OAK CREEK — For many motorcycle riders, getting their bikes blessed each year before the riding season is the most important ritual. It’s one of the safeguards bikers use to make sure they’re protected while they’re on the road.
Thousands of riders and their friends and families attended the 36th Annual Original Bike Blessing, hosted by the Road Runners Motorcycle Club, Saturday in Oak Creek.
Music, merchants and motorcycles filled the grounds of American Legion Post 434, 9327 South Shepard Ave. The bike blessing began at about 2 p.m.
The event was canceled last year due to the pandemic, but Ed “Seven” Cassel, member of the Road Runners MC, said the spirits are high now that everyone is back together.
“Most of them, I haven’t seen in about a year now,” Cassel said. He’d been stopped by numerous friends walking through the bike blessing. “We’re happy and excited.”
The reason for blessing
According to the Road Runners MC website, the Original Bike Blessing event is the oldest, continuously run bike blessing in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. It was first held in 1986 and it’s tradition to host it every first Sunday in May.
“Riders, by nature, are a superstitious lot,” Cassel said. He noted many riders also hang guardian bells on their bikes, which ward off “evil road gremlins” who can jinx a rider’s journey.
Kelvin Porter of Milwaukee was in attendance with his wife and his friend, Michael Stelzner, to get their bikes blessed.
“We all want to be safe,” said Porter.
Of getting his bike blessed alongside Stelzner, Porter added: “Brotherhood is back.”
Cassel said there are other bike blessings event where all the bikes get blessed at once. At the Road Runners’ event, a priest individualized his blessings to each rider.
The Racine County HOG Chapter was among one of the many motorcycle clubs at the bike blessing.
“In our world, we’re on the highway a lot,” said Tony Johnson, a member of the HOG Chapter. “Some of these guys will put 25,000 miles, or 500 miles.”
Either way, Johnson said, a bike blessing is customary.
The bike blessing also promoted awareness of bikers on the road, said Cassel. Signs were scattered about the Legion Post’s grounds, warning all vehicle operators to pay attention to the road — it could save a life, especially a biker’s.
On Friday, a 38-year-old motorcycle rider from Whitefish Bay died in a collision with a pickup truck in Mount Pleasant. The driver of the pickup truck was unharmed; the motorcyclist died at the scene.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation reported an average of 2,149 motorcycle accidents each year from 2014 to 2018. In the same years, an average of 77 motorcyclists died annually, and an average of 1,888 were injured each year.
“Everybody has to be aware of their surroundings, motorcyclists and cars,” said Dina Hubrich, another member of the Racine HOG Chapter.
Cassel said in most motorcycle accidents, the drivers involved say, “I never saw that motorcycle.” He said he hopes hosting bike blessings and inviting anyone to celebrate — whether they own a bike or not — helps everyone be smarter.
Porter said that technology, specifically the patterns of drivers’ phone usage, is one of the reasons why motorcycle accidents happen. According to the state DOT, 25,596 inattentive-related crashes occurred in Wisconsin in 2016.