Jul 162013

Kate Murphy heads up motorcycle support for Ride To End Alzheimer's

Justin Thomas
Kate Murphy heads up motorcycle support for Ride To End Alzheimer’s

When an email came across the Talk About Groton list about the Ride to End Alzheimer’s bicycle ride and how it was looping through Groton, my first thought was “I wonder if they have motorcycle support?”

Because I’ve ridden with other bicycle rides, I know how useful it can be to have motorcycles along the route. We’re smaller and more agile than cars; we can pull off the road into smaller spaces; we can talk to the bicyclists more easily, and without getting in the way of oncoming traffic. We can turn around inside of two lanes and zoom back and forth along the route. We take up as much space as a bicycle and can easily ride behind them. Because we have big, bright lights, we’re more visible — and that can keep bicyclists on a ride safer from distracted drivers. Having ridden motorcycles for 14 years, and gone through Motor-Marshal training with the New England Bicycle Racing Association, I was certain I could do whatever the ride needed, up to and including carrying passengers around the route.

When the ride organizer responded that they didn’t have motorcycle support but would like to, I immediately tapped all my riding groups to see if anyone had the day free to help. I ended up with four motors along with another who was involved in the ride’s HAM radio organization. (When involved with a bicycle ride, for clarity we refer to the bicyclists as “riders” and the motorcycles as “motors.”)

Awake at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday and on the road by five on my Kawasaki KLR650, I was off to Devens to organize my crew. I’d assigned two motors to the “Century” (100 mile) ride, and the HAM motor (Joseph, on his Triumph Tiger) rode out front to keep in touch with the rest of the HAM communications crew by radio. Because there was a little time before the next group was to start, I took an Alzheimer’s Association photographer as a passenger to the Century’s first pit-stop and back. He took a bunch of pictures of the riders, and the volunteers at the pit-stop, and then, I hope, got some great shots of riders coming toward us as we rode back to the start; when they saw us riding toward them they smiled and waved and posed! The two SAG (“Support And Gear”) motors on the Century ride were Ken, on his Kawasaki Concours — who rode up front — and Justin on his Honda Pacific Coast (with flashing lights and HAM capability, but not officially part of the HAM group) riding “sweep,” that is, “sweeping” up the last of the riders along that route.

One other motor, Jim (on his Triumph Street Triple) came with me on the “Metric Century” (62 mile) ride. He rode up ahead and I was to ride sweep — but not before we got word that several riders were running late due to major traffic on 495. So I sent Jim on ahead and I stayed behind and waited for them, as well as my last motor, Matt, also on a KLR, who would be riding with the 30-mile rider group.

We sent the last of the Metric riders on their way (a great group of women, at least one of whom from out of state who flew in just to do this ride!) and gave my 30-mile motor his “SAG” sign, and the info he needed, and I was on my way!

It didn’t take me too long to catch up with my “Metric Ladies” — and soon we were at the first pit-stop, where I also met up with Ken while he waited for Justin. They ended up tag-teaming very effectively all day, keeping the organizers apprised of where the riders all were, how spread out, how many were still on the road. The HAM motor, Joseph, rode at the front, finished with the first of the pack, and then went back out in a HAM-enabled SAG truck to help the riders near the back. We also met three Century riders who came in from New York city for the ride, one of whom was on a single-speed bicycle, in sneakers and a cotton shirt. We “bikers” decided that guy was the most hard-core rider on this whole ride.

I waited for a bit at the stop and then got going again, and that was the rule of the day. I’d catch up with my Ladies (I’d decided that it was going to be my job to be their personal cheerleader all day, as they got a late start and they knew they’d be at the back of the pack all day, and that’s discouraging), and when I got close enough I’d do my best to tell them what a great job they were doing, and that they were all FANTASTIC. “Hello, my Ladies! Keep on going! You’re AWESOME!”

Riding a motorcycle very slowly on a hot day is a little bit miserable. I subscribe to the “All The Gear, All The Time” philosophy, which means that even when it’s super hot out, I still wear full protective gear. Most of my crew did the same. We found if we went too slow, our bikes and our persons would overheat pretty rapidly, so we would zoom up ahead, find a shady spot, shut the bike down, cheer the riders on, wait a bit, and repeat. The burst of wind was good for a cooldown, and the burst of speed and RPMs would make sure our batteries stayed charged!

Toward the end of the ride we could see some riders having a rough time of it. My Metric Ladies began to hit some walls; one from out of state wasn’t used to the hilly New England terrain and she was having trouble at the third pit-stop. Another lost her balance and fell when she couldn’t unclip fast enough. But did they give up? Heck no! Forty-four miles and counting, and off they went. I waited and caught up with them again, then stayed with them for the last miles. They needed a break at one point, and a well-timed SAG truck came by with cold water and good cheer.

I began to calculate from the route sheet and my odometer, and my knowledge of the roads, and would catch up and shout: only seven miles to go! There’s a great downhill section coming up! Five more miles! You’re almost there, you’re doing SUCH a great job!

And then we were back at Devens!

The crew there to receive us was a welcome surprise. Cow bells clanging and happy faces and voices even though the hour was late, they cheered the last of the Metric riders into the parking lot. And I did too.

What a fantastic event to be involved with. The determination all these riders showed was truly inspiring. As exhausted as I was at the end of the day, I knew I did it the easy way; my two wheels had a motor. Jim let me know that he had rescued three Metric riders who had missed a sign, gone off-route and gotten lost, and I was so proud to have brought the ride these super helpful motorcyclists!

I’ll definitely be doing it again next year, only better, with all I’ve learned from this year’s maiden motorcycle ride-along. Do you ride a motorcycle? Would you like to help out with this worthy and wonderful cause? Contact me!