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Love Ride 26 canceled

October 13, 2009 | 11:04 am

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In its 25 years, the Love Ride has raised $22 million for various charities. It drew hundreds of thousands of bikers – from regular Joes to stars the likes of Jay Leno, who’s been the grand marshal of the event for 24 years. It featured performances from some of the biggest names in music, such as The Foo Fighters, who headlined the event’s silver anniversary last year, and Dwight Yoakam, who was scheduled to play Love Ride 26 later this month.

Now the Love Ride is on hiatus. Love Ride founder Oliver Shokouh pulled the plug on what would have been the 26th annual event last Thursday, after a month of agonizing over pre-registration numbers that were "way down" to "as little as 40% of some of the worst years we’ve had," said Shokouh, whose voice, even in a phone interview, sounded disconsolate.

That’s despite a $10 ticket price reduction, which Shokouh instituted for Love Ride 26 "in anticipation of some of the woes out there with the economy." But even the lower ticket price couldn’t lure riders, just as the ride itself was struggling to recruit vendors and sponsors, both of which were down about 50%. Farmers Insurance, Best Buy and LoJack all backed out of sponsorships for this year’s event, and Budweiser was only able to donate a fraction of what it had for the previous 25 years it had supported the ride.

In the last decade, the Love Ride has averaged 18,000-20,000 riders and raised as much as $1.7 million per event for the Muscular Dystrophy Assn. and a host of children’s charities, such as Autism Speaks. As of early October, only 600 riders had pre-registered for Love Ride 26, which, coupled with the steep decline in sponsorship and vendor support, would have caused the event to lose money for the first time in its history.

Such dim news is mirrored inside Harley-Davidson/Buell of Glendale, the dealership Shokouh owns which has also served as the starting point for the annual Love Ride. Shokouh has had to cut 15% of his staff due to a 30% decline in motorcycle sales. As of Sunday, the 33-year-old dealership will also reduce its operating hours; its sales and service department will be closed Mondays.

In place of the usual group ride and other activities will be "the Love Ride with all the love but not the ride," said Shokouh, 63.

The three-day extravaganza that had been scheduled for the Pomona Fairplex Oct. 23-25 will instead be a stationary event at Harley-Davidson/Buell of Glendale. Peter Fonda will sign autographs leading up to a commemorative 40th anniversary screening of "Easy Rider" on Friday, Oct. 23, and Love Ride 26 memorabilia will be sold throughout the weekend.

Shokouh has at least $75,000 worth of Love Ride 26 pins, patches, T-shirts and caps to sell. For Love Ride 25, Shokouh had made $88,000 worth of such merchandise and sold all of it. He’s hoping to be as lucky this year.

"It’s real sad after a 25-year run, but I’m still standing proud that I was able to do it for 25 years -- that in a very small way I did something positive," he said. "If I have any more fight left in me, I want to try it again."

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo credit: Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times

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