Freedom of the open road for veterans

By Bryan Harley

See Source for IMAGES by Bryan Harley: Baggers Article

It’s called moto-therapy, and it’s a concept Indian Motorcycle has embraced since day one, when Dave Frey founded the Veterans Charity Ride to Sturgis (VCR). Giving veterans healing and hope is a big reason Indian is backing this ride for the fourth year running, providing motorcycles for the group’s eight-day journey to the Sturgis Rally in 2018.

“It really crystallized our first year, on the Veterans Charity Ride to Sturgis in 2015. It became so clear that it’s a valid, real therapy. At first it was like, ‘motorcycle therapy,’ that sounds pretty cool, but by our first ride and program, it was like, ‘Wow. We’re really on to something,’ ” Frey said.

“And that’s when I sat down personally with Steve Menneto, president at Indian Motorcycle, and invited him to come see it in 2016. He came and rode with us for Veterans Charity Ride to Sturgis 2016. And he said, ‘I honestly see what you’re talking about, this really is true therapy.’ ”

It’s a powerful tool. Moto-therapy helps veterans suffering from PTSD (many of them with traumatic bodily injuries) reclaim their lives by getting in the saddles of motorcycles and sharing the open road with brothers and sisters who also served in the US armed forces. Celebrations in small towns are held along the way, from Moab, Utah, to Eagle, Colorado, as communities across America gather to shower the veterans with gratitude. Veteran riding groups frequently join along on the way to Sturgis, helping parade the VCR entourage into towns. Pit stops at veterans memorials along the way deepen the program’s healing properties. Frey summed up why he believes VCR is successful in a past conversation we shared:

“Moto-therapy works because you get space. You get control and command of a machine. And for some reason there’s something special about a big V-twin,” Frey said.

“But you also have this phenomenon of expansion of your mind while you’re doing this. You’re smelling the environment, seeing the environment, you’re part of the environment. You’re not in a cage or in a car; you’re out there exposed to the elements and, like Zen, you become one with them. So you’re piloting this machine while taking all of this in and your sensory perceptions open up and start to channel and come back to you. And then the pictures and the stuff in the past fade away because you’re into this thing right now, and that seems to be the common denominator. Then you add being with brother and sister veterans who aren’t going to judge you, they’re not going to give you any shit, and just understand why you’re quiet and can figure out a way to engage so that you can express yourself. And that happens all the time.”

As it has for the past three years, Indian Motorcycle will provide its touring-ready Roadmastersand Chieftains for the veterans to commandeer to Sturgis (some of the bikes will be outfitted with Champion sidecars). Last year, Josh Stein and Neil Frustaglio, both above-the-knee bilateral amputees, piloted an Indian Scout with an Avenger sidecar that had been modified by Azzkikr Customs out of Arizona. The Scout featured a Rekluse auto clutch which eliminated the need to pull in the clutch lever, along with a special hand-shifter so riders could still bang through gears manually. Control of the rear brake was moved to the handlebars while the sidecar negated the need to put feet down at stops.

“Veterans Charity Ride is a life-changing program for those who have sacrificed so much for our country,” said Reid Wilson, senior director of marketing and product planning for Indian Motorcycle. “Supporting the US military has always been core to our brand DNA, and it’s an honor to give back by supporting a noble cause.”

Two veterans who participated in last year’s ride were so impressed with the new Indian motorcycles that they bought their own. Retired Sgt. 1st Class James Felix threw down on an Indian Chief Vintage, while Richard Nieder, formerly a sergeant in the Army, purchased an Indian Scout Bobber. Neider got a chance to ride the modified Scout in Sturgis last year, the first time he’d been at the controls of a motorcycle since 2011, and loved it so much he’s having Azzkikr spin its magic on his as well, from moving all controls to the bars to outfitting it with a Champion sidecar.

“From what Richie’s telling me, the video they posted doesn’t show nearly anything of what Azzkikr’s doing to it. I think it will blow away our other Scout from last year,” Frey said with a laugh.

For 2018, the Veterans Charity Ride to Sturgis will begin in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“The guys are flying in Thursday, July 26. You’re familiar with the motorcycle safety course we do. This year Las Vegas PD has stepped up and they want to do the safety course training. We’ll do that on Friday the 27th. Then I think we’re going to have a big reception and send-off, most likely at the Las Vegas War Memorial,” Frey said.

This year’s group will be a bit smaller than last, making it easier to fully address the needs of each veteran in the program. It will still be an eight-day adventure on some of the most scenic roads in America, though, highlighted by a police escort down Main Street and a big welcoming party at Indian Motorcycle Sturgis on Saturday, August 4.

“We’re looking at a total of about 16 to 17 [riders]. I’m still talking to a couple of guys but most of them are locked in and ready to go. Our road captains this year are veterans and the whole core group and crew are veterans,” Frey said.

Among this year’s mentors are past VCR participants Johnny “Killmore” Wood, a former Marine who races sidecars professionally, piloting the camera bike, and Neider, who’s eager to break in his new Indian Scout Bobber with its first road trip.