A Two-Wheel Adventure
Ask a McHenry County motorcyclist the difference between a trip on his or her bike and one in the car, and you will likely be greeted with a moment of silence. You just asked for a comparison between apples and oranges, and it usually takes a minute for a biker to think of how to express the difference.
They all wind up saying, however, that on a motorcycle, the ride is just as important as the destination of any trip. Anne Miller, a frequent passenger on her husband Rick’s motorcycle, said it clearly: “A car is a means of getting somewhere. A motorcycle is part of the trip.”
So who’s riding bikes in McHenry County? “For the most part, the average age of our customers is somewhere in the baby boomers years, much like myself,” said Doug Jackson, general manager of Woodstock Harley-Davidson. “Many of us are at a point in our lives where we want to enjoy the fruits of our labors over the years. We’re even having folks in their 80s who are riding trikes today.”
Although his dealership’s customers are pretty evenly split between long-time motorcycle owners and first-time buyers, none of the riders we chatted with was on his first bike. Walt Packard, president emeritus of McHenry County College, for example, started with a Harley Davidson motor scooter as a teenager after he convinced his father that the two-and-a-half-hour daily morning paper route was far from reasonable. Today, he rides a Harley V-Rod that he’s had for about nine years.
As a young man, Joe Alger, now president of Crystal Lake-based JA Frate Transport Services, always wanted a motorcycle but was told by his father that would never happen as long as he lived at home. Alger’s dream finally came true, however, during his last assignment in the military when he was stationed in Italy and bought a Ducati motorcycle. “The Ducati [was] rather unreliable and found myself riding under some very undesirable conditions – like at night with no headlights,” he said. “But overall, [it was] a great experience, and I learned to ride under some of the most challenging conditions.”
Alger currently has two bikes: a Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic that’s about 10 years old and a newer touring model Ultra Classic Electra Glide.
Rick Miller went through several bikes as a young man, but took a motorcycling break while raising a family. When his last child got a driver’s license, he went back to two wheels, first on a Suzuki then on a couple of Hondas. He currently rides a Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide, which is a top-of-the-line touring machine. “It’s very comfortable having an air ride suspension and a number of features that make it the best for long rides,” he said.
For Fun and Charity
As you might expect, most of the riding done by McHenry motorcyclists is recreational – some alone, some with friends, some with other members of the local chapter of the Harley Owners Group (HOG).
“We do events almost every weekend,” Jackson said. “There’s always something going on. For example, this weekend some Warriors Watch Riders, who welcome home soldiers who are returning home after serving for our freedom, will be welcoming home my son, Dustin Jackson. There will likely be 250 to 300 cyclists here to welcome home this young man. Earlier this week, we had 37 HOG riders meet here and take off on a 13-state Route 66 tour.”
Algers is active in both the Warriors Watch Riders and the Patriot Guard, a group that acts as escorts for soldiers killed in action. He recently participated, with about 20 other McHenry County riders, in a trip to Washington, D.C. to visit wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Military Hospital.
For many, riding equals stress relief, relaxation and the opportunity to enjoy the view – and day trips are perfect for just that. “On a motorcycle, you really have to pay attention to what’s around you,” Packard said. “As a result, you have an opportunity to experience your surroundings. I like the sense of being close to nature. I also enjoy the fact that I have to concentrate – think about where someone might come from on the road ahead. Concentrating on the ride is actually relaxing because it replaces anything else that might be bothering you. At the end of a ride, I always feel less stressed than before.”
Algers enjoys riding with his wife, Mary, through scenic Illinois. “Short trips with my wife might be to Wisconsin or to visit our son who goes to school at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale,” he said. “We very much like to ride out to the Mississippi. It’s a great day trip that takes about four hours to get there. The ride along the Great River Road is excellent, just beautiful.”
Miller, who uses his motorcycle for basic transportation all summer – weather permitting, said, “Anne and I enjoy riding on weekends, usually on day trips, something less than 300 miles. Why on a motorcycle? It’s just the joy it offers. It’s hard to describe.”
Anne Miller agrees, adding “I very much enjoy a motorcycle trip because we try to stay on back roads as much as possible. We get to experience country scenery in a way that we can’t in a car. In a car, we take the Interstate and get wherever we’re going as fast as we can. On the motorcycle, we take our time and enjoy the countryside.”
While Illinois is one of only three states that does not require the use of helmets, most responsible bikers make helmet use mandatory.
“I grew up racing motorcycles and have taken some pretty good falls,” Jackson said. “I know the value of a good quality helmet. I always wear a full face helmet unless I’m doing some riding school exercises.
“For anyone interested in buying a motorcycle, I can’t emphasize strongly enough to go through a riding school.”
To automobile drivers, Jackson pleaded, “Please give motorcyclists the space they need. Don’t crowd them.
“There seems to be a lot of drivers preoccupied with other things when they’re behind the wheel. It’s like other aspects of life – be respectful of others.”
With its many back roads and beautiful rural scenery, McHenry County is a motorcyclist’s wonderland. “When I take people for a ride, in just a few minutes we’re in farm country with all its beautiful scenery and open fields,” Jackson said. “It certainly seems like a rather nice way to go about smelling the flowers!”
Sidebar: To learn more …
- Warriors Watch Riders: www.warriorswatch.org
- Patriot Guard Riders: www.patriotguard.org
- Tour Route 66: http://route66motorcycletour.com
- Tour Great River Road: www.greatriverroad-illinois.org
- Motorcycle Safety: www.msf-usa.org