News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

January 6, 2013

Motorcycle enthusiasts bundle up for 14th Annual Polar Bear Ride

TERRE HAUTE — Temperatures danced above the 30s Saturday as dozens of motorcycles cruised about town.

The 14th Annual Polar Bear Ride of the Wabash Valley Motorcycle Club kicked off before noon as participants registered at Ambrosini’s on Wabash Avenue. Inside, hot pasta steamed on plates as riders donned leather coats and chaps over layered clothing.

Club president Steve Johnston said side streets throughout town were still a little slick, and participation in the annual trek is largely determined by weather conditions.

“Last year we had 127, but the weather was in the 50s,” the 15-year member said, estimating this year’s count to be 50.

The Annual Polar Bear Ride takes off each year on the first Saturday of January, unless that weekend happens to contain New Year’s Day, he said. The first group ride of the year serves as a fundraiser for the club’s insurance, which it needs to host charity rides such as the one done on behalf of St. Ann’s Clinic.

This year’s event began at Ambrosini’s with stops throughout Terre Haute at pubs and taverns from the Wagon Wheel to Haney’s and ultimately Show-Me’s around 4 p.m.

Carl Dougherty said the coldest Polar Bear Ride he can remember was about 10 degrees. Some have occurred amid snow, while others were like last year in the upper 40s and 50s. No particular uniform is worn, more a “hodgepodge” of layers involving heavy leathers and even parkas, depending on the temperature and wind, he said.

“We’ve been pretty lucky. We haven’t had any sub-zero rides,” he recalled.

Dougherty participated in the club’s first ride in 1999, shortly after the group’s formation.

“There were five founding members and I’m the only one left,” he said.

Dougherty began riding motorcycles after graduating college in 1975. The Sycamore Engineering employee said a real camaraderie develops between people who like to ride.

“You meet really good people,” he said, noting he currently rides a 1995 Harley Davidson Electra Glide. Regardless their brand, most riders feel an affinity for other riders and often stop to help out along the road if need be. “And that’s a really nice feeling.”

Johnston said the group actually started out in the 1950s as a racing club and has apparel on display in the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisc. Dying off after the 1960s, it emerged again in the late 1990s.

“And now we’re just a riding club,” he said, estimating membership runs a little more than 110.

Johnston’s wife Jane serves as the club secretary, and she noted the group hosts a number of parties throughout the year from Christmas to summer and fall. Summer rides go as far as 200 miles as the group tours Indiana to places like French Lick.

“It’s a riding club. Just for fun,” the owner of a Harley Davidson Ultra Classic said. But owners of any bike are welcome. “It’s not just Harley Davidson. Anybody can join as long as you have a motorcycle.”

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.

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