing quickly from its beginnings, about two years ago, as three women-Epstein, Mare Distler, and Stephanie Murdock-who would meet up regularly to ride. Last summer, it suddenly started "turning into something real," says Epstein, with patches made from a logo Distler created and a website, "Next thing you know," Epstein continues, "people are hearing about us three and want to ride with us. So then we create a meeting spot. Some meets we have 10 people; some meets with have 20 people. It just kind of grew."

Now there are five board members, with the addition of Maureen Sullivan and Jillian Erhardt, and all proudly display their Mufflers patches on their jackets. They vote to admit prospective members and map out the group's future, including how to handle two recent requests-one from Los Angeles, the other from Cleveland-to start Mufflers subsidiary groups in those cities. In essence, though, the Mufflers just "like to have fun," says Epstein. "We ride for freedom and excitement," meeting up every Thursday evening at Rocket to Venus before heading out somewhere.

"We have planned destination rides," Epstein explains, "including to art galleries, open studio time with friends, performance art, and music. In the summer, we take long rides through country roads. We find ourselves in favorite local swim spots to cool off. We are advocates of female riders and work to empower new riders with the confidence to learn to ride, and we are looking to host more beginner rides this spring, as we have met a lot of women who are interested in learning to ride but don't want to start out alone."

The Hollywood subgenre of biker-chick flicks, like the classic She-Devils on Wheels, is filled with women characters who are campy alter egos of the men who populate the testosterone-driven world of outlaw motorcycle gangs fueled by violence and vice. This is not the Mufflers' vibe at all; they are empowered by the simple fact that they are "classy ladies," says Epstein, and their aesthetic is reflected in the Mufflers' patch, which involves a "funny, not so raw" double entendre.

"I'm a bit of a hooligan," Epstein explains, "but I'm also classy-I'm a lady. So, I think it's important for us all to make sure that we're posing ourselves as such. And if we have a patch that sounds vulgar, then we're not really posing ourselves as classy ladies. And we are, all of us are."

The larger world of motorcycle riding can be complex and a bit scary, as the Mufflers recently learned. "We are not a motorcycle club; we are a riding group, and there's a huge difference," Epstein explains. She quotes Distler, saying, "the difference between a club and a group is a knife in the gut," since motorcycle clubs (MCs) are only formed with permission of existing motorcycle clubs and doing so without permission carries with it the risk of violence.

"We could call ourselves an MC," Epstein continues. "We could get MC patches, we could trademark ourselves MC-we could do all that-and we may never get bothered because nobody will ever see us as a threat because we're chicks. But it's no joke. We're a riding group. We're just having fun. It would be like if we're a knitting club, it's the same thing, but we can't call ourselves a club. We could get hurt-it's that serious. We're very clear about how we pose ourselves, because we don't want any trouble. We're a bunch of artists, riding. That's all."

"It's about sisterhood," says Epstein, "that's the true premise of why we created this group. We're all very similar, I think some of us introverts, artists, and we were looking to create some camaraderie." Getting the word out about the Mufflers, she hopes, "is actually going to help us meet a lot of new people. It's very cool. Send some more chickadoos our way."

UPDATE: Just after this article went to press, Epstein emailed with a change of heart. "So there has been some group restructuring," she wrote, "and I decided the group is growing too fast for me to keep up." So she's "passed the buck to Mare Distler and I'm riding like the old days. With friends."

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