Bill “Sputnik” Strain

June 25, 2010

All Posts, Obituaries

Bill “Sputnik” Strain, probably the best known biker’s rights advocate in the United States, died June 23rd, 2010.

Everybody knew Sputnik. He was a beefy, gnarled, old Cherokee with tattoos framing his Mohawk haircut. He wore a thick goatee without a mustache and he was so well respected by people across the political spectrum that he could get away with wearing a knife on his right hip at the Texas State Capital. Sputnik rode a Suzuki because, he said, he didn’t think Harleys were tough enough.

Sputnik Strain might have been the last hurrah of the 1960s “Biker’s Right Movement” which, before it became quaint, was sort of the Tea Party with patches and bowie knives.

Biker Rights

The movement started after a gadfly named Ralph Nader published Unsafe At Any Speed in 1965. The next year Congress passed the National Highway Safety Act which was intended to keep Detroit from selling dangerous cars. (This was in that ancient time when most cars were still made in America by American companies headquartered in Detroit.)

A slew of reforms ensued. Bumper heights were standardized. Crumple zones and safety cages were incorporated into car designs. Gas tanks were redesigned so that they did not blow up. Dash boards were padded. Steering wheels were built to collapse under impact and seat belts became standard equipment. This same 1966 law also contained a little noticed provision to withhold federal highway funds from states that refused to enact mandatory motorcycle helmet laws. The fight started there.

Sputnik joined up in 1992 after he heard a United States Senator, Dave Durenberger, say “Bikers are the last hope of America to remain a Free Country. You are the only ones who care enough about your individual liberty to stand up and fight for it. I’m here to tell you tonight that you better get off your ass and you better start fighting, because you are losing it every day.” The Senator’s words changed Sputnik’s life. He spent the last 18 years of his life fighting for what he considered to be “individual liberty.”

He Marked His Spot

He founded the Texas Motorcycle Rights Association on July 4, 1992 and it soon became the largest Caucus in the Texas Democrat Party. Sputnik talked Texas out of mandatory helmet law for adults, got Handicap License Plates for motorcycles and changed the law to allow bikers to carry concealed weapons. He was largely responsible for new rider training in Texas and his best known accomplishment may have been the establishment “Legislative Biker Day” when thousands of bikers, many wearing patches, descend on Austin on the fourth Monday each January and tell the politicians how they are doing.

Sputnik calculated that had ridden about 1.6 million miles in a motorcycle saddle and he was a friend of this page. He died alone of a heart attack, working as the sun came up, in the offices of the Texas MRA. He died doing what he lived to do.  Bill Sputnik Strain was 70-years-old.

Requiescat In Pace

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25 Responses to “Bill “Sputnik” Strain”

  1. Red Barron Says:

    I met Sputnik a few times. He did not repeal the helmet law in Texas. He compromised and accepted an insurance requirement to ride without a helmet. I still do not agree that you can put a price on Freedom. His compromise actually makes it much more difficult for any other state to win a full repeal of helmet laws.

  2. Lucky Dog Says:

    “Bikers are the last hope of America to remain a Free Country”

    Lets never to forget this powerful statement!

    But the fight is continuing. Strong and united we will win!

    We sure are missing you Sputnik.

    Thanks for your time. It will not be forgotten.

  3. Dante Says:

    Esay Rider has a nice piece about Sputnik in their October issue.


  4. Jeff Says:

    Hello friends of Sputnik,

    My name is Jeff with JCI Productions. Our film crew here in Austin TX
    filmed the Sputnik Memorial Service this past Saturday at the State Capitol.

    We are contacting businesses that might want to say their final good-byes to Sputnik,
    and thought you might be interested. Check us out at:

    You can also call us at: 512-662-7461 (ask for Craig or Mauri)



  5. YYZ Skinhead Says:

    I wish I could have met The Man in person. He was/is an inspiring example for grassroots political campaigners.

    YYZ Skinhead

  6. troll7552 Says:

    rip sputnik. sat in on a few ncom meetings with this man. he did not mince words

  7. DocB Says:

    Some of you have already gotten this email. For any of you who haven’t gotten it ………


    WHEN: JULY 10TH, SATURDAY at 10:00 AM

    WHERE: RALLY POINT IS AT VFW POST 8787, 500 VFW ROAD AUSTIN TEXAS 78753. KICKSTANDS UP AT 1000 AM. THE MEMORIAL RIDE WILL PROCEED TO THE SOUTH SIDE OF THE STATE CAPITOL BUILDING. (The VFW will open up at 8:00am and coffee, doughnuts, and water available at the rally point)


  8. Pointman Says:

    RIP Sputnik- I met you once and your fire for freedom stayed with me since then.
    You spoke your mind, changed people, changed the world.
    Gone but never forgotten.

  9. DirtyBruin Says:

    R.I.P., Sputnik – and thank you.

  10. DocB Says:

    I’m sure that some of you recieved this email from tmra2. For those of you that didn’t ………..

    Memorial Services for Sputnik will be posted by the end of this week.
    please forward this message to everyone on your e-mail list to avoid the
    over load of calls and e-mails. Our computers are crashing.

    The services will be on the front south side steps of the capitol. The
    service will be on July 10th and the details for a parade of bikes to …
    follow the casket are being arranged right now. This info. will be
    posted on, NCOM web site, united Clubs of Austin Message board,
    the US defender Message board, SudsN Butterfly, and any other board, news
    broadcast, and radio we can find. Everyone needs to get their info off the
    internet, We simply can not return this many calls.

    We all love and miss Sputnik very much and we at the state office
    understand your grief because we are going though it too..

