The threat of rain affected participation and fundraising for the annual Mayor’s Ride, but not the thrill or safety of the die-hard motorcyclists who revved up to benefit a cause.
Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown straddled her recently-purchased Ducati Monster 796 with state and city flags flowing on the back and led rows of motorcycles from City Hall onto Second Street.
The third-annual ride began Saturday as the throbbing rhythm of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” blared from the loud speakers — an appropriate musical sendoff in a community that regularly celebrates its international diversity.
The bikers and their passengers completed a 100-mile loop to Rush County and back, returning to City Hall at 1:11 p.m., exactly three hours after they began their trip. The riders enjoyed live music and food provided by Columbus firefighters.
The Mayor’s Ride is a fundraiser for the Cheer Fund, a nonprofit organization run by city firefighters that provides toys and other gifts to children. The fund benefited 1,437 children in December.
Brown said the bikers experienced only a brief shower about 10 minutes before the ride ended.
“We were without incident, and I feel blessed and fortunate for that,” the mayor said. “It was a great, safe ride.”
The event attracted about 71 motorcycles — down considerably from about 160 last year and 120 bikes during the inaugural event in 2012.
With 106 participants registered that include both riders and passengers, this year’s Mayor’s Ride raised approximately $3,900 when contributions from 16 sponsors and individual donors are included, said Columbus Fire Capt. Mike Wilson.
The ride raised $8,500 last year and $4,435 in 2012. Solo riders paid $20, while riders with passengers shelled out $30 to participate.
Some riders said the threat of rain separated the die-hard motorcyclists from the others.
“I’m not a wimp rider. I’ve got all the gear and everything else I need to ride in wet weather,” Columbus’ Kenny Whipker said before the ride.
For Whipker, a former Bartholomew County Sheriff, the appeal of the Mayor’s Ride is that it provides a purpose for an otherwise routine joyride.
“A lot of times, you just climb on, point the bike in a direction, and go. But with this event, you know where you are going and why you are riding – to support a good cause,” he said.
“The real bikers always show up,” registration official A.J. Ross said.
An emphasis was placed on rider safety after an accident resulted in injuries to Noel and Barbara Taylor of Columbus during last year’s event.
Nine Indiana State Troopers on motorcycles headed out first and blocked intersections so all participants can get through smoothly, said city spokesman Chris Schilling.
Riders were instructed to keep a staggered formation and maintain a 2-second distance between motorcycles. Bikers and passengers also were also encouraged to put on rain gear before they began the non-stop ride.
Those safety measures seemed to be appreciated.
“By having rolling road guards and the other precautions, it creates a safer environment that makes the ride much more enjoyable,” said event participant Rob Driver of Columbus.
The Mayor’s Ride is sanctioned and the route planned by American Bikers Aimed Toward Education, a local chapter of a national organization focused on motorcycle awareness and safety.
The event was held less than a month after the 10th annual Ride With The Governor made its way through Columbus. More than 500 motorcyclists — including the mayor — raised money for the Indiana National Guard Relief fund by participating in the 141-mile ABATE-sponsored ride with Columbus native Gov. Mike Pence from Indianapolis to Madison.