Bikers demonstrate compassion
Don't let the leathers fool you. The Pigs motorcycle riding group is no gang.
"I have nothing but good to say about them," said Fred Paine Jr., owner of Roper's Saloon, where the group meets every Tuesday. "They're really good guys."
And they have big hearts. This year, the Pigs raised funds for the family of Al Bennet, a Duluth man who died unexpectedly from lung cancer, and for Chris Smith, a Superior teen with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. They lent their numbers to the recent Bikers for Boobs event to raise money for breast cancer and hope to take part in a Toys for Tots ride this weekend, as well.
Gayle Goldman staged a benefit for Smith last month. She was surprised when the Pigs stopped by the event, lining the street with their machines.
"The highlight was when 50 motorcycles showed up," she said. "Isn't that an awesome sight?"
The leather-clad crew presented Smith with a scarf, vest - complete with a Pig patch - and sweatpants.
"They made him an honorary member of the Pigs riding group," said Goldman.
The group also gave the family an envelope of money they had collected during a charity ride. The money helped purchase a bigger television for Smith, who enjoys watching movies and playing video games with his brothers. But their presence was the biggest gift.
"Chris was in seventh heaven," said his mother, Marie Smith. "He was grinning; he was smiling. It made the day when they showed up."
No one had invited the group. They had seen a flier about the event and learned that Smith liked motorcycles. That made their decision to help the teen "perfect," said one of the group's founders, Perry Raivala.
The Pigs are an eclectic mix - mechanics, doctors, jailers, chiropractors, state employees and more. The friends gather to ride.
"Everybody gets together, goes out and has a good time," said Shannon Sturm of Superior. "And we try to do something good for somebody."
There are no dues, no mandatory rides. Women are welcome to join. Harley Davidson motorcycles are not required.
"We have a 72-year-old who rides a scooter with us," Sturm said, and a number of honorary members like Smith.
Safety, however, is top priority. No horseplay, excessive speed or drunk driving is permitted.
"We've had a couple people come in and be rammy, causing trouble," Raivala said. "We kicked them out."
If a Pig has had too much to drink, friends take away his keys. Many local bar owners have been kind enough to store a bike on site so the Pig can pick it up the next day, Sturm said.
"We've got to be respectful," Raivala said. "We're trying to do good things."
The idea for the group started at the movies. The John Travolta film "Wild Hogs" inspired a few friends to start meeting for regular rides about two and a half years ago.
"Perry, I and seven or eight others were talking, just joking about it," Sturm said.
They wanted to call their troop "Wild Pigs" but the name was already taken. Then they found the Pig patch at a bike rally, and the riding group was born.
"Before we knew it, we had 50 people," Sturm said. Right now, the riders number 56. Motorcycle riders without the Pig patch are welcome to join them on rides, as well.
What makes the group so popular? Founders didn't know. But Sturm did hazard a guess.
"A lot of them just want to get out and ride," he said.
The group is determined to continue reaching out to the community, Riavala said.
"If something comes up and we can help someone down on their luck ... that's what we do," he said.
The riders left quite an impression with Andy Bennett. His brother Al died a week after he was diagnosed with lung cancer this May, leaving his family struggling to pick up the pieces. Although Sturm is a friend of Bennett's, the other Pigs didn't know the family. They put together a charity ride for them anyway.
"They're a wonderful bunch of guys," Bennett said. "They helped us out tremendously."
Following the ride, they invited the family to a dinner at Roper's and presented them with nearly $1,000 cash.
"They all gave us hugs," Bennett said. "It's like they were part of the family."
He couldn't find the words to convey his heartfelt thanks. Goldman, too, expressed appreciation to the crew who rode in to make a teen's day.
"I want word to get out about how generous this group of riders is," she said.
To learn more about the Pigs, look them up on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?filter=pp#/pages/Superior-WI/The-Pigs/1...