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LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) – By day, she is Christina Berkley, a bus driver for Campbell County Public Schools and a home health aide. In her free time, she sheds her daily persona and becomes Diamond Gyrl.
Berkley, 39, is the founder of the Undisputed Diamonds Motorcycle Club, an all-female biker club in Lynchburg and, for all appearances, the sole female biker club in town.
While Gyrl is an acronym for God-fearing, young, ravishing lady, “diamond” means “no matter what I’m going through, I’m still going to shine through it,” Berkley said.
Berkley’s interest in motorcycles began when a male cousin took her out for a ride and her love of riding began.
But it wasn’t a ride off into the proverbial sunset. Berkley’s first two years were a struggle.
Her first motorcycle was a sports bike, and she had difficulty keeping it upright. Sports bikes force the rider to lean forward, and the bike simply had too much power for her. Maneuvering around curbs was difficult and even stopping and going was a struggle.
After a small crash in 2012, she placed the sports bike up for sale and purchased a cruiser, in this case a Honda Shadow, which a friend from a motorcycle club said would be a good learning bike. Unlike sports bikes, cruisers allow the rider to sit upright, as if in a chair, and it makes for a smoother ride.
“I’ve been upright ever since,” Berkley said. “Knock on wood. Thank the good Lord.”
Berkley currently has two bikes: a Honda Shadow and a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide.
Prior to forming Undisputed Diamonds, Berkley was a member of a club in Roanoke for about a year. She was looking for the riding experience and the camaraderie with other bikers, but ultimately, the Roanoke club wasn’t a good fit, she said.
She decided to form her own all-female club in Lynchburg and reached out to other like-minded women to join. But before one forms a new club, gaining the blessing of an established motorcycle club in the area is required.
“Let’s put it this way, you may not be fit to wear ‘MC’ or Motorcycle Club,” she said.
Berkley and the other founders of the club were first required to “walk” under an established club for a year-long period. During the walk period, founders of a new club learn motorcycle club protocol, and whether the club members have what it takes to place “MC” on their patches.
To be a biker is to be part of a unique culture.
“You got people that ride, a person who goes out and buys a bike, and says they want to ride because they just enjoy riding,” Berkley said. “And then you step over into the motorcycle world. If you’re going to put ‘MC’ on your bike, you have to live up to the MC rules.”
“That’s really the difference between just being an independent biker, (as) we call it, and being in the MC,” Berkley said. “If you’re going to put ‘MC’ on your back, you have to know in your mind that you’re going to ride your bike. That it’s going to be a lot more than just being in the club itself. It comes with a lot of riding, a lot of miles and time. It’s not a hobby, it’s a lifestyle.”
At times, the walk period could be excruciating, such as when members had to ride in bad or cold weather, and was sometimes mixed with tears when Berkley questioned whether the formation of a motorcycle club was something she truly wanted to do.
And there was a lot of pressure in trying to form an all-female club. There are many men who don’t think women should ride bikes, believing they should be on the back of a motorcycle instead, Berkley said. She was intent on proving wrong the naysayers who claimed that an all-women’s club in Lynchburg would never happen.
“You have to earn their respect, and it’s hard to earn their respect unless you’re putting in those miles on your bike,” Berkley said.
The walk concluded in June 2011, and each member of the newly-formed Undisputed Diamonds still had to undergo a “prospect” period. During that time, members had to earn their patches, which depict the club’s logo and go on their vests.
“You can’t have other members come in and say, ‘You have to earn something you didn’t earn,’” Berkley said. “I wanted to earn what I ride under, what I fly every day.”
The Undisputed Diamonds patch depicts a woman with boxer gloves, a diamond and the words “Knock ‘Em Out With Class.”
“That comes down to our attitude, the way we dress, our character, the way we carry (ourselves), our integrity, our values and our morals. That’s what ‘knock ‘em out with class’ means,” Berkley said.
In regards to the name of the club, “undisputed” speaks to the challenges a person faces in life but, like a boxer, should never throw in the towel and give up, Berkley said.
Diamonds, however, “always shine,” she said.
The club meets monthly, and volunteering and community service is part of its mission. Members are expected to bring five donations, such as toiletries or nonperishable items, to each meeting. Diamonds are expected to contribute a certain number of hours of volunteering and community service each year.
The club also involves itself in civic-minded efforts that include handing out food at the Salvation Army or with a food truck that stops by Fifth Avenue on Wednesdays, as well as holding food and toiletry drives and participating in charity rides. One recent ride raised money for the Rosenwald School Project in Campbell County.
Last month, the Diamonds held a school supply giveaway at Miller Park that was assisted by other motorcycle and social clubs in the area. More than 100 kids received backpacks filled with school supplies, Berkley said.
“I feel like, if we’re going to ride in this community, then our focus is going to be our community,” she said.
The club is always open to new members, who will have to undergo the same prospecting period to determine if they are a good fit for the club.
The Diamonds are a group of classy ladies that love to ride and help their community, Berkley said.
Juicy Red, a.k.a. Tracey Reynolds, joined Undisputed Diamonds about a year after its formation. A resident of Roanoke, Reynolds knew Berkley through Berkley’s participation in motorcycle events in Roanoke.
In addition to her 2003 Honda Shadow, Reynolds also owns a 1989 Yamaha Radian.
“I’m the mommy of the club. I’m 55, so I like old-school bikes,” Reynolds said.
Women aren’t recognized often as motorcycle riders, Reynolds said, and there are some women that really go out and accomplish a lot – “and we call them ‘she-ros.”
Diamond is a great woman, Reynolds said.
“Anyone who is interested in wanting to ride and wants information, she doesn’t hold back. Other clubs may not want to give their information. They just want you to wing it and talk about you later. Diamond is one to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do.”
“She’s an excellent person, she really is. She’ll help anybody out. She’ll do whatever she can.”
Berkley is “willing to give the shirt off her back to someone else,” said Berkley’s sister and Undisputed Diamond co-founder Double Take, otherwise known as Melissa Smith, who rides a 2003 Suzuki GSX-R.
“I’m a tomboy at heart, but when I dress up, it’s a whole different take. They call me Double Take because it’s two sides of me,” Smith said.
Smith, a physical education teacher at Sandusky Elementary School, sometimes rides her bike to work, which is a shock to some students.
“They’re like, ‘Ms. Smith, you ride a bike?’” Smith said. “I say, ‘Yes, I do.’”
For Berkley, riding brings a sense of calmness and peace.
“It gives me time to be alone with God,” Berkley said. “It gives me time to think. It gives me time to pray. This is one of the things I tell folks: If you have a motorcycle, you’ll never need a therapist.”
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