SOUTH BRONX — They may look like tough guys, but they have a heart of gold.
With a logo that features a grim reaper holding a scythe in front of a full moon, the After Dark Ryders may appear at first glance to be the type of stereotypical unruly motorcycle group portrayed in movies such as "The Wild One" and TV shows like "Sons of Anarchy."
But the bikers in this South Bronx organization are much more interested in charity than they are in rebellion.
The group, started in 2008, organizes car and motorcycle rides in the city and to destinations like Bear Mountain, but they host activities like clothing drives, turkey giveaways around Thanksgiving and toy drives near Christmas for the South Bronx community.
The group's rides are just for fun, stressed the club's founder and president Rafael Pizarro, 42, a father of seven who rides an Iron 883 Harley-Davidson.
"It’s not like we’re going to go to unfamiliar territory and try to take over. We don’t do that," he said. "We just like to ride."
Pizarro decided to start his own group because he wanted a chance to do more activities that would help serve the community.
There are now about 16 members — half of whom are women — and the group mainly focuses on serving neighborhoods in the South Bronx like Melrose and Morrisania. However, over the past two years, it has also developed a partnership with the Stephen McSweeney School in Pelham Bay, which serves students with disabilities.
The Ryders won the Community Award from Stephen McSweeney this year for activities like collecting supplies for back-to-school drives, procuring dresses and tuxedos for students to wear to their prom, providing and barbecuing food for the school's "family fun" day and serving food for the school's Thanksgiving celebration.
"It’s very hard to get any kind of donation for our school, especially special needs students. It’s just hard," said Parent Coordinator Marilyn Alfano. "I’ve tried everything, and they’re the only organization that didn’t shoot me down."
Alfano also complimented the Ryders' willingness to help out at the school no matter when they were needed.
"If it’s 6 in the morning that they have to get there, they’ll get there at 6 in the morning, and they’ll work hard all day, and they’ll make it happen," she said. "They're an amazing group."
The Ryders will continue to help out Stephen McSweeney on Aug. 1 when they host a back to school drive for the institution at the Betances Community Center on 547 E. 146th St. from 5 to 10 p.m.
Maria Vega, secretary for the 40th Precinct's Community Council which also works with the Ryders on events like their Christmas toy drive, said she found the group similarly admirable.
"There’s never, 'Let’s go to sleep today,' or 'Today is a vacation day,'" she said. "Once we finish one project, we’ve already started anew. They will never tell you 'No', and they will never tell you 'This is too big.'"
Cynthia Acevedo, 39, a surgical coordinator who has been with the Ryders for about three years and serves as president of its social club, said she appreciated the unity amongst its members and the opportunity the group provided her to give back to the community.
She said it could be frustrating sometimes to deal with the negative images surrounding motorcyclists ascribed to biker culture in history and shows like "Sons of Anarchy", but the After Dark Ryders were working to reverse these expectations.
“You’re always going to have that perception,” she said. “It’s going to be difficult, but we’re trying our best just so people can feel that we’re a little more organized and just try to do things a little different.”
This mirrors the group's philosophy, which is that creating minor differences in the community can still have a big impact.
"We say, basically, making small changes matters," Pizarro said.
"I'm proud of everything we do," he continued, "because everything we do up to date has been positive."