Love Ride 24

Steve Bohn
by Steve Bohn

The Inaugural Running Of California Bike Week

Love Ride 24 will be remembered as a milestone chapter in what is widely known as “the largest one-day fundraising event in motorcycling.” Held in Southern California each November, Love Ride attracts tens of thousands of riders taking part with the sole purpose of raising money for children’s charities. In a major departure from past Love Rides, this year’s event has become intimately entwined with the first annual, California Bike Week, held November 9th through the 11th.

There is no disputing that the motorcycling community is a fund-raising powerhouse. In small towns and large cities all across our nation, barely a weekend goes by when these modern-day Robin Hoods aren’t out helping the less fortunate amongst us. From large-scale events like the Love Ride, and Toys In The Sun Run, to smaller scale local events, motorcyclists everywhere are the first to pull out their wallets to try and make a difference in someone else’s life.

Since its beginning in 1981 when it was known as the First Annual Biker’s Carnival, the Love Ride charitable organization has raised millions of dollars. Prior to this year’s event, the Love Ride Foundation has raised over $20 million for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and numerous other local charities.

Oliver Shokouh, the Love Ride’s founder, has had the desire to raise the level, awareness, and benevolence of the Love Ride from a one-day event to part of something much larger, with the ability help out even more people. Shokouh’s intention is to create a destination bike event that rivals Daytona or Sturgis, while continuing to grow support for the charities assisted by the Love Ride Foundation. Although reaching those lofty goals may be a few years off, we witnessed what we believe to be a very positive start in that direction.

Love Ride participants in 2007 found themselves heading to a new destination (LA County Fairgrounds in Pomona, AKA The Fairplex) complete with a full weekend of drag racing, flat-track racing, exhibition riding and plenty of vendors. Instead of heading north from Glendale to the picturesque Lake Castaic, this year’s participants rode 40 miles to the east, arriving in the shadow of some of the holiest of all drag strips, the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. The legendary venue played host to the season’s next to last race in the All Harley Drag Racing Association (AHDRA) series. This weekend’s event set up what is sure to be a hotly contested season finale at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, November 15-18.

One common bond Love Ride 24 had to past events was the ride’s starting point, Shokouh’s Harley-Davidson of Glendale. The beginning of the ride is one of those things that you just have to experience for yourself. If you have never been to the Love Ride and felt the rush of 15,000-20,000 Harley-Davidsons firing-up, with the exhaust notes pounding off the pavement and nearby architecture, you just haven’t lived. Seeing the cordoned-off streets overflowing with chrome and leather is a sight to behold – it’s like your first time in Sturgis or first thousand-mile day, words or images can’t do it justice.

Prior to hitting the highway, the overflowing crowd who paid $75 each was woken up with an early morning concert featuring Captain Cardiac and the Coronaries. The troubadours blasted away with their trademark ’50s and ’60s rock and roll renditions, while the crowd readied itself for a parade of celebrities and dignitaries who were greeted by Love Ride Grand Marshall, Jay Leno. With all the obligatory hand shaking out of the way, it was time to hit the road. Wave after wave of motorcycles fired up and made their way to the freeway. Pack after pack of bikes rolled on to the super slab, significantly outnumbering the cagers on this Sunday morning.

If you have never participated in the Love Ride, you might wonder what’s the big deal – 40 miles on the freeway… piece of cake. Not quite, pilgrim. Strange things happen to riders when you get a bunch of them together in the same place at the same time. Many of them feel it’s a race to Pomona and start to get a bit crazy. To say the least, it’s one of the more challenging 40 miles you’ll ever ride on the freeway.

Somehow even with all the lane splitting and showing off, the vast majority of riders arrived at the Fairplex unscathed. For those of you not familiar with lane splitting, you can legally ride between lanes of traffic on a motorcycle in California. While this is illegal in most other states, it’s commonplace out here. On a normal day in LA traffic you will see a handful of bikes here and there carefully navigating between lanes of slowly moving vehicles. Throw all that out on this day, and keep your eyes open.

An additional benefit realized with the change in venue was good freeway access and plenty of parking. Gone are the days of cramped clutch hands and over-heating engines just trying to get into the parking lot. This very large venue, 543 acres to be exact, plays host to the LA County Fair (the largest county fair in the USA) each September.

California Bike Week activities ran Friday through Sunday. Patrons who paid for Love Ride or either of the racing events were admitted free to Cal Bike Week. If you only wanted to attend Cal Bike Week, it cost you $20 dollars to get in. Once inside you were treated to upwards of 150 vendors including the likes of Victory Motorcycles, J&P Cycles, Big Dog Motorcycles, Boss Hoss, Big Bear Choppers, True-Track, Hollywood Choppers, Bassani Exhaust, Kuryakyn, Vance & Hines, Ron Simms and Corbin. The remainder of the vending area was filled out with a variety of custom builders and numerous purveyors of motorcycle accessories, performance parts, leather, glasses, and riding gear.

