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'Highway Hoboes' urge drivers to be aware of motorcycles

With spring on the horizon, the snow will soon be melted, temperatures will get warmer and motorcyclists will take to the open roads once again.

The spring may be the best time of year for many motorcycle enthusiasts, but it is also the most dangerous, because motorists who are not used to driving alongside bikes will have to be more aware.

The Highway Hobos,the local chapter of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association, are reminding motorists in Western New York to pay close attention as motorcycle season begins.

"The biggest problem we have is the general public claims they don't see us," said Highway Hobos Assistant Director Rick Parson. "The size of my motorcycle is actually bigger than that new Smart Car they're bringing out. ... and people will still pull out in front of you and they say they don't see you"

The group will be starting its weekly Dessert Rides in April, and May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, so for the Highway Hobos, now is the time to get the word out.

President Garry Sauls said the GWRRA, an international organization with thousands of members, pushes safety awareness through two branches: The Rider Education Program, geared toward bikers, and the Motorist Awareness Division, geared toward other drivers.

The organization’s slogan is Safety is for Life, according to

"When you sign up ... you sign a paper that says, ‘I will ride safely at all times,’" said Jim Masters, who handles public relations for the Highway Hobos.

The group’s monthly meetings often including presentations on safety, including instructional presentations about first aid and CPR.

The MAD program reaches out to drivers in an effort to teach them how to share the road with motorcycles.

For the Highway Hobos, the group is about more than just safety awareness it has become a social and community service outlet, as well.

As of now, there are more than 70 members of the Highway Hobos, and about 45 of them are "very active," Sauls said. Members come from all over Western New York, from Buffalo and Erie County to Spencerport and Lewiston.

Every year, the group sponsors a needy family for Christmas, buying food and gifts for the children. They also give to many charitable organizations throughout the year.

"All of our members come through," Sauls said.

"Most of the members are couples, and many of them are retired, though the age range is wide," Masters said.

About 10 or 12 couples regularly attend the “Dessert Rides, which alternate on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The group’s monthly meetings are held at The Basket Factory, 2 Watson Ave., Middleport, on the first Sunday of each month. Meetings often involve food, conversation, 50/50 prizes, door prizes and group rides.

"Anyone is welcome to attend the meetings," Sauls said.

In order to be a member of GWRRA, you must own a Gold Wing or Valkyrie motorcycle; large bikes made especially for touring long distances.

"Some of these guys are driving anywhere between 16,000 and 20,000 miles a year on their motorcycles," Masters said.

"Because the organization is so widespread, members driving across the country can easily find others. The organization has a Gold Book, which includes the names and addresses of all members who wish to be listed," Sauls said.

"If you travel and you break down, you can call upon any other member and ask them for assistance," he said. "It’s just that close-knit of an organization."

Parson said that sense of fellowship is one of the best things about being a Highway Hobo.

"I think it's the camaraderie, (bringing together) everybody from different backgrounds, " he said. These people just get along really well together."

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