August 4, 2008
Annual Bikers for Babies ride rolls through county
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Bikers for Babies riders leave from CNY Power Sports in Polkville Saturday morning for a ride in support of the March of Dimes Foundation.
CORTLANDVILLE — Rain tapered off Saturday just in time for the mustering of the motorcycles at CNY Powersports on Route 11.
Despite the weather, about 50 bikes assembled for the local March of Dimes’ annual Bikers for Babies ride, said Jeff Bernacki, director of operations for the New York State Chapter of the March of Dimes.
“Bikers have big hearts, and there’s nothing better to put their efforts towards than saving babies who need more help than anyone else,” Bernacki said between signing in participants. “This event has taken on a life of its own — there’re a lot of dedicated bikers in this area.”
Having been held annually for about 14 years, Bernacki said that the Central New York Bikers for Babies event is the fifth or sixth largest ride in the country.
Funds raised by the Bikers for Babies event help support research and targeted community programs throughout Central New York, with the primary focus of preventing birth defects, premature births and infant mortality in general.
Last year, 1,100 motorcyclists participated in Central New York and raised more than $100,000. The March of Dimes funded $14 million in research projects throughout the state last year.
“So as a state, we get back more than we actually raise. And that’s one of the benefits of the national organization,” Bernacki said.
Sitting out of the rain inside for a minute Saturday, Frank Lewis of DeRuyter said he had plenty of chores to do at home but would rather be out riding.
“I’ve done it for the last five years. It’s for a good cause,” Lewis said. “Usually, I do a really good job raising money … this year, I raised $500.”
The money comes in the form of donations to the participants, but doesn’t rely on pledges for the number of miles ridden.
It’s not the only charity event that Lewis attends, as he also participates in rides for Rotary International and hospital fundraisers, like thousands of other bikers.
“I would like to think it’s because we’re big-hearted, but we probably just like to ride,” Lewis said.
On Saturday, Lewis rode his 1998 Harley-Davidson Dyna-Glide, and like many others acted as a road guard for the event, wearing the telltale orange T-shirt.
“Basically, if you come up to an intersection and the police don’t have it blocked, you pull up into the intersection and block it off,” Lewis said, adding that this was his third year as a road guard.
He said everyone would have to be vigilant this year, given the freshly wet blacktop from the rains Friday night and Saturday morning.
Local event organizer Paul Sandy, a lieutenant with the Cortland Police Department, cautioned the group before it left and stressed the need for a tight but safe grouping to prevent anyone from disrupting the ride — hence the 10 or so road guards.
The Cortland County Sheriff’s Department and Groton, Dryden and Homer police departments were also helping to keep the first leg of the route safe.
Sandy has been organizing the event locally for about eight years. The Cortland chapter of the Blue Knights — an international law enforcement motorcycle fraternity — first started the event. In all that time, he said that there has never been an accident. The closest call came when a rider’s bike broke down and six members of that person’s group tried to pull over to help.
A truck with parts and a trailer for hauling a busted bike followed the group. Sandy said this morning that one bike did have mechanical trouble on the way to Dwyer Memorial Park in Preble, but the chase truck — operated by CNY Powersports — got the bike back up and running.
Due to the weather, only about half of the Cortland area’s usual contingent of around 100 bikes participated Saturday, Sandy said.
“The fact that we have this many here on a rainy day is fantastic,” he said. “Hopefully, the weather will stay like this for the whole ride.”
The weather did cooperate for the first leg of the ride to Preble. There, the Cortland group met up with about 90 bikes from the Auburn area and enjoyed a lunch stop sponsored by the Blue Knights. The combined group then made its way, despite some rain, up to Syracuse. Groups from across Central New York gathered at the Quaker Steak & Lube restaurant for a reception and music. Bernacki said that about 900 bikers made it to Syracuse, only a couple hundred short of previous years’ totals.
Les Rivkin and Sadie Leray, currently of Summerhill, took care of some last minute prep as they waited for the signal to start the engines in Cortlandville. They rode together on a yellow Honda Goldwing.
“We ride together every year,” Leray said.
It was their 12th year participating in Bikers for Babies.
“This is pretty much our annual ride,” Rivkin said. “Two years in a row, we raised over $1,000. This year, we only did $850.”
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