Love Ride 25 and California Bike Week

Pete Brissette
by Pete Brissette

Twenty-five years ago a fateful decision was made. Oliver Shokouh, owner of Glendale Harley-Davidson/Buell, and founder of the famous Love Ride, decided to give it one more try way.

In 1981 Harley-Davidson Motor Company officially lent its support to the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), and encouraged its dealers to hold rallies, rides and the like in fund raising efforts to benefit the MDA. Shokouh got on the wagon, and he, shop employees and friends created Glendale H-D’s first Biker Carnival. Though their hearts were in the right place, not much came from their efforts. Employing cliché carnival-type activities, like a dunk tank, the first Carnival collected about $1,500. Determined to try again, a second Carnival was held the following year, and though donations were doubled, Shokouh felt it wasn’t enough, and so took a break.

Oliver Shokouh, founder of the Love Ride.
Peter Fonda has been there from the beginning

“We were raising money, but in the end it was turning out to be a lot of effort for relatively little return,” Shokouh explains. In 1984 the MDA encouraged Shokouh to try again, but this time changing the way money was given. Rather than charge a flat entrance fee, the sponsorship format was used, wherein a rider who wanted to participate could collect pledges of donations from people and businesses on behalf of the rider. The MDA would then pursue the donations at a later time. The obvious benefit was that a rider that was motivated to gather sponsors could raise far more money for the MDA, easily eclipsing the one-time fee charged previously as an entrance to the ride. This was the beginning of the Love Ride.

Why call it such, many wonder? Despite being exhausted at the end of the annual event, held typically in late October or early November, Shokouh says simply that “it’s a labor of love.”

'The Love Ride has become renowned not only for the number of participants, but the number of various celebrities and people in high places...'

“After you see what those that suffer from MD go through, and the struggles the families go through, and what these children are about, and how they cope with their ultimate fate, and how much courage they have, I just really got attracted to that.” He goes on to say how as the years passed he became closer to a number of children that suffer from MD, and in his own words, “adopted them as my own kids.”

The Love Ride has become renowned not only for the number of participants, but the number of various celebrities and people in high places that attend. From the beginning the Love Ride got a boost from celebrity involvement. In ’84 Peter Fonda did a public service announcement for the event that won PSA of the Year, and Willie G. Davidson came all the way from Milwaukee to attend. Both have been involved ever since. From then on the Ride has collected celebrity endorsements at avalanche-like strength.

Quite possibly the most recognizable face of the Love Ride is perennial attendee, Jay Leno. Late night funnyman Leno hopped on board in 1985, and he, too, has been at the Love Ride’s side all this time. “Jay, being the gearhead he is, wanted to get involved, and recognized early on that we didn’t really have anyone with a stage presence, so he kind of took that part over,” Shokouh explains. He goes on to say that Leno’s dedication to the Love Ride matches the affable personality we often see on television. “He’s [Leno] never asked to be paid, and most years he brings us a check.”

California Bike Week and the Love Ride

In only its second year, California Bike Week is striving to be the West Coast’s answer to Daytona and Sturgis. Oliver Shokouh explains that CA Bike Week is a not-for-profit event designed to promote motorcycling in a positive light, and is a joint venture between the Love Ride Foundation and the 26-member Southern California Harley-Davidson Dealers Association.

Of its location at the vast Fairplex in Pomona, CA, Shokouh says that the Fairplex is much more suitable logistically than Castaic Lake, the previous end-point location of the Love Ride. Castaic Lake in Castaic, CA, on the 5 Fwy just north of greater L.A. is a pleasant stop, but according to Shokouh was too restrictive in terms of the number of vendors that could be brought in.

Wall of Death rider at California Bike Week. “Charlie, that you?”
Flat track racing is slideways!

Spanning a Friday and a Saturday, and culminating on Sunday with the Love Ride, Cal Bike Week offers the classic collection of biker stuff vendors, from major bike brands represented by dealers and in some cases the bike companies, to people selling fur-covered novelty helmets. It’s worth noting that a large number of vendors were reporting being down upwards of 40-percent, or more, in sales from California Bike Week 2007. Tough times all around.

In addition to stuff to buy, this year also saw the crazy antics of the Wall of Death, stunts performed by Jason Pullen on his 1200 Sportster, the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps and Gene Romero’s West Coast Flat Track Series. Last year the All Harley-Davidson Drag Racing Association made a stop, but declined to run at this year’s event. According to Shokouh the drag group claimed that costs were too great to return. This then left the focus on flat track; however, the crowd seemed thin again this year.

'If you’ve never been to a flat track race, you don’t know what you’re missing.'

Regardless of spectator numbers, there were plenty of top-shelf names like reigning AMA Flat Track champ Kenny Coolbeth, Chris Carr, Joe Kopp, Bryan Smith, Jared Mees, etc.

If you’ve never been to a flat track race, you don’t know what you’re missing. The race action is fast, often times neck-and-neck, and usually looks dangerously close to a crash each time a rider pitches his or her bike sideways to enter one of two ends of the oval, usually a horse track. This year not crashing was the exception, as nearly every race had a serious wipeout, often times requiring a restart.

Winner of the Open Class A-Main was Michigan native, Bryan Smith. Chris Carr performed admirably but failed to make a podium; Coolbeth came in fourth. Nice guy, Smokin’ Joe Kopp, was doing okay until he got into a serious wrap-up midway between turns 1 and 2, sending his bike in the air, and him home in an ambulance. No worries though; Kopp got up under his own power.

Go see the next flat track race you can get to, get a good seat and I promise you won’t be sorry you went!

