Love Ride rolls to a stop after 32 years

It was a cloudy and damp Sunday morning outside Harley-Davidson Glendale as Bonnie and Larry Bidwell got ready to take off on their American Thunder bike along with a caravan of thousands of motorcycle riders from around Southern California for the 32nd and final Love Ride.

The Glendora couple have been married for 52 years and represent the generations of riders all showing support for the motorcycle-charity event’s legacy.

Shortly after early-morning registration, a celebrity press conference and national anthem sung by Sarah Spiegel, the caravan filled several blocks along San Fernando Road in front of the Harley dealer, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year.

With police directing traffic, many started on the 40-mile journey to Castaic Lake after 9 a.m. for a farewell festival and concert headlined by the Foo Fighters and Social Distortion, along with a motorcycle trade show and a stunt show.

Spectators and family members stood by with their cameras, and some took to the roof of Harley-Davidson Glendale for a better vantage point of the massive crowd.

“We’ll stay with the pack as much as possible,” said Richard Gonzalez, of South Whittier, who rode with his wife, Terecita. “We’re in no rush. We’ve been riding this for four years and done a lot of charity events. It’s always a good time, and it’s always good for charity.”

Former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno served as the Love Ride’s grand marshal this year, along with actors Peter Fonda and Robert Patrick serving as honorary grand marshals. Prolific motorcycle designer Willie G. Davidson served as Love Ride’s honorary chairman.

The annual motorcycle charity event has raised about $24 million over the years for a variety of charities, including the Muscular Dystrophy Assn., Autism Speaks and the United Service Organization. To add to that total, organizers aimed this year to raise more than $1 million for the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that provides services and programs to soldiers hurt in combat.

Dave Crandall, of San Bernardino, said he’s angry about today’s politics. “Someone has to help them,” said Crandall, who came out with his family to experience the final Love Ride.

Crandall, a rider for 42 years, rode his Honda Shadow up to the lake with his son Steve, who’s been riding for 15 years and brought his Kawasaki Vulcan.

“I was 14 when I did Love Ride [No.] 1,” said Emily Shokouh, who co-owns the dealership with her father, Oliver, who is founder and chairman of the Love Ride Foundation. “It’s been an amazing event. We’ve given a lot of charity.”

She said they anticipated at least 15,000 riders for the final event. Attendance began to wane in recent years following the recession while being managed mostly by volunteers. Even though the ride will take a break, the Love Ride Foundation will continue, Shokouh said.

“Everyone’s kind of tired,” she added about the annual effort. “We’ll look to revamp and set up something different.”

Dawn McElwain, of Lake Havasu City, rode in her first Love Ride with Richard Lutman, of North Hollywood, who took part for his sixth time. With a slick start to the morning, they hoped everyone would ride up to the lake safely.

“Wounded Warrior is one of the most important causes out there,” Lutman said. “They sacrifice everything for us.”

Matt Sanderson is a freelance writer.