On September 11, 2001, our nation was paralyzed over three separate terrorist hijackings of passenger planes. There was a small group of motorcycle owners, however, who just wanted to do something — so they did what they do — they rode. Circling around the city of Williamsport, they symbolically demonstrated freedom in action. From that spontaneous moment birthed an organization, the 9/11 Coalition Ride, that hosts an annual event on that same day, September 11th, which since 2011 has gathered at the Clinton Township Volunteer Fire Company station.
However, I have been asked a number of times, what’s the point of thousands of motorcycle riders traveling all over the county to remember the terrorist attacks? This especially came into view last year when everything that could be called transportation went the circuit around the county despite the governor’s canceling of the event. Cars, trucks, and buggies do not cut it. They do not have the identity that is wrapped up in the iconic vehicle known as the motorcycle.
From a rational standpoint, just riding a motorcycle itself is dangerous; it can be expensive, and there is no visible economic value for doing it. And given our seasonal weather, there are not a lot of days on the calendar when a motorcycle can be ridden. The man or woman who chooses to own and ride a motorcycle seeks more than just transportation — they want to experience their travels. They are not just driving on a road; they are almost part of the road. And these individuals know that they share that same inner drive with other riders. It is not uncommon to watch riders give a high sign to one another when they pass each other on the road or travel in packs together just for the sake of riding.
Truth be told, motorcyclists are the accepted rebels of our society. It is an adrenaline rush to feel that air in your face, and to do so with those around you who have that same enthusiasm makes it all the better. The motorcyclists are action-oriented individuals who closely identify with others who share their passions.
All this explains why it was motorcyclists who just had to do SOMETHING on September 11, 2001. And it also explains why they have continued to come out on that same day for the past two decades because they do not want to forget, nor let others forget, that the United States does not accept terrorist attacks on its own soil.
They come from all over the state and even neighboring states. They come from all walks of life; women riders, Christian riders, police riders, government employee riders, and even those who were barely alive when 9/11 happened. At the last ride in 2019, Noah Shuey, a Penn College student from Hershey, PA, had just acquired a motorcycle and had heard about the 9/11 Ride and wanted to participate. He was just a three-year-old when that event happened, but he wanted to keep the tradition alive. After it was over, I asked him what it felt like, and he replied, “It was amazing, seeing all those people, mile after mile, I did not realize that there were so many people who still cared about America that way. You would never guess that from listening to the media.”
And that really explains the question of why the ride, and why the ride on motorcycles. Thousands of cyclists traveling the 42-mile route, and each mile, thousands watching them pass, celebrating by cheering, waving flags, saluting the flags, showing their appreciation to the riders who are commemorating this day is a community catharsis.
It is America.