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Martinsburg's streets taken over by riders

August 20, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Frank Gillespie didn't immediately do the math to figure out how long he has been riding motorcycles, but he knows the year he bought his first bike.

1938.

"I can't walk too well, but I can ride like hell," said Gillespie, 84, of Fort Valley, Va.

Gillespie was one of about 750 motorcyclists who participated Saturday in Bike Night. The annual ride is organized by a local chapter of the Blue Knights, an organization that consists of active and retired law enforcement officers who enjoy riding.

Bike Night proceeds benefit Hospice of the Panhandle, said Ron Gardner, president of the Blue Knights chapter.

Bike Night began at 5 p.m. when a horde of motorcycles pulled out of the Martinsburg Mall parking lot and embarked on an hour-long ride along Berkeley County's back roads. At the end of the ride, motorcyclists parked in downtown Martinsburg, where several streets were closed for vendors and live music.

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Waiting for the ride to begin as he sat under a shade tree with his cane at his side, Gillespie said his interest in motorcycles first was piqued when his cousin, a deliveryman, let him ride on the back of his bike. Gillespie bought his first motorcycle, an Indian Chief, in 1938.

After that, he rode British bikes, followed by Hondas.

"That's my 17th Gold Wing since '75," Gillespie said, motioning toward his Honda. He said he has racked up more than 650,000 miles riding Gold Wings alone, averaging more than 20,000 miles per year.

One of his longest rides, Gillespie said, was supposed to be from his Virginia home to Billings, Mont.

"I don't know how I ended up in Key West, Fla., and California and then Washington state" en route to Montana, Gillespie said, laughing.

Gillespie said he has ridden in all 50 states, including Hawaii, where he rented a bike. Last week, he went to New York City for what he called "Suicide Run," a ride through the city's streets.

He has had some close calls over the years.

"I've busted my butt a few times. It's the same thing as a car. If you ride long enough, you're going to have an accident. It's gonna happen," Gillespie said, adding that he did stop riding, but only for a while. "You get back on it and ride. At least I did."

Gillespie said he feels safer on a motorcycle than in a car, and encourages all riders to take a safety course.

"There's a lot of them that can ride, and a lot of them that think they can ride," he said, adding that riding is not for everyone and that riders need to have good coordination.

For as long as he's able, Gillespie said he plans to ride. After his agreeable wife died of cancer in 1980, Gillespie said he never has remarried because he worries no other woman would put up with his passion for two wheels.

Others who attended Bike Night said their passion for riding stems from the release it allows.

"Just the freedom of being on the open road. The wind in your hair, bugs in your teeth," said Doug Criswell of Martinsburg. "(It's) a thrill. Nothing like it. It's nothing like driving a car."

Heather Franks doesn't drive a motorcycle, but she sits behind her husband, Mike Franks, when he rides.

She said she loves it.

"Not being confined in a vehicle. The wind's just hitting me. The freedom," she said.

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