Surveyors who ride

It’s a unique motorcycle club, but this group of geomatic professionals have found a way to share an interest in the road

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A man with white hair and beard sits on a blue road king motorcycle while another man stands next to him. Two other bikes are in the foreground.

Stan Nickel (seated) and fellow SOB Reid O'Flaherty pause alongside Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park. — John Theed photo

When Stan Nickel, a land surveyor by profession, wrote an article for a trade journal, he wasn’t planning to start a motorcycle club. Someone else had written about gardening in a previous issue and Nickel simply wanted to contribute a story on one of his own interests. Turns out this interest was shared by a few others who read the publication and they agreed to get together to take photos for the following issue.

That was 15 years ago. Now there are almost 50 members of Surveyors on Bikes—also known, tongue in cheek, as the SOBs.

“We’re kind of a relaxed group,” said Nickel. “When we get away there are no ties. Some of these members have significant assignments in government agencies and they appreciate the opportunity to leave that behind and just relax with like-minded people. Certainly, yes, (it’s about the riding, fun and camaraderie.)”

Those SOBs

The SOBs are a pretty accommodating group. The club has expanded through word of mouth, rider by rider. There is no requirement on the type of bike that members ride—anything is welcome as long as the potential member is an avid recreational biker and a respectable member of the geomatics profession. A referral from a current SOB member is also required.

There are now members of the Surveyors on Bikes in three Canadian provinces and four American states. Nickel finds it astonishing that his idea has taken off, spreading throughout the geomatics profession and into another country.

“The career path is very common, but so is the motorcycling,” said Nickel. “These are two commonalities and when they’re brought together the Surveyors on Bikes is the result. We share these two common interests. That’s a unique mixture of people. Their professional backgrounds and their love of motorcycling is a unique combination that I find very satisfying. We all do—it’s a real pleasure.”

Wasting time the right way

Every year members of the SOBs get together for a time-well-wasted weekend. Of course, not every member can commit and there are starting to be additional SOB activities in other locations. However, the time-well-wasted weekends are generally held in Alberta or B.C. where the majority of members are concentrated. The outings generally explore a geomatic-themed destination. Sometimes it includes a significant structure such as a bridge. For 2013, the time-well-wasted weekend is based out of Hope, B.C., and includes a ride along the Fraser Canyon. One of Nickel’s favourite SOB memories was the year they followed a canoe expedition that was commemorating explorer and mapper David Thompson who had a home in Invermere.

“I really hadn’t understood, as I went in that direction, what it was that we were going to experience,” said Nickel. “The dedication of the canoe people, the community spirit supporting them—especially in Invermere, they had a whole day celebration because David Thompson had lived there. It was just astonishing to me as I came away. I know about David Thompson. I was in Grade 10 and I’m a land surveyor. I’d read the book. But the community support for somebody that was important to them—I didn’t understand that. That was something for all of us that were there. We were just really proud to be British Columbians and that was a really good day.”

It may have almost come about by accident, but Nickel couldn’t be happier to have found a great group who share two of his interests. As for the future? The Surveyors on Bikes will have lots of time and space to continue to grow. Nickel has recently closed his surveying business, but he has no intention of closing down the SOBs.

“I’ll be doing this as long as I can,” he said. “I’d be doing this anyway, whether it was a big group or a small group. The people that I’ve discovered in this organization . . . I miss them when they’re not here. So keeping it going is just a simple pleasure.”

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