Leather-clad bikers from throughout Los Angeles County descended upon San Buenaventura State Beach on Sunday to spruce up their tarnished image and raise money for mentally disabled children.
Hundreds of Harley-Davidsons and other motorcycles wound their way up Pacific Coast Highway from Marina del Rey to Ventura County in the second annual Bartels' Beach Ride, a 100-mile round-trip fund-raiser to benefit the Exceptional Children's Foundation.
"There was a time when people thought developmentally disabled people could not learn, could not work and could not live in the community," said Sue Swanson, a director for the Los Angeles-based nonprofit agency.
"We're here to show people the tremendous potential that developmentally disabled people have," she said.
Although Sunday's turnout was far below what organizers had hoped--about 500--foundation officials said the Beach Ride helps polish the image of motorcycle riders while generating money for a good cause.
"It's not the numbers," said Duane Johnson, an event coordinator. "We don't spend a million dollars promoting this thing. It's the experience."
The Sunday beach party featured food, music and prizes for those raising the most money, including a vintage Ford Model A coupe for the first person recording $10,000 in pledges.
Walt Mueller and his wife, Marsha, rode their Harley-Davidson from Mar Vista to help promote the kinder, gentler image they say bikers are enjoying these days.
"I thought it would be fun and we can help out the developmentally disabled children," said Mueller, a prosecutor in the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. "And it's a chance to ride with the brotherhood."
"Not all bikers are hell-raising slobs," Marsha chimed in. "We're nice people."
Doc Wootan, a silk-screen artist from Venice, said he has ridden on more than 1,000 motorcycle rides to benefit nonprofit organizations.
"I try and balance it by working for charities because I'm persecuted just because I ride a motorcycle," he said. "These rides are some of the few places you can go where there's lots of music, lots of partying and no trouble."
State park rangers and Ventura police patrolled the grounds and parking area throughout the day, but reported no incidents.
"Bikers like to congregate," said George Vallen of Topanga, who owns a janitorial service in Los Angeles. "We're just normal people.
"We have a rough image, but if you talk to us you'll find that's not true," he said, sipping a light beer under a shady tree. "Most of us are middle-of-the-road Americans who go to work every day."
Bob Engle, a mathematical engineer from Canyon Country, said he spends four or five hours each weekend polishing and tinkering with his Harley. But he was hard-pressed to describe the allure of the classic American motorcycles.
"It's the sound, the feel of the bike," he said after a few moments, strapping on his helmet for the 50-mile trek home. "They're very strong, but they're not so exotic. It's a bike you can work on yourself."
The foundation provides training and other programs to those who suffer from mental retardation and other developmental disabilities. It operates work placement facilities, independent living centers, recreational programs and other services throughout the Los Angeles area.
The Beach Ride benefit makes up only a small portion of the Exceptional Children's Foundation's $9.2-million yearly revenues, Swanson said. Last year's inaugural run netted $29,000 for the charity, she said. Bartels' Harley-Davidson of Marina del Rey co-sponsored the event.
"It's a special event we hope becomes even more special," Swanson said. "There's a stereotype about bikers that fits maybe 10%, so I can't say enough about how big their hearts are."