A brand new love
Pomona provides new venue, riders raise $900,000
Glendale, Calif., Nov. 11—I still have my ride pin from the very first Love Ride. It’s buried in a jar somewhere beneath my cache of run pins dating back three decades, but it’s there, take my word. The first Love Ride—and every Love Ride since—started at Glendale Harley-Davidson, and ended at Calamigos Ranch in Malibu (where I attended summer camp as a child, rubbing elbows with kids from famous Hollywood loins). For the last 14 years the Love Ride has ended at Castaic Lake, and after all that time I had my routine down: how late I could leave, the back way into Glendale and my secret parking spot, when to head out for Castaic before the caravan of bikes would cause unbearable delays. But this year, when I read the ads—several times—and didn’t see a single mention of Castaic, I went into a low grade panic. It was true, the 2007 Love Ride was to be the culmination of the inaugural California Bike Week to be held at the Pomona Fairplex. That information probably made most of the participants jump for joy. None of us would miss that gawd-awful return from the lake, splitting traffic for 50-odd miles through the infamous San Fernando Valley.
Parking at Glendale was tightly controlled and even with my press pass I heard the “can’t get there from here” spiel, and went as directed until I ended up back on the freeway and tried another approach. Caught again in the “Don’t park here” loop, I reverted to my secret parking spot. It took 30 minutes to drive to Glendale and 20 minutes to park, but I was surprised at the sparse crowd around Glendale Harley-Davidson. Usually elbow to elbow, the throng barely covered the 200 feet in front of the dealership and browsing inside did not have to be monitored by a fire marshall. There was no human crush before the stage. Bikes, normally parked west of the stage, were lined up on Brand Boulevard since they would caravan to the north. I could hardly tell this was the same event. I’m sure the missing bikers were merely sleeping in, knowing they would not have to endure the 80-mile trek to Castaic and could sign in at Pomona, or maybe they were waiting to see what the weather would bring.
I finally made it inside the VIP area. I swear there were more reporters and camera crews than celebrities there, and most I didn’t recognize in their civvies. Some I knew but sometimes I had to ask, “Who’s that?” I was on the lookout for Jay Leno because I had been trying for 10 years to have him sign my copy of his autobiography. I waited patiently for a quiet moment to hold out my book. Jay looked surprised. “Oh! From the 99 cent bin?” I explained that I’d paid retail for this first edition. I wanted to tell him that I was touched by the story about his folks and his pickup truck, but he was already being pulled elsewhere. By far, he is the most popular, accommodating celebrity involved with the Love Ride, and the most humble, in my opinion. He generously posed to have his picture taken with virtually every person who asked, including the cameramen who, having done their job, stood in line for their chance, handing off their cameras to the next in line.
While the Love Ride has come to be associated with celebrities and huge crowds, it has always been, first and foremost, a charity event. This year’s participants raised over $900,000, which will be distributed among Love Ride Foundation beneficiaries, including the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Reading By 9, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Special Olympics of Southern California, Cure Autism Now, Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters, Optimist Youth Homes and Family Services, Diabetes Institute, The Friends of Castaic Lake and others.
The riders who had worked so hard to raise those funds were now assembled at the dealership and as the festivities got under way, the band Captain Cardiac and the Coronaries entertained the crowd. Afterward, Jay joked, “If you have a mullett and you’re going to Pomona, go to the front of the line: we’re too classy for Castaic or Beverly Hills!” He then introduced the celebrities one by one, including David Hiller, publisher of the L.A. Times; a bearded Larry Hagman; Dan “Grizzly Adams” Haggarty; Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian; and Lorenzo Lamas, an honorary National Guardsman who surprised many when he ably sang the National Anthem. With the color guard, Staff Sergeant Carvel Gay proudly announced a fly-by of a U.S. 60 Blackhawk from the California National Guard: “They came especially for you,” he told the crowd. Others giving support were the cast of “24”; Trish Helper; Run DMC; from local KTLA, Sam Rubin; Robbie Knievel; and Assemblyman Mike Duvall,who cautioned about upcoming loud pipe legislation. But before we rode off, Duane Williams proposed to his gal Julie, both Iraq veterans.
Under cloudy, rain-threatening skies, the Love Ride caravan was led by Leno on an Elvis Presley prototype ’57 Panhead, beaded windshield and all, followed by front-axled three-wheelers from event sponsor Spyder that looked like something from the movie “Tron.” Taking a shortcut down the Golden State Freeway to pick up the 10 would bring me straight to the Fairplex, where I could watch the parade of bikes a second time as they rolled past a gauntlet of LAFD trucks and engines with the fire personnel applauding and waving. What everyone saw next is the kind of thing old-timers talk about: 30 acres of parking reserved for 20,000 motorcycles. This is what the MMA Toy Runs looked like years ago. Very impressive to see that many motorcycles grouped together. And for everyone’s peace of mind, CHPs patrolled the lot and the entrance sported a highly visible sign warning that bait bikes were in the lot.