Harley-Davidson had a major presence at the event, including a first-time-ever visit from H-D’s traveling museum. Add to that their drag race simulator, Screamin’ Eagle performance parts display and demo rides on the companies 2008 models, and you had plenty of orange and black to keep you busy. If your tastes leaned in other directions, you could have taken time for a test ride on the some of the V-8-powered Boss Hosses or the three-wheeled Can-Am Spyder.

If your preference was to watch others ride, you were in luck. Jason Pullen rode the tires off his Harley-Davidson FXR, performing smoky burnouts, wheelies and all kinds trick riding stunts as the crowd watched, applauded and sucked up his smoke. Perennial Love Ride favorite Victor McLaglen Motor Corps Stunt Team returned again this year to strut their stuff. These 15 highly skilled riders performed technical maneuvers requiring split-second synchronicity on their Harley-Davidsons. These guys do it the old-fashioned way, riding bikes ranging from a 1936 EL to the most current model, a 1988 FLHS. After witnessing the many stunts VMMC performed, it was easy to see why they are considered one of the best motorcycle drill teams in the world.

Set up in the vendor area was the American Motor Drome’s Wall of Death. This was another must-see attraction. Set up like a cylindrical room with an open top, spectators looked down and watched as riders with serious cojones rode motorcycles and go-karts at speeds high enough to keep them attached to the walls, but not too fast to make them fly out of the top. There’s no trickery here, just the laws of physics and skilled riders keeping the bikes up on the wall to the amazement of the crowd. The show features four riders and a variety of machines that seem to defy gravity. The 10-minute show culminated with a rider in a go-kart collecting tips from the hands of spectators as he sped by at the top of the wall.

Friday and Saturday provided plenty of drag racing action for the crowd. Upwards of 300 entrants competing in 16 classes participated in the inaugural AHDRA California Bike Week Nationals. The event was sponsored by nearby Laidlaw’s Harley-Davidson who held a pre-race nitro party at the dealership on Thursday night featuring drag bike displays, rider’s autographs, raffles and refreshments.

Sitting atop the motorcycle drag racing scene is without a doubt the top fuel class, in which Doug Vancil piloted his #3 Drag Specialties/ Vance & Hines Nitro-burning machine to victory. With a final run of 6.340 seconds at 218.48 mph Vancil beat runner up Mike Romine’s 6.429 seconds at 212.23 mph. With his latest victory, Vancil trails Takeshi Shigematsu by 23 points going into the season’s last event.

In other racing activities, long-time racer turned promoter Gene Romero brought flat-track racing back to Pomona after an 11-year absence. By the looks of the crowd in the stands and the teams in the infield, it seems Southern California has a major appetite for fast bikes and flying dirt. Rounding out Romero’s final race in the six-event, Pacific Coast Nationals were 117 riders (including Chris Carr, the worlds fastest man on a motorcycle, and Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson Wrecking Crew; Kenny Coolbeth, Jared Mees, Bryan Smith and Joe Kopp) competing for the top-spots in three classes.

Romero’s series is set up to bring highly competitive racing to fans, at the same time making it affordable for novice riders and mom-and-pop teams. Riders charged around the 5/8-mile track at speeds approaching 110 mph at the end of the straight before digging in their left foot, slinging the back wheel outwards, and battling for position in the turns. Racer George Roeder II punctuated the Saturday evening event by walking away with top honors in the open class aboard his Harley-Davidson.

"We had all the top guys in flat track, and they were at their best Saturday night,” said Romero in a press release. “The fans poured in and showed their support, so we're excited to start planning for next year's California Bike Week.”

By the time the crowds began filing into the track’s infield Sunday morning, they were treated to a familiar sight, the Love Ride stage with its beautiful artwork and Love Ride imagery. Warming the crowd up on this cool, cloudy morning were various celebrities, local politicians, racers, DJs and promoters. The Davidson clan (Willie G. Davidson, his wife Nancy, son Bill and daughter Karen) had been showing up at locations all weekend long, and today was no exception. When Willie G. confessed on stage his love for the new venue, and his passion for racing, he was greeted by huge applause from the crowd.

After some rockin’ numbers by Friends of Love Ride 24 All-Stars, Gregg Allman and his band took the stage. The seven-piece combo wasted no time charging into Allman Brothers classics including “Whipping Post” and “Sweet Melissa.” Alternating back and forth between his trademark Hammond B3, Fender Stratocaster, and various acoustic guitars, Gregg and friends played sweet, soulful tunes that had the crowd dancing, swaying and wanting more.

By the time everything had been tallied up, 2007 was a banner year for the Love Ride. Even with 100,000 of our brothers and sisters fighting overseas and an unsure economy, this year’s event held on Veterans Day attracted an estimated 20,000 riders and raised a total of nearly $1 million. Now that’s charity.

"I have to admit, it was a big move and I was a little anxious about it initially," said LR founder Shokouh. "But based on the turnout we got and the feedback I received from Love Riders, we did the right thing and I couldn't be happier."

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