    August 12, 1939 through 6-24-2010
    Founder and Chairman of Texas Motorcycle Rights Association and member of
    the Law Makers Club Sputnik, age 70, has passed over and is now with
    Jesus. He is survived by his mother Dora Mae and his wife Gwendolyn,
    three children: Chance, Vernon, and his daughter Lisa. Six Grand children
    (CJ, Ashley, Brennen, Keith, Justin, Travis), plus his Great Grand Child,
    Baby Keith. Sputnik had five brothers and sisters, (Charles, Homer, Bobby,
    Suzie, Beverly),Sputnik was the founder of the Texas Motorcycle Rights
    Association. He has received Awards that include the Libertarian Party
    “Lady Liberty Award” “Ron Roloff Lifetime Achievement Award”, The MRF
    Legislative Award, and many Abate awards.

    He was truly proud of those “Legislative Warriors” who stood behind him and
    made all these accomplishments possible.

    There are now Bikers in every level of government in Texas, from City
    Council, Judges, School Boards, Mayors and even State Representatives and
    Senators. Today only 17 of our 181 State Legislators have been at the
    capitol longer than Sputnik. Sputnik believed in everything he said and
    loosing that determination will be a great loss to the motorcycling
    community. The greatest tribute to him is to push forth with our fight
    for freedom and not let his death be in vain said James Reichenbach III,
    Chairman of the NCOM Board of Directors and State President of ABATE of
    Florida, Inc.

    Sputnik will go down in history as the greatest Motorcycle Rights Activist
    in the History of our Nation and we as his “Task Force” were truly blessed
    to be a part of this great Warrior’s life…God has a special place in
    Heaven for Sputnik and he told me yesterday that he wanted all of us to
    continue the political work and to carry forward with his final Rally for
    the Birthday Bash in July4th on Pleasure Island, Texas. (

    We will be having a celebration of life Memorial service for Sputnik on
    July 10, 2010 hopefully at the Capitol in Austin. We will follow up with
    proper times and the location as the issues get worked out.

    Our sincerest regrets to the entire Biker Community and Sputnik’s family.

    To Sputnik: in Cherokee:
    Da nu wa a na li hi
    Wi li
    U nv dv gi


  11. Mikonos Says:

    Utmost respect. Free thinker and trailblazer..talker and walker.

  12. Miss Krista Says:

    Detroit Dutch about said it all – really very sad to lose such a huge and important personality at this critical time. RIP Sputnik, thanks for everything you’ve done and the lessons we can all learn from you.

  13. Ride Says:

    Huge loss for the biker world…mission accomplished, Sputnik. RIP.

  14. Detroit Dutch Says:

    There are those who sit on their asses and take motorcycling rights for granted and sit silently when those rights are eroded away little by little.

    Then there are those who have taken a stand, won’t sit idly when politicians and LEO’s pick away at what was fought for and won by those brave enough to “lend a voice” to our cause.

    Sputnik was one of the later. A consummate fighter and yes… a loud mouth! I was present for several speeches he gave and it was said that he didn’t need a microphone or speaker system. He talked straight from the heart and didn’t pull any punches.

    We lost a GREAT friend of motorcycling!

    Somewhere up in heaven there sits this ornery little man and somehow I expect he will be actively involved in getting a few of us “in that place too!”

    Liberty & Freedom,

    Detroit Dutch

    -Club Delegate to the Michigan- Confederation of Clubs (CoC)
    -MCOC board member- Legal & Legislative Committee
    -Legal & Legislative Officer for the MCoC
    -Lt. Commander for State of Michigan- [US] Defenders Program (NCOM- National Coalition of Motorcyclists)

  15. Dan the Man Says:

    rest in peace. we need someone like him where I live.

  16. Squirts Says:

    My sincerest condolences to the family, friends, brothers and sisters of the TMRA2 on the passing of Sputnik. Had the chance to shoot the shit with him many years ago at an ABATE of IL conference. The man walked the walk. IMHO, he goes into the “Great Bikers” book alongside “Boz” Kerr, Richard “Quig” Quigley and countless others who stood tall for all bikers. Respects


    Bikers lost a true friend

    Respect, Steve

  18. troyez Says:

    I never met the man, but I wish I could have. Now who will step in and fill his shoes? They’re a size 1340!

    A little googling produced this pic:
    I completely agree.

    Ride on Sputnik.


  19. DocB Says:

    Thanks for the article Rebel. RIP Sputnik.

  20. SKREEECH Says:

    Met Sputnik several times around Texas while I lived there. There are some large shoes to fill down there in the Lone Star State.

    R.I.P. Sputnik, you will be missed. May we all be so fortunate to die doing what we are passionate about.


  21. TigGirl Says:

    It was an honor and priveledge to know Sputnik. I can’t even begin to fathom that he is gone.
    There is a HUGE Hole in the world without Sputnik.

    Oh, and Rebel, he also wore his pistol into the statehouse. I witnessed it on several occasions.

    Every person in Texas who now has the right to protect themselves and their property should thank that grumbly old man! He did more for Texans than most people could imagine.

    With a heavy heart,

  22. RVN69 Says:

    R.I.P. Sputnik, sorry I never knew you, it sounds like my loss.

    Si vis Pacem, Para Bellum.

  23. sled tramp Says:

    The loss of this defender of freedom,individual rights and personal liberty is a void of immense porportions.I’m deeply saddened a hero of worth has fallen.

  24. WV Fritz Says:

    RIP Sputnik… you will be missed by all.

  25. JAMES Says:

    Met him in TULSA once at an abate convention, hell of a nice guy, R.I.P. SPUTNIK

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