The last Love Ride rode into the sunset Sunday as a massive phalanx of burly, bearded bikers marked the end of the charitable fundraiser’s 32-year run.
By the thousands they came, in the rain, riding their Harley-Davidsons from Glendale to Castaic Lake for the grand finale of the motorcycle world’s most venerable events.
An estimated 13,000 enthusiasts rode or drove in, many making the 55-mile trek from host dealership Glendale Harley-Davidson, to hear music performed by the Foo Fighters, Social Distortion and other acts.
By midday, before the main acts had taken the stage, more than 7,000 had sprawled onto the grassy hills of the Castaic Lake State Recreation Area. Thousands more were still crowding freeway offramps and surface streets approaching the north Los Angeles facility.
Grand Marshall Jay Leno -- who has co-hosted the event with founder Oliver Shokouh for the last 26 years -- led a field that included honorary marshals Peter Fonda (“Easy Rider”) and Robert Patrick (“Terminator” and TV’s “Scorpion”) as well as Harley-Davidson scion and Love Ride honorary chairman Willie G. Davidson.
Also attending were Love Ride Foundation officer Lorenzo Lamas, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” actress Kristy Swanson and members of the cast from TV’s biker show, “Sons of Anarchy.”
The annual Love Ride is credited with having helped bring the image of the motorcyclist from the outlaw fringes into the mainstream. An anomaly when it began, the ride now has dozens of imitators and has itself become squeaky clean.
Leno, addressing several thousand riders gathered in a light rain for the start of the rally, said motorcycling was no longer just for members of motorcycle gangs like the Hells Angels as he accepted a $5,000 donation from a red-wigged representative of McDonald’s.
“Times have certainly changed,” the former late-night host said. “We used to get Sonny Barger. Now we get Ronald McDonald.”
Organizers said the event had sold nearly 13,000 tickets, most at the $45 pre-registered rate. They stopped selling advance tickets at midday Friday, expressing fears that the popularity of Foo Fighters among non-motorcyclists would mean more people arriving in cars Sunday and filling available parking spaces more quickly.
At Castaic Lake, bikers got preferred parking. Inside the venue, they lined up for Budweiser and barbecue and waited for the musical acts to begin. Dress for the day was almost universally denim, leather and black boots. But not all the attendees were burly and bearded.
Friends Robin Suzuki and Kathy Hurwitz had ridden in with several other women, making the trek to observe the passing of an event they’ve attended for the last decade.
Hurwitz, a retired paralegal who’d left her non-riding husband at home, said she felt right at home among the thousands of other motorcyclists. “I don’t see much ego here,” she said. “There’s such camaraderie. It’s like family.”
Not all the riders belonged to motorcycle clubs either, though members of the venerable Boozefighters club were in attendance and wearing their colors, as were hundreds of members of the Harley Owners Group, or HOG, clubs from many California communities.
Fonda, whom Leno introduced as “our founder,” said between demands for autographs and photographs that he was sorry the Love Ride was ending, but was happy the final ride was raising money for veterans, specifically the Wounded Warrior Project.
“We don’t do enough for those people,” he said. “We’re happy enough to send them off to fight, but after that, we forget about them. It’s a good cause.”
Over the years, Shokouh said, the Love Rides have raised $24 million for charities supporting military veterans and those who suffer from autism and muscular dystrophy. Organizers hoped to get over the $25 million mark with the final ride.
Ticket holders were vying for, among other things, a raffle-prize 2015 Harley-Davidson Street Glide -- a full-dress hog valued at more than $20,000.
The first Love Rides were partly intended to put a little polish on the gritty biker image.
“We used to have this image, that we were all a bunch of gangsters,” Shokouh said. “Now you stand in line for the Love Ride and you’ll find a college professor or a grandmother or a policeman or an attorney. We’re not all rebel rousers.”
Leno, dressed correctly for the event in Levis and leather, agreed, but sounded almost wistful that motorcycling had gone so mainstream.
“Every orthodontist with a fake tattoo has a bike,” he said. “Now you really do meet the nicest people on a Honda.”
Or a Harley. That’s what most of the Love Riders were riding. Shokouh was on an Electra Glide. Leno rolled up on an Ultra Glide. Fonda drove in, tucked into a sleek, vintage-looking Morgan 3 Wheeler. A few German and Japanese brands joined the throng, but the vast majority of machines wore the H-D badge.
Shokouh described the decision to end the Love Ride’s run as “bittersweet.” Calling the event his greatest legacy, and speaking on behalf of himself and his small army of Love Ride volunteers, the 69-year-old Harley man said, “We’ve all gotten old. We’d like to spend more time with our families. I have six grandchildren! But I’m going to miss this.”
Leno, formerly the “Tonight Show” host and now major domo of the “Jay Leno’s Garage” car show on CNBC, said the field has become considerably more crowded with charity rides.
“Motorcyclists are anarchists by nature, and they don’t gather,” Leno said. “When we started, there weren’t any rides like this. There are a lot of similar events now, but this is the one that got the whole thing going.”
About Love Ride
The Love Ride was born out of a labor of love. Founded in 1984 by Harley-Davidson of Glendale dealer, Oliver Shokouh, the festival has since raised over $24 million in charitable funds for organizations such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), United Service Organization (USO), Autism Speaks, and long term support for the Glendale Community College. The 2015 Grand Finale’s beneficiary is the Wounded Warrior Project.