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'HOG' wild in Sturbridge

Community welcomes Harley enthusiasts

Paul Phillips of Long Island, N.Y. and Norm Plante of Bridgewater were some of the early arrivals at the HOG rally in Sturbridge. Christopher Tanguay. (click for larger version)
August 05, 2009
STURBRIGDE — If you were shaken out of bed by a tremor on Thursday, it wasn't an earthquake; it was the rumble of nearly 1,000 Harleys descending on Sturbridge for the 2009 State HOG Rally.

HOG, (Harley Owners Group), will be leading a weekend-long tour that will have riders passing through New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut with their home base at the Sturbridge Host Hotel and Conference Center on Route 20 in Sturbridge.

With more than 900 riders registered for the rally, Sturbridge could see an influx of as many as 2,000 people from Aug. 6-8, but these aren't your stereotypical bikers.

"I think it's a win-win for Sturbridge," said Selectman Scott Garieri, who cruises on a Harley Road King.

"This isn't the Hell's Angels coming to town," Garieri said, explaining that many HOG members are distinguished professionals in their own fields, and will be riding in on $20,000-plus bikes.

"They just come to have fun and get some good riding in," Garieri said.

Regarding concerns about noise from the bikes, Garieri said, "We get more noise from the dump trucks that go through town."

Ed McDonald of the HOG Rally Committee told Sturbridge Selectmen that a study conducted by Harley Davidson found that the average HOG member spends $256 per day in the host community of an event such as this, which could translate into a huge boost to Sturbridge's local economy.

Garieri, who also owns Garieri's Jewelers on Route 131 said he will have his bike parked outside of his store this week, "to let them know we're Harley friendly."

Although the rally did not officially begin until Thursday, many riders rolled in Wednesday in preparation of the event which will feature a number of guided rides, a bike show and contest at Old Sturbridge Village and a Parade of Lights through a number of local communities, giving the group a chance to show off their bikes to local residents.

Norm Plante of Bridgewater and Virgil Ritz of Smithfield, R.I. set up shop at the Host on Wednesday.

"For me, it's in my blood," Plante said about riding. "My father rode. My father had bikes."

"I used to have [a Harley] back in '68," Plante continued. "Now I'm back into it."

Plante said while he is deciding to compete or volunteer in the bike contest, he is also looking forward to a few of the organized rides.

"There's a group going to Smith and Wesson, there's a group going to Newport, and I guess there's a group going to New Hampshire and Vermont," he said. "I'm going to go probably to Smith and Wesson."

Ritz, a retired police officer, is a member of the Blue Knights, a law enforcement motorcycle club, and has been to rallies all over the country, some with more than 4,000 bikes.

For Ritz, safe riding is always his top priority when he hits the road.

"It's all about safety," he said, explaining different formations bikers keep on the road so as to best avoid any accidents.

"Rule number one: you don't drink and ride with us," Ritz added.

Ritz's precautionary attitude is not unique among the HOG riders.

Sgt. Michael Cloutier of the Sturbridge Police Department said he was contacted by HOG about this year's rally in April 2008.

"In November 2008, I started coordinating the planning with them," Cloutier explained.

Different aspects of safety were examined in preparation of the event, such as the impact all the riders will have on traffic.

"We were concerned about traffic, we're concerned about the number of motorcycles that are going to be on the roadway," Cloutier said, although provisions have been made to properly handle the situation.

"We will be assisting traffic in and out of the Host as necessary," he added.

While the Route 131 water main project was not on the town's radar when planning began for the rally, Cloutier said there are no rides planned for that road on Thursday or Friday while roadwork is taking place. A ride is scheduled on Saturday that will use Route 131, but Cloutier said any work done during the week will be covered with fresh pavement Friday evening, making the surface safely passable by Saturday.

"We're trying to ensure that traffic on the roadway is handled safely," Cloutier said. "We just want to keep a lid on it and keep it safe for everybody."

While all members of the HOG organization have completed a safety course and are versed in hand signals, some consideration is needed when this volume of motorcycles passes through a town.

Taking an extra second or two at Stop signs, traffic lights, intersections and driveways could avoid a potential accident. According to Cloutier, tailgating riders is another hazardous situation that should be avoided.

Garieri, who has been burned by flying projectile while riding said his biggest concern while on his Harley is other people's litter.

"That's probably one of the most aggravating things about following a car," Garieri said, "thrown cigarettes out the window."

For a complete schedule of the 2009 State HOG Rally, visit www.maristatehogrally.com.

News staff writer Christopher Tanguay may be reached at (508) 909-4132, or by e-mail at ctanguay@stonebridgepress.com.

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