Love Ride 25 was as saturated with big names as any other year, with celebs seeming too many to number. Long time participant Lorenzo Lamas was there, and even managed to bellow out a very well-sung Star Spangled Banner to help open the event. Who knew the Renegade has such lungs? Robert Patrick of Terminator fame, and the closing seasons of the X Files, was there wearing his Boozefighter club jacket with a club President patch, serving as Honorary Grand Marshall. Word is that Patrick is one of about three guys that helped breathe life some 15 years ago back into one of the oldest motorcycle clubs in existence. He looked every bit the part a Bfer, sporting Rockabilly style, and often carrying a big stogie. Truth be told, Patrick is one of the nicer people you’ll meet on two wheels.

Also in attendance was most of the cast of the controversial new FX television show, Sons of Anarchy. Backflipping madman Mike Metzger was on hand, as was Rutger Hauer and regular Love Rider, Larry Hagman. This is but a sprinkling of the numerous actors, musicians and persons of interest, so to speak, that peppered this year’s event.

Speaking of musicians, the Love Ride has, since the beginning, boasted some incredible musical acts as one of the ways it draws riders and attendees by the thousands. This year was no different, and in fact will probably be notable in years to come. Contemporary rock powerhouse Foo Fighters, founded by Dave Grohl of Nirvana fame, plowed through hit after hit on the main stage at the Fariplex in Pomona, CA, with as much energy as the band probably had since its inception. The closing performance was by a band Grohl said was one of his favorites, and no doubt a favorite over the years of millions of fans.

Love Ride 25 and CA Bike Week from Fonz the Photog

I skipped last year after personal disappointment in the venue change. ¬ I’ll always miss both the ride to, and the event grounds, at Castaic Lake. The Pomona Fairplex wasn’t as asphalt-laden as I expected though, ¬with the concert stage constructed inside the Fairplex’s oval horserace track,¬ but it was hot as the sun out there. By the time the headlining ZZ Top performed, I’d given up trying to shoot the performers [With a camera. –Ed.] and charitable presentations from the usual photog-privileged locations, and joined the overheated crowd in search of shade from the six palm trees in the infield.

Departing from the traditional location in Glendale the ride to Castaic Lake was extremely controlled by escort riders and the occasional single file procession. A rather impressive display by the cooperating law enforcement agencies, but much less fun than I remembered it. I never quite got the satisfactory feeling of cracking open the throttle to express my love for the road and charity at the same time. Nor was I ever lost en route to the Fairplex. Then again, I never rode in the front-running pack along side Jay Leno and the attending celebrities, with tens of thousands of wheels following behind us. We trailed the leading camera car for quite a few miles before peeling off to get some fresh wind in our faces.

Dave Grohl howls out one of many Fighter hits.

All told, it was a more than anyone can handle in just one day. Had I known there was so much to see and do, I would have tried harder to make it out to the Fairplex to see the shops and concerts on Friday, attend the Petersen auction on Saturday, as well as the flat track racing in the evening, in the end, leaving more time to see the Tubes and Foo Fighters play on Sunday. I felt rushed and flushed from the sun. Next year I’ll take the chance to go earlier now that I learned about the whole package provided by California Bike Week.

ZZ Top. Need we say more?
Taryn Noel Fogel. One of the countless true reasons behind the Love Ride. Visit
The man behind it all.

'Love Ride 25 may prove to be one of the more successful Rides, and Oliver Shokouh hopes this is just the beginning'

Rock and roll icon ZZ Top brought their unmistakable style, both musical and personal, to Love Ride 25. Not only was every one of the thousands of Love Riders, young and old (you almost have to be old to know many ZZ songs), on their feet grooving to the Texas group’s countless hits, even the likes of KISS’ Gene Simmons was spotted just off center stage enjoying the legendary sounds of the Top.

Love Ride 25 may prove to be one of the more successful Rides, and Oliver Shokouh hopes this is just the beginning.

“I’m hoping these first 25 years is the completion of the first phase, and the start of the second phase,” Shokouh says with conviction. He hopes to be around for Love Ride 50 when he’ll be 87 years-old. “I hope the Love Ride continues to grow, and be profitable in helping those less fortunate. What we do here is probably just a drop in the bucket in terms of all the needs of the world out there, but at least it’s something. It feels good, it’s fun, and it’s about motorcycling, too.”

'What we do here is probably just a drop in the bucket in terms of all the needs of the world out there, but at least it’s something.'

The weather for LR 25 was typical California-perfect, if a bit hot, the crowd was huge, the entertainment awesome and everyone, including Taryn Noel Fogel and her family, was having a great time. Taryn suffers mitochondrial disease, but that doesn’t stop her from enjoying life. She and her family seemed to be having a great time listening to all the music, and taking in all the hospitality and friendly atmosphere of this massive gathering of like-minded people. She seems to have that indomitable spirit that has driven Oliver Shokouh all these years to fight for causes such as the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, one of 14 charities and organizations that benefit from the Love Ride Foundation. The event was great, but Taryn and so many others that find themselves in a similar station in life, are the reason behind the Love Ride.

During a brief moment backstage I spotted Oliver standing at the top of a set of stairs that led to the main stage. He seemed to be scanning the entirety of the Love Ride, taking it all in during a pensive moment. It struck me then that this same humble man who is exceptionally busy running his successful Harley dealership and the Love Ride Foundation, managed to carve out over 30 minutes of his time only days before the event to take an interview. This same man is largely responsible for the “largest one-day motorcycle fundraiser,” a charitable event of the greatest magnitude. Good work, Oliver.

An event of this dimension is best accompanied by pictures, so be sure to see the extensive collection of photos in the Photo Gallery that help tell the story of Love Ride 25.

Pete Brissette
Pete Brissette

More by Pete Brissette

Join the conversation