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Bikers ride for hugs, not beer mugs
Local motorcyclists defy stereotype of drinking, menace-causing ruffians
A group of bikers gathers at Big Bear Cafe in Gainesville for an ice cream run up to Spring Ridge Creamery in North Carolina. The benefit ride is one of several planned each year to benefit local charities. - photo by SARA GUEVARA


Jim Kotowski, or "Goat," talks about the motorcycle culture as he sees it, a departure from the stereotype of bad boys in leather.

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By: Mitch Blomert

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Sporting leather jackets and tattoos on their arms, the motorcyclists pulled away from Big Bear Cafe on Saturday morning and headed north to the mountains.

Their destination? Spring Ridge Creamery in Otto, N.C., for a scoop or two of ice cream.

Another group of area cyclists departed Friday to read to schoolchildren in Dahlonega.

Every year, motorcyclists travel in a pack down McEver Road to Chattahoochee Baptist Association, where they deliver a trailer full of presents, including bicycles, as part of the association's Secret Santa program.

Ice cream and fluffy teddy bears might seem to clash with the hog riders' rough exterior or belie a lifestyle, forged largely through movies and TV, of raising beer mugs instead of money for good causes.

But don't judge a book by its cover, motorcyclists say.

"Real motorcyclists aren't these nuts who try to act tough and dress tough," said Chad Vaughan, owner of Big Bear at 893 Main St. in Gainesville. "Those are ... cartoon characters. Real motorcyclists are the guys who stop and help everybody and try to raise money.

"The more you get involved in the motorcycle community, you just realize that the real ones are pretty nice folks."

Vaughan holds a "motorcycle ride-in" Saturday mornings at his restaurant near Industrial Boulevard. Area cyclists may pull in for a morning meal, but their vehicles become a real crowd pleaser, turning the heads of other patrons, particularly youngsters.

"They line up 50 to 60 bikes here. It's a lot of fun," he said.

Vaughan said he's been riding since 1974 and "tries to ride everywhere I go."

"I've got six motorcycles right now. I wish I had one for every day of the week," he said.

Many cyclists far favor the two-wheel form of travel over the car, dubbed a "cage" by enthusiasts.

"When you're out there on the motorcycle, you don't hear the cell phone ring," Vaughan said. "Nothing else is going on; nobody is talking to you. It's a good way to travel - you save a lot on gas too, at 55 miles per gallon."

It's good riding "as long as somebody doesn't run over you," he added. "People will pull out in front of a motorcycle a lot sooner than they will a cement truck."

Motorcyclists particularly enjoy riding for a good cause.

Vaughan theorizes that's because they're already buoyed by riding on the open road, with wind in their face and smells of nature all around.

"They're just in a good mood. ... They just spread that good cheer to everyone they meet," Vaughan said.

"Every weekend, you'll see groups of motorcyclists riding all over the place and they're always, you can bet, raising money for the best causes they can come up with."

Jim Kotowski, popularly known as "Goat," held his second annual ice cream run Saturday, charging $15 per rider, with proceeds going to the Hall County Sheriff's Office, which gives away bicycles at Christmas to underprivileged children. Kotowski is a member of Association Recovering Motorcyclists, Chapter 59.

"We don't use alcohol or drugs. Some of us were pretty bad boys at one time or another and have seen the light," he said. "We support people riding and we support sobriety."

He describes the cyclists whose menacing ways support their fearsome looks as "one-percenters."

"One time, when I was at the VA hospital, I met a guy who was a Hell's Angel," Kotowski said. "That's one person in ... maybe 30 years. Another time, I saw a pack of five or six of them - whether they were outlaws or whatever, I don't know."

Jerry Emmett, or "Elmo," of the Wingmen motorcycle club said last week his group was planning to embark on its annual "Ride to Read."

"It's one of our favorite rides of the year," he said.

"I think most motorcyclists could be anybody - they just run the gamut of professions," Emmett said. "The majority of people in our club are military."

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