Some men buy motorcycles when they think they see middle age chasing them down the road. They imagine riding away from the rut their life has gotten stuck in, or a job they’re not sure they enjoy.
Kris Weiss had no such concerns when he bought a new motorcycle 11 years ago, but his life did take a significant detour. He was an associate pastor at a Raleigh church and suddenly found himself out of work when the congregation’s modest budget no longer could support him.
Just two months later, he saw that Ray Price Harley-Davidson in downtown Raleigh was looking for a rental manager. The hiring team was impressed with his knowledge and easy-going nature. He soon transitioned to the marketing role he still holds.
“From almost Day One, they recognized me as dealership chaplain, since I was coming with pastoral experience,” says Weiss, who gladly traded up for a Harley as part of his job duties. “I was building a lot of relationships with customers and employees alike.”
Before long, he was marrying them, too. He’s blessed the union of dozens of motorcycle-loving couples in the dealership showroom, where they gather with friends and family in the Winner’s Circle and jubilantly ring the same bell customers clang when they buy a bike.
Last year, he married a couple at the Raleigh Convention Center as part of Capital City Bikefest, which the dealership presents.
This Saturday at 3:30 p.m., during this year’s Bikefest – which begins Friday and continues through Sunday – Weiss will officiate at the marriage of Dan Rollins and Dara Debusk, a pair of custom bike builders from Virginia. As with most of Bikefest’s family-friendly activities, this is free and open to the public.
“Everyone is welcome,” says Debusk, who will wear crisp jeans and a white shirt while her good-humored groom will sport a tuxedo T-shirt. Look for them on stage, flanked by 17 competing tattoo artists and the Wall of Death daredevil show.
“It gives a whole new meaning to ‘until death do us part,’ ” chuckles Weiss, who made arrangements with the couple by phone. “My impression is they have a very good relationship. I look forward to meeting them.”
Weiss believes there’s something about sharing a passion for motorcycle culture that builds strong bonds among couples. Maybe it’s all the hugging that occurs when one partner rides behind the other, holding on for dear life.
It was true for the late Ray Price and his wife, Jean, who Weiss assisted in renewing their vows at the dealership several years ago.
It’s true for Weiss, too. He and his wife, Cheryl, have been married – and riding motorcycles together – for 29 years.
‘Better than a diamond’
Debusk knew her fiance casually for about a year but came to see him in a different light after mentioning that she wanted new handlebars for her bike. Rollins is known for custom fabrication work done at Dan Rollins Kustoms in Virginia.
“He told me, ‘Hey, I’ll make them for you,’ ” Debusk recalls. “Well, that was it. They were perfect, and we’ve been together ever since.”
The couple decided to get hitched at Bikefest at the suggestion of Mark Hendrix, general manager of the Ray Price dealership. He thought his friends already were married and was surprised to learn the contrary when he saw them last January at the Easyrider Bike Show in Charlotte.
The opportunity sounded ideal to Debusk, who doesn’t mind foregoing flowers, catering and other costly elements often deemed essential.
“I’ve done the big traditional wedding before, and so has Dan,” she says. “This time, it’s just about us celebrating what’s important with family.”
Rollins now is building her a sleek stainless steel bike, which will be on display at the Ray Price dealership during Bikefest.
“It’s not finished, but it’s really something,” she says. “He started it two years ago, so I guess it’s now my wedding gift. Definitely better than a big diamond.”
What our bond means
Dana Way likewise was determined to buck convention when she planned her July 2010 wedding to Jonathon Helsius at the Ray Price dealership.
“As you grow up, you realize that doing things for society can be a waste of time,” says Way, a former Ray Price employee who now makes her home in Oxford. “We know what our bond means and didn’t want to make it fit someone else’s perception of what a wedding ought to be.”
Way spent months hunting for a beaded and fringed white vest and chaps for the occasion.
With Weiss’ help, the 20-minute ceremony was deeply personal, weaving in Celtic and Cherokee blessings to reflect their heritage.
“Kris performed a beautiful expression of our relationship,” Way says. “I’d do it all over again the exact same way.”
James Satterwhite also wed in the showroom, but he built a traditional decorative arch for his bride, Sydney. They live in Brogden, near Smithfield.
“We have been together almost four years, married two, and we’ve ridden together over 26,000 miles,” he says. “Our love of riding bikes together comes as an extra bonus to our relationship. Our dream would be to have sponsors to ride our Harley together all across America.”
Jean Price, Ray Price’s widow, appreciates the romance of sharing the open road with the love of your life. Weiss says she loves hosting weddings at dealership and during Bikefest.
“She’s insisted that we get a cake for couples that had simple plans, or find other ways to make the day special,” Weiss says.
Debusk and Rollins, for example, not only were invited to attend a post-Bikefest company reception Saturday night but also were told they could bring their friends and family to the party.
“That’s just how it is among people who feel strongly about motorcycles and the lifestyle,” Weiss says. “It’s great to join them in the Winner’s Circle or celebrate their love at Bikefest. It’s a great photo opp, but more importantly, it’s a moment they’ll never forget.”