Once inside you had the choice of proceeding directly to the infield of the racetrack for the Love Ride concert and lunch, or wandering through the Biker Market Place. I abandoned my food-first creed, sucked into the shopaholic’s black and orange heaven before me. Having attended the county fairs here all my life, it was a thrill to see the marketplace area transformed into a motorcycle supermarket. Sponsors of this year’s Love Ride 24 included Hummer, Budweiser, Southern California Harley-Davidson Dealers Association, Event 360, KLOS, Cycle Trader and Recycler Classifieds, and most had a presence here. Ambling through the stalls, I saw every conceivable vendor, from one selling baby biker clothes to another that rents biker hearses for that final ride. The vendors either loved or hated the arrangement. Some thought they should be more exposed to the foot traffic heading into the racetrack, citing low retail sales. The chance to show up and actually sell products was a big plus for others. I felt the public had a great opportunity to check out both big and little vendors, something sorely missing from the big dealer shows in December. And no baby strollers!
The Harley-Davidson display and demo rides held prime real estate as you walked in. If you were around for the previous day’s racing you could have tried out the H-D dragster simulator. Boss Hog also had a demo fleet, if for no other reason than to see if you could actually straddle the bike. Twenty-foot-tall towers displayed banners of riders and I was fortunate to meet one of the models posing before his image: Bandit the Motorcycle Riding Dog. Ron Stratman regaled me with his explanation of how his buffalo motorcycle came to be when he made a wrong turn and ran into the ass of a buffalo in the middle of the road. He made sure to show me the authentic buffalo balls, too, as compared to the brass balls selling elsewhere.
The funniest thing I spotted were the Jingle Jugs: lifelike female breasts mounted like the “Singing Bass,” wearing an assortment of bra tops, and jiggling to Rodney Carrington’s ditty “Titties and Beer.” All kidding aside, 10 percent of their sales are donated to Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Research.
The most impressive thing I saw had me literally on my hands and knees to spot all the detailing. It was the CHP Fallen Officer Memorial Chopper, inspired by CHP Officer Thomas J. Steiner—who was killed April 21, 2004, by a gangsta wannabe outside the Pomona Courthouse—and dedicated to the 202 others who have sacrificed their lives. CHP Officer Sean Roby conceived and designed the bike, shopping his dream around to various custom builders. Only Big Bear Choppers volunteered to build the bike. In an era when you can’t see the bikes for the radical designs, ghost flames and a full hell’s worth of skulls, this bike stood out in the simple execution of style and purpose to tell a story. With lithium-ion batteries, it is the first 100 percent electric chopper. The intake, spark plugs and pipes are just for show. Details included clean black and white paint; CHP seven-point gold star hubs; CHP motto and funeral mural on the rear fender with emblems on the tanks; and typical low slung BBC styling. Unfortunately, it wasn’t highly visible. I’m sure many attendees walked right by this magnificent machine. Next time, it needs to be on an elevated turntable so all may admire it and remember why and for whom it was built.
The Friends of Love Ride 24 All-Star Band played great rock music while we picnicked on the grassy field that was nice and flat—no beer spilling. The sound system was great, allowing the music to be heard at the far end of the field, and Gregg Allman gave a fine performance, switching from organ to guitar throughout his set. He opened with “I’m No Angel,” so appropriate for this crowd. A CD had been compiled featuring Love Ride 24 performers, and it was available for fans to buy.
I didn’t pick up a program when I first arrived and missed the always stunning stunts performed by Victor McLaglen Motor Corp. No announcements were made in the marketplace about the events, so I had to rely on signs giving the next showtimes and was able to catch the American Motor Drome Wall of Death featuring a vintage 1928 Indian Scout. Stuntman Jason Pullen demonstrated how to use up 300 tires per season. Playing to the crowd, switching from Sportster to FXR to a dresser, he certainly was a ham on a hog. By the end of his show the asphalt was nearly solid black from tread rubber. I didn’t see everything there was to see at the Pomona Fairplex, but this old-timer wasn’t disappointed. I bought the music CD and a well-designed, sparkly commemorative T-shirt.
Some participants took home much more than that. Rick Valusek won an FLHX from the Love Ride opportunity drawing and James Deluca won a 2007 Fat Boy in the Signature Bike raffle.
Glendale Harley-Davidson owner and Love Ride creator Oliver Shokouh was recognized for his contributions to the motorcycling community with an induction into the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame last August. His efforts at continuing the Love Ride tradition and raising money for MDA and local children’s charities continue to produce results. Over the last several years, Shokouh and other California Harley-Davidson dealers sensed that SoCal was ready for a multi-day Bike Week, incorporating drag and flat track racing with a trade show and finishing with the world’s largest single-day motorcycle charity event. When this year’s Love Ride was over, Oliver expressed his pleasure with the new venue, which offered improved parking, lower expenses, and room for growth. He felt the participants had a good overall experience, and said, “We learned a lot and will do it better when we celebrate our 25th Love Ride in 2008.” And guess who’ll be there, going for her 25th Love Ride pin.