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Riding with purpose: Motorcycle group promotes safety, education

Some members of the Freedom First Riders stand by their bikes before hitting the roads for the 2017 Ribfest Ride. (Judd Martinson | Echo Press)1 / 2
The Freedom First Riders escort the traveling 9/11 Never Forget memorial through Alexandria last Wednesday. (Lowell Anderson | Echo press)2 / 2

In their 10th year, the Freedom First Riders continue to cruise the Alexandria area streets with purpose.

Members recently escorted the traveling 9/11 Never Forget memorial through town, and are hosting a street dance on Saturday in Nelson.

But some of their greatest influence comes not on the back of a bike but in the halls of the legislature. The Freedom First Riders and its 300 members are a local chapter of the American Bikers for Awareness, Training and Education, also known as ABATE, which lobbies state and federal government for biker-friendly laws.

"We are the largest chapter in the state," said Mike Jeppesen, an involved member, as he and other bikers talked over lunch at the Depot Express Restaurant.

ABATE, a nonprofit advocacy group represented by chapters all over Minnesota, not only lobbies at the Capitol in St. Paul, but raises money for causes such as the Douglas County Outreach Food Shelf at a local level.

The Freedom First Riders members estimate that they've raised about $30,000 for charities over the group's first 10 years.

"Their charity and donations to the community are quite well known. This group hit the ground running ten years ago and their energy level has only increased," said Mack Backlund, ABATE state coordinator, in an email.

Last January, the group's bikers spent time fighting a state bill at the Legislature that they say would have significantly raised insurance costs on motorcycles. In 2015, they worked to pass a state law stiffening penalties for reckless driving when it caused "great bodily harm or death to another," according to ABATE. The bikers appreciated the bill forcing people to pay more attention while driving, making them watch out for motorcycles.

"ABATE was instrumental," said Jeff Beattie, a Freedom First Riders member.

Many Freedom First Riders were involved as they attended the annual meeting at the capitol called Biker Day, according to Todd Riba, ABATE of Minnesota legislative director.

Gary Goracke, a Freedom First Rider even travels to Washington, D.C., each spring for a motorcycle lobbying event, Bikers Inside the Beltway, where he is the group's Minnesota representative.

Goracke said he spends time lobbying Minnesota's eight representatives and two senators.

The Freedom First Riders have been lobbying right from the get-go, Goracke said.

Other causes the bikers have helped with during their 10-year existence include Cruiser Kids, which is put on by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Buddy Bear Program, and Dial-A-Ride.

"Most of us are certified road guards," said Beattie, meaning they are trained for how to stop and control traffic for motorcycle riders during events like Cruiser Kids.

The Buddy Bear Program donates teddy bears for first responders to give to patients in emergency situations.

Dial-A-Ride is a group that gives rides to people who might be impaired so they can have a safe ride home. Someone from the organization comes with a trailer that can haul the impaired person's motorcycle home as well.

The Freedom First Riders held a Ribfest Ride on June 24, with free-will offering proceeds benefiting the Douglas County Outreach Food Shelf.

They also host a bike show each April at the Runestone Community Center and have a street dance Saturday, Aug. 26, in Nelson.

The bikers mentioned that anyone can join American Bikers for Awareness, Training and Education, even if they don't ride a motorcycle. The group is also open to riders of any brand or type of bike, not only Harley Davidsons.

Freedom First Riders organize motorcycle rides on Sundays during the summer. These rides are open to non-members.

"We'll go a hundred miles in a day," said Brian Johnson, Freedom First Riders member.

Usually the group rides to a rural restaurant, or cruises down a nice road with beautiful scenery that a member discovers, Goracke said.

"ABATE of Minnesota's Freedom First Riders Chapter is a positive force in the Minnesota motorcycling community and a great asset to the citizens of Alexandria and the surrounding area," Backlund said "I am very proud of ABATE of Minnesota's Freedom First Riders Chapter."

Street dance Saturday

The Freedom First Riders are hosting a street dance in Nelson on Saturday, Aug. 26, for Nelson Fun Fest. Dirty Word starts playing at 9 p.m. Other events include a bean bag tournament

More information

For more information about events and rides put on by the Freedom First Riders, visit their Facebook page at: ABATE of MN — Freedom First Riders Chapter.

If you would like to join the American Bikers for Awareness, Training and Education, more information can be found by visiting www.abatemn.org.

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