Fund raising horsepower

When the Dixie Iron Riders roll through Blount, cash for charities follow

Dixie Iron Riders are heard before they’re seen.

Whether they’re visiting patients at Children’s Hospital or raising money for a soldier in need, when they rumble into a community on their motorcycles, this group gets attention.

While some people may stereotype leather-wearing, motorcycle riders as trouble, the Dixie Iron Riders have quickly turned heads in Blount County for a completely different reason -- their fund-raising abilities.

In two years, the Dixie Iron Riders have helped raised nearly $100,000 for a varied number of charities, most aimed at helping children. Benefiting financially from their leadership at rides have been the Boys and Girls Club of Blount County, the Curefinders for Cystic Fibrosis, United Way, Fraternal Order of Police, Special Olympics and Toys for Blount County, to name just the major ones.

This 2-year-old motorcycle group say their goal is to help non-profit organizations by leading benefit bike rides.

Secretary/treasurer Johnny Osbourne says often people have a negative opinion of motorcycle riders. “They don’t know what we do. They see us dressed in black, and we’re wearing leather. They don’t know we’re out to help kids, and we’re trying to set a good example,” he says.

A recent board meeting saw board members discussing their jammed calendar of upcoming rides, all benefits, through the fall. As they assigned and coordinated ride leaders, it was obvious that this group is dedicated to more than just having a good time.

“At the end of September we’ve got rides on Saturday and Sunday both weekends,” Dixie Iron Riders president Mike Kirby reminded the group. “We’re really, really busy. If somebody comes to us, it’s for 100 percent charity. We don’t turn them down unless we absolutely can not do it, and we’ve not turned anyone down.”

Kirby says the idea to start the group came from a couple of different people after they attended a ride that a local motorcycle club was leading.

“We enjoyed it so much we started talking about forming an organization with the purpose of leading benefit rides. There was not an organization in this county doing that,” he says.

Kirby says he and his dad, Benny Kirby, and his father-in-law, Robert Galyon, started speaking with others. About six individuals were at the first meeting and 12 attended the second meeting. “That’s when we started coming up with a name. We came up with Dixie Iron Riders. It took off from there,” he says. “There’s lot of protocol involved with becoming a motorcycle club. You have to talk to local and national clubs.”

After being tutored by several different clubs, they realized they didn’t want to become a club but rather a “riding organization.”

Kirby says with a motorcycle club, that is the members’ life. “With riding organizations, we’ve got our jobs, and motorcycles are second for us,” he said.

The organization president says the Highlanders Motorcycle Club and the Mountain Rebels Motorcycle Club advised Dixie Iron Riders and set them on the right path.

“That was a big help,” Kirby says of advice from the area riding clubs. “We decided a riding organization was the road we needed to take, and it took off from there. People started hearing about us, and we started getting phone calls to do charity rides.”

And, in two years, the rest is already history.

“Our big rides are Boys and Girls Club and Curefinders Cystic Fibrosis for Children’s Hospital. We put our main focus on those two, but we also keep getting other rides that are growing. We’ve got another big ride this month with United Way. Then we do lot of smaller rides in between,” he says

Kirby says Dixie Iron Riders have already done seven or eight rides this year. “Large or small, they’re a lot of fun. We meet new people. The best thing about it is most charities we work for are for children,” he says.

During the Curefinders ride to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis research, Dixie Iron Riders were invited to meet the young patients in their hospital rooms at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. The riders gave the patients temporary tattoos and dew rags to wear. “They thought it was Christmas. They were so impressed that there were motorcycle riders in their room,” Kirby says. “It was a very, very, very humbling experience to see what those kids are going through, and it makes me feel good about raising money for their cause. I think some guys didn’t realized what we were doing until we went in and saw those children. It is amazing stuff like that that makes it all worth while.”

Kirby says he’s learning more about fundraising as Dixie Iron Riders are doing more benefit rides for non-profit organizations. “Motorcycle rides are a dime a dozen. It’s so hard to draw a big crowd. You don’t make a lot on rides,” he says. “The main money comes from sponsors.”

Kirby says he never imagined he would become part of a riding organization like Dixie Iron Riders. “Five years ago, I was riding Harleys but something like this never entered my mind,” he says. “I had no idea what was involved in being part of the motorcycle community.”

Bill Kilgore, public relations officer for the Dixie Iron Riders, says he’s ridden motorcycles his entire life and never thought about joining a biker organization. “I wouldn’t have thought this was something I would want to do,” he says.

Kilgore says his most memorable moment with the group was working with the Boys and Girls Club of Blount County and letting the children play on the motorcycles. “That probably is one that sticks out. That was so cool,” he says. “They had never been on Harleys. They blew the horns. That was just cool.”

Kilgore says he remembers Dixie Iron Riders parking their motorcycles behind the end zone at Heritage High School during the Special Olympics, and letting the athletes get on the bikes.

“We took one the kids who was a paraplegic, and we picked him up and set him down on Kirby’s Ultra Classic Harley. He was grinning from ear to ear. When his mother said it was time to go, he squeezed his legs together to stay on,” Kilgore says. “We almost couldn’t get him off the bike! That was cool.”

Vice president Nick Sanders says the relationships that are created through the organization are strong. “It’s a true brotherhood,” he says.

Sanders says Dixie Iron Riders have goals. “One is community involvement and having a positive impact for the motorcycle community. I think we’re an excellent example of that. We’ve got a good reputation with other clubs,” Sanders says.

The group also wants to become better known in the community and increase its membership.

Upcoming September Dixie Iron rides include:

The United Way “Back Roads Ride” is Sept. 21 at the Shed at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson. Registration is at 1 p.m., and the ride starts at 2:30 p.m. Pre-ride festivities include appearances by WIMZ, the Tennessee Steel Horse Riders Stable Mates, and the Dragon Bike. The ride is scheduled to end at 4 p.m. at Two Doors Down, 118 E Broadway Ave, Maryville, with a concert by the Dixie Werewolves. Food and door prizes will also be available. Registration is $20 per bike, and riders will receive a LIVE UNITED United Way T-shirt. For more information about United Way, please visit liveunitedblount.org or call 865-982-2251.

The Hogs for Dogs ride to benefit Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation is Sept. 27 at the Shed at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson. Registration is at noon and the ride starts at 2 p.m.

The Emily and Maddie’s Memorial Motorcycle Ride and Show on Sept. 28 at the Parkway Drive-In benefits the Oncology-Hematology Department at East Tennessee Children Hospital. It is sponsored by Dixie Iron Riders and the Blount County Association of Realtors. At 10 a.m. there will be a swap meet/market where people can rent booths and sell motorcycle parts or new merchandise. Registration for the ride is at 12:30 p.m., riders leave out at 2 p.m. and return to the Parkway Drive-In where a motorcycle show begins at 4 p.m. The band Middle Finger also performs from 3:30 to 5 p.m. For more information, call 865-982-2066.

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