Blessing of the Bikes

Dot Smrke bestows a blessing on riders and their bikes on Sunday at the annual ceremony.

Dot Smrke bestows a blessing on riders and their bikes on Sunday at the annual ceremony.Chris Barber — Digital First Media

KENNETT >> It was a little touch-and-go this past week as members of the Honor Bound motorcycle club looked forward to the annual Blessing of the Bikes in the Power Place parking lot.

Ordinarily, conditions are bright and warm for this traditionally late-April ceremony and picnic, but with five days to go, it sounded as if Sunday was going to dawn cold and wet.

As it turned out, the sun was bright and the air was warm as scores of bikers, most of them on Harley Davidson motorcycles, came zooming in for the 11:15 a.m. blessing by Pastor Greg Hollis. Each year he and his biking congregation bestow good wishes and blessings on the riders and their bikes, and it’s followed by a free picnic of hot dogs, chili and snacks.

“I pray for these men and women and the amazing machines they ride on. …May His presence go with you as you ride,” Hollis said, surrounded by his flock and a parking lot full of leather-clad bikers.

The spring blessing is more than just a prayer for safety on the roads, however. For many it is the official kick-off of the riding season, and a chance to renew old riding friendships.

They came in from local communities to this party, but also from much farther away. One rider left his home in Virginia at 6:15 a.m. just to get to the gathering by 11 a.m. “They’re my friends,” he said.

Almost to a person, the bikers strolled around and looked at the other motorcycles. Some of the bikes were so polished up that they caught the morning sun and were almost glowing. Others looked well cared for and apparently made their owners just as happy as the pampered ones.

Steve Smrke of Oxford stood around with a rag in his hand buffing his bike. He said he does it everyday. He adding, joking, “I love this bike as much as I love my wife.”

Joe Caulfield of Oxford, a member of the Centurions Club and a retired police officer, said riding motorcycles is a special feeling and attitude, that’s why he likes to share it with friends.

“There’s a whole different world with motorcycles. …It’s a helping mind-set and getting people together,” he said.

The idea of service resonated with several of the other bikers, who mentioned special projects and runs involving collecting toys and food for those in need and delivering them via a group ride.

One of those events is the Dwight Wallace run in Oxford on July 1 to deliver food to Neighborhood Services. The event was so named for the member of the club who was the first to die on the road, said Bill McElya, a member of ABATE. That group supports bikers and advocates for choice on wearing helmets or not.

McElya, like many of those present, is a longtime rider, and he has traveled the United States in all weather and conditions, including trips to the biker Mecca, Sturgis, South Dakota. He said he rides all year long, including during the winter — and specifically on Jan. 1. He showed a key chain attached to his jacket that held several brass hardware nuts (called Brass Nutz), signifying his rides in cold weather. He said he honors the New Year’s Day tradition because, “Whatever you do on New Year’s Day, you do for the rest of the year.”

And he loves riding.

There were vendors present including a professional pin striper and a design painter.

David Markle of Kolor Mafia said he responds to the personality of the rider in creating the picture on the bike. “I’ll do anything they want, and I see it as an extension of their soul.”

He said he won a second place in a state competition for his work on a bike that was 100 skulls.

The conclusion of the blessing ceremony came when host Jeff Smack of Kennett’s Honor Bound Motorcycle Ministry announced there would be a special treat when the praying was over.

Indeed, if not a “treat” it certainly made itself known in decibels.

Rich Vreeland, a Harley-Davidson dealer from Central Pennsylvania, started up his Nitro Methane Harley-Davidson that he has adapted to run at 200 miles an hour. With the starting of the engine, the noise blasted into the air area and attracted oohs, aahs and photos.

The blessing event concluded with a picnic of hot dogs, chili, macaroni salad, lemonade and snack food.

Honor Bound is a national motorcycle club that has more than 100 chapters around the country. The local club meets in the Power Place church along Rosedale Road. The members of the church are not all bikers, but many people who ride motorcycles and have common beliefs tend to join in prayer there.