77-year-old Rocco Spano has solidified himself as an integral part of the New Jersey enduro community
February 7, 2024 (Story from the February 2024 edition of American Motorcyclist)
By Keaton Maisano
Over the years, certain names have become synonymous with motorcycling: Carmichael, Coombs, DeCoster and Davidson to name a few.
For a pocket of riders in New Jersey, another name has become a staple of the riding lifestyle many there enjoy: Rocky.
Rocco “Rocky” Spano, although not an AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer, has certainly left an indelible mark on those in and around the AMA-chartered Ocean County Competition Riders (OCCR) — a New Jersey enduro club belonging to the East Coast Enduro Association (ECEA). The 77-year-old has been a member of the club for four decades, and despite increased age and health problems, he remains a selfless, knowledgeable presence.
“I’m in the ECEA Hall of Fame,” he says with a smile, “which had nothing to do with my riding ability; it’s just that everybody knows who I am! I try to engage people, and am really more of a diplomat, because I try to bring people into the sport and show them how to do things the right way.”
Given Spano’s many years of experience and countless interactions with others, OCCR club member Mike Kuriawa believes Spano’s impact is hard to measure.
“How many people has this guy impacted? How many people has this guy spoken with about small things and just helped in some way?” Kuriawa wondered. “He’s not a well-known racer. He’s not a well-known anything, but the reality is that he’s somebody that’s entrenched in something that’s kinda a niche sport and he’s the type of guy that shines when it comes to welcoming people and being accommodating. One of the biggest things is, he basically wants everybody to have a good time.”
Spano started riding off-road motorcycles around 20 years of age, and his racing career began years later in his mid-30s. Racing in approximately 400 enduros over the years, and helping put on many others, Spano has had a life filled with off-road riding.
“If you ask me about a particular enduro, I can’t remember except that I had fun,” Spano said. “The main reason I go out — I’ve ridden all the trails — is to take the guys out. And they have so much fun and it makes you feel good at the end of the day.”
Spano has become the unofficial patriarch of the OCCR, and one way he showcases his welcoming nature is at the club’s weekly Sunday rides.
“I’ve taken out as many as 25 guys for a ride because I’ve laid out 17 enduros in our forest,” Spano said. “I know where to go and everybody knows who I am.”
It was at one of these weekly Sunday rides that current club member David Bye first met Spano, who welcomed Bye with open arms.
“Being that I had such a nice experience, I continued to go when I could every Sunday,” Bye said. “He was always there no matter what, barring weather or health issues, of course.”
Even with serious health issues, Spano has remained focused on others. After a heart problem prevented Spano from leading a Sunday ride, he unexpectedly showed up in his truck and helped guide the group of riders to the entrances of different trailheads so they could still have a good time.
“That’s the type of thing that he would do, because nobody else would do it,” Kuriawa said. “Not only is it incredible that he would do it for the guys, but that he could be in his car and lead people around so they could still enjoy a day of riding without him because he was down and out and couldn’t be on a bike himself.”
Spano’s relentless efforts to make sure OCCR members and nonmembers feel included and have a good time is simply explained by his love for motorcycling.
“This is my passion. Everybody has a passion, and I enjoy riding so much,” Spano said. “It’s all about having fun. I tell everybody, ‘You don’t go out there to see how fast you can go. It’s about just going out there to enjoy yourself.’ I like including people. It’s the way I am.”
Spano’s passion bled into legislative work around 2009, when the state of New Jersey allowed riders to only use plow lines — patches of forest plowed out for controlled burns — in the state forest.
New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection approached Spano and others with the task of mapping trails, with the end goal of getting an updated menu of the trails.
“I did 115 miles of the 160 that we did,” Spano said. “Just last year, they gave us a menu of trails in my state forest, so I’m responsible for that.”
While Spano is still focused on riding when he can and being a positive influence on other riders and motorcycling, the idea of him one day not being a part of the group is hard to imagine.
“Rocky is a little bit of the glue,” Kuriawa said. “It’s hard to comprehend him not being around because he’s been around for so long. But I’m sure that when he’s gone, or if he stops doing it at some point, he’s going to be sorely missed.”