Harley-Davidson riders from all over the state roared into Conrad’s Harley Davidson in Shorewood at 7 a.m. Sunday to get in line behind Gov. Bruce Rauner and join in a ride down Route 66.
“It’s a great day to ride,” Rauner told the audience of about 300-plus Harley riders. “We celebrate Illinois. We celebrate America.”
This year marks the 200th year of Illinois becoming part of the U.S. Illinois became the 21st state to join the union on Dec. 3, 1818.
“Today is Illinois’ Bicentennial Constitution Day,” Rauner said. “Happy birthday, Illinois.”
Conrad’s was the hosting kickoff point. There were riders, including police and fire departments, from around Illinois. More than 400 registered and more were expected to join in as they hit points from Wilmington to Springfield.
Don Lukes, vice president of EMS Road Docs, a group on the scene in the event of any mishaps, pulled up the rear in an emergency vehicle. Other members were disbursed on their bikes among the riders to keep an eye out for problems.
“Nothing gets better than this,” said Steve Mosias, president of the EMS Road Docs of Illinois.
Channahon Fire Department Executive Assistant Jacque McLaughlin rode with Wilmington Police Chief Phil Arnold.
“This is great,” Arnold said. “We are happy they are coming down to Wilmington to the Launching Pad.”
The Launching Pad Drive-in is where the well-known 30-foot-tall Gemini Giant has resided since the mid-1960s. It was the first of several stops along the way.
Other planned stops included the Route 66 Museum in Pontiac, lunch at Kelly’s in Lexington and The Mill Museum in Lincoln. Dinner for registered riders was a barbecue at the governor’s mansion in Springfield.
Rauner spent about 45 minutes shaking hands and taking photos with participants before starting the ride.
“Today we celebrate everything that is wonderful about our state,” Rauner said. “And most importantly, our greatest heroes ... the heroes that make America the greatest nation on earth; the men and women in uniform, our vets. That’s what this ride is about.”
While the ride was free to everyone, donations were taken to benefit Honor Flights so veterans can fly to Washington, D.C., to see their memorials.
Rauner has held a motorcycle ride each year since he became governor to benefit veterans.
“Illinois is about riding and riding free,” Rauner said.