Fraternal organization is much more than a motorcycle club, with more than 200 Knights of Columbus members statewide
WARREN — Most knights wear shining armor and ride into battle on a mighty steed. In the Archdiocese of Detroit, however, some knights prefer leather and ride for the service of others on a Harley.
Knights on Bikes is a fraternal organization of Knights of Columbus members with a passion for riding motorcycles. The group was founded in Texas in 2005, and as of 2023, multiple Knights on Bikes councils exist across the United States and Canada. Their motto: “In God We Trust and Ride.”
Membership is about more than leather-clad, rugged men on motorcycles, though; it’s a fraternal organization that unites men from different councils under a common hobby and the noble code of the Knights of Columbus.
“We are Knights on Bikes, but we are all Knights of Columbus members first,” Michigan state Knights on Bikes vice president James Kubinski told Detroit Catholic. “A lot of the stuff we do is the same as what we do as Knights of Columbus members — we will just show up on motorcycles, which gets some heads to turn. It’s a different format that is highly visible and cool.”
The mission is to evangelize the motorcycle community, with members seeking to uphold the four pillars of the Knights of Columbus: charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism.
"We do a ton of charity work," Kubinski explained. "The really cool thing about us is that we get a lot of guys from other councils together in the area, and we do a lot of charity work together, so there is a lot of interaction cross-council."
In Michigan, nearly 20 Knights of Columbus councils participate in Knights on Bikes, nine of which are in the Archdiocese of Detroit. The group includes clergy, including Saginaw Bishop Robert D. Gruss.
The group's presence is evangelistic in itself, Kubinski said.
"We walk into church, and people are looking — sometimes, people are a little worried when they see a bunch of bikers walk in," Kubinski said. "We've had some funny things where we change people's opinions of us really quickly. We once showed up to Mass at Assumption Grotto (Parish in northeast Detroit) and just started saying the rosary. Pretty soon, we had the whole church doing it (too), so that right there … it gets heads turning."
Kubinski, 32, is a father of three and a band teacher at Southlake middle and high schools in St. Clair Shores. He bought his first bike — a 2004 Roadking Classic — in 2014 alongside his dad, Brian Kubinski. The elder Kubinksi serves as president of the Knights on Bikes chapter in the Archdiocese of Detroit, which constitutes more than half of the state's almost 200 members.
Before owning bikes, both father and son were members of the Bishop Murphy Knights of Columbus Council 3257 in Warren, when they realized many of their fellow knights also owned motorcycles.
“We got together and thought about treating it like a little riding club, just a special fun thing to do,” James Kubinski explained. “We decided to come up with a logo, get a vest. The one thing we had in common is we were all Knights of Columbus members, and we were trying to think of some sort of spin-off involving that.”
In a moment of pure luck, one of the club members stumbled across the Knights on Bikes. The newly formed club met with the organization's state president, who invited them to join the fraternal club.
Back then, James Kubinski was a novice rider (he has since upgraded to a 2019 Harley Davidson Ultra Limited with “more bells and whistles"), while his father had some experience riding dirt bikes as a boy and a young man but stopped after he got married.
Brian Kubinski, father of James and one other grown son, works as an IT professional for Trinity Health and attends St. Mark Parish in Warren. Over the years, Brian had driven an 18-wheeler, but by the time James suggested they get motorcycles, it had been 25 years since he had last ridden a bike — now, he has a whole new perspective on three wheels in his Harley Davidson Tri Glide.
Knights on Bikes evangelize by supporting charities and contributing to their parish communities, Brian Kubinski said.
“When you work with a charitable organization like the Knights of Columbus, you may just come across people in need, and we never look the other way,” Brian Kubinski said. “We are always trying to find a way to help.”
The archdiocesan Knights on Bikes regularly volunteer at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Detroit, first attending Mass and then cooking a meal for the community. Members also frequently volunteer at Camp Cavell in Lexington, a summer camp for adults who have aged out of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, where the knights make campers a steak dinner to break up the monotony and plainness of camp food, James Kubinski said.
Members also frequently get together for rallies with other chapters across the United States.
“Unity and fraternity are not in short supply. We are always getting together and doing stuff,” James Kubinski said.
The Knights of Columbus' principle of patriotism is not forgotten, either.
“We do a lot of patriotic stuff," James Kubinski said. "Some of us went to the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally at the Pentagon a few years ago. Another thing we do in Detroit annually is adopt a few firehouses in the Warren and Hazel Park area. As a Sept. 11 memorial in honor of the fallen first responders, we cook a pretty awesome meal and drop it off.”
Members have also been called upon to provide motorcycle escorts for their fellow Knights of Columbus, including funerals and processions.
“A few years ago, we were called up by a priest who asked us to be present at his brother’s funeral,” James Kubinski said. “His brother was really huge into motorcycles. This priest is a knight himself and had heard about us. At the end of the funeral, we took his cremated remains on a motorcycle and gave him one last ride around the church.”
While the men are Knights first, they also identify with the larger biker community. The cultural image of bikers, popularized by stereotypical portrayals of outlaw bikers in old Hollywood movies like The Wild One and Easy Rider and the notoriety of motorcycle gangs like the Hells Angels, is false, James Kubinski said.
“(Bikers) are wearing their leather and their skulls and stuff like that, but they are some of the nicest people,” he said. “Groups like the Hells Angels exist, but the way I look at it, they just happen to ride motorcycles. There are a lot of good people. I never realized how welcoming (the biker community) was until I was a part of it.”
The biker community is extremely generous, James Kubinski added. It’s not uncommon for an impromptu biker event to be held at a hole-in-the-wall bar to raise money for one charity or another.
Everything they do, from riding bikes to serving the community, is linked to members' faith, he added.
“There is something about riding a motorcycle that is just so different from a car — you are more connected with everything,” James Kubinski explained. “When you are in a car, it is like watching TV in some ways, but when you are on a motorcycle, you are an active player — you feel the wind, you smell different smells, things you don’t notice in a car. You will hit a random air pocket on the freeway, and the temperature will drop 10 degrees all of a sudden, and then it goes right back to where it was. You are so much more connected to everything around you, and it’s almost like a spiritual experience.”