The 9/11 Memorial Ride from Trabuco Canyon to Long Beach will roll through Corona del Mar about 4 p.m. Tuesday — a smaller ride after it exploded in size and scope a year ago and nearly lost its way, the founder said in an interview.
“For me, when I started it, it was a handful of guys going out on a whim,” said Gary Biggerstaff, a Long Beach Fire Department engineer who held a 9/11 ceremony in 2002 and added the ride a year later. “Last year, it was 1,000 riders.”
As the ride grew over the years, Biggerstaff said he struggled with how to handle registration, permits, liability insurance and other details. For the 9/11 tenth anniversary in 2011, he reached out to a local business to help collect donations and organize the event. The company began to raise the bar, moving what had been a quiet ceremony at the end of the ride in Biggerstaff’s yard to a major event with t-shirts available for purchase and fireworks.
“It was a nice show,” Biggerstaff said. “But all that stuff cost a lot of money. It brought in money, but they spent more. I didn’t endorse that. They wasted a fair amount of money.”
Biggerstaff said there was a $12,000 shortfall from what the organizer raised last year and what the company spent — and the company tried to get Biggerstaff to pay for it.
“I had nothing to do with it,” he said. So he walked away, leaving behind his event website as well as valuable email and contact lists that helped organize the event from the beginning.
A call and an email to the Long Beach company involved in last year’s ride were not immediately answered.
The ride began with the goal of having a motorcycle rider to represent each of the 343 New York City firefighters who were killed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. The riders would gather at Cook’s Corner, then ride to Coast Highway and through Corona del Mar on the way to Long Beach. There, the riders would have a quiet ceremony, and Biggerstaff would pass a fireman’s boot, collecting cash to donate to charities that benefit military families or veterans. Typically, he’d donate $1,000 to $2,000 the day of the event, he said.
Parting ways with the company means taking a year to downscale the ride and get back to basics — but if that’s what it takes for Biggerstaff to gain 100 percent control, he said he’s fine with that.
“They tried to force my hand and take over the ride,” he said. “And I said, stick it. They tried to hold it hostage for money, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t want it ever to feel like it’s a slave to money, because that’s not what I wanted.”
Last year’s ride drew some criticism when some riders who had not registered failed to pay Toll Road fees, but Biggerstaff said he had resolved all outstanding tolls within a day or so.
“It wasn’t a really big deal at all,” he said.
Next year, he said, he plans to have a new website where riders can register, allowing him to increase the size of the ride once again.
Meanwhile, he said he has no idea how many riders may show up at the start in Trabuco Canyon for the start of the ride at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday. (For more information, visit the event Facebook page.)
“There may be only five people,” he said. “We’ll ride to Long Beach and stop at the Gaslamp to do a toast…and next year we’ll be back.”
Photo from the 2010 ride.