Highway heroes: Veterans Charity Ride rolls through the Rockies, stops in Eagle | VailDaily.com

Highway heroes: Veterans Charity Ride rolls through the Rockies, stops in Eagle

Reporter's note: Dave "Indian Dave" Frey, the head honcho, allowed me to ride my Triumph Bonneville America with them from New Castle to Eagle. That roar through those Glenwood Canyon tunnels is enough to make a real American stand up on his motorcycle foot pegs and belt out "God Bless America." In fact, when they thundered into Eagle on Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 1, cheering people lined Broadway Street waving American flags.

EAGLE — The throaty rumble of two dozen large Indian motorcycles roaring through a Glenwood Canyon tunnel is what America sounds like at its best.

The Veterans Charity Ride rolled from Moab, Utah, to Eagle on Wednesday, Aug. 1, on its way to the Sturgis Bike Rally. Riders started Saturday in Las Vegas and were pretty darned happy with Wednesday's Eagle County cloud cover, after riding out of 117-degree desert heat.

Worked from the beginning

This is the fourth Veterans Charity Ride, 1,237 miles from Las Vegas to Sturgis. Dave "Indian Dave" Frey started it, runs it and rides it.

"This has worked from the very beginning. That has enabled us to expand our program and reach more men and women," said Frey, a former paratrooper.

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Indian donates the motorcycles the veterans ride to Sturgis. Frey keeps six Indian motorcycles and six Champion sidecars around all of the time to take veterans on rides throughout the year, in addition to the annual ride to Sturgis.

Frey, a former Army Airborne Paratrooper, conceived the idea while riding his Indian Chieftain to the Sturgis Bike Rally in 2014. Along the way, he met a fellow paratrooper from his same unit and they quickly became friends. They talked about fellow veterans who were returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and how so many are having a difficult time adjusting to civilian life after their war experiences.

"We keep doing it because there are tens of thousands of fellow veterans out there who are suffering, affected by post traumatic stress disorders, anxiety, sleep disorders, over medication, self medication. … We have something that can help them in a holistic way," he said.

Richie Two Chairs

Richie Neider is one of those veterans. "Richie Two Chairs" is so nicknamed by his fellow riders because he straps his wheelchair to the back of his custom Indian motorcycle and Champion sidecar and hits the road.

Richie made last year's ride in a sidecar. He had not ridden in more than six years, after becoming a double amputee following an explosion in Iraq.

"We got him into the sidecar and back into life," Frey said. "We helped him build his own custom bike with a sidecar, so he could ride again."

That bike last year was re-engineered so two double amputees could ride it — and they did.

That was great, but Richie wanted to be at the controls. He rode that one, liked it and got his own Indian.

"This gave me my independence back," he said.

Richie's Indian was delivered in April, and he immediately took it to John Meade Customs just outside Phoenix, who donated what turned out to be an enormous number of hours building the bike. They also built last year's bike for the double amputees.

And what a build this was. Not only was it built so Richie is completely self sufficient with it, it looks completely freakin' amazing. The shark-nosed sidecar looks like a World War II Curtiss P-40 fighter plane, which works out well because it feels like a fighter plane when Richie lets you sit on it, which he often does.

A remarkable bunch of engineering puts all of the controls in his hands, necessary because Richie's Humvee hit an IED in Iraq and he lost both his legs. The knob on the suicide hand shifter lever is a hand grenade.

Since "fast enough" is for other people, and "really, really, really fast" is for Richie, they almost doubled the horsepower. He can smoke the back tire for 100 feet. Speaking of rolling — unlike other bikes, it has a parking brake.

"It tends to want to roll," Richie said, smiling.

Indian motorcycles is thrilled to be rolling with these veterans, said. Reid Wilson, senior director of marketing and product planning for Indian Motorcycle.

"Veterans Charity Ride is a life-changing program for those who have sacrificed so much for our country. Supporting the U.S. military has always been core to our brand DNA, and it's an honor to give back by supporting a noble cause," Wilson said.

I'd do it all again

Richie and the John Meade Customs crew did all of that and so much more between April and July 14, when they had to stop so he could prepare for this ride. Maybe the bike is done … maybe not.

"Is a custom bike ever done?" Richie asked, smiling.

It had only a few hundred miles on it when he started this ride. It'll have 4,500 when he gets home.

He'll give you a tour of his bike and sidecar. If you ask about the Iraq war, then Richie sits up straighter when he tells you how he was hit in Iraq. He's proud of his life and his military service.

"I would do it all again," he said resolutely. "If I had a choice, I'd sign that dotted line all over again."

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.