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CHARITABLE CHOPPERS BIKERS RAISE BIG BUCKS DURING 19TH LOVE RIDE.

Byline: Susan Abram and Bhavna Mistry Staff Writers

More than 20,000 Southern California motorcycle riders rolled out of Glendale on Sunday morning under a clear sky and balmy breeze for the 19th annual Love Ride to net more than $1 million for charity.

``It's a gorgeous day,'' said Annet Peairs, a spokeswoman for the event, which started at Harley-Davidson of Glendale and thundered up the Golden State Freeway to Castaic Lake to the cheers of spectators atop a gauntlet of overpasses.

``We're blessed the sun came out for the Love Ride,'' Peairs said.

Grand marshal Jay Leno of NBC's ``Tonight Show'' led the motorcade out after hosting a short pre-ride show where he introduced other celebrity riders, including Lorenzo Lamas, Larry Hagman, Sally Kirkland, Dwight Yoakam, Sheila E., and Dan Haggerty. Peter Fonda served as honorary grand marshal.

Leather-clad officials were also on hand, including Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LeBonge, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena, and Glendale City Councilmen David Weaver and Gus Gomez.

The normally placid Castaic Lake Recreation Area was transformed Sunday into a rumbling maze of motorcycle riders and rock 'n' rollers.

The classic band Jefferson Starship rocked the Glendale launch site while Mick Fleetwood and Friends, and Sheryl Crow performed at Castaic Lake.

``I've been doing this ride since it first started,'' said the ``Easy Rider'' himself, Fonda, before slipping out the back gate to make the 50-mile trek to Castaic. ``I think it's great, and it's a fun way to raise money.'' The Love Ride began with 600 riders in 1984 to raise money, and according to founder Oliver Shokouh, to highlight the kinder, gentler side of motorcyclists.

Now billed as the world's largest one-day charity motorcycle ride, proceeds from a $50 minimum entrance fee go toward the Muscular Dystrophy Association as well as other charities. Riders Sunday were expected to raise $1.2 million.

Riders of all ages, from all walks of life, said they participate for the camaraderie, the love of riding and for a good cause.

Nurse Marsha Middleton of Rosemond said she started riding her 1999 customized Vulcan in May and couldn't wait to head out for her first Love Ride.

Like most, she was happy that the weather had cleared. Last year, rain pounded on the riders, and the event was a more sober affair because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

``We rode in last night from the Antelope Valley, and it was raining,'' Middleton, 46, said.

Other first time riders said they wanted to share the experience friends had been telling them about for years.

``I've been in other rides, but this is my first time here,'' said Palmdale resident Abel Fernandez. ``Any excuse is good when you get to ride.''

West Covina resident George Suri said he was participating because he could relate to the charity the ride was benefiting.

``I had polio when I was a kid in Cuba,'' he said, before straddling his Harley. ``I'm doing this for the muscular dystrophy charity.''

Mark Rush of Rancho Santa Margarita sported a Bikers for Christ patch on his denim jacket. He said the positive event shatters the misconceptions many have of bikers.

``It's a great atmosphere and a wonderful thing for a good cause,'' said Kenny Merrill, 36, of Van Nuys, wearing a black leather jacket with an orange Harley logo and a straw cowboy hat. ``It's good to see everyone come together for mutual benefit.''

Mark Martucci, 47, of Canyon Country said he enjoyed seeing familiar faces at the Love Rides.

``It's a good time to get out and relax,'' said Martucci, who came to the event with friend John Hill, 43 of Castaic.

CAPTION(S):

6 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Actor Dan Haggerty and his son ride with 20,000 motorcyclists during Sunday's Love Ride.

John McCoy/Staff Photographer

(2 -- 3 -- color) Singer Sheryl Crow, left, performs Sunday at the Love Ride, where thousands of bikers, including Mark Shaffer, at right with his dog Bandit, came out to raise funds for charity.

Gene Blevins/Special to the Daily News

(4 -- 6) At top, some of the estimated 20,000 riders rock out to the sounds of Jefferson Starship at the start of Sunday's Love Ride. At left, a slew of riders make their way to Castaic Lake during the 19th annual event. Above, actors, from left, Larry Hagman, Sally Kirkland, Lorenzo Lamas and Dan Haggerty hang out in the VIP area before joining other bikers for the start of the charitable ride along San Fernando Boulevard in Glendale.

Gene Blevins/Special to the Daily News

John McCoy/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 11, 2002
Words:767
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