SARASOTA -- Like a massive herd converging on their favorite watering hole, hundreds of two-wheel, three-wheel and even four-wheel motorcycles and their riders roared into O'Leary's Tiki Bar and Grill on the Sarasota Bayfront Sunday morning.
The riders were starting the final day of the 15th Annual Thunder By the Bay Motorcycle Festival by registering for the "The Cruise for Cash Scenic Beach Ride" to benefit Suncoast Charities For Children.
The routes included one from downtown Sarasota to Myakka City and one from coastal Sarasota to coastal Manatee.
The riders would top their day later with a 15-class bike show along South Palm Avenue in Sarasota.
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As the individuals from this steel herd disembarked in a parking lot set aside for them near O'Leary's, they soon encountered "shepherds" among them who could offer up a prayer for their journey.
The shepherds, members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association, also known as CMA, have offered "Blessing of the Bikes" since the group was started in the 1970s.
There were many scenes of bowed heads, arms across backs and hushed words from dozens of CMA mem
bers who came Sunday to meet the need.
Among the shepherds were Drake Elvgren from Sarasota, Wayne and Michelle Metcalf of Myakka City, Jack Barney of Fort Myers, Sean Michael Corbin of Fort Myers and Mike Davis of Venice.
"I would say only two or three said they didn't want the blessing," Elvgren said. "Even non-Christians seem to like a bit of protection from above."
CMA is not a club, but an outreach ministry dedicated to reaching those who ride motorcycles, said Davis, president of the Sarasota-Manatee Chapter of CMA, which is also called Faith Riders.
"We have about 65 members in Faith Riders," Davis said. "We come out to support motorcycle events. Besides the blessing today, we are directing traffic and parking."
Bradenton's Mike Bryant, 44, riding a Ducati ST2, was approached by Barney of the King's Way Riders of Fort Myers and his grandson, Sean Michael Corbin, who is 9.
After asking if he would like a blessing and being told OK, Barney prayed for Bryant. Afterwards he also gave him a "Blessed" sticker for his bike.
"It was different, I didn't expect it," said Bryant, a mechanical engineer who works at MD Engineering in Sarasota. "It was nice. I appreciated the spirit with which it was given."
Bryant didn't attach the sticker to his bike but said he would keep it.
Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners Nick Trankito, 56, of Lakewood Ranch, Richard Mitchell, 74, of Sarasota and King Butler of Sarasota all welcomed the CMA blessings for their bikes.
They feel the blessing is a thank you for what they get in return.
"Riding is the best feeling in the world," said Trankito, who rides with a Sarasota Harley owners group. "You experience different sensations you would never experience."
"You smell fresh air," Mitchell said.
"You meet great people on the road," Trankito said.
"It gives you a sense of freedom," said Butler, who was at the function working for Trvst Security but also has a custom ultra classic Harley.
"I think riding is something you must put on your bucket list," Butler said, referring to things one must do before departing this life.
Motorcycles have forged a strong relationship between Barney and Sean, whose dad doesn't ride.
"It's a way to introduce kids to the Lord while doing something they like, which is motorcycles," Barney said.
Sean just recently did his first bike blessing.
"It was an awesome honor," Sean said.
For more information on joining the local CMA chapter contact Davis at 941-493-7557 or FaithRidersPresident@gmail.com. The national CMA website is www.cmausa.org.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet @RichardDymond.