Rip City Riders – Bikers with Big Hearts

by Elizabeth Ann Peer on September 30, 2009

Teddy bears are not images normally associated with motorcycle club members, but Rip City Riders is not your typical motorcycle club.

“Most people perceive bikers as mean people, but these guys just melt over kids and are just really big teddy bears,” said Vince Giovachinni who has been a Rip City Riders member for 10 years.

What began as a small club for motorcycle enthusiasts to share rides over twenty years ago has turned into a large non-profit organization with a mission to help the needy in Sonoma and Marin Counties.

“These guys have had full lives and now want to give back to the community,” said Giovachinni.

The club began doing charity rides with local sponsors fourteen years ago with the first one benefiting a member of the group who had Hodgkin’s disease. The group then collaborated with San Francisco Firefighters on the Toys for Tots program, and continues to do “toy runs” to this day.

RIP City Riders

Samantha and Catlin Caughie (front), and Vince Giovacchini, Kevin Gingher and Rob Anello of Rip City Riders

The tone for Rip City Riders changed with the death four years ago of one of its founders, William Walsh, or “Chilly Billy.” The club decided to hold an annual Chilly Billy Memorial Run to strengthen their commitment to each other and to their local communities, which in turn attracted more interest from other motorcycle enthusiasts in the North Bay. The group, which now numbers over 200 riders, has raised $75,000 to $100,000 since then, for local causes that have special meaning to its members or are brought to them by an interested organization. These include scholarships at Marin Oaks High School and donations to Kids Off Chemicals in Santa Rosa and the Sonoma County AIDS Food Bank in Forestville.

One particular cause hit home for Giovachinni when he learned that the two daughters, Samantha, 8, and Caitlin, 5, of his former neighbors in Petaluma, Gail and Keith Caughie, had been diagnosed with type I diabetes in early 2008. Those who have type 1 diabetes (formerly called juvenile diabetes), must remain insulin dependent for the rest of their lives, but even taking medication is not a guarantee that the person with the disease won’t develop side affects such as kidney disease, loss of eyesight and nerve damage.

Giovachinni decided to approach the club’s board this past January with the idea to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, or JDRF, an organization that raises money for research to find a cure for type 1 diabetes, by purchasing with personal funds and auctioning off a Harley Davidson Dyna Glide motorcycle.

“It was an easy vote,” said Giovachinni. “We found that many members knew someone who had the disease, and some had the disease themselves, but others in the group didn’t know they had it.”

Before they knew it, the club had sold almost all 8,000 raffle tickets for the motorcycle through word of mouth and by bringing the motorcycle to show off at events such as the San Francisco Rod, Custom and Motorcycle Show, the Petaluma Chili Cook-off and the Novato 4th of July Parade. The Caughies have attended several of these events to support Giovachinni and the Rip City Riders fundraising efforts.

“At first we thought it would be a hard sell with the economy, but once people heard about the cause they were sold,” said Giovachinni.

“I think that it is very generous of him to donate to this charity when there are so many local charities to donate too,” said Gail Caughie.

The winner for the motorcycle raffle will be drawn at the club’s 4th annual Chilly Billy Memorial Run which ends at the Penngrove Community Park in Penngrove on Oct. 18th.

Sidebar:  You can learn more about JDRF, and its upcoming events including the North Bay Walk to Cure Diabetes on October 24th.  You can learn more about Rip City Riders and the charities they support.