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Gold Wing Road Riders: Motorcyclists cruise for fun and safety

From left, Terry Bradley, Mike Miller and Ritch Houge prepare to take their weekly ride July 15 at JackStop. The three are members of the Bemidji Chapter of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association.

It was a gusty day for a ride when three motorcyclists from the Bemidji chapter of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association (GWRRA) pulled into Lazy Jack's Bar and Grill last Wednesday.

The riding, however, isn't the only focus of the GWRAA.

"We have an emphasis on education and safe driving," said member Terry Bradley.

Besides taking a weekly ride every Wednesday, the group holds a Rider Education Program (REP) once a month.

"Our big emphasis with GWRRA is to be safe drivers," Bradley said.

The REP focuses on reducing rider injuries and increasing motorcyclist skills. Bradley said some of the newer riders have never taken these classes before and the exercises help practice techniques with four levels of safety classes.

"For rookies like me," said, ride coordinator, Ritch Houge of Bemidji.

Houge, who started riding four years ago, laughed about getting his new bike home when he bought it.

"I had no license and had never driven a bike, so someone had to drive it home for me," he said.

Weighing close to 900 pounds, the Honda Gold Wing motorcycles driven by all three riders were described as a lot of bike to hold on to.

Rider and group leader, Mike Miller of Bemidji said learning to ride a motorcycle was, more or less, just like learning to ride a bike.

"Going down the highway at 75 miles per hour is relatively easy, but navigating through a parking lot or making a quick stop is tricky," he said.

Miller, who's been riding since he was 16, has logged nearly 350,000 miles on five bikes throughout the years.

"It's just a feeling of freedom," he said. "One of the best ways I like to travel is to just pick a direction. No plans, no reservations."

The GWRRA is an international organization founded in 1977 with 13 chapters in Minnesota. The non-profit organization has no political or religious affiliation and was founded to create a group for people who like to ride and to improve the image of motorcycling, according to the GWRRA Web site.

Sitting at the restaurant, the riders ordered hot food and cold drinks - cold Cokes, that is. Bradley said that the organization encourages riders to be visual and to keep a positive image.

"You don't have to stop and have a beer," he said. "We stop if they have food. We want our reputation locally to be one of education, safety and being helpful. We are not a biker gang."

The group is also active with volunteer work in the community.

Stopping for a bite to eat is common on the group's Wednesday night rides. With anywhere between 8-10 riders plus passengers, the group often calls restaurants ahead of time.

"We all like to eat - Dairy Queen and A&W's take a heavy beating," said Miller.

The three riders all agreed that the social aspect was equally important.

"I can honestly say some of my best friendships have been doing this," Bradley said.

Bradley first started riding motorcycles when he was 60 years old. Many of the riders travel with spouses, and though there is only one female driver in Chapter B (Bemidji), Bradley said the number is growing nationally.

Houge said riding, along with the cushy seats, is a great way to relax for him and his wife.

"When you're going down the highway, you can your mind. That's our quality time," he said.

Chapter B is also preparing for the district rally on July 24-25, which will take place in Winona, Minn.

"It will be two days of classes, riding, eating and fun," Bradley said.

For more information on the GWRRA or Chapter 'B', visit