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The Hartford Courant

Shredding Stereotypes


June 16, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Hartford Courant. All rights reserved.

It is Sunday afternoon and the armada is moving slowly down Park Street in Hartford, led by Chico Flores on his 1998 golden Fat Boy. The noise from their choppers shreds the air and sandblasts the storefronts.

Car alarms whimper as the riders cruise by, poised on their saddles, feet up on forward controls, nodding to those around them like triumphant conquistadores. People stop and stare - and then, narrowed eyes turn to smiles at familiar faces. A boy zips by on a mini-bike, waving a salute.

The Barrio Riders have arrived, not only on Park Street but in life.

This is a Hartford motorcycle club started in 1995 by a group of friends who were "all raised in the hood," said Flores, co-founder and president of the club.

They are touring their city after the obligatory run to Colt Park. It is a place to see and be seen, a revolving parade of hot cars and junkers. Macho men on Hogs and crotch rockets. There are also many women, and it is the women that the Barrio Riders appreciate the most.

Most of the Riders are married, but even so, a man can still appreciate beauty, correct? Did you see that young lady with the tight white pants over that black thong?

Jacinto "Chico" Flores, who was born in Puerto Rico, rides with his brother, Evaristo "Panch" Flores, of Hartford and 16 others from the Hartford area.

"It's a bunch of working people who like to ride and have fun," Flores said. And while the group has a Latin flavor, it is open to all, the only strict requirement being that each member has a motorcycle license and insurance.

"Anybody can come as long as they're legit and don't sell drugs," he said.

The Barrio Riders grew up in the city, but over the years their members have spread out to the suburbs as they grew successful in their businesses and started their families.

    *Chico Flores owns his own company, Chico's Professional Window Washing.

    *His brother Panch works at the Hastings Hotel and Conference Center as a mechanical engineer. He rides a Suzuki sport bike.

    *Jose R. Torres of West Hartford is a tractor operator with the Metropolitan District Commission. He rides a Harley-Davidson Wide Glide.

    *Manuel "Manny" Ortiz of West Hartford is a professional roofer. He rides a Harley Heritage Softail.

    *Gene Argraves of West Hartford is an operations manager for American Cellular and drives a Harley-Davidson Heritage Springer.

    *Jose Mercado of Hartford is an auto-body technician. He drives a Harley FX Wide Glide.

Their rides are expensive. They are an expression of success.

"You work hard and do what you got to do," said Ortiz. "You can do anything in this country."

"The American dream is to have a Corvette and a Harley-Davidson. And I got both," Chico laughs. "Anybody can make it," he said. "That's the way I see it.

"It's not easy. It took me a long time to get where I'm at. But I set a goal. And I did it."

Chico Flores has spent $38,000 on his Harley-Davidson, he said, most of it on chrome. It's got the new swing arms, the 6-gallon tank, the new paint job, the new fenders, the new handlebars. "You name it. When I think about it, I can't believe how much," he said, shaking his head.

"It's a feeling that when you show up somewhere and people are all over your bike, you know you're the man."

The Barrio Riders, whose patch is a skeleton riding through the wind, is associated with the Latin American Motorcycle Association, an organization that will celebrate its 25th anniversary in Chicago this month. The club plans to ride out there for the event. Flores recently toured in Mexico with the group.

The focus of the club, besides having fun, is on family, and members ride with their wives and children and share weekends and cookouts together.

They also play in pool tournaments all over the city. They were finalists in a tournament played at Kenney's restaurant recently, and their colors are welcome there. But Panch Flores said that if they go to places where colors aren't allowed, they'll gladly turn their jackets inside out. It looks like hell, he says, but they'll do it.

Right now the club meets at Chico's house, but they are looking to get a place back in the poorer neighborhoods where they grew up. Gene Argraves said that they want to set a good example for young people and for those who think motorcyclists are gangsters.

"You don't have to be scared to hang out with a biker," Chico said